When it comes to singer-songwriters, Philadelphia enjoys an embarrassing amount of riches–the city is host to enough inspired artists to fill a new playlist every week of the year. These nine local songwriters consistently draw praise from fans and peers, pull big crowds, and pen some of the best songs in the city. If you want to delve deeper into the songwriter scene, just check out who they’re sharing a bill with. – Peter Marinari
Suzie Brown is an alt-country crooner with a unique story — she’s a doctor who is taking time away from practicing medicine to practice her songs. Toasted as Philadelphia Magazine’s Best In Philly Songwriter in 2010, Suzy has been a sensation since her first show was a sell-out in 2008. If you love classic songwriters like James Taylor or alt-country stars like Patty Griffin, you’ll appreciate her lilting melodies and sure, strong vocals. Though she tours in an increasingly wide radius, she still books Philly shows frequently – and they still sell out.
Hearing the phrase “World Music” can be the signal of a big bore if you’re a rock fan, but Dante Bucci is an exception to the rule. He plays an alien-looking instrument, the hang drum (pronounced “hung”), which rings like a bell or a steel drum. While other hang players tap out meditatively simple tunes like a game of Simon, Dante plays the hang like a game of Rock Band — hammering out sing-along melodies and booty-shaking rhythms. Add the accompaniment of a crackling live band and you’ve got one of Philly’s most interesting singer-songwriters, sans the singer.
To watch the interview Dante Bucci, CLICK HERE.
If your record collection focuses on women at the piano, Alexandra Day is a local alternative you might fall in love with. She’s an operatically-trained singer and classical-calibre pianist whose music spans genres by merging jazz inflections with sultry vocal hooks. Her music can hold its own on a mixtape with Norah Jones and Diana Krall, but the carefully crafted poetry of her lyrics makes her a nearer neighbor to Fiona Apple. From unbearably giddy to heartrending, her songs wield a finely-honed emotional points – equally sharp on record or live with her solo behind a piano.
Sierra Hurtt calls herself “a singer and a songwriter,” and it’s an important distinction. At live shows, she’s a killer interpreter, turning familiar rock tunes into scorching torch songs with a vocal finesse that recalls Sade. But the real heat comes when she combines her smokey alto vocals with cutting, original lyrics. Together, they make Sierra something electrifying — recalling early genre-bending discs from Sarah McLachlan. Sierra tours the US and UK as an independent artist, but still calls Philly her home.
Chris Kasper is a songwriter’s songwriter, a favorite of scores of players in Philly’s music scene with a style that’s hard to peg. His blend of influences merges bluesy guitar hooks, effortless airy vocals (think Coldplay or Five For Fighting), and simplicity that’s reminiscent of Neil Young. Though his acoustic guitars and banjos prescribe an inevitable “indie folk” label, Chris’s songs cut across genres — they sound like sparse, bluegrass tinged demos of things you heard once on top 40 radio and never intended to forget.
Hezekiah Jones is the musical nom de plume for Raphael Cutrufello and a band of like-minded musicians crafting alternative folk music. His catalog of songs sometimes sounds like a post-apocalyptic White Album, as covered by Sufjan Stevens. The biting, sometimes campy vibe only serves to intensify the blow of his sucker-punch ballads. Songs are filled with outlandish characters, imagined landscapes, ringing harmonies, and baroque instrumental flourishes, but never disconnect from the tangible feelings at their center.
Joshua Popejoy is a rare local artist whose songs translate from intimate coffee shop all the way to main stage rock. His solo acoustic tunes fit in a playlist alongside Jason Mraz or Joshua Radin, but his muscular live band’s cello and saxophone add a Dave Matthews Band flavor to the same songs. While his aerobic guitar playing certainly draws from Dave, on the whole Joshua’s songs are more about catchy choruses than endless jams. Add to that his sometimes searing vocals and the closest comparison is probably Brandon Flowers of the Killers.
To watch the interview with Joshua Popejoy, CLICK HERE.
Adrien Reju is a tiny muse that seems borrowed from another era, churning out songs that are half 70s AM radio gold and half Tin Pan Alley. Her melodies bear a cloying instant familiarity in the tradition of Carole King or Carly Simon, but in practice, they’re more kin to the poppier efforts of the Dixie Chicks or indie-darling Feist. Occasional hints of whimsy like tickled barrel-house piano or muted horn solos help to define her produced tracks, but even stripped bare her songs retain their heft thanks to her distinctive vocals – somehow both powerful and girlish at the same time.
Up the Chain (Reed Kendall)
Up the Chain is a name for Reed Kendall’s ever-shifting band of collaborators, a who’s who of Philly’s best sidemen and rhythm sections. While the arrangements are the work of the collective, the songs are all Reed’s. Charming crowds with his raspy baritone voice (remember Soul Coughing?), in 2009 Reed graduated from playing non-stop open mics to his own sold-out shows. You’ll hear shades of everything from Jack Johnson to Van Morrison in his chiming acoustic pop songs. They range from exuberant to wistful, with each tune maintaining an almost Contemporary-Christian positive outlook on life.