On Stage: Philly area girls prove they rock this weekend

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Philly area girls rock – and they’re ready to prove it once again tonight.

Soraia

Back in September, Soraia – ZouZou Mansour (lead vocals, tambourine), Travis Smith (bass guitar, backup vocals), Mike Reisman (guitar, background vocals), Brianna Sig (drums, percussion, background vocals) – headlined a show at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com).

The event was a had a “CD Release Party” to introduce Mansour’s band’s new album “Dead Reckoning.”

On April 12, Soraia, a Philadelphia-based rock/garage/punk/blues-influenced band, returns to MilkBoy to rattle the rafters again.

The music Soraia creates captures the essence of gritty blues-influenced rock music — the kind of rock you’d hear in smoky bars back in the 1960s. It’s not a retro-sound but rather a tapping into the emotional nature of the music.

Soraia is the stage name of singer ZouZou Mansour and also the name of her band.

“This line-up has been together two years now and is going strong,” said Sig, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon as the band prepared to leave for a gig in Brooklyn.

“A few years ago, I was playing in another band. Someone told me I looked like Soraia. Our bands shared a bill and I hinted that I wanted to be their drummer.

“Not long after that, Soraia needed a drummer for a tour and contacted me. I played on that tour and eventually, it turned into I was her drummer. That was two-and-a-half years ago.”

Sig grew up in Norristown’s West End and was the daughter of local jazz musician Bill Signorovitch.

“I began drumming when I was about 10,” said Sig. “My dad was a jazz guitarist, so I was exposed to music early. I graduated high school in 2007 and had my first band in 2010. It took a while.”

Sig found a home with Soraia and fit in well with the band’s two veterans.

“Travis and I are the core of the band and we’ve been together for over 10 years,” said Mansour. “We released our first album ‘The Valley of Love and Guns’ in 2013, ‘Soraia Lives’ in 2014 and ‘Less Than Zero’ in 2015.”

For the last year or so, Soraia has been playing songs from “Dead Reckoning,” which was released on October 13 on Wicked Cool Records.

“It was really helpful to tour before we recorded the album,” said Sig. “We had a few months to road test the songs.”

Mansour said, “Last summer, our label people told us to write songs and then play them live. We’ve done it the other way and it didn’t do that good. Live is when the magic starts to happen.

“Things are going really well with the band. We’ve been touring a lot. Wicked Cool Records is owned by Little Steven Van Zandt from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.”

Soraia had been building up songs for the new full-length for a while.

“We started writing the songs last summer,” said Mansour. “We sat down to write as many songs as we possibly could. My co-writer Travis and I worked on different ideas we had.

“In the past, he’d give me a song idea and I’d come up with the music. This time, we spent more time writing together. We’re growing as writers.

“We recorded the new album in January at Renegade Studio in New York. Our label really wanted to capture our live sound. We did two songs with Little Steven and 10 with producing ourselves with engineer Geoff Sanoff.

“The band just set up and played live in the studio. It was all analog and recorded directly to tape – which was exciting. It was our first time to record analog so it was really special. It was nice to go in and be our own producer.”

It has taken Mansour a while to reach where she wants to be musically. It has also taken years for Mansour to find where she wants to be emotionally.

“I was 17 when my mother died,” said Mansour. “I had just graduated from high school. That changed my life.”

After a period of time that included stretches of drug use, alcohol abuse and being homeless, Mansour got her life back on track. She became one of the survivors.

She returned to college and graduated with a teaching degree. Then, she was lured back into the music world by her first love — singing.

“My dad always said — where there’s a will there’s a way,” said Mansour. “It looks like I proved that he was right.”

Video link for Soraia – https://youtu.be/mgDjOEfv5OE.

The show at MilkBoy Philadelphia, which has Tomato Dodgers and Church Girls as the opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at MilkBoy are Andy Frasco and the U.N. on April 13 and 14, iNFiNiEN on April 15 and Fatai on April 18.

Soraia will also be performing on April 16 at Fujiyama Sunset Lounge in Pottstown and on April 19 at 1984 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Janiva Magness

Dealing with life as a homeless child is something that another female artist playing the area on April 12 – Janiva Magness — had to deal with when she was young.

And, like Mansour, Magness turned a major negative into a positive. Hard times gave Magness the experience to sing the blues and R&B songs with authenticity.

If you’re a fan of the blues, you’re probably already familiar with the music of Janiva Magness. If you’re not, you owe it to yourself to rectify the situation.

