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The High Key Portrait Series: Birdie Busch

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com
Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Birdie Busch’s new record Thunder Bridge is beautiful, meditative, with an attention to production details and sonic textures that would make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Jeff Tweedy envious. Recorded in Germantown, Busch’s sixth LP sees the introduction of longtime friend Jaron Olevsky as keyboardist, as well as co-producer along with her partner, bassist Todd Erk. It’s a pensive, reflective collection of eight tracks that might remind you of Lucinda, Feist, or the moods of Beth Orton, and you’ll be comforted to know that Busch is a local Philly girl too.

What’s more, on June 18th, the Philly songstress will host a record release party at Boot & Saddle in celebration of the new work (get tickets and more info here). She’ll also be around town with a handful of show dates this summer, and come Fall, Johnny Brenda’s will host her seventh annual Philly Opry, a night of music cultivated by Busch, and conceived to mix-and-match local and traveling acts.

In her interview with us, Busch related her eclectic influences, her love for the city and its arts community. She speaks thoughtfully, poised with deliberation and without calculation, and throughout shares her contagious outlook of renewal and rejuvenation, whether it’s with reference to her relationship with live performance or just walking or biking the city’s streets and neighborhoods. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Brian LaPann

Brian LaPann | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <a href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Brian LaPann | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Although New Jersey native Brian LaPann had enjoyed a modest following fronting Jersey-based blues-rock band 61 North, he says the draw of Philly’s music community compelled him to make the leap a few years back to set up shop near one of South Philly’s hottest neighborhoods, and to begin work with some of the local musicians whom he admired most. Here LaPann honed his skills as a lead guitarist, and considered a broader diversity of influence and instrumentation as he wrote, recorded and produced his latest EP. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Pablo Batista

Pablo Batista | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <A href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Pablo Batista | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Pablo Batista is the sort of venerable veteran of Philadelphia arts and culture with whom you’d want to sit for hours, as he recounts his storied career as an internationally-renowned Latin music percussionist. Despite enjoying success and acclaim the world over alongside famous artists like Alicia Keys, Gladys Knight, Regina Belle and Phyllis Hyman, among other jazz and R&B greats, to hear him tell it, Batista’s narrative seemed most radiant with hints of pride and reverie when he reviewed his leaner days, playing smaller Philly clubs, and being mentored by the late great Grover Washington, Jr.

Now over 50 and having played since age 9, Batista has been afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa for some thirty years, a degenerative eye condition that’s rendered the drummer legally blind, having by now claimed some 95% of his vision. Not only hasn’t it slowed him down, it doesn’t even seem to have affected his outlook or enthusiasm, as he spoke at length about his college days, or his time playing the Bethlehem and Philly club circuits, the giant jazz festivals of the ‘80s and ‘90s, or his gigs with George Howard or Jeffrey Osborne. On the contrary, the only time Batista even brought up his ailment was when asked about how he managed to get around town.

Despite this significant personal obstacle, Batista’s primary frustrations, when reflecting on his rich career as a Philadelphia artist and instructor, have to do with the support and promotion of that community for which he clearly holds a profound love. In this interview he’s upfront and candid about why.

Batista’s colorful career as a percussionist is at its best a triumph of spirit and hard work, two main ingredients that seemed to have factored into his success much more so than the luck of being in the right place at the right time. Still, his story has elements of fairy tale too: read below as he reminisces about his first gig in Philly, playing with George Howard at the legendary Uptown Theater. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore

Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <A href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

For fans of Philly’s local music scene, it hurts a little to have to use the word “former” to describe Meg Baird’s residential whereabouts. The singer uprooted from her longtime home here about four years ago and settled into San Francisco, a transition she reviewed briefly with The Key for an interview last August, in advance of a show at Johnny Brenda’s where she shared a stage with friend and frequent collaborator, Philly-based harpist Mary Lattimore.

Luckily for Baird’s fans, whatever coast she’s living on, she has been as prolific as ever. Last year saw the release of her third solo album, Don’t Weigh Down The Light, where she was accompanied throughout by Charlie Saufley for a return more toward the fuller sound of records made with her Philly-based band, Espers. Baird premiered a music video for the title track from that record on NPR last December.

