6 Artists to Watch From the Philadelphia Roots Music Scene
Levee Drivers w/ The Lawsuits by Caitlin McCann
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania -- Over the last few years, there has been a burgeoning movement in Philly towards old-timey, whiskey-soaked blues and folk-rock, and earlier this month, Toy Soldiers frontman Ron Gallo solidified the movement by establishing American Diamond Recordings, a collective of bands and artists with similar viewpoints on the rootsy direction of the Philadelphia music scene. The way has been paved by acts like Dr. Dog and Amos Lee, and now it seems the groups about to break are living under one proverbial roof.
Something filthy is brewing in the city of brotherly love thanks to these artists to look out for from the Philadelphia roots music scene.
You'll find all elements of Americana present in the music of Toy Soldiers - southern twang, blues-rock, folk ballads, and rockabilly shuffles. Leading man Ron Gallo harbors a particular vocal prowess, moving seamlessly between explosive power and tender vulnerability while expounding upon the classic rootsy themes: love lost, alcohol, and traveler's tales. The band's raucous live shows demand audience members put on their dancin' shoes. They'll be hitting the Campfire Festival stage this summer.
If you were to melt the music of Tom Waits and Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited in a pot with a liter of the cheapest whiskey you could find and press the remaining substance into a record, it would probably play something like TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb. Their 2013 release Manufacturing Joy saw a turn towards the gritty low-fi range of recording, while their most recent EP - simply titled Kong - displays a more full sound while retaining the garage-y elements of their previous recordings. Lead-singer Dan Bruskewicz's songwriting fluctuates between dark, cocaine-infused storytelling and exuberant exclamations on the joy of living.
Levee Drivers is a sort of re-imagined Johnny Cash through a wall of Marshall full stacks. You can expect from their sets an Elvis cover, a boot-stomping shuffle, or the downtrodden rantings of a man who seems to have just crawled out of the Delaware River. August John Lutz II's travelogue writing style meshes beautifully with sludgy guitar riffs and thunderous drumming. They put out their second EP appropriately titled Speakin' Bourbon Coated Blues last December.
The Lawsuits' 2013 release Cool Cool Cool saw a departure from a more straightforward folk-rock sound towards a dreamier, more polished tone. The combination of Brian Dale Allen Strouse's hitchhiker-esque songwriting and Vanessa Winters' airy backup vocals collides with the rhythm section's ebb and flow dynamics to form a full audial landscape. It's always nice to see a band progressing into something more complex while retaining the classic rock tones that drew in fans in the first place. They'll be hitting the Campfire stage as well this summer.
The Districts are somewhat newcomers to the scene, but that hasn't stopped them from winning the respect and fandom of Philadelphia natives. They signed to Fat Possum Records in December and released their self-titled EP in January. This summer, they'll be hitting the road with Philly veterans Dr. Dog in addition to playing a bunch of festivals (Ottawa Bluesfest, Forecastle, Lollapalooza, Øya, Outside Lands, Reading and Leeds, End of the Road, Electric Picnic, LouFest). For more, check out our interview with bass player Connor Jacobus.
And last but certainly not least, Ali Wadsworth has been around the Philly scene for years, leading several now defunct groups. As a solo act, she taps into classic R&B while rubbing a little dirt on the conventional tones with her gritty vocal stylings. Seriously, this lady has some pipes. Her debut self-titled solo LP features songs written by big names in the scene, including a couple mentioned before (Ron Gallo of Toy Soldiers, Brian Strouse of The Lawsuits).
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