When Magness sings the blues, it’s the real deal. While many blues/country/Americana artists claim to be singing the blues, they’re missing the point.

Blues needs to come from the heart as well as the vocal chords. Magness, who has a show at the Sellersville Theatre (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) on April 12, definitely sings from the heart.

If the “School of Hard Knocks” is the place to learn the blues, Magness is a summa cum laude graduate — with a doctor’s degree.

Born in Detroit, she lost both parents to suicide by the age of 16 and lived on the streets, bouncing from one foster home to another. At 17, she became a teenage mother who had to give up her baby daughter for adoption.

“I ran away from home when I was 13 and never went back again,” said Magness, during a phone. “I’ve been living on my own since I was 13 and became an emancipated minor when I was 17.

“The biggest turning point was that I got lucky and found a great foster parent. That really changed the landscape for me. Someone stood up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself. That changed my life. It’s a debt I can never repay.”

Maybe she can’t repay it but Magness has found a way to give back. She is an ambassador for Foster Care Alumni of America and and Child Welfare League of America.

“The smallest act of kindness can change the life of a child,” said Magness. “That’s why I’m honored to be a spokesperson.”

Magness has also been honored other ways. She was a 2017 Grammy nominee, and has won the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award as well as seven Blues Music Awards (nominated 26 times) and was the 2015 Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year.

The veteran singer is currently touring in support of her new album “Love Is an Army,” which was released in February on Fathead Records/Blue Élan Records.

Many of the songs on the new album are essentially protest numbers. So, it seems appropriate that they take musical inspiration from the ’60s and ’70s recordings by artists such as The Staple Singers and Al Green – artists whose lyrics about strength and love cut through the hubris and deceit that surrounded the Civil Rights struggle and the Vietnam War.

“We cut ‘Love Is an Army’ last year,” said Magness Tuesday evening as she travelled through Virginia to a gig in Richmond.

“It took about a year to make. We took our time writing the songs – crafting the songs. The actual recording process didn’t take that long. We recorded the album in L.A.”

“Love Is an Army” captures the essence of the Memphis R&B sound that was generated in the Stax Records and Hi Records studios.

The list of guest artists on the album includes Poco’s pedal steel player Rusty Young, legendary Grammy-winning R&B singer Delbert McClinton, Grammy-nominated Mississippi hill-country blues singer Cedric Burnside, and banjo virtuoso Courtney Hartman.

“I wanted to be current and speak to what is happening in our lives, our communities and our world,” said Magness. “The album is about things happening around the world. There is so much unrest in the world. People are really hurting. I can’t think of another tine more necessary for our voices to be heard – standing up and speaking out…speaking out to be heard.

Video link for Janiva Magness — https://youtu.be/a0ZSJAkbnV8.

The show at Sellersville, which has Mike Guldin and Rollin’ & Tumblin’ as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21.50 and $30.

Other upcoming shows at the venue in Sellersville are Mountain Heart on April 13, Beru Revue on April 14, Janis Ian on April 15, Todd Snider on April 17 and Project/Object on April 19.

Coping Skills

Coping Skills – a non-binary rock duo featuring Rachel Dispenza and Lauren DeLucca – will headline a show at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684,www.johnnybrendas.com) on April 12.

The two roommates and friends had a good knowledge of the music business when they embarked on music career a few years ago.

They graduated from the University of the Arts having majored in “Music Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology.” They worked in music venues in Philly – and still do. They knew what it took to make it in the music biz.

The only thing they didn’t know was how to play their instruments.

DeLucca and Dispenza met by chance when they ended up moving into the same house after they both enrolled in college for the second time.

They started working the same jobs, dreading the same bosses, and decided to learn how to play instruments so they could start a band. Coping Skills is that band.

“We met in college, lived in the same house and graduated from the same program,” said Dispenza, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from their Philly home. “We began working jobs together and making music together.”

DeLucca said, “Going through school and learning about music, we wanted to start playing in a band and writing songs. We did it without really knowing how to play. Rachel had been playing guitar a little. I had never played bass before.

“We graduated in 2015. We’ve lived in three different houses with different roommates. Actually, we’ve been living together since we met.”

The two come from diverse backgrounds.

DeLucca grew up in nearby Lansdale, graduated from Germantown Academy and went to college initially at Fordham University.

Dispenza graduated from Tunkhannock High in a small Poconos area town northwest of Scranton and started her collegiate career at Syracuse University.

