The Key Studio Sessions: The Low Road

From 1991 to 1997, The Low Road warmed hearts and fed minds in the Philadelphia music scene and far beyond. Call them roots, call them Americana, call them indie-folk — they’ve heard all those descriptions, and they’re fitting. But with the band playing two reunion shows this spring, some re-evaluation of the music The Low Road was making in the time that they made it is in order, and with that, you can also see a stateside equivalent of a band to whom they’re not oft compared: Belle & Sebastian.

Sure, The Low Road predated Belle & Seb by about five years, and one is decidedly more Scottish than the other. But think about it: in times when the dominant rock sounds were aggressive, distortion pedal punk dirges or grandiose, aspirational arena-ready anthems, these artists went inward. They drew on the folk traditions of their respective home countries and a time-tested approach to pop songwriting, and used those things as a backdrop to observational, highly literary lyrical stories. Their songs captured the concerns and emotions of being an introverted twenty-to-thirtysomething out of sorts with their surroundings but nevertheless trying to find a way. In that sense, Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner’s Philadelphia is not unlike Stuart Murdoch’s Glasgow, and in these songs, they take us right into that world.

Earlier this month, a reunited Low Road — singer-guitarist Brenner, singer-violinist Rosie McNamara-Jones, drummer Mark Schreiber, bassist Alan Hewitt, and vocalist / percussionist Palmer Yale — performed at WXPN studios, a warmup for their two June 1st shows at World Cafe Live, and played a set of songs that bring Philadelphia life circa early 90s to vivid life. Continue reading →


Sheer Mag and Thin Lips team up with White Reaper for Goose Island gig at World Cafe Live

Sheer Mag | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN // Thin Lips | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

In addition to the whole craft beer thing, it seems that Chicago’s Goose Island is lowkey getting into the concert promotions business. First there was last fall’s throwdown with Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the lot of what’s now called Franklin Music Hall; now we get word that they’ve brought the party indoors for a DIY-friendly rager at World Cafe Live downstairs on June 22 starring Philly faves Sheer Mag and Thin Lips, with Kentucky rockers White Reaper taking the middle slot on the bill.   Continue reading →


Two To Tango: Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and Meow Meow

Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale | photo via World Cafe Live

Before collaborating on an inter-twisting new album, Hotel Amour, and intertwining set lists the likes of which bring them to World Café Live on March 26, Pink Martini leader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale played accompanist and bestest bud to the toast of the Australian cabaret scene, Melissa Madden Gray, otherwise known as Meow Meow.

For the last 15 years, when Lauderdale wasn’t busy touring the land or hitting recording studios for Pink Martini’s space-age bachelor pad lounge orchestrations, he was tinkling the ivories for the kittenish chanteuse. Now fully united and integrated, the pair discussed their origin story from two parts of the globe during one conversation, with Lauderdale in his home of Portland and Meow calling from London.

Continue reading →


Lily & Madeleine showcase the mature new sound of Canterbury Girls at World Cafe Live

Lily & Madeleine | photo by Emily De Hart for WXPN |

The legacy of family bands in American folk music dates back as far as the genre itself. The story goes something like this: two (or more) siblings sing together around the house. It’s cute and maybe even in tune. Flash forward, and the family band secures a recording and releases it into the world. This is the basic origin story for folk-turned-pop due Lily & Madeleine. The Indiana-born singers recorded themselves singing cover songs in high school on YouTube and quickly caught the attention of producer, Paul Mahern. Their EP, Lily & Madeleine, was released in 2013 on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty records, and they sold out their first live shows in their hometown of Indianapolis.

Zoom forward six years, and Lily & Madeleine have just released their forth album, Canterbury Girls, on New West Records with the help of co-producers Ian Fitchuck and Daniel Tashian who worked Kacey Musgrave’s Grammy-award winning album, Golden Hour. The sisters, now 21 and 23 years old, have crafted a poignant new record that reflects on life’s hard lessons and beautiful but fleeting moments. They weave narratives about falling in and out of love, leaving their hometown and feeling lost across the world, and how sadness is a reality of an empathetic life. Their career has pushed on the trope of the family folk band and has now raised the question: what happens when the family band grows up?

