Sweetbriar Rose
Gig Seeker Pro

Sweetbriar Rose

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2011 | SELF

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2011
Band Americana Folk




""..A luxuriously husky and sexy voice; smart, bookish lyrics…a noir-ish, moody, murder ballad-filled epic rife with three part harmonies and weirdly jazzy rhythms. An impressive and spooky return""

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 City Paper

"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"

In a few hours a much anticipated Cultivar CD release show will begin! Sweetbriar Rose plays tonight at the Old Swedes Church! After two warm-ups, playing the Lovers League release show 10/26 at Connie's Ric Rac and the CD Release Warm-up at the Grape Room 10/30, the official release is tonight in grand fashion!

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!

After getting a glimpse of Sweetbriar Rose this summer at the Brandywine Folk Festival in Kennett Square, PA in a stripped down form, looking ahead to tonight's show one question remained. What can fans expect from the band as far as the instrumentation for the live show?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee was kind enough to give some insight on the album and the live show!
"Each show is different. We may add a cello, or a new voice, or pare things down depending on the room and the audience, or who is available. Because we've been playing so many shows I feel like we're finally where we all want us to be for our live performances, in a place where it's really tight, but also fluid and dynamic. It feels really good to be on stage with this group of collaborators right now, and the audience is really responding. It's great to be a part of it and to keep stretching and evolving.

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"

If you need more convincing, check out this preview by the Philadelphia City Paper

Sweetbriar Rose plays tonight at the Old Swedes Church! Doors @7pm - Root Down in the Shadow

""A terrific CD." - Gene Shay, WXPN"

"A terrific CD" - Gene Shay WXPN - WXPN

""...definitely an artist to watch.""

Bones is the debut album for singer-songwriter Heather Shayne Blakeslee. It's hard to slot her into any particular category, for her style is a blend of folk and pop, a hint of country and a dash of blues.

Her voice is low pitched and as smooth and smoky as good molasses. She accompanies herself on guitar with support from Jimi Zhivago (dobro, bass, piano, organ, guitar and slide guitars), Giovanni Fusco (percussion), Barry Kornhauser (bass, mandola), Marjorie Fein (classical guitar) and Robin Burdelis (percussion). The accompaniment is well integrated into the songs so that it highlights but does not overshadow the poetry of the lyrics.

Poetry is the best word to describe the lyrics, intense and evocative, appealing sharply to the senses. Some of the songs tell stories, such as "The Ballad of Anna Mae," "No Rain" and "Calling," while others are reflective or confessional or stream of consciousness, such as "Opiates and Envy," "Lazarus" and "44 Summers." The songs are full of striking images, such as "They're selling opiates and envy in the market of my town" and "So she took her skin and she took her bones, and she stretched her skin over the country as she roamed," from "Sequoia," or "I build and break these futures down, I take and sing these bones I've found" from the title track, "Bones," which closes the CD.

Initially, the songs sound somewhat similar; it is only after repeated listening that the subtleties come through, such as the hint of jazz underlying "City Lullaby." The CD may be a touch over-subtle in this regard -- a bit more variety would be nice. In addition, Blakeslee's occasionally run the risk of being deliberately obscure.

These are relatively minor considerations, however, in light of Blakeslee's obvious talent. She's definitely an artist to watch, if Bones is any indication -- and I believe it is. - Rambles Online Magazine - Lancaster, PA

""A performer to appreciate as much for her eye...as for her honey-toned voice.""

“The ten songs on [Bones] come quietly, like strangers rapping softly on the window. Their beauty builds slowly. Blakeslee is adept here at shaping lush backdrops for her stories... Blakeslee is a performer to appreciate as much for her eye, as she surveys what's around her, as for her honey-toned voice.” Print publication, Northampton, MA - Daily Hampshire Gazette - Northampton, MA

""..a powerful new voice...her ability to get inside the minds of her characters is what really brings this above the norm.""

Bones by Heather Shayne Blakeslee, however, is an album by a woman who knows exactly what she is doing. Bones is a solid debut by a powerful new voice. She, her guitar, her story songs, and a few friends for depth of sound add up to a full experience. Her music runs the gamut of blues, country blues, and straight folk, but her lyrics and her ability to get inside the mind of her characters are what really bring this above the norm.

There is a theme of loneliness that permeates the album, illustrated by the liner, containing photographs that show her walking solo through a field of fallen leaves. They are notable in that they are almost completely void of Blakeslee's face.

The album begins with "Sequoia," a song about a seventeen year old who is abandoned by her parents and chooses to make the best of it. It has probably the best metaphor on the album, lyrical and instantly appropriate:

I have made my body strong like a drum,
and now the harder that you beat me,
the louder I become.

Another song about abuse is the Appalachian-style tune, "The Ballad of Anna Mae." The dobro rules this song, as it should, and the producer shows restraint in knowing--here and throughout--when to bring the guitar to the front and when to leave it behind Blakeslee's powerful voice.

