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Folkadelphia Session: Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster

Courtesy of the artist.

Though Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster‘s (of Mississippi favorites Water Liars) debut solo album is called Constant Stranger, the record has been more of a constant companion than anything else since its release towards the end of last year. When I needed it, the record has at times acted as a friend, a mirror, a salve, a question, but mostly a reminder about what I hold dear. Yes, it’s that powerful. Pitch perfect instrumentation flesh out the brilliant stories and poetry Kinkel-Schuster conjures up; I was hooked with the rich imagery from line one, “Used to walk my black dog late at night / without a moon it felt just like / being drawn by an unseen hand / into a country ancient and unplanned / Where it ain’t no use to try and turn me ’round / But I will sing these songs till I can no longer can.”
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Folkadelphia Session: Julie Byrne

Photo by Jonathon Bouknight

Julie Byrne‘s flawless new album Not Even Happiness is about travel, transition, journeys, and discovery. On the first track “Follow My Voice,” she leaves behind the city for the light, the sky, and the green and on “Sleepwalker,” which you can hear as part of our in-studio session, she “crossed the country and…carried no key.” Byrne is nomadic, but she treats it like destiny, as on “I Live Now As a Singer,” where she describes how she has “dragged my life across the country and wondered if travel led me anywhere.” She sings with an inherent bravery, a deep humanity, and an admirable self-knowledge of herself, but there is always more to learn and to seek out, within and without. Not Even Happiness from its message to its music may seem simple and overly subtle, but the depth of its beauty and power are truly remarkable.
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Folkadelphia Session: Western Centuries

Photo by Brooke Warren, Courtesy of Free Dirt Records

Over the last few years Pacific Northwest based “new-old time” duo Cahalen Morrison and Eli West released a number of expertly crafted albums until going their separate ways. Then in 2016, I kept hearing about Cahalen Morrison’s new project Western Centuries, a rollicking country group of sorts with other band members holding deep musical accolades: Jim Miller (of Donna the Buffalo) and Ethan Lawton, along with Travis Stuart on bass and Leo Grassl on pedal steel for this Folkadelphia performance. As you expect, Western Centuries is more than proficient in their country stylings, but where they really shine is bringing to the fore tinges of funk, honky tonk, and rock with a good sense of fun. As a listener, I find it comforting to be led on a musical trip in the hands of an expert group of artists and Western Centuries are very capable on their release Weight of the World.
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Folkadelphia Session: Shannen Moser


Word of mouth is still the best way to find out about music, so I am entirely and constantly indebted to John Vettese of WXPN and The Key for cluing me (and many blog readers and radio listeners) in to amazing artistic endeavors, especially when it comes from our hometown of Philadelphia, like this week’s in-studio session featuring Shannen Moser and our first collaboration with The Key. In the past, music sometimes did not make it to listeners because of gatekeepers; if you weren’t signed to a label, weren’t played on a radio station, weren’t part of the music biz mechanism, you might not be heard. Nowadays the problem is an excess of content, as the Internet people would say. Try to take in all of the art, music, writing, videos online and you quickly become an oversoaked sponge. That’s why people like John Vettese are so crucial. So I’ll repeat, I am entirely and constantly indebted to John Vettese for pointing us to Shannen Moser.
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Folkadelphia Session: Shadow Band

Photo by Paul Benson, courtesy of Mexican Summer Records

Down in South Philly, I daydreamed what Mike Bruno was getting into that produced such interesting psychedelic music, what uncharted realms of musical magic, sound experimentation, and audio alchemy was he dabbling in? I imagined an unfinished basement, big, loud amps, a mess of guitar pedals, electrical cords, homespun tunings, and various drum hardware strewn about, Bruno in the middle of it summoning or perhaps exorcising sonic demons. I also pictured that he was in repose on a sun-dappled wood floor in a cozy room invaded by green potted plants, six-string in hand, drawing on the spirits of Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Sandy Denny, or maybe folks closer to home – John Fahey and the Takoma crew. He certainly conjured up both images while performing over the years in Philly groups like Bad Braids, The Black Magic Family Band, and now in Shadow Band.
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Folkadelphia Session: Mitch Esparza

