What a great concept for an ongoing series! Bivouac Recording’s 60 Minute Cities is already on its 33rd installment, and the project is but one of three on the site (the others being Social Tapes and Growing Up With Shanghai). The latest installment comes from Michael Lawrence, and is a celebration of the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia is also known for its cheesesteaks, cream cheese, Liberty Bell, Patti Labelle (no relation), Rocky and (unfortunately for this reviewer) the Super Bowl Champion Eagles.
That’s right, I’m a New England Patriots fan, which makes this the hardest review I’ve ever had to write. And I’ve written thousands of reviews. But I’m swallowing my pride for this one and hope I can be forgiven for listening to the opening track (“Championship Celebration”) only once, relieved to get through the honking and the cheers to the cry of “Pizza!” at the end. Fortunately this was captured after the NFC Championship rather than the Super Bowl; otherwise it would be unbearable.
Native Pennsylvanian Lawrence moved to Philly in 2006 and immediately fell in love with the city’s history and cadences. Like many locals, he’s embarrassed that the Liberty Bell no longer rings. But to make up for it, he’s caught many of the local nuances. As a musician (piano, pipe organ, trumpet), he’s grown accustomed to hearing sound as music, which becomes apparent the more one listens to this set. The two- and three-note rings of the 13th Street turnstiles sound like the beginning of an electronic track, backed by the approach of the trains like a drone. Male and female announcers perform an artificial duet. Life imitates art, or the other way around. In lieu of the Liberty Bell, Lawrence offers the bells of St. Clement’s, which ring loud and clear over the sound of traffic.
The artist performs a bit of sleight-of-hand on “Schuylkill River Trail,” apologizing for the relative silence of the local river and substituting the sound of a leaking fountain. The juxtaposition grows amusing when the jet skis pass, as one has made the assumption that the two sounds stem from the same source. A similar difficulty is found at the Race Street Pier, known more for train sounds than water echoes. If Lawrence relies a bit too much on the former, it can be forgiven, as he concludes with the more iconic sounds of Philadelphia air conditioners at night (writing, “This has been the sound of my late night walks home for many years”) and the Founder’s Bell in Penn Square marking the noon hour. As a sonic love letter to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia is a wonderful entry point to this series. The album is an invitation to receive local cadences as one might receive local musicians, with an appreciation for the natural, artificial and often unintentional rhythms of life. (Richard Allen)