Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hoots & Hellmouth, almost

I went to see the excellent Hoots & Hellmouth at Johnny Brendas in Fishtown last night for the second night of their cd release party for their new album, Holy Open Secret. The song "What Good Are Ploughshares" from this album has been on their myspace site for a while and it is excellent; I was looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

The show was sold out. Texts to the band yielded no tickets. I hung out and drank with some friends downstairs. I heard the show the night before was excellent, and last night probably was too. That's all there is to report. Oh well.

They are going on tour all around the eastern half of the United States; there are no Philly dates on their calendar.

What I missed: Hoots & Hellmouth live, playing "What Good Are Ploughshares" at last year's Philadelphia Folk Festival

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Great Unknown and Bevin Caulfield at the Italian Market Festival

Took a stroll down Ninth Street for a sandwich, a canolli, and some people watching and found myself at the Connie's Ric Rac stage close to Pat's and Geno's (and near the great Rim Cafe). Caught the second half of a quality set by the Great Unknown, a rocking local acoustic outfit based in West Philly. They are fronted by the enthusiastic Todd Henton, who has a great voice and real skills on the mouth organ but the annoyingly affected style of playing with a trouser leg pulled up like he's about to ride a bicycle. The band is tight and rootsy, and they always seem like they are having fun, which is pretty infectious. A good outdoorsy band. Their next Philly show is June 27th at the Gorgas Park Festival in Manayunk.

The Great Unknown were followed by an act I hadn't heard before but will be sure to check out again: Bevin Caulfield and her band. Bevin is a beautiful singer, with a sexy and emotive voice and a good backing band. The drummer kept almost a hip hop beat that suited the songs. Bevin played a solid acoustic guitar and another pretty girl, perhaps her sister judging by looks, added some well considered backing vocals. I see from her myspace page (which has a link for a good cover of the admittedly over-covered l.cohen song "hallelujah") that she has a show May 22nd at the Tin Angel. I have a gig that night or I'd be there. There are also some other area shows on her calendar.

Bevin Caulfield live

Friday, May 15, 2009

Philly Local 4/21/09

The idea to create this website devoted to acoustic music in Philadelphia coalesced during two recent listening experiences. The first was the Philadelphia Art Alliance show I talk about in my last post, the second was a few Tuesdays ago while I was streaming an excellent edition of Philly Local on Philly Local is a great show on XPN every Tuesday at 9pm, playing music by local acts, both known (Mutlu, Amos Lee, even Hall and Oates), and relatively unknown (recent shows have featured songs by Adrien Reju and the Jones sisters). It is hosted by Helen Leicht, who also does the Middays show every weekday from 10am to 2pm. I don’t have a car or a working radio so I don’t listen to XPN that much (that’s not all bad, but they can be a good source for discovering local and national acts), but I like to stream Philly Local.

This week’s show opened with “And You Wait” by Chris Kasper, perhaps my favorite song by this star of the Philly acoustic scene. They also had a song by Adrien Reju, a collaborator of Kasper’s in his solo shows and in the excellent Lowlands urbangrass band; a good number by Andrew Lipke (“Get It Over With” from his album Motherpiece & Dynamite); and a cover of the Boss standard “Thunder Road” by Dan May. The quality of music by these local musicians was inspiring, and i wanted to write about it.

Philly Local playlist 4/21/09
Chris Kasper - And You Wait - Flying Boy
Zach Djanikian - The Day That Paul Newman Died
Boris Garcia - Holiday - Once More Into The Bliss
Adrien Reju - Fire Away - A Million Hearts
The Silence - Fade - Outside World
Karen Gross – It Won’t Be Me
Receiving The Ghost - Waiting - Receiving The Ghost
Andrew Lipke - Get It Over With - Motherpearl & Dynamite
Dan May - Thunder Road - PL artists salute Bruce Springsteen
American Babies – Backstreets - PL artists salute Bruce Springsteen
John Francis - The Way The Empire Fell - The Better Angels
Farewell Flight - Begin Again - Sound.Color.Motion

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chris Kasper, Birdie Busch, and Carsie Blanton at the Philadelphia Art Alliance

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)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Philly Acoustic Reviews

I’ve been going to shows, buying albums, and playing on the fringes of the Philadelphia folk/ acoustic/ singer-songwriter music scene for about a decade. (I use these categories loosely: many of the acts use electric instruments [they all use amplifiers or PAs], most are not folk in any strict sense of the word, and many have more than one singer or songwriter. My love is for soulful, fairly low-key, original music.) I’m continually impressed by the number of extremely talented musicians and songwriters there are out there. This site is intended to be a humble attempt to promote, discuss, and review select artists, shows, and albums, and to comment on topics of interest to the Philadelphia acoustic music scene. I go to about one folk-y type show a month, and buy a few albums by local artists each year, so the number of posts will likely be limited. Probably I’ll do a bunch at first then it’ll peter out. So it is.

Off the top of my head, here are a few of the quality local acts I’ve seen, with links to their myspace sites (i know: facebook is where it’s at but not yet for music):

Adrien Reju (
Birdie Busch (
Bruce Langfeld [1967-2007] (
Carsie Blanton (
Chris Kasper (
Christine Havrilla (
Cowmuddy (
the Great Unknown (
Hoots & Hellmouth (
Illinois (
Joshua Park (
Karen Gross (
Kate Gaffney (
Langhorne Slim (
the Lowlands (
Papertrees (
Peasant (
the Philadelphia Bluegrass Band (
Rachel Andes (
Sara Judge (
Sexcop (
Sisters 3 (
the Writing Birds (