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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 releases Volume IV compilation featuring John Reilly, Stray Birds and more

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John Reilly and Friends | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker for WXPN | http://www.laurajanebrubaker.com/

Wrapping up another year chock full of intimate, eye-opening, and always enjoyable recordings, Folkadelphia has shared its Folkadelphia Sessions Volume IV compilation. The 16-song sampler cherrypicks highlights from the wide range of artists that curator Fred Knittel welcomed into the studio between November 2015 and November 2016, from ethereal up-and-comers to well-traveled veterans.

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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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Folkadelphia Session: Weatherman

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Chicago’s Weatherman is the result of three established artists coming together for something different and new. Singer and pianist Annie Higgins comes from the boundary-pushing world of modern classical music, drummer and percussionist Jason Toth comes with a loaded CV after playing with Daniel Knox, The Handsome Family, Fruit Bats, and more, and Joshua Dumas, in charge of electronics, soundscapes, and atmospherics, works his sonic magic in brilliantly fresh ways.
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Folkadelphia Session: Bob Brown

Courtesy of the artist.
Courtesy of the artist.

Bob Brown‘s story is a fascinating one. In the late 1960’s, Brown, a young burgeoning musician at the time, linked up with Richie Havens, eventually signing with Haven’s Stormy Forest record label. In 1970 and 1971, Stormy Forest released The Wall I Built Myself and Willoughby’s Lament. Soon after, Stormy Forest closed up shop and throughout the ’70s Bob struggled to make traction with other labels, leading to a final live performance in the early 1980s.
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Folkadelphia Session: MiWi La Lupa


“What are you listening to these days? Any current influences?” were the questions posed yesterday to Conor Oberst, Mr. Bright Eyes himself. during a New York Times Facebook live streaming event. Oberst responds that “he’s really into this guy, MiWi La Lupa, he’s from Buffalo, New York, and he just put out a new record called Beginner’s Guide. I’ve been playing that one a lot lately.” And I thought to myself that between Beginner’s Guide and his other new album from this year Ended Up Making Love, we’ve been listening to MiWi a lot too, and for good reason. In some ways it might be because Ended Up Making Love reminds me of those now classic Saddle Creek Records albums from bands like Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Cursive, Son Ambulance, and others – full of bombast, collaboration, and energy. Those records and now MiWi’s have a true voice and perspective – something to say. It doesn’t hurt that MiWi moved to Omaha (home of Saddle Creek) to work with Conor Oberst alongside long-time Saddle Creek staple Mike Mogis on Ended Up Making Love.
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Folkadelphia Session: The Bones of J.R. Jones

Photo courtesy of the artist.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Bones of J.R. Jones is actually the bones of Jonathon Linaberry, the main (only?) member of the band, which if you listen or see him live, is quite the feat. He certainly puts those bones and body to work, strumming, picking, kicking, thrashing, pounding, whispering, growling, and crooning. On his newest album, Spirit’s Furnace, The Bones takes that rough and raw roots & blues sound we know him for and amplifies it. Sometimes he literally amplifies it, full on band style. Sometimes he amplifies the stylistic elements, hitting the listener at the right time with the right phrasing or the right guitar slide. Those are victorious moments and they come often. Spirit’s Furnace is a record I have often revisited over the year since it came out and it is a rewarding listen every time; I highly recommend it.
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