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The Key Studio Sessions: Roomtone

Photos by John Vettese

There’s nobody in the Philadelphia music scene that sounds quite like Roomtone. Just the fact that the band incorporates bossa nova stylings to the extent it does makes it stand out, but there’s more. Alex Yaker’s songwriting is at once fresh and timeless, a product of time spent digging into old 60s pop LPs and movie soundtracks, huddled in the corner of some record store – as one title suggests, “Inside a Bargain Bin.” The bad’s Key Studio Session moves between smooth, suave tones (the loungey “As Far as I Can Tell,” the folky “Solitare”) to jangely pop (“Hey,” “Fire Fire”).  Yaker has played bass in Philly acts like Summer Fiction and Grammar Debate since the mid-aughts, and the return to his own songwriting in Roomtone has been a long time coming. Their latest LP, Turkish Saddle, is out this week, and the band celebrates its release with an appearance at The Maas Building on Saturday September 8.

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head
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The Key Studio Sessions: Heyward Howkins

The rare combination of a warm southern storyteller and a cool northern soul, Heyward Howkins is a longtime player in Philadelphia’s music scene who is coming into his own on the debut LP he’ll release later this month. The Hale and The Hearty is an album that rewards multiple listens – particularly the selections that Howkins recorded spaciously arranged versions of for his Key Studio Session with guitarist Severin Tucker and drummer Erik Schmidt. “Spanish Moss,” one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, is simultaneously a nod to the songwriter’s family roots in Georgia, as well as a vignette of working class life in Philadelphia. It’s so lyrically subtle, you almost have to be from the 215 to pick up on all the clever turns of phrase it contains (the line “My city’s way hungover / still sore from red October” is a good one), but the song is also melodic and sublime in a way that transcends its regional references. Likewise, “The Live Oak” makes a solid case for naming Howkins poet laureate of Oaklyn, N.J. The album is in stores and online on June 26, but you can get a copy early with the price of admission at this weekend’s album pre-release show at the Maas Building in Fishtown. Heyward Howkins performs with Oh! Pears, Le Fits and Juliet Hope Wayne at The Maas Building, 1320 N. 5th St., on Sat. June 9 at 8 p.m. Admission to the show is $10.

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head