The titular theme of "bones" is dispersed throughout the album ("Opiates & Envy" contains the line "cooled my hot bones down," and in "Lazarus"--which sounds almost classical--the character is "tired to the bone") and this culminates in the title track, a simple album-ender, once again about loneliness ("I sit here alone with these bones.")

One standout in particular is "No Rain." This is possibly the saddest song I've ever listened to. Luckily for me (as I was about to cry on the commuter train), she breaks the mood with "Letter to a Lover," a more uplifting piece, musically at least. Using an actual drum kit for the first time, it really raises the simple guitar piece full of questions to near-anthemic status while the lyrics remain about sad love ("What if you were America? What if I...lived pretending patriot? Would I go on and on...to kiss your bitter ground?"). So it's a mixed blessing, but still as powerful in its own way. - Green Man Review - Canada

""...as intimate as a lullaby and as gritty as a roadhouse.""

"[Treon's Cute Rate] a ring of Natalie Merchant in the 10,000 Manics part of her career…a complex mixture of folk, blues and even, country. The lyrics are more like storytelling; strong and real. Her music is positive and overwhelmingly beautiful … as intimate as a lullaby and as gritty as a roadhouse. It’s got some real character. Pop this in next time you're cruising down Route 66.” - What's Up Magazine - Boston, MA

""...Contemporary folk rock with darker themes and the smell of Autumn.""

Heather Shayne Blakeslee’s music melds contemporary folk rock with darker themes and the smell of Autumn. While most of the songs are centered around her acoustic guitar and luxurious voice, the album benefits from its minimal instrumental accompaniment and its crystal clear production. The songs, while obviously deeply personal, never read like a bad diary entry; instead, Blakeslee melds her experiences into more abstract and poetic verses. The warm sounds of the acoustic guitars and dobros slyly contrast the album’s deeply troubled subject matter; in fact, two of the first three songs mention the big H. Blakeslee has created an album that is soft, dark, feminine and mature. -- ea - Splendid E-zine


Still working on that hot first release.



SWEETBRIAR ROSE (Musica americana)

Sweetbriar Rose is a band of rootsy, thorny, rose-hipped gypsies who you're equally likely to glimpse running in full sun, barefoot on a field of bluegrass, brooding in three-part harmony over a murder ballad in a shady grove, or channeling the spirit of a 1940s Balkan jazz joint. If you heard them through the wall, you might imagine a stray melody from the carnival caravan was whirling and beckoning just on the other side of the darkened woods.  The Philadelphia City Paper described their debut album Cultivar as, "impressive and spooky," calling out songwriter Heather Shayne Blakeslee as a "towering talent" who's "luxuriously husky and sexy voice" was combined with "smart, bookish lyrics." She is a songwriting award winner of the New Jersey Folk Festival and the Elephant Talk Music Festival. 

The band is alumni of the Philadelphia, Brandywine, and New Jersey Folk Fests, as well as Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. Their dynamic performances of original music mix solid Americana tinged with Eastern European folk and jazz, whispers and shouts, foot-stomping and finger-picking, crooning and wailing. The multi-petaled flowers of Sweetbriar Rose include guitar, mandolin, keyboard, and upright bass, and haunting, layered harmonies are a central part of their act.   

The Philadelphia Folk Song Society says, "Since joining the Philadelphia Folksong Society's Philly Music Co-op, Sweetbriar Rose has proved to be one of our most exciting and envelope-pushing acts.  Drawing from an unusual blend of musical influences past and present, the group has developed an inimitable sound that demands your attention immediately.  U
pon hearing an advance copy of Cultivar, we invited Sweetbriar Rose to perform at the 52nd Philadelphia Folk Festival."

WXPN's iconic Gene Shay called Cultivar "a terrific CD" and has spun the band on The Folk Show, and DJ's around the country have requested the album.   In addition to their frequent club performances, the band has a successful original performance piece for the 2011 Philadelphia Fringe Festival to their credit and have also been featured at Philadelphia's Erotic Literary Salon.

After five years of playing in and around New York City and another five years in the all-woman old-timey country outfit, The Estelles, frontwoman and award-winning songwriter Heather Shayne Blakeslee formed Sweetbriar Rose to showcase a broader range of her songwriting. Her sultry vocals and literate songwriting are backed by a bevy of talented musicians including long-time collaborator and piano pedagogue Joy Thiessen (The Estelles), all-around artist and bassist Shane Leddy (Wes Mattheu & the New Way Down, The Muffinman, Salon 1522), mandolin enthusiast Adam Monaco, guitarist Shaun Quigley, and percussionist Walter Foley.

Native to Philadelphia, the hardy Sweetbriar Rose thrives in urban dive bars, church yards, apple orchards, festivals, urbane surburban coffee shops, theatres, backyard gardens, and the occasional living room. 

Sweetbriar rose hips, the fall fruit, are excellent company and nourishment to birds, and members have been seen coexisting with local songsters such as The Sun Flights, Tin Bird Choir, Psalmships, Dani Mari, Chelsea Sue Allen and other Philadelphia natives. Sweetbriar has been influenced by non-native species including Neko Case, Sam Phillips, and Gillian Welch. Show dates can be found at www.littleredrecords.com.

Band Members