What’s the sound of Philadelphia? As recently as a decade ago, that question was pretty easily answered by saying the “Sound of Philadelphia”—another term for the venerable R&B/soul tradition spearheaded since the ’60s by the famed songwriting/production team Kenneth Gamble and Leon A. Huff. Sure, other stuff was going on, but in terms of the city’s musical identity, everything took a backseat to those classic Philly soul grooves.
Over the past 10 years, however, a multitude of vibrant music scenes have sprouted up in Philly, fueled by a bevy of widely recognized acts: The hazy psychedelia of Espers and Kurt Vile; the noise-rock of Pissed Jeans; the tenacious hip-hop of the Roots, Beanie Sigel, and Freeway; the experimental, vaudevillian madness of Man Man and Drink Up Buttercup; and the rootsy, folky rock of Philadelphia’s most prominent band at the moment, Dr. Dog. The City of Brotherly Love has evolved into a diverse musical breeding ground that continues to auspiciously launch new acts onto the national stage.
One such combo that’s quickly gaining traction around the country—a band loosely affiliated with that flourishing roots/folk scene but which has deftly established its own niche in Philly—is Good Old War, which arrives in Seattle on the heels of its self-titled second album. In some ways, the trio could be Philadelphia’s answer to Fleet Foxes: magnificent three-part vocal harmonies (inspired by Simon & Garfunkel and CSNY) draped over rustic, sly-but-catchy acoustic melodies fashioned out of guitars, accordion, piano, and subtle percussion. And at the risk of evoking It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, GOW’s music leans toward the bright and optimistic—a disposition that’s characterized so many Philly acts, from soul pioneers the O’Jays straight through to Dr. Dog. After two albums and a couple hundred shows, GOW has turned into an immensely promising effort.
“We’re definitely hitting our stride right now, and we keep growing together musically,” notes Keith Goodwin, one of the group’s two singer/guitarists. “Wherever we end up taking this thing, I think we’ll be all right as long as it always has soul.” Indeed.