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Folkadelphia Session: Chelsea Sue Allen

My discovery of singer-songwriter Chelsea Sue Allen is another wonderful case of Philly musicians doing right by their own. Just over a year ago, Folkadelphia was putting together a concert at the intimate Random Tea Room with our good friend and frequent collaborator Joshua Britton of Psalmships. He recommended that a take a listen to Allen’s Tiny Prizes debut album, as well as her On The Hill session. Of course, the rest is history. Continue reading →

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Folkadelphia Session: Psalmships (from April 2014)

In our rather short history of Folkadelphia, the artist we’ve probably worked with the most is Psalmships. Psalmships is the ever-evolving musical project of Joshua Britton, Bucks Co. resident and all-around good guy. A guy that’s been put in a hard place and perhaps that hard place is just life, existing, and coping with the day-to-day. Human problems blown to cinematic scale by the endless black of night and the tireless workings of the imagination. At least, that’s what he sings about and why we continually gravitate towards finding new ways to bring Britton’s artistry and creativity into the fold of what we’re doing here. Britton is a restless musician, always at work on songs – he’s something like the Robert Pollard of slowcoustic music (did I really just write that phrase?) But it’s true – not even a year ago, Psalmships released the expansive EP Songs For A Red Bird and, about a year before that, Hymn of Lions, his tumbleweed country album (or at least their take on that style). His brand new full-lengthed record I Sleep Alone is the distilled essence of what Britton has been honing in on with his music and writing in recent times; it’s sparsely populated with instruments – a rough acoustic guitar generally acts as forward motion with effected lap steel guitar, keyboards, and atmospherics coloring the scenes. Often, the silence, space, and breaths between words speak as loudly as what Britton is singing. Sure, it’s a deeply emotional trip, sometimes painfully so, but in that sense, it is also cathartic to work through. Instead of giving, you gain with each listen, becoming more solid and stronger for it. Not all music is designed as diversion or cotton candy. This is an album with purpose. On the opening track “You’ll Never See The Morning,” Britton cautions “The night time is so long, it can last your whole life and you’ll never see the morning if you cannot see the light.” From the very start, as dark as I Sleep Alone becomes, it brings the listener to a place where (s)he is most able to look for the light if (s)he is willing to go there. Instead of being lost in the void without purpose or direction, Britton helps us to believe that the darkness is just another side of the light and the light is coming. It’s hopeful because while I sleep alone now, I might not forever.

On his latest session for Folkadelphia, Britton, joined by Brad Hinton and Chelsea Sue Allen, recorded a number of songs from I Sleep Alone. Psalmships, along with Nathan Edwin and Chelsea Sue Allen, will be celebrating the release with a concert at Bourbon and Branch this Friday, July 11th. For even more Folkadelphia & Psalmships collaboration, listen to My Endless Black, a previous session from October 2012.

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Under the ground and the skin: a song feature on The Springhill Mining Disaster and a session with Psalmships, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

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Folksingers often act as the voice of the people, creating a memorial, protest, speech, opinion piece, or treatise in verse and music. Peggy Seeger along with Ewan MacColl took up the mantle to tell the tale of the industrial accident at Springhill, Nova Scotia. The Springhill mining disaster can refer to any of three Canadian mining disasters which happened in 1891, 1956, and 1958 within the Springhill coalfield, near Springhill, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. Seeger wrote a vivid song to comemorate the 1958 tragedy. What occurred on October 23rd, 1958 is referred to as a “bump,” or an underground earthquake caused by increased tensions in the earth due to the removal of coal without support replacement. Smaller bumps had been felt that day, but at 8:06 a bump large enough to register on seismic monitoring caused the floor and ceiling of the mine to abruptly crush together, while releasing debris and gasses. Of the 174 men working in the mine at the time, a total of 75 died, with 74 being killed either instantaneously or soon after due to suffocation. As rescue operations strove to free any remaining survivors trapped underground, Canadian and international news media went to Springhill, notable for being the first major international event to appear in live television broascasts (on the CBC). On the sixth and seventh day after the bump, two groups of trapped miners were freed and brought to the surface. The intensity of the event, its widescale media coverage, and the vividness of Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl’s “The Ballad of Springhill” have continued to captivate musicians, especially those wishing to honor those who were trapped and lost. Tonight, we’ll hear a few renditions of the song.

We’ll also premiere a Folkadelphia Session with our longtime friend and supporter, Joshua Britton and his musical project Psalmships. Wildly prolific and a new set of songs always in the works, Psalmships has just completed and released I Sleep Alone, a brand new album that keeps haunting long after the final note rings out. Back in April, Britton, along with local greats Brad Hinton and Chelsea Sue Allen, stopped by the studio to share a few of the new cuts with us. I Sleep Alone is now available and Psalmships will be celebrating the release this Friday, July 11th at Bourbon & Branch with Chelsea Sue Allen and Nathan Edwin. A previous Psalmships + Folkadelphia collaboration, known now as My Endless Black, can be heard here.

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Poor murdered “Pretty Polly” and a session with Chris Kasper, who fronts a strong local crew, tonight on Folkadelphia Radio

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Pretty Polly” is the name of a rather grim and gruesome American murder ballad based on an even older British ballad called “The Gosport Tragedy.” The biggest difference between the two is a matter of narrative darkness. In both versions, a man murders his girlfriend after he learns she is pregnant, but, whereas in “Gosport,” the murderer receives his swift comeuppance while trying to escape his fate, the perpetrator in “Pretty Polly” often leaves the scene of the crime without punishment in this world, instead deferring his “debt to the devil” until the end of his own life.

Depending on the version, things can take a cringeworthy turn involving incest, insanity, premeditation, pejorative language, obsessive behavior, and, of course, the supernatural. It’s no wonder that this story continues to be one of the most popular and widely covered in the folk music world and beyond. To put it plainly, it’s a messed-up story. We’ll hear a few of the many versions available to us on the air.

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