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The Lawsuits: Americana Charm.

September 4, 2012

Text by Brittany Thomas. Images by G.W. Miller III.

It’s a typical sweaty summer day when The Lawsuits play their set at a block party on Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. But it only takes a few measures of their blues-soaked music until the crowd forgets about the unrelenting humidity and starts toe-tapping and head-bobbing just as heavily and genuinely as the band members do.

The Lawsuits take the audience from the gritty, concrete city and put them in a place that feels more like an open meadow beside the Mississippi River – just one of the places the band sings of longingly.

Vocalists Vanessa Winters and Brian Strouse keep perfect sync as they harmonize angelic, folk-rock melodies that gush with true-blue, Americana charm. There’s something about the harmonies that give off a Rolling Stones kind of feel. Strouse has a slightly gruff, Mick Jagger-esque sound while Winters contributes a delicate harmony that single-handedly possesses the power of an entire backup choir.

The band formed in 2007 when Strouse, Winters and her longtime friend Brendan Cunningham were all sort of thrown together by mutual friends. They later added drummer Josh Friedman and Noah Skarof, a multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo, guitar, mandolin, slide guitar and sax.

“Two years ago, we didn’t even make a footprint in this city,” says Strouse, who also plays lead guitar and writes many of the songs.

Then, in 2011, they dropped their first album, Darleen, named after an infamous 1987 Winnebago Cerro they drove on their first tour. All the bandmates except Winters, who chickened out, have a tattoo of the RV.

“We drove 10 hours back from the Outer Banks and it exploded in Delaware,” says Cunningham. “We were so close to home and we couldn’t do anything, so we just drove it with fumes coming into the car, going like 15 miles an hour on 95 during rush hour.”

“It was terrible,” says Strouse. “Everyone was asleep and I was just driving. Terrible.”

Things have been going much better lately. In April, they released their latest album, Hot Love, and celebrated with a show at Milkboy. They have performed around the city and region in front of packed crowds.

Some of the successes certainly could have something to do with Winters’ obvious sincerity and hometown-girl appeal. The opera-trained songstress at the front of the band says she just feels like one of the guys.

“It’s kind of empowering a little bit because there aren’t many females out there in our circle,” says Winters.

Her bandmates are quick to boast about her talents, like finding harmonies and belting it out without needing the slightest bit of guidance.

“Nobody’s telling her what to do,” says Skaroff. “She just trusts her ear, has a great voice and is just a totally organic part of the band.”

The Lawsuits are certainly not lacking in passion. They are constantly evolving artistically and experimenting with genres and sounds.

“Brian is just one of those people that’s constantly creating,” says Friedman. “Every practice, he shows up with two or three new songs. We’re just constantly absorbing and spitting out new material.”

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