The Key Studio Sessions: Emily Drinker - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

When local singer-songwriter Emily Drinker visited XPN studios with her band, she took a moment to post up by the vintage Joni Mitchell photo we have hanging in the studio hallway. Not coincidentally, she encountered and paused to appreciate the same photo a few weeks prior while attending the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference.

The artist, but also the era, is very much in Drinker’s musical DNA. She’s a musician in her 20s enamored with music from 20 years before she was born. A couple years back, I likened her debut EP to vintage country and Paul Simon-styled Afropop; when I met her in person at the Philadelphia Folk Festival this year, she spoke excitedly about having attended the annual gathering for much of her life, and the thrill of finally getting to play one of its stages this year.

In her songs, performed live for this week’s Key Studio Session with a four-piece band, you can hear moments of inspiration from Carole King, Laura Nyro, and an undeniable undercurrent of the Dead. It’s a spirited blend of folk, soul, and rock played by expert musicians — Eric Cooper on bass, Mykk Hoffman and Ethan Cain on guitar, Josh Steingard on drums — but it has a contemporary undercurrent as well.

The opening bop, “HomeSick,” is a recent collaborative single written and recorded with Kyle Sparkman — who sits in on guitar and vocals on this session — and it rides a serious groove over the course of four minutes, as both singers contemplate loneliness and connection to an earworm hook. It feels very now, but it’s also very timeless, and that seems to be the balance that Drinker is happiest to walk.

Watch the band perform the stirring “Starting to Feel” in the studio below via NPR’s Live Sessions, and listen to a Soundcloud archive of their entire performance. Drinker is readying a new album for a 2020 release, and will take part in World Cafe Live’s tribute to O Brother Where Art Thou on Friday, December 13th. Tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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