STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID A. WANNOP
For 21st Century Media
Trying to recall all the highlights, makeups, breakups, conflicts and resolutions of 2014 is difficult. Only a slathering of venues, acts, and industry insiders can fit in this article. But, in case you were asleep or unable to make it out to the listening rooms of the Delaware Valley this year, here is a synopses of what you missed.
This year started out fast with John and Brittany doing the Mistletoe Jam at World Café Live with plans to tour and many appearances throughout the year. The surprise was that by October, to save their friendship, the two parted ways musically. John Faye is a veteran of bands from The Power Trip, to IKE, to the Caulfields. Britany Rotundo will continue her lyric writing and bass playing ways. The year showed Laura Cheadle playing her blues in a bluer way and touring extensively in and out of the area. After the death of her son David, Michele Lynn dedicated her Winter Doldrums Festival at World Café Live to the cause of suicide prevention. Lin’s band Kicking Down Doors was one of many that played the fest which took place at World Café last February.
All through the year Ken Kweder was followed by a documentary crew as the story of the legendary Philadelphia performer came more into focus. Since the mid 1970’s Kweder has been the troubadour of the Delaware Valley’s back streets.
Amanda Penecale was our Artist to Watch this year and her life was a slow introduction and transition to Nashville and its assorted power brokers. This January may be the first we hear of the Nashville sessions. Her band name is Hartsville Park. Expectations are high for the Doylestown native.
Nashville is where Downingtown’s Liz Longley has lived for a couple years. The John Lennon Songwriting Award winner has a major label deal with Sugar Hill Records, and new music is to come soon. Her side kick, Downingtown’s Sarah Zimmerman is also in Nashville and her group Striking Matches signed to Capital Records recently. Rock band leader and Grammy Award winning songwriter Scot Sax is now away from Ardmore and into Music City with a bride, folk singer and cardiologist Susie Brown, and a baby. There is a small but growing colony of Delaware Valley musicians in Tennessee which may soon rival an equivalent populous in Brooklyn.
The national record charts included many Philadelphia area artists including Amos Lee, the Roots, John Legend, War On Drugs, Man Man, Dr. Dog and others. The Roots Picnic and the Independence Day events were highlights. In the spring, Amos Lee had Adrien Reju open on several Florida theatre dates as she collected songs to cover for an nontraditional love song project slated for release prior to Valentine’s Day 2015.
Every five years photographer Lisa Schaffer takes a class photo of songwriters and industry professionals on the back steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is always a happy reunion for artists often play shows at the same time and can’t always schedule an appointment to mingle.
She snapped us again in late April.
Not all was sweetness and light however, for just prior to Philadelphia Folk Festival, we lost pan drum player Dante Bucci. Ticket was the first print outlet to tell how the percussionist started playing the flying saucer looking orbs that sounded like a cross between steel drums and gongs. Bucci, who grew up in Bucks County, was internationally recognized as being among the few composers for these melodic instruments. He was scheduled to work in the Folk Fest Craft Area and play in Mutlu’s band with WXPN’s Helen Leitch as emcee. Bucci’s parents attended that noon Saturday performance with that empty place wherein you would have heard Bucci’s hand drums and vocals. It was a great festival line up, but nothing could ease the sanguine suffering of having an act go on without such a cherished contributor. Dante Bucci left us at age 33.
I asked three Philly area experts for their opinion on local/regional music of 2014. Jay Levin the owner of Turtle Studio in South Philadelphia who is also a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science, (NARAs) had much to say. Levin enthused about “Ben Kessler. He’s fifteen but he makes the most amazing industry connections wherever he goes. Kwasi K. is off like a shot and he already has a great album.” Our phone conversation included discussion of festivals. “We were involved the Center City Jazz Festival which enthuses original music. It’s in its third year but this year it really took off. The mayor would like to see it expand. That was in the spring. In September we were involved with Out Beat Festival which have been the world’s first LGBT jazz fest,” said Levin.
He touts acts that use Turtle Studio aggressively, stating, “Sonja Sophya and Divers are two Turtle artists which will have new product plus Ross Delenoit will have three albums out next year including a rock album, an experimental folk album, and an album of original jazz.”
Gene Shay’s Folk Show on WXPN featured many local acts performing live on the radio on Sunday night. Shay hosted the Folk Festival as usual and the Northeast Folk Alliance Conference. He’s big on an act by the name of Orion Freeman. “He has talent but he makes his music too embellished. I would have preferred it if he simplified,” Shay said during a phone interview.
Shay was once the manager of Grover Washington Jr. so such expert advice comes with the territory.
Jesse Lundy graciously answered questions via email. Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment was impressed by an act whom has appeared frequently on Gene Shay’s show. “Chris Kasper’s album is great. The recording and ideas on that album really impressed me, but Kasper’s albums usually do,” remarked Lundy. A former Artist To Watch got high praise from Lundy, “I really dug Phil D’Agostino’s album also. The players on Phil’s album are so first-rate.” Lundy was generous with praise for acts ranging from A Fistful of Sugar to the Wallace Brothers. As for breakout acts Lundy said, “I’d sure like to see The Lawsuits get their due. Amanda X is getting attention.
I’m psyched for Kwesi K and hope that he makes something happen out in LA. Anything could happen for Modern Inventors who are moving to Nashville…where they will join Scot and Suzie…anything could happen!”
There were three acts that got my attention in a bigger way. I met Eddie Babin at the Free AT Noon Show at World Café Live featuring Amos Lee last spring. A student at the U. of Arts, Babin is a part of the New York based Visionary Media which assists blind musical performers with their careers. Along with his younger brother Andrew Babin and Dominic Tursi, the Babin Brothers Band has a retro/authentic sixties sound complete with vintage keyboards and psychedelic guitars. They have many originals but also can pull a great rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” out of their hat. When they get a little more polished they will be on their way.
Nalani and Sarina were a precious gift to our scene. They hail from North Jersey but they extensively play here using the Philly area as a microcosm of what could happen nationally. Soul is their game and even Sam Moore of Sam and Dave fame has coached their style. Sometimes, they throw the audience a curve ball acting as if they are about to play an old Pilipino traditional song only to break into ACDC, or the Ramones. These identical twins have recently turned 21 and are exquisitely charming. I can’t figure how they couldn’t go national or international over the next two years.
Even still, my Artist To Watch for 2015 is based in Philadelphia, namely, No Good Sister. Jess McDowell is from Bucks County, Meaghan Kyle relocated to Fairmount from Columbia, Md., and Maren Sharro is from the Detroit area. But their sound connotes a country swing that Nashville is missing now. “They are nice girls, choreographed, dress the part, and harmonize well,” said Shay.
Kyle and McDowell were hired to sing backup for Fistful of Sugar and then started working on their own. They invited Sharro on board, and are frequently augmented with Mike Slomo Brenner on guitar, former artist to Watch Phil D’Agustino on bass, and Hoagy Wing on drums. They recently gained a manager and it seems like the sky is the limit for No Good Sister; Artist To Watch 2015. No Good Sister will make good sooner than later. Enjoy these recommendations and perhaps I will meet you at an upcoming show.