@Street Text:I try to make it funky," Philadelphia singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Mike Brenner tells Street over a cup of coffee in Old City. "It always has to do with a groove, based around my steel guitar. Anything else after that is icing." He's referring to his current musical project, Slo-Mo, which can best be described as an amalgamation of blues, bluegrass and -- here's where the groove comes in -- drum 'n' bass. "I don't know if it's dance music," Brenner says, "but it's supposed to be kind of physical. It's not really acoustic music, and it's pretty loud."
Slo-Mo's first and only full-length album to date, Novelty, came out in 2000. It is a dense collection of work, the melodies undeniably catchy -- "Thank God She Cooks" and "Happy Gets Lucky" will stay with you in the shower for weeks after listening. Brenner's more recent, unreleased material, in particular the rhythmic and infectious "My Buzz Comes Back," scores equally high on the funk-o-meter.
Pre-Slo-Mo, Brenner led The Low Road, an acoustic folk-rock band that signed on to Caroline Records and achieved local hero status in Philadelphia in the early '90s. "We toured with pretty big bands -- Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Los Lobos." After the band split in '97, Brenner began playing the dobro and lap-steel guitar. "It was a way for me to stay in music but not feel like I was doing the same thing," he explains.
Now a dobro connoisseur, Brenner finds himself in greater demand: He's done session work with Badly Drawn Boy, has helped write scores for a feature film and a television series and last year he spent four months touring with widely-acclaimed Songs: Ohia. Brenner also plays in Marah, another Philadelphia-based band. "I think the Philly scene, like most local music scenes, is in sort of a low ebb," he says. "There's always good stuff going on, but it's harder than ever to get people to clubs." Despite the outlook, Brenner remains steadfast in his struggle to maintain full-time musician status -- Slo-Mo has a Tuesday night residency at the Fire during February. "It's sort of a home joint for us, so it's casual. Sometimes there are a lot of people, something there aren't," he says.
In concert, Brenner sports a slick white suit … la Colonel Sanders and plays the lap-steel guitar, accompanied by several other band members including rapper Mic Wrecka. He croons softly into the microphone, "I hum a little tune, and my buzz comes back, my buzz comes back for good." The effect is intoxicating. A few originals and one Van Halen cover song later, and Slo-Mo has the crowd moving in a groove. "The band sounded good," Brenner says in retrospect of the show. "We'll see how the next two go."
Check out Slo-Mo at The Fire (412 W. Girard Ave), Feb 17 and Feb 24 at 9:30 p.m. For more info, visit www.heyslomo.com. Listen to The Low Road discography on the jukebox at Doobies (2201 Lombard Street).