Lily & Madeleine performed at the World Cafe Live this past Friday, along with opening act Brother Bird. After taking the stage, Madeleine remarked that this they have performed at the World Cafe Live during every album cycle of the career. Continue reading →


Kingsley Ibeneche chases love and communes with nature in the “Sanctuary” video

Kingsley Ibeneche | still from video

The cover of Kingsley Ibeneche‘s new Realms EP, released via Astro Nautica a couple Fridays ago, features a beautiful and dream-like photograph of three muses perched on a balcony, and the scene comes to vivid life in the new music video for “Sanctuary,” the song that opens the set.

In it, we see Ibeneche racing through green spaces and wooded hills, following the muses into a mysterious greenhouse where the scene turns from hazy to magical. Continue reading →


Just Announced: Grupo Fantasma will play World Cafe Live this April with Interminable

Grupo Fantasma | via NPR

Latin funk and cumbia band, Grupo Fantasma, is coming to Philly this April with their new album, American Music: Vol. VII

A 9-piece collective based in Austin, Texas, Grupo Fantasma fuses funk and Latin music to create a vibrant and unique sound. Their new album, their first release since 2015, will tackle identity and citizenship, borders, and questions of who is considered “illegal” in America. While Grupo has faced challenges from the press about the identity of their music, they have pushed back by creating narratives in their songs that complicate easy answers about the “nationality of music.” In their own words,“music is the ultimate assimilator, crossing borders and cultures and mutating to represent the experiences of its performers.” Grupo has six previously released albums and a star-studded collaboration lists with the likes of Prince, Spoon, and los Lobos. They even threw in a Grammy award in 2011 for good measure. Continue reading →


Free At Noon Flashback: Shy Boys introduce Kansas City indie pop to World Cafe Live

Shy Boys performing at World Cafe Live for WXPN’s Free At Noon Concert | photo by Rich McKie

Shy Boys may be from out of town — Kansas City, Missouri, to be exact — but their two-day stint in Philadelphia has had them feeling right at home. After the band’s show at PhilaMOCA last night, they were gearing up for today’s Free at Noon performance with a hearty breakfast when frontman Collin Rausch noticed that the restaurant was playing XPN over the speakers. It got even more surreal for the band when they heard a promo for own show today, making them feel like they weren’t too far away from home after all. Continue reading →


Free At Noon Flashback: Bahamas floats and shines through World Cafe Live

Bahamas | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN |

It’s nearly ninety degrees and sunny today in Philadelphia, and it feels as if summer is here to stay — ignoring the clear dad joke that all but writes itself, the sunshine and hazy heat perfectly embodied the feeling of Bahamas‘ sound during their Free At Noon show at World Cafe Live.

Bahamas’ Alfie Jurvanen began the performance on the tip of his toes, floating along with the light, breezy, rhythmically meditative and lyrically reflective set. Much of the set featured tracks from Earthtones, Bahamas’ fourth full-length record released earlier this year. Beginning with the simple, introspective “No Wrong,” Jurvanen showcased the album’s multifaceted sounds as he moved through the upbeat ‘No Expectations” and the funky “Opening Act.” Continue reading →


Laughter to Tears: Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy show a range of emotions at World Cafe Live

Phoebe Bridgers | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A country song began to play. Like the very commodified, mainstream country radio kind of song. The kind of breezy, late summer day, wind-blowing-through-your-hair-as-you-drive-your-pickup-truck kind of country song.

I heard the phrase “parked out by the lake” more than a few times, but didn’t think much of the glossy genre’s fairly standard fare. The question of why Phoebe Bridgers chose this track in particular to walk onto stage to though — that nagged at my noggin. I mean, there are so many options, Pheebs. Poised at the mic, she even began to sing along a bit. Well, dang, I thought; attributing definite deeper layers I just didn’t pick up on as the reasoning. I mean, it must be a meaningful tune for such a prolific songwriter to single out.

Ha. What I learned later is that the song in question — the very aptly-titled “Parked Out by the Lake” — is actually a parody. “I’m parked out by the lake,” the very real and actual bluegrass / gospel artist, Dustin Christensen, begins in that perfectly gritty and melodic rasp, as his very not real alter-ego, Dean Summerwind. “Eighty miles from Sante Fe,”he continues. “And I’m sitting here just parked out by the lake. If you’re wondering where I parked, I’m out parked by the lake. It’s the lake that’s eighty miles from Sante Fe.”

A wave of relief washed over me. Perfection. Semi-akin to Bo Burnham’s iconic parody, “Pandering,” the song is a joke. And it’s exactly this kind of wry and multi-dimensional, mildly cynical but completely truthful melding that so perfectly encapsulates both of the artists who graced the stage at World Cafe Live this past Wednesday. Continue reading →