The Philadelphia Art Alliance is one of my favorite venues in Philadelphia. They have a several galleries of artwork in a large 19th-century mansion on Rittenhouse Square and host free play readings and several music events each month. Unfortunately, the venue is generally used just for jazz or classical shows. (There’s a great free string quartet recital the last Friday of every month.) I was delighted when i saw on their calendar an XPN-sponsored event featuring three excellent local acoustic acts: Chris Kasper, Birdie Busch, and Carsie Blanton. It was while listening to their three well executed sets in a beautiful acoustic setting that i first thought, “i’d like to cover this great local music scene.”
If i remember correctly (this was about a month ago, my motivation did not directly follow my inspiration... too often the case), Carsie went first. Both her and Birdie Busch were accompanied by an excellent guitarist whose name i forget [update: he is Ross Bellenoit, and as one comment noted, "he's the sh*t]. Carsie plays an excellent subdued finger-picking style of acoustic guitar, best exemplified on her song “Ain’t So Green,” from her album of the same name. I had that song stuck in my head for about a fortnight afterwards. (You can listen to that song on her myspace site.) The first time i saw her it was in a loud bar, and her quiet solo acoustic set was drowned out. I don’t know her personally, but she has a humble, somewhat meek stage demeanor that begs for a venue like this where she will be the center of attention.
Birdie Busch, a longtime stalwart of the Philly acoustic scene, turned things up slightly with an attractive large body electric guitar. There wasn’t any song particular that stood out, but this was partly due to the generally excellent sound of the set.
I was most looking forward to seeing Chris Kasper in this setting. I’ve been seeing Kasper play for years, in such long-forgotten groups as PoCKet ScHwa and the Whiskey Dicks, and more recently in the excellent urbangrass band, the Lowlands. For a long time his solo shows were just that: him and an acoustic guitar. After a tour with Amos Lee he began increasingly to play with supporting musicians. He has put together an excellent cast of players and they serve him well at the larger venues he now plays, but I was hoping this set would be a return to his solo roots.
Kasper instead chose to play with his whole band, but kept a generally low key sound (the drummer used brushes). A young and talented female singer whose name i forget [update: her name was Dawn Iulg] took Adrien Reju’s singing parts. The set was mostly composed of songs from his older album, the excellent Flying Boy, including two favorites of mine: "And You Wait" and "Gone the Summer." I spoke to Chris after the show and he said the songs from his new album (released May 17 with a party at the World Cafe) were more upbeat and fitting for louder venues. In any case, Kasper is a real ambassador for Philly acoustic music and his new album is as eagerly anticipated as his last is warmly appreciated. He helped inspire this site.
Carsie Blanton singing "Ain't So Green" (live version)