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Blue Bell’s Ben Kessler, West Philly’s Liz de Lise: Two local artists to watch

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STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN 
bbingaman@thereporteronline.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

At 16 years old, Blue Bell resident Ben Kessler is the next John Mayer.
Garnering spins on WXPN, winning the Philadelphia Songwriters Project’s annual song writing competition, and performing in front of audiences at last year’s Musikfest and Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Wissahickon High School junior is well on the way up.
His first on-stage appearance last year was at the fabled Bitter End in New York City, where Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Randy Newman once performed. “I was very focused, for whatever reason,” Kessler said, describing the evening as “relaxed” because the show was part of a charity benefit.
Taking interest in learning to play guitar as a young child (his father played the instrument), then getting formal School of Rock instruction, Kessler’s first formal recording, the instrumental EP “Three,” which showcases skillful and inspired guitarwork, was done as a school project in 2013.
Since he first started writing songs at age 11, then hitting open mic nights at 14, Kessler took it to the next level, recording the mini-albums “The Start,” “So It Goes” and “Live at Kettle Pot Tracks.” “For the fans, and the potential fans, it’s more exciting because you’re listening to something new more frequently,” he said of releasing his songs in sets of three and four at a time.
The website www.benkesslermusic.com allows you to really get acquainted with his music and guides you to Kessler’s digital domains on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Bandcamp and ReverbNation.

Ben Kessler Submitted photo

Ben Kessler
Submitted photo

“The huge thing for me is organization, and more than anything, lists,” he said of balancing studies and a growing number of live commitments. “I try to keep my mind as clear as possible … by pushing it out on paper.”
Of the 2014 release “So It Goes,” Kessler’s first time in a professional recording studio and backed by veteran musicians, producer Jay Levin said in a prepared statement: “A lot of the record is old-school rock ‘n’ soul, very much a Philly thing. Ben’s songs are really deeply romantic, not at all sarcastic or shallow like you might expect from a teenager, and he’s growing as an artist at an incredible pace.”
His next confirmed concert date is March 6 at Burlap and Bean, 204 S. Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square.
Spreading her wings
West Philadelphia singer/songwriter and guitarist Liz de Lise is getting the word out about her debut six-song EP “To & Fro.”
De Lise grew up in Ambler, attended Connecticut College and really got to spread her wings when a research grant took her to Portland, Ore., where she spent a summer interviewing and observing the nomadic street kids that pass through town. Their fringe-of-society tales inspired the songs, which Lise’s frames as relatable, common human experiences.
“Life’s getting tiresome/working 9 to 5. On Portland streets/you come alive,” she sings on the song “Star Fire.”

Liz de Lise. Submitted photo

Liz de Lise.
Submitted photo

Often her vocal style and phrasing is reminiscent of Alanis Morissette at the height of her fame, but swapping angst for guile. If you like the quirkiness of Joni Mitchell or St. Vincent, you’ll relate to “To & Fro.”
The instrumentation has chains, concert bass drum, marimba, accordion and mandolin all in the mix. “Ode” and “Strangers” are jolly and witty. “Pan” and “The End” successfully meld jazz and folk.
In the next few weeks, de Lise will be performing in Brooklyn, Camp Hill and Rahway, N.J. But closer to home, you’ll be able to see her play Jan. 31 at Mile High House, 2152 N. Carlisle St., Philadelphia; and March 14 at Read & Eat Bookshop, 7141 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy. For more, see www.lizdelise.com.

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