“It is a weird series of events that brought us together,” said DeLucca. “We decided to be a band because it was something we both wanted to do. But, the way we did it is not the way you’re supposed to do it.”

Dispenza said, “What has helped us is that we had knowledge of other building blocks. I know how to book shows. We knew how to record. And, we knew what it looked like to be a band.”

It also helped that both members of Coping Skills have worked for a while as servers at Boot & Saddle, one of Philly’s popular clubs for indie rock music.

DeLucca said, “You can see the progress we’ve been making – from song to song.”

Since starting the band in 2015, they’ve written a bunch of songs and played a bunch of shows and learned to play their instruments — more or less.

In 2016, they released a tape called “Relatable Web Content,” which essentially describes the spirit of the thing. They self-identify as “moderately gay post-ironic bummer pop,” which gives you a good idea of what you’re in for – or not.

They have a rotating cast of friends who play drums with them. For a while, they used a drum machine supposedly operated by a stuffed hedgehog named Doug.

On April 13, Coping Skills is putting out a new record titled “Worst New Music.”

“We recorded the album at Big Mama’s Studio in Philadelphia,” said Dispenza. “It was recorded and mixed by Evan Bernard and Chris Baglivo. We recorded it last July and parts of August.

“A lot of the songs were written last spring. There were a few we played a lot in our live shows. A lot of the songs were demo’ed before we went in the studio. Right before the sessions, we wrote another song for the album – ‘User Error.’ It needed to be in there.”

Video link for Coping Skills — https://youtu.be/ZvOYdS0Kqqs.

Christopher Cross

On April 13, there are three talented acts playing in the area who have been making fans smile for quite a long time — Christopher Cross, whose eponymous debut album came out on Warner Bros. Records in 1979; Kim Richey, who released her first album, “Kim Richey,” on Mercury Nashville Records in 1995, and Red Molly, who came together in 2004.

On Friday evening, the Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com) will host a concert by Christopher Cross, a singer with enduring popularity.

Cross made history with his 1980 self-titled debut album, winning five Grammy Awards, including the four most prestigious awards: Record of the Year and Song of the Year, for “Sailing,” plus Album of the Year, and Best New Artist.

“Sailing” along with “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” both reached Number One on the U.S Billboard Hot 100 with “Sailing” earning three Grammys and “Arthur’s Theme” winning the Oscar for Best Original Song.

Now, more than 30 years after his extraordinary emergence into the music business, Cross continues his recording and performing career with a new album, “Take Me As I Am.”

“Take Me As I Am” is a unique offering from Cross. It is a hybrid of sorts. The songs are instrumentals with choruses to create the lyrical landscape.

“I recorded most of the album in Austin and some of it in Nashville,” said Cross, during a phone interview last week. “It was done the middle of last year. I usually put out an album every three years.

“Fans who like my guitar playing have been hounding me for years to do a guitar album. It is a guitar album. And, there are hybrid instrumentals where choruses are sung.

“It was a fun album to make. It was also a little intimidating. I liked that it was a challenge for me to make.”

Two very special songs are “Roberta,” dedicated to Christopher’s mentor, Joni Mitchell, and “Truth” with a lyric by Rob Meurer, one of the last songs Rob wrote before his tragic passing.

The album was recorded with a crew of very talented veteran musicians – Keith Carlock on drums, Will Lee on bass, Andy Suzuki on sax and Eddy Hobizal on keyboards.

“Will Lee is America’s best bass player,” said Cross. “Keith Carlock was Steely Dan’s drummer. It was a huge thrill to work with Keith. And, he’s on the road with me for this tour. I’m 67 and I’m honored to be working with these musicians.

“When it comes to studio musicians, this is a real ‘Dream Team.’ Part of the magic is what they do. Having the right people in the studio is very important. On my early albums, I learned a lot from Michael Omartian. We did four records together for Warmer bros. He’s the most talented person I’ve ever worked with – great instincts.”

Cross has always taken advantage of great studio musicians. Even his self-title debut album in 1979 featured such luminaries as Don Henley, Michael McDonald, Eric Johnson, Larry Carlton, Nicolette Larson, Jim Horn, Lenny Castro and J.D. Souther.

Cross’ previous album was “Secret Ladder,” which was released in 2014 on his own label – Christopher Cross Records.

