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Folkadelphia Session: Leif Vollebekk

As with most Americans who have heard the guy, we were introduced to Montreal’s Leif Vollebekk through North Americana, his ode to his travels through the United States, released at the beginning of 2014. On the record which owes influence to mid-70s Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley, Vollebekk creates a spacious and rich sonic landscape with “the best band in the world,” as he notes in his bio. While this type of songwriting doesn’t tread new ground per se, the singer-songwriter brings a poetry, grace, and soulfulness not often heard. And gosh darn if he ain’t a heck of a songwriter. Continue reading →

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Folkadelphia Session: Cuddle Magic


Back at the end of 2012, Folkadelphia recorded a stripped down set in the auxiliary broadcast room at WXPN with folk goddess Anais Mitchell. During this session, we met an excitable, highly passionate, and imaginative individual named Ben Davis who was playing in Mitchell’s band (alongside Rachel Reis). As they played, we were privy to just a glimpse of the insane brilliance that Davis brings with him everywhere he goes. He also told us about his own project Cuddle Magic. How could we not listen after all of what we witnessed? Continue reading →

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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: The Whiskey Gentry


Team Folkadelphia is very excited and proud to present our session with The Whiskey Gentry, recorded live back in March while the Georgians were in town. They’re a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll. They’re also a huge helping of bluegrass, a side dish of rustic folk, and just a smidgen of punk rock abandon.

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Folkadelphia Session: Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls)

Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

Goodnight Tender, the new solo album from Amy Ray, is not a record to be taken lightly. It feels like a project that was mulled over, devised, and labored on for a long period of time. As such it demands our respect and undivided attention. It’s a brave and utterly successful musical step for Ray. Unquestionably different than her other solo albums, as well as her work with the Indigo Girls, it is very much a feat of pure Americana. Continue reading →

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Folkadelphia Session: Mason Porter

What continues to make West Chester, PA’s Mason Porter a force to be reckoned with in the Americana and roots community, especially regionally, is the intimacy that they bring to each song. Whether it is in live performance, on record (like their latest Home For The Harvest), or, now, with their Folkadelphia Session, the trio of Joe D’Amico, Tim Celfo, and Paul Wilkinson have an uncanny ability to draw the listener in and keep them close. I can only think that this magical power is the result of a strong and long-standing chemistry between the members. Heck, we know they can all play their instruments and yes, that’s terribly important. They harmonize like the bee’s knees too. But it’s that extra something something that only comes about after years of meshing together that pushes their”good” to “great.” Can we also talk about how tight these guys are when they perform? Beyond chemistry, Mason Porter comes prepared. Folks like to throw around the word “simplistic” to classify MP’s brand of stripped back Americana. Do not fool yourself into thinking that simplicity implies a lack of imagination, passion, energy, or playing chops. Simplicity mean preparedness; this music only works because the trio is locked in the groove, dialed in, and firing on all cylinders – but, you know, simplistically, acoustically, and intimately.

Mason Porter recorded this Folkadelphia Session back in February when they were fresh off the release of their newest album Home For The Harvest. For more Mason Porter reading and listening, check out The Key’s Unlocked coverage. Mason Porter performs at Underground Arts supporting Spirit Family Reunion on Saturday, August 9th.

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Folkadelphia Session: Charlie Parr

The description of Minnesota based musician Charlie Parr as “one man, one guitar, one foot in the grave” is pretty perfect. Stylistically, Parr plays a type of music that all but resides six feet under the ground; he’s a dying breed of self-taught musician that draws from early American roots, country blues, spirituals, and traditional. I like to think that Charlie hasn’t even heard any music from the last 50-75 years. Listening to Charlie conjures up the image of a long lost John and Alan Lomax field recording, or a hold-over from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Even when you see him perform live, the audience may hear phantom clicks-and-pops, the surface noice and scratchiness of an ancient 78, little wheel spin and spin, big wheel turn around and around. That’s just the vibe of Charlie Parr. Over the course of now twelve albums, including last year’s Hollandale, an instrumental record featuring Low‘s Alan Sparhawk, Parr continues to mine the depths, certainly not rob the graves, of authentic and original folk music.