Lattimore is celebrating the release of new music of her own as well. Her new record At The Dam hit stores on March 4th – it’s an album of experimental harp music that she improvised as a document of recent trips in California and Texas. Having recently garnered a Pew Fellowship, Lattimore is looking forward to an upcoming tour playing a number of European dates. Though she’d played throughout Europe before — as a duo along with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler, opening for Steve Gunn, or as part of Thurston Moore’s band — Lattimore looks forward to the autonomy and accolade of this tour as her first international venture as a solo headlining artist. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Reef The Lost Cauze & DJ Caliph-NOW

ReefCaliph-9762_horiz

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

In the Summer of 2015, Spotify published a survey of 1000 cities internationally, analyzing some 20 billion tracks, and concluding that hip hop was the highest consumed genre of music worldwide. That’s maybe no surprise to its fans, especially in New York City and in Philly, the two cities where the genre was conceived and first took root in the late 1970s.

Philly’s own Sharif Lacey is better known as Reef The Lost Cauze. Together with friend and producer Todd McConnell, known onstage as DJ Caliph-NOW, Reef has earned his status as a prominent steward of that legacy.

Informed by influences as diverse as Killer Mike, to Jadakiss, to Phantogram, to local compatriots The Roots and the late Philly rapper Viro the Virus, Reef’s prolific catalog offers eclectic tastes of a full spectrum of hip hop’s evolution, including an upcoming release with producer DJ Bear-1 on the Soulspazm label that the rapper considers to be his “most accessible, most gutter record” to date. He notes, “I’ve never really done something that I think dudes that hustle in the streets of Philly would really fuck with, and [Furious Styles] is that record.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jesse Hale Moore

Jesse Hale Moore
Jesse Hale Moore | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

For the past ten years, New England native Jesse Hale Moore has been in Philly, turning from film to music, performing at small venues in Philly and New York City, and collaborating with a number of Philly-based musicians in various capacities on diverse projects.

In this interview, in advance of his first full-length album expected later this year, Moore speaks thoughtfully, with poise and deliberation and tones of reverie regarding his evolution as an artist in the city, and returns multiple times throughout the interview to what became a central motif — the importance of the collaborative spirit in the art community, and the accessibility of that spirit in this city in particular. To hear Moore describe it, it takes a Philly village to raise an artist.

Most recently, a collaboration with bassist Dave Hartley (War On Drugs, Nightlands) proved to be a turning point for Moore. To that end, he offers an intimate and profoundly insightful picture of a young artist’s considerations during a sensitive period of creative and professional transition. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Cayetana

cayetana
Cayetana | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly’s been known over the years for jazz, having been home to heavyweights like Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Billie and of course, Philly Joe Jones. We’ve been known for hip hop, most widely recognized for the Roots and Fresh Prince, Freeway or Beanie, but with roots deep into the heady days of the conception of the genre reaching all the way back to Lady B’s “To The Beat Y’all” and Schoolly D’s seminal gangsta rap cut, “PSK, What Does It Mean?” We’re known in the national musical consciousness for that golden era of the 70’s, Hall & Oates, The O’Jays, Billy Paul, and Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia Soul.

When it comes to indie rock and punk, though, Philly has been somewhat outshined in decades past by the likes of Sub Pop’s Seattle or, say, “college rock” benchmarks out of Athens and Austin.

But an indie rock scene has been simmering here for years, from Shai Halperin’s unheralded aughts bands The Capitol Years through better-recognized successors, Kurt Vile and his War On Drugs. These days, original, talented, fresh-sounding, local rock bands are dutifully packing our favorite bars and show spaces in billed shifts on any given weeknight, making noise in every neighborhood.

Enter Cayetana, perhaps the most polite and respectful rock band you’ll ever meet. Maybe they look familiar, where a recent Stereogum article cast them as the poster children of Philly’s DIY scene.

