Liz Longley @ Steel City Café, Phoenixville Pa.

It’s commendable when a local music cafe supports local music. It’s respectable when they only play on their CD system the music of those who’ve graced their stage. And it makes you stand up and take notice when they manage to pull in national acts like Jim Boggia, Amos Lee and Freedy Johnston.

But Saturday night, the stage at Steel City Café belonged to Philadelphia locals Liz Longley & Sarah Zimmerman, with opener Carsie Blanton.

It seems almost condescending to refer to a female musician as “adorable,” but with a flower cautiously placed in her short, curly hair and a nice floral print summer dress, Carsie Blanton was just that. Adorable.

Starting even at sound check, she had her audience captivated and laughing. While checking levels she jokingly quipped with the already seated audience, “you all aren’t supposed to be listening.” It was apparent we had an artist that had character in addition to a beautiful voice.

Singing in a distinctive style of folk music, Ms. Blanton engaged her audience with similes and clever wordings. She maintained a light, jovial presence while smiling and letting her eyes dart around the room in a style reminiscent of your favorite storytelling teacher from elementary school. All the while, singing about more adult topics like ex-lovers and bad boyfriends.

Carsie, originally a native of Luray, VA, a resident of Eugene, OR, and mostly recently Philadelphia, brings with her many years of playful storytelling and appears to have lived the life behind the words she sings about. It was a short, yet sweet set lasting about only 30 minutes.

After a brief 10 minute break to allow the patrons to order refreshment that may interfere with the small, intimate venue’s performance, it was time for main act Liz Longley. Performing with her on backup vocals and additional guitar work was her friend and songwriting partner Sarah Zimmermann.

Longley is a singer/songwriter whose style crosses many genres. A current student of Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, her vocal range and guitar playing are very much refined and versatile. Said to be a favorite of Ani Defranco, Longley has already started to build up a well rounded repertoire of songs and partnerships with other songwriters.

During her performance, Longley interacts with her crowd, often telling the stories behind her songs. Most notable was an ongoing dialog throughout the performance about her on again/off again romance with blues artist Johnny Duke. Though at times one had to wonder how Mr. Duke feels about being talked of openly to a bunch of strangers, it made for an interesting night.

Longley’s sidekick Zimmermann almost stole the show at certain moments. A very well rounded guitar player in her own right, Zimmerman’s bluesy solos and rhythms made the cozy audience snap to and get a little stirred up. At times she provided mellow and graceful backing vocals to Longley’s powerful and emotional voice.

Although some of her tracks have backing instruments and rhythm sections, she successfully pulled off playing her songs with just two guitars. At some points, Zimmerman would provide percussion via tapping on her guitar along with the beat. It would be interesting to see these two with a full backing band, and especially with Sarah on electric guitar.

After a power 45+ minute long set, it was time for her to go, but not without an encore; a cover of “Landslide” and a soulful rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

The night seemed to end almost as soon as it started, at around 11pm. A modest number of fans stayed after and Longley graciously greeted each one, sold CDs and signed autographs.

I decided to call it an early night. After being serenaded two amazing singers in one night, I didn’t want to break the good vibe they left me with.

Liz Longley continues her summer tour with stops up and down the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.

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4 Responses

  1. Where is steel city cafe?

  2. Its in “downtown” Phoenixville, PA, on bridge and main streets. Pretty nice area with some cool little book shops and a couple good restaurants. After a show lots of good bars around too..

  3. Oh I thought it said Pittsburgh, PA not Phoenixville. Where is Phoenixville?

  4. It’s about an hour northwest of Philadelphia.

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