While the style is timeless, the sounds are sepia-toned, and Parr himself is rather quiet and pensive, the songs are not like a specimen under a microscope or a box of records filed away for posterity in the stacks of the Library of Congress. The music is alive and breathing. In fact, Parr’s one foot in the grave may mean he’s trying to get out of that ditch, clawing and kicking, raging against physical and mental anguish and isolation of a wall of dirt (and a wall of dirt of the mind and spirit). You can hear it in the guitar picking, in the throaty dusty singing, and the vibrantly emotional feeling of the songs. This music has a heartbeat and it ain’t dead yet as long as Parr is around.

Charlie Parr recorded this album lengthened session at the WXPN Performance Studio on February 23rd, 2014 while he was in Philadelphia for a Folkadelphia presented show at Hubbub Coffee.

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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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Folkadelphia Session: Heyward Howkins

Heyward Howkins might be a fairly new addition to the City of Brotherly Love’s music scene, but front man and songwriter John Howkins is certainly no greenhorn. Howkins gained attention in the early aughts playing lead guitar with The Trouble With Sweeney and he is also a founding member of The Silver Ages, the Philly-centric men’s choral group that puts on notable performances (especially during the holidays). As Heyward Howkins, Howkins and his band have released two impeccable albums – 2012′s The Hale & Hearty and late 2013′s Be Frank, Furness. What continues to draw us here at Folkadelphia back to Howkins’ music is his immense storytelling powers, wrought with detail, witty wordplay, clever turns of phrase, and, the best in my opinion, references that give a wink and a nudge to Philly. Plus, we like the “Be Frank” part, as we formerly ran a record label of the same name.

What can we say about Heyward Howkins that WXPN & The Key’s John Vettese has not already written in his excellent review of Be Frank, Furness? Vettese wrote that The Hale and Hearty caught our ear “with both evocative word choices and clever imagery laid gracefully atop breeze acoustic-rooted instrumentation” and that “Howkins is a musician who likes to give his listeners a thing or two to chew on.” On this latest album, the music end of things is fleshed out, nearly as expansive as the lyrical content. As for me, I often seem to get the line from the title track stuck in my mind, “Even cut brandy is carefully fortified, but our actions still mortifying. And the orange line nags with champa and a twist cap wine, but above we’re all mortified.” That’s how this record works on you; pictures become ingrained in the imagination.

It was fresh off the release of Be Frank, Furness that we welcomed Howkins and his band – Josh Newman (bass), Vince Tampio (melodica, trumpet, vocals), and Erik Schmidt (drums) into the WXPN Performance Studio to track song for the latest album and more.

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Folkadelphia Session: Marissa Nadler

Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

In 2014, Marissa Nadler released July, a collection of story songs that only she could have made. By that it is meant that without Nadler, these songs don’t exist, they could not possibly exist in this world. July is both the essence of and the essential Marissa Nadler. On this her sixth full-length album, she gives off the aura of mastery, displaying her growth as both a creative entity and unique voice in the folk world. While all of the musical pieces may not have been in place like they are now, from even her first album, Ballads of Living and Dying (2006), Nadler has had a strong conception of self and style. Her evolution has been subtle and calculated, fully incorporating sounds and ideas into her art – gothic songwriter on Little Hells, shimmering Americana on her self-titled album, and now, atmospheric elegance on July. For this record, Nalder worked with producer Randall Dunn, best known for work with noise and metal bands like Sun O))) and Earth, but also the avant-psych-folk of Six Organs of Admittance for instance. Dunn adds textural embellishment to Nadler’s world; on previous records, Nadler has sung from the deepest subterranian depths and resonant caves or from the empty woods and loamy ground, here Dunn gives her a new stage, the darkened night sky from which to command.

Nadler’s stories often touch on our mortality, existential issues, and time, but it is the strong feelings and the slow burn of emotions that remain with the listener even as the words fade away. When I hear Marissa Nadler’s music, particularly with July, I imagine those large bindered photo albums that exist in everyone’s hallway closet, gathering dust and being largely forgotten. I like to think that Nadler is the champion of these books of small, intimate stories that are spread across time and space, that all of us have within us. She imbues her sound with the silver-tinged, the black and white contrast, the sepia-toned, and the fading colors of these photographic stories. The more I consider it, the more I hold it to be true – Marissa Nadler is the folk singer of our memories.

This Folkadelphia Session has been a long time in the making. We first collaborated with Marissa back in November of 2013 while she was in the Philadelphia area. This was before she had fully conceptualized her live set-up for the songs of July. She told us that she would return, armed with a larger sound. Fast forward to March of 2014, she returned with celloist, songwriter, and vocalist Janel Leppin. For the listener, we present a nearly album-sized collection, pulling mostly from the latter session.