But if singer and guitarist Augusta Koch, bassist Allegra Anka and drummer Kelly Olsen could ever appear to you to be some sort of archetypal group, you’ll find it challenging to compare their sound to any other. Their brand is unique, self-conscious punk with substantive, introspective lyrics packaged behind killer hooks.

And good news for us: they’re honing their stagecraft locally these days, on a break from touring to work on their second LP, with a new EP just out to whet your appetites. Catch them at PhilaMOCA this Saturday for a 7″ release show and, again at Union Transfer in February when they open for The Loves Ones’ sold-out reunion show. And, well, RIP Golden Tea House.

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Sonni Shine

sonni shine
Sonni Shine | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

After six years writing and recording four albums, and playing over six-hundred shows together, The Underwater Sounds are parting ways. If that makes an interview with frontwoman Sonni Shine sound like a bit of a bittersweet epilogue, consider all that’s on the horizon for this reggae/soul/ska artist, as she teams up with so many other talented Philly musicians for new projects.

This Spring, it seems Sonni’s mellifluous vocals will be everywhere, lucky for us, on everything from a new EP from reggae crew Cultureal – executively produced, mixed and mastered by Phil Nicolo at Studio 4 – to a new collaboration with electronic-dub DJ goldenSpiral, “Eternal Life,” to a Sade tribute show at Bourbon and Branch on May 7th along with Zeek Burse and members of WorldTown. If that’s not enough, the singer says she looks forward to a project of her own as she lends her soulful voice to some independent material she’s been working on, music with more of, as she puts it, a “soul-folk/roots vibe.”

For now, The Underwater Sounds offer you a music video for “My Future.” The second installment of the band’s September 2015 release, Visions of Love and Light, will be available at their “Final Farewell” show at Underground Arts on Friday, February 5th, and all who attend will receive a download card.

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Chill Moody

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com
Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

All you Philly rappers and hip-hop fans reading this — think on the times you’ve been in your car singing along with Cody Chesnutt on the chorus of “The Seed (2.0),” and along with Black Thought on those verses too. Maybe you sang along live and loud too last July, when the Roots played “You Got Me” to a packed Parkway.

It might be easy enough to run those lyrics in the safety of your own home, or at karaoke one night up at Yakitori when your friends were too drunk to call you out properly because you mispronounced “Elysee Montmartre.” But even the biggest Roots fans might start to sweat, should they happen to be asked to perform those two tracks 1) live, 2) to a hometown audience of thousands, and 3) in front of Thought, Quest and company.

Chill Moody was tapped to do just that in October, with just a couple days to prepare, when The Roots were inducted onto the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame.

As someone who’s by now shared everything from high schools and neighborhoods with the likes of Will Smith and Schooly D to a stage with The Roots, Chill Moody stands for Philly hip hop as a proper prodigal son, vetted and venerable. On topics of all things Philly arts, from Jane Golden’s prolific Mural Arts program, to our locally celebrated and nationally renowned rap artists, Chill Moody explains why Philly can have #NiceThings. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Zeek Burse and Paralee Knight

Zeek Burse and Paralee Knight | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com
Zeek Burse and Paralee Knight | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Singer, songwriter and music producer Zeek Burse has been on a musical sojourn for the past three years in Philly. When a chance meeting with one of Philly’s greatest R&B vocalists got Burse involved with The Boom Room Studio’s “Music Church,” Burse had an opportunity with drummer and producer Gary Dann’s music collective Worldtown Soundsystem to show off the talent that he’d developed from a young age almost exclusively under the influence of American Deep South gospel — most recently resulting in WorldTown’s electric debut single “Testify,” featuring Burse on lead vocals.

Since then, however, and along with songwriting companion Paralee Knight, Burse’s influences have diversified and evolved. At the top of 2016, expect to find the charismatic soul singer playing dates around Philly with Worldtown, at his new music residency at Relish, and dropping a new EP on February 22nd. The recording project — titled 22 — seeks to focus on and specifically feature the various musical styles that Burse has developed, the eclectic influences with which some time spent evolving as a Philadelphia artist have informed his style. Continue reading →