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Folkadelphia Session: Coal Town Rounders

KISS – keep it simple, stupid. You’ve probably been told this or something similar your entire life. They’re saying that things function best if they’re kept simple rather than made complicated, so this should be factored into the design of whatever it is you’re working on. A similar concept is Ockham’s razor, which says that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. This is all highfalutin fancy-pants talk for simplicity being the key. This is what I’m thinking about when I think about Scranton, PA’s Coal Town Rounders. They’re not particularly flashy or showy, they’re not reinventing the wheel, they’re just making goddamn salt of the earth bluegrass. For one, you’ve got your instrumental chops, two- your tight harmonies, and three- a strong catalog of songs to mine from, so what more do you need? I promise you that if you get these guys in a room together, you’ll be moved to interaction – to dance, to sing, to clap, to grin like a fool. I know that’s how we were acting in the mixing booth during this session, which was tracked live at the WXPN Studio on January 11th of this year. Now, simplicity does not equal untalented or lacking in passion. Quite the opposite, it means that the Rounders have stripped away superfluous musical baggage that does nothing except weigh them down. As a mean and lean acoustic quartet, the boys are nimble and energetic, imbuing their fairly traditional bluegrass twang with a good chunk of reckless abandon, like the crazy train might be coming off the rails at any moment. Whoever needed guitar amps anyway?

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What the end of jazz nights at Ortlieb’s means for Philly’s jazz community

Local university and college students play with Fresh Cut Trio at The Painted Bride in February | Courtesy of Emily Rolen
Local university and college students play with Fresh Cut Trio at the Painted Bride in February | Courtesy of Emily Rolen

Pete Souders owned Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus for 20 years, but learned in January that the establishment he built a reputation for would no longer be needing his services. His Tuesday Night Jazz Jam Session was canceled.

But, he can’t say he didn’t expect it.

After growing exhausted of the hectic lifestyle of running a night spot and music venue, Souders sold Ortlieb’s in 2007, and after a bouncing around of owners, it was purchased by Four Corners Productions.

“I decided to sell it because I thought I was really getting tired,” Souders said.

Under its newest ownership, Ortlieb’s has shifted gears from its once-smooth atmosphere to a place of socialization, drinks and indie rock. It’s also dropped the “Jazzhaus” portion of its name.

The newest owners asked Souders to come in to host his Jazz Night upon opening, but Souders said he saw major flaws from the get-go.

When he owned Ortlieb’s, Souders said a large, acoustic piano sat center-stage which amplified the room, but once the newest owners came in, they hired a engineer who wired various mics for the jazz performances taking over the piano, which Souders said he thought was “unnecessary.”

Real jazz, Souders said, is able to fill an entire room without the need of any additional equipment.

But then again, Ortlieb’s is now hosting more than jazz performances, necessitating a more involved setup.

But Souders said he saw more concerns than just the equipment. Right before Christmas, the owners told him they  “weren’t making any money during the first hour-and-a-half.” They also asked his to cut the session back from its 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. slot so it wrapped up by 11:30 p.m. The owners told him they “weren’t making any money during the first hour-and-a-half,” Souders said.

He said that the new owners at Ortlieb’s told him they wanted to attract a better bar crowd at midnight, and Souders’ smooth tunes weren’t cutting it. It boiled down to a business issue.

“I had mixed emotions,” Souders said. “…[the situation] was anticlimactic.”

The current owners declined multiple requests for interviews.

So is the the current state of Ortlieb’s and what happened to its long-standing tradition a reflection for what might happen across the city’s jazz community? Continue reading →

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Download “Cherry Licorice” by The Felice Brothers

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

Catskill roots rockers The Felice Brothers have a new album, Favorite Waitress, that is being released on June 17th on Dualtone. In an interview with Esquire, James Felice talked about the new album:

This record, we definitely wanted it to be a reflection of our live show. We honed it on the road. When we went into the studio to record it, we recorded it mostly live, with the intention of playing these songs and having them sound similar to the way they do live, and vice versa. That was very important to us. When we first started, for the first couple of records, even, we hadn’t done a lot of touring. Every studio we ever worked in was one we sort of built ourselves, so to actually go to a real studio in a different city was completely illuminating, and it gave us the opportunity to really play the songs because we didn’t have the ceremony of building a studio and testing it out. The bulk of the record, 90 percent of it, was done in a week. Practicing the songs and playing them live a lot brought us to a point where we could bang them out pretty quick.

Below, download the ragtag rocker “Cherry Licorice.” The band is plays Union Transfer on Thursday, July 10th with Robert Ellis. Go here for tickets and more information.