Photo by Chris Beat

Maybe Mitch Esparza is a scrapbooker. I always called him a musical chameleon because in my mind what was so compelling and admirable about his performances and albums, from his ensemble The Love Club to his psych solo project (((taco))) (or is it M.E.?), to music under his own name, and even more than I can recall, was that he could adapt. Throw him in a new situation, change up the genre, give him a new instrument or toy to play with, or start a new band with brand new people, he would adapt and thrive, always able to present interesting sound, music, and art. I would like to take this opportunity to adjust my mental image of Mitch Esparza. Maybe Mitch Esparza is a scrapbooker, building a cosmic sonic dreamboard, rifling through a universe of waveforms and artforms, pilfering what he enjoys and putting aside the rest, weaving a “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” patchwork. I like this image more because a musical chameleon, while inventive, is perhaps without a unique style or vision. A scrapbooker not only has style, but a strong, distinctive vision for his art, which totally describes Mitch. Long may he dream and weave.
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Folkadelphia Session: Hawk Tubley and the Ozymandians

Courtesy of the band.

Hawk Tubley and the Ozymandians is the perfect band name for this group of intrepid Philly musicians as it describes to you a lot and almost nothing about what you’re getting yourself into, especially as no one is actually named Hawk Tubley. You can imagine the fantastical and maybe the bizarre, but you also get the absurd, as electric guitar shredding punctuates and comments on each narrative, which is relayed to the listener in speak-song. In fact, I want to call Hawk Tubley’s compositions eccentric “Mother Goose”. The topics range from the hapless drifter “Jack of All Trades,” partners chained to their devotion in “Grade B Prisoner of Love,” and, of course, a ride on a magical dirigible in “The Magic Blimp.” The group certainly does not lack for imagination, which is firing on all cylinders on their upcoming record Pond Kings in April.
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Folkadelphia Session: Anna & Elizabeth

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Photo courtesy of the band.

With every performance and recording, Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle known simply as Anna & Elizabeth seemingly do the impossible, breathing vital new life into dead and distant history. The duo are alchemists of a sort, traveling to sealed archives to learn the arcane and obscure musics of yore from what I imagine are little bits of and pieces of songs written into the margins of huge dusty tomes. I concede my imagination is likely somewhat off-base, but magic is definitely happening.
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Folkadelphia Session: Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull | photo by Fred Knittel for WXPN
Sierra Hull | photo by Fred Knittel for WXPN

They are now Grammy-nominated for Best Folk Album, and rightly so. In 2016, Sierra Hull returned with her third album Weighted Mind for Rounder Records, and it has made a lasting impression in the world of folk and bluegrass, as if she hadn’t already with her prodigious talent (crazy skills on the mandolin and only in her mid-twenties) and collaborations (Alison Krauss, to name one of many).

Like any great roots record, Weighted Mind is completely absent of BS, filler tracks, or studio magic as a crutch. Instead, the album which feels like a single, captivating concert primarily features Hull, singing and picking, and Ethan Jodziewicz playing bass with guest spots that add just a touch of sparkle from Bela Fleck, Alison Kraus, Rhiannon Giddens, and Abigail Washburn. That’s it, nothing more and it is more than enough.
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Folkadelphia Session: Eva Salina (with Peter Stan)

Eva Salina and Peter Stan at WXPN
I can’t understand the language that Eva Salina sing in, but I know that what she is saying and conveying is mighty powerful. Eva Salina sings in Romaneste, an Indo-European language with speakers all around the world, especially in the Balkan region. Salina describes herself quite aptly as an interpreter of this mode and tradition of music, of which she’s been performing for over fifteen years. On her most recent album, Lema Lema: Eva Salina Sings Saban Bajramovic, Salina presents the music of Saban Bajramovic, the late mysterious Serbian-Romani musician, as seen through the lens and style of modern music, while holding true to rich traditions. Despite the language barrier, the emotional component of each song – the drama, the tension, the ecstasy, the joy, the sorrow are all vivid and clear with Eva Salina front and center.
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