- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

Like many experienced storytellers, Birdie Busch draws upon different narrative techniques to deliver her whimsical folk songs. “Penny Arcade,” the songwriter’s most recent release, alternates between autobiographical tunes and universal love songs, referencing factual street addresses one minute, delving into more widespread topics the next. A pastoral thread runs throughout the album, a product of Ms. Busch’s farmland drawl and her country-influenced band.

Despite the earthy ambience of her music, however, Ms. Busch remains indebted to her hometown of Philadelphia.

“It’s a big city,” she explains from a Philadelphia diner, “but it feels like a big town instead. A lot of music has been inspired by the time I’ve spent here and a lot of people I’ve come across, like the person I’m eating lunch with.”

Sitting across the lunch table is Bob Huff, a veteran gospel vocalist whose music helped inspire one of Ms. Busch’s most unusual songs. “Huff Singers (North Philly)” tells the story of Mr. Huff’s vocal ensemble, whom Ms. Busch met several years ago while serving tables at a local gospel brunch. The two musicians forged a musical and social bond, prompting Ms. Busch to pay tribute to the singer on “Penny Arcade.” They have stayed in touch ever since.

Now, nearly two years after the release of that album, Ms. Busch is preparing to issue her third record, tentatively titled “Sweetheart Age.” It was created largely in a small town outside of Philadelphia’s urban environment. The new location appealed to Ms. Busch, who explains, “I love wide open spaces and mellow places.”

Ms. Busch’s respect for the Huff Singers is illustrative of her approach to songwriting, which maintains a folksy foundation but makes room for numerous other styles. The recording sessions for “Sweetheart Age” allowed her to explore those influences, which run the gamut from reggae to vintage rock ‘n’ roll.

“There’s a new song called ‘Hometown Boredom’ on the album,” she explains, “and I really like the way we captured it. We had this old organ that we put through two different amps while we were recording. It ended up sounding like an organ that would be on an old reggae record. And the guitar tones for that song are really dirty and mellow, like an electric guitar from the ‘50s.”

Like Ms. Busch’s homespun music, the recording sessions for “Sweetheart Age” relied on simple foundations rather than flashy equipment. The band set up shop in a house owned by drummer Craig Hendrix, who also produced the record.

“We just did it very simply,” Ms. Busch says of the project. “Craig didn’t have any kind of big recording rig in his house, and we were very spontaneous with the way things were recorded. We would just set up a couple of microphones and not worry about exactly where they were placed. I didn’t want a microphone on every piece of the drum set; I just wanted it to be a room sound.”

Ms. Busch hopes to release the finished product this summer. Until then, she’ll continue playing sporadic shows in Philadelphia and beyond, picking up new friends and fresh inspiration along the way.

Local fans have two opportunities to see Ms. Busch this month. The songwriter stops by the Black Cat on Monday along with fellow artists Sharon Van Etten and Vandaveer. Tickets are $8, and doors open at 9 p.m. On March 14, she returns with Riffs alumna Rachael Yamagata for a show at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis. Tickets are $23.50 for the 8:30 p.m. performance.

Festival preview

South by Southwest, originally known as the Austin Battle of the Bands, has become one of the music industry’s most popular festivals since its 1987 inception. The multiday event is held annually in Austin, Texas, with nearly 1,800 bands descending upon the city’s bars, clubs, outdoor amphitheaters and makeshift stages.

Record labels historically have used South by Southwest to showcase new artists, many of whom receive an unparalleled boost from the experience. Label executives, publicists, managers, musicians, critics and fans all attend the festival, giving bands the chance to turn many heads with one performance. Recent Riffs interviewee Erin McCarley even credits South by Southwest as the catalyst for her Universal Republic record deal, which was inked after a particularly confident performance last year.

As the music industry continues to change, South by Southwest remains constant in its influence and relevance. The lure isn’t lost on Washington’s own bands, many of which are heading south for the mid-March circus. Local groups including Le Loup, Jukebox the Ghost, Exit Clov, Apes and These United States made the trip last year.

“It was one of my favorite experiences with the band,” says Le Loup guitarist Jim Thomson, whose group played several shows in addition to the DC does TX showcase. “We played to crowds that had seen us before, crowds that hadn’t seen us and crowds that may not have even heard of us. The festival was great; we just felt like we were at the right place and the right time.”

Several ticket packages are available for the South by Southwest festival, which runs March 13 through 22. Visit www.SXSW.com for pricing and information.


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