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Unlocked: Take a look inside the studio where Ataloft came to life

Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist
Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist

If you had to boil it down to a place, Amoeba Audio in Reading is where Ataloft came to life. As we’ll hear in tomorrow’s interview, Frog Holler members Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski went into the studio owned by their friend Bruce Siekmann to mess around with recording some unreleased songs. The initial meetups went well, and the group kept returning until there was a full album and a new band in tow.

Earlier this month, the Reading Eagle met up with Ataloft to profile them upon the release of the self-titled album, and brought a video crew inside Amoeba to watch the band – now a six-piece – play live in the room where the music was born. Check out a performance of their very summery song “Old Jones” below, and get psyched to see these gents perform at Ardmore Music Hall on the 3rd of May.

Ataloft is the featured album in this week’s installment of Unlocked. Download “The End is Nearer Than We Know” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later this week for an interview and more

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Philly’s Hoots and Hellmouth to take up residency at Boot and Saddle next month

Photo by Deneka Peniston
Photo by Deneka Peniston

Wednesday nights in May will get a bit more folksy as Hoots and Hellmouth prepare for their upcoming residency at Boot and Saddle. It’s a first for both the band, who will use the opportunity to unveil and test out new material, and the venue, who have never hosted a residency before. Both parties sound pretty amped as the shows approach. From the band’s email announcement:

“We’re really looking forward to our first time in this room, and to be doing it under the auspices of a new material workshop/residency makes it all the more special. A fresh room for fresh experiments. We’re inspired. The Hoots & Hellmouth ‘sound’ has always been a bit restless by nature, not unlike our touring schedule…We started with a much folkier sound, incorporating primarily acoustic instruments and stomp boards to propel our songs forward. In the years since, we’ve added all kinds of things to the mix from drums to keys to electric guitars.”

Boot and Saddle is also proud to have the band be the first to do a residency since the venue’s reopening late last year. In the announcement, R5 Productions owner Sean Agnew comments:

“We are excited to host our very first residency at the Boot & Saddle with a band that’s become an institution around Philly. It’ll be fun to watch these shows develop and to watch who comes out over each week.”

Each show is 21+ and requires $8 for admission.

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Plow United brings summertime punk to Asbury Lanes and Boot and Saddle in June

Plow United | Courtesy of Isaac Turner
Plow United | Courtesy of Isaac Turner

Plow United has some pretty exciting news for east coast fans.

Earlier this week, the seminal locally-bred punks announced they’d play two shows in July, the same month they’re releasing two records. The first show will be at Asbury Lanes on July 18th, but the one we’re most excited about will be on July 19th at Boot & Saddle.

The band released its first album in 16 years, Marching Band, last March. Loaded with heavy bass lines, gritty vocals and thrashy drums, the 12-song LP saw the three-piece picking right up where its left up in the late 90s. Along with the shows, Plow announced that it would re-release its first-self-titled LP and put out a new 4-song 7″ called DELCO. Both drop on July 10th.

Join ‘em at Boot & Saddle during the dog days of summer with openers The Scandals and Chumped. The show starts at 8 p.m. and the $12 tickets can be purchased here. Below, watch their cover of “Burn Up” by Siouxie and the Banshees from their 2013 Key Studio Session.

Plow United “Burn-Up” – WXPN Key Studio Session from WXPN FM on Vimeo.

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Get goosebumps from Psalmships’ Kettle Pot Tacks session

Psalmships, courtesy of Kettle Pot Tracks
Psalmships, courtesy of Kettle Pot Tracks

The latest On the Hill Session at Kettle Pot Tracks with Psalmships is a powerful one.

The sessions, which were founded a couple years back by local engineer Michael Batchelor “to capture an authentic performance as you would experience live in a small, intimate venue,” chose Psalmships as their 50th session by request. A long write-up Batchelor gave some insight into his friendship with Josh Britton, the singer and songwriter who performs under the Psalmships moniker.

Joshua Britton is a very special artist, musician, and friend. Anyone who has enjoyed the Kettle Pot Tracks On the Hill Sessions over the past year-plus has him to thank as much as anyone else. I think he expected me to write something silly and pseudo-deprecating, but I and we have nothing but love.

Psalmships On the Hill Session is one you’ve got to listen to with headphones in. Britton self-describes the music as “ghost folk,” and there might not be a better name for the sounds he produces. It’s eerie, but it’s sweet. The video gives you goosebumps, but more importantly, certainly makes you feel like you’re right next to Britton in that small, intimate venue Kettle Tracks strives so hard to achieve.

Psalmships — Yven from Michael Batchelor on Vimeo.