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Philadelphia City Paper

Philadelphia City Paper Review and Pick

Music Pick

Heather Shayne Blakeslee has been kicking around Philadelphia’s nu-folk scene — first with her all-girl old-time music ensemble The Estelles, then as a solo artist — for a while. And since one of her biggest fans is Gene Shay, the host of WXPN’s The Folk Show, she’s got the old-folk scene behind her as well. With all that fanfare, Blakeslee’s newest band, Sweetbriar Rose, takes advantage of the towering talents she displayed as an Estelle (a luxuriously husky and sexy voice; smart, bookish lyrics) combined with the efforts of this city’s most down-and-dirty bluegrass, blues and C&W players like pianist Joy Thiessen (of The Estelles) and mandolinist EJ Simpson (of Maggie, Pierce & EJ). Sweetbriar’s new Cultivar (Little Red) is Blakeslee’s first recording in a decade, a noir-ish, moody, murder-ballad-filled epic rife with three-part harmonies and weirdly jazzy rhythms. An impressive and spooky return.

Philadelphia Folk Song Society Pick


"One of our most exciting and boundary-pushing acts."

That Mag - Cultivar Release Party Review

Cultivar Release Party Review

"Sweetbriar Rose’s new album Cultivar, which means the cultivation of plants for their desirable characteristic, is central to the themes of the album that’s been ten years in the making, as the album is musically a cultivar of all of Blakeslee favorite parts of music. In the coming months... I recommend you give them a listen, they put on a show you won’t soon forget."

Root Down in the Shadow - Interview

Release Party Preview and Interview

RDIS:  Cultivar, released this August is the newest work from songstress Heather Shayne Blakeslee and her team of folk-stars Shane Leddy, Joy Theissen, EJ Simpson, and Walter Foley.  If you haven't checked out Cultivar yet, it has a full palate of instrumentation bringing Blakeslee's songs to a vibrant life!  From swanky muted trumpet, some fierce mandolin, and sultry vocals, this isn't your standard modern folk-rebirth album!

HSB:  The instrumentation on the record is definitely more layered since it's a different listening experience. You're not going to find a harmonium on stage, but you'll hear that low resonance now in a Turkish frame drum from our percussion player.  While we did record some live tracks with us together, on Lily of the Valley for instance, I told Andrew Lipke, our producer, that I didn't want it to sound spare in anyway.  Andrew is a very gifted musician, and I don't read music, so we often used visuals to communicate, "this needs to sound like a puppet falling down in a jumble during this part" or "Shane's bass needs to be the undertow of the river in Bride to the Sound," and he totally got it every time.  One of the reasons I chose him as a producer is that I knew from listening to his records, which I love, that even though we have very different musical abilities, we both think cinematically about music.  It was so easy to work with him and 99% of the time, we agreed on how to approach a song."

Philadelphia Fringe Festival Blog - Interview

Article and Interview on The Articulate Landscape

Heather is particularly compelled by Jungian archetypes, which attracts her to certain creative forms and which reflects into her own work.

“That’s why I’m drawn to folk tales, murder ballads, all of these stories that pop up again and again. They have more to tell us than we think they do. There’s this deluge of information–it’s hard for modern beings to sort through it in order to survive, let alone thrive.”

In this show, Heather said she’s not working with strictly Jungian archetypes, but with a slightly different trope.

“I’m really interested in the person who’s trying to find their story, who lost their story. I agree with [the philosopher David] Hume that we’re different people at different times, so you have to check in about who you are.”

Flying Kite - Articulate Landscape Preview

Philadelphia Fringe Festival Preview

The artist sums it up as a "love story about stories," and while The Articulate Landscape combines short fiction readings with a sort of gypsy music caravan, Heather Shayne Blakeslee's latest project sure to provide plenty of room for interpretation.


That's kind of the point of the multi-disciplinary performances of this novel-in-progress, set for Sept. 3 and 10 at The Fire (4th and Girard, Philadelphia). The Articulate Landscape is "nominally about a woman who is considering becoming a book," exploring themes of transition and metamorphoses, tension among different world views, and myth-making.  

Selected readings, which provide ample opportunity for comedy and eroticism, will be performed by Blakeslee, Yards Brewing Company founder Tom Kehoe and Amos Lee drummer Freddie Berman. Blakeslee's band Sweetbriar Rose will provide some accompaniment.

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