“On that album, I was working lyrically with Rob Meuer,” said Cross. “I wanted to bring in another songwriter to work with. Rob wrote a lot of the lyrics himself. We’re both in our 60s and we’ve been through a lot. We’re trying to capture the human experience.

“Staring up my own label was just about the reality of the music business today. Digital has decimated the industry. There has been a huge paradigm shift. So, now I just put my records out myself.”

Cross is dealing with the present and the future of his career but never neglecting the past – especially in his live shows.

“I play all seven of the big hits in my show,” said Cross. “The fans are important and I give them what they want to hear. I also get a chance to dig into my discography.”

Video link for Christopher Cross – https://youtu.be/f7ERCJb3xV4.

The show at the Colonial Theatre will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices are: Gold Circle: $52.50; Orchestra: $47.50; Front Balcony: $47.50; and Rear Balcony: $39.50.

Kim Richey

On Friday night, Kim Richey will be headlining a show at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org).

Richey, a two-time Grammy-nominated, artist is a singer/songwriter/guitarist. More importantly, she is a storyteller – a modern-day minstrel whose words paint pictures. She writes interesting songs and delivers them with a voice that is a treat for the ears.

Her early material showed an artist with the twang to be accepted by country audiences and the songwriting prowess to be accepted by the folk music club crowd.

“My first album was in 1995,” said Richey, during a recent phone interview from her home in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I played Philly a bunch. WXPN was always nice to me. Philly has been a good town for me to play.”

Being a musician was not always Richey’s occupation.

“I have a degree in environmental education,” said Richey. “In 1988, I was working at a nature center in Bellingham, Washington when Bill Lloyd and Radney Foster asked me to move to Nashville. I’ve lived on-and-off in Nashville ever since.”

Richey’s first three albums were on Mercury Records — 1995’s “Kim Richey,” 1997’s “Bittersweet” and 1999’s “Glimmer.”

Since then, her album releases have been 2002’s “Rise” (Lost Highway), 2004’s “The Collection” (Lost Highway), 2007’s “Chinese Boxes” (Vanguard), 2010’s “Wreck Your Wheels” (Lojinx/Thirty Tigers), 2013’s “Thorn In My Heart” (Lojinx/Yep Roc) and the recently-released “Edgeland”  (Yep Roc).

“People ask why there was a five-year gap between ‘Thorn in My Heart’ and ‘Edgeland,’” said Richey.

“I did a lot of touring between the last album and the new one. I was supposed to go in the studio with another producer but that fell apart.”

Richey recorded “Edgeland” in Nashville with the help of producer Brad Jones. It has 12 original tracks and features songwriting collaborations with Maendo Sanz, Mike Henderson, Bill Deasy, Al Anderson, Jenny Queen, Harry Hoke, Chuck Prophet and Pat McLaughlin, with the latter two also playing guitar and mandolin, respectively, on the album.

Richey is backed on the album by Chris Carmichael (string arranger), Dan Cohen (multi-instrumentalist), Dan Dugmore (multi-instrumentalist), Robyn Hitchcock (guitar), Doug Lancio (multi-instrumentalist), Jerry Roe (drums) and Wilco’s Pat Sansone (multi-instrumentalist).

“I recorded the album last summer,” said Richey. “Brad Jones produced it, engineered it and played bass on it. He has strong opinions on stuff. I love working with him because there is no ego thing.

“We spent a couple weeks in the studio. We cut every song we took in. I had a ton of songs. Brad had a list and I had a list. Together, we worked it out.

“I usually have a core tracking band. This time, we had three different tracking bands. Every band was really cool.

“Even with three bands, it has a uniform sound. The songs informed the players.  I think we got a pretty good mix of songs.”

If songs were currency, Richey would be a wealthy woman.

“I’ve got songs like crazy,” said Richey. “I could go in the studio and record another one right now. I’m writing less because I’m touring more. Still, I’m trying to write as much as I can. I’ve got a great backload.

“In these live shows, we’ll do most of the songs from the new record. And, I always like to play some older songs. It’s a good mix of old and new.”

Video link for Kim Richey – https://youtu.be/N_41gStSnQo.

The show at Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Better Than Bacon and Ted Travorrow on April 12, Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling on April 14, and Mountain Heart on April 15.

Red Molly

Red Molly will visit the area on April 13 for a show at St. Paul’s Church (7809 Old York Road, Elkins Park, 215-635-4185, www.stpaulsfriends.org/red-molly).

