John Morrison's Philly Top Five: Roaring rock and jubilant jazz for June from Strapping Fieldhands, Orrin Evans and more - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

June is here but it doesn’t really feel like it, right? The weather in Philly has been swinging from wet and rainy to mild and overcast with little of June’s signature sun and 90+ degree heat. That being said, the summer parties are still going and there are still more musical gems to be unearthed and enjoyed. For the past few months, most of my own personal listening has been focused on singles. Funky R&B 45s from the late 60s and 70s, garage rock and psychedelia. Despite this, I’ve still found some time to explore full-length albums and live performances on YouTube. As always, here are a few things that have caught my eyes and ears this month.

Grand Agent/NAME – Lost Page of the B-Boy Document

For the better part of the last three decades, North Philly-born MC Grand Agent has carved out a niche as one of the finest voices in rap. From his time as a member of underrated Philly underground heroes NAME (alongside Mr. Cisum and the director Ozzie “Old Man” Jones) to his vast solo catalog, Grand Agent’s credentials are certified. Lost Page of the B-Boy Document is a hard-to-find, cassette-only album released in the winter of 1998. Now available on Grand Agent’s Bandcamp page, the album is full of standouts like “Logic” and the lyrical tour de force “Essay Tee.” A once-forgotten gem that has thankfully been made available, Lost Page of the B-Boy Document gives us a look at the vanguard of Philly underground rap in the late 1990s.

Strapping Field Hands – Live at The Khyber 08/07/1993

Filmed in the summer of 1993 at Philly’s legendary rock venue, The Khyber, this set by pioneering Philly underground rockers, Strapping Fieldhands is a gem. Uploaded to YouTube at the freedomhasnobounds account, the band is shown ripping through a loose, noisy set of tunes. 

Strapping Field Hands - Live at The Khyber 08/07/1993

Todd Rundgren –  Ultrasonic Studio 1972

Ultrasonic Studio 1972 is a set of songs by Todd Rungren and band that was recorded in the Spring of 1972. Coming in between two landmark albums 1972’s Something/Anything? and A Wizard, A True Star, Ultrasonic Studio 1972 shows that at the time, Rundgren’s skill as a live performer was on par with his prodigious ability in the studio. The album opens with a gnarly, bluesy version of “Broke Down & Busted” while the gorgeous piano ballad, “A Dream Goes on Forever” is full of Rundgren’s signature magic and longing. 

Orrin Evans – The Red Door

Pianist, composer, and bandleader Orrin Evans is a giant of Philly jazz, and his latest, The Red Door, just serves as a reminder of his stature for anyone who might’ve forgotten. The album’s opener and title track “The Red Door” is a dramatic, cinematic piece with some colorful, playful soloing from Evans. Tracks like “Phoebe’s Stroll,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Feed the Fire” showcase the depth and sensitivity that Evans’ ensemble plays with, making a strong argument for The Red Door as one of the best modern jazz albums of 2023.

Mike Voss – Ain’t Nobody’s Hero album release party

On June 29th, Philly MC Mike Voss hosted a release party at The Fire for his new album, Ain’t Nobody’s Hero. A decorated battle champion and veteran on the mic, Mike Voss is a complete MC whose songs strike a strong balance between wit and introspection. M11son, Don Michael JR. and Duvak held down the opening slots and Voss performed standout cuts from the album like “May 30th / Ice In My Veins” (feat. Vodka)l. It was a beautiful night that reminded me of the warmth and love that lives in Philly’s hip hop scene.

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