Red Molly is a folk trio featuring Laurie MacAllister (vocals, bass), Abbie Gardner (vocals, guitar, dobro, lap steel guitar), and Molly Venter (vocals, guitar). The group performs original works composed by each of the group members, as well as covers of other songwriters.

The group is known for its gorgeous harmonies, crisp musicianship, infectious songwriting, and warm, engaging stage presence. The three singer/songwriters weave together the threads of American music — from folk roots to bluegrass, from heartbreaking ballads to barn-burning honky-tonk — as effortlessly as they blend their mellifluous voices into their signature soaring, crystalline three-part harmonies.

The project came into existence at the 2004 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. MacAllister, Gardner, and Carolann Solebello, three solo singer-songwriters, were the last ones left at a song circle. They liked the way they sounded together and decided to form a band. The name Red Molly is taken from a character in the Richard Thompson song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

Their career started to take off in 2006. They were the top vote getters in the 2006 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist Showcase. WUMB in Boston named them Top New Artist of the Year and picked their Album “Never Been to Vegas” as one of the stations “Top Albums of 2006.”

Organic musicianship, a respect for the traditions of American music, and an obvious love of crafting music together lend a joyous atmosphere to their legendary live performances, and a natural balance to their studio recordings.

Gracing stages from Denver to Denmark, from Australia to Austin, Red Molly is renowned for their live shows. Four-time featured artist at MerleFest, breakout stars at RockyGrass, and the darlings of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, the trio makes music that brings audiences to their feet.

After 11 years of touring, Red Molly announced in September 2015 that the group would be taking an indefinite hiatus from the road. They began working on other musical pursuits – including solo albums. Recently, they opted to bring Red Molly back into active mode. They chose PledgeMusic as the platform for their first-ever fundraising endeavor – a project that began on Valentine’s Day 2017.

“Last year, we each wanted to make a solo record,” said Gardner, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“We supported each other through that. My solo album came out in January. Laurie’s is coming out in May and Molly’s will be released in June.

“We made a record together during the Pledge campaign in the early part of last year. It’s called ‘All for One, One for All.’ It came out privately at first for the Pledge supporters. It’s a six-song EP that we will also be selling at our shows.

“We recorded it at Molly’s home in New Haven, Connecticut. We put the couched on their end and recorded in her living room. We made the album with the help of her husband Eben Pariser. It was mostly covers along with a song I wrote called ‘Sail Away.’

“Still, we didn’t have any plans of when we’d come back. We did a few shows last fall in the Northeast and Northwest. Now, we’re doing more shows this spring. We’re touring the month of April every weekend. We’ll do a festival this summer and another month of tours in the fall.”

Additionally, all three will be doing solo shows this year in support of their new solo albums.

“Our live set for this tour is pretty exciting,” said Gardner. “We have a ton of new songs. We want to inject new life into our shoes and we have a ton of new songs. Some are originals. Some are covers and some are songs from our solo albums.

“We have a nice, solid rhythm section with Eben on percussion and electric guitar and my husband Craig Akin on upright bass. I’m still playing dobro. Molly is playing guitar and tambourine and Laurie is playing guitar – and a little tambourine. Having taken a break and the challenge of learning new songs has made it a lot more lively.”

Video link for Red Molly –https://youtu.be/F_FBnNa43Nc.

The show at St. Paul’s will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 and $40.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host the Greg Sover Band and Anna Spackman on April 13 and JD Malone & the Experts on April 14.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present Neil Tapp, Venn Sung, Ari Gans, Nick Shattell Tom Wagner, and Owen Crowley on April 13 and Florida Wayne, Grimm, Senvenire, Josh Maddux, and Kevin Cox on April 14.

Upcoming shows at the Ardmore Music Hall are Ghost Light featuring Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling on April 12, Everyone Orchestra on April 13, Nik Greeley and Swwik on April 15, and The Mallett Brothers featuring Jon Fishman with special guest Mason Porter and the Wallace Brothers on April 18.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Andrea Nardello and Anna Rose on April 13 and Tin Bird Choir with Bethany Brooks on April 14.

The Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org) will host the hit musical “On Your Feet” now through April 15.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Iyanla Vanzant on April 12, “One Night of Queen” on April 13, and Jeanne Robertson on April 15.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) presents The Migration on April 12 and 13, Step Afrika on April 13, “Classic Albums – Sgt. Peppers” on April 14, and Acrobats of Cirque-tacular on April 15.

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