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Monday, February 17, 2020

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 16, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

And It's Still Alright isn't exactly a neat return to Nathaniel Rateliff's solo turf.  I'm a great fan of those projects, 2010's In Memory of Loss and '13's largely overlooked Falling Faster Than You Can Run. And I distinctively remember both my confusion and my anticipation upon hearing of his Night Sweats project.  Amplifying a soul and showmanship that were hidden in his early career, it opened doors that had been unreachable as a solo artist.  Both Night Sweats collections earned places on my year-end favorites, even as I publicly hoped for another singer-songwriter project.

Turns out Rateliff was writing for that solo record even as 2018's Tearing At the Seams was being assembled.  Songs that didn't fit the spirit or the character of the Night Sweats were temporarily tabled in favor of those that might lend themselves better to the band's larger ensemble stage spectacle.  Both Night Sweats records were produced alongside Richard Swift, at his humble National Freedom studio in beautiful Cottage Grove, Oregon (very near where I grew up, incidentally).  Rateliff describes how Swift became like a brother to him, a kindred musical mind who reportedly encouraged the writer to pursue those solo urges, to follow his muse in new directions. 

Richard Swift's tragic death at age 41 sent his friend into a spiral, compounded by the end of Rateliff's marriage and the onset of middle age.  That's largely the setting for And It's Still Alright, the emotional fuel that sets fire to his new songs.  I guess that's the point of the whole record, Rateliff commented in a recent interview, acknowledging the heaviness of all that and moving forward and still finding joy

Nathaniel Rateliff will sometimes speak of the different characters he assumes in each of his projects, aspects of his personality to which he gives lead depending upon the spirit of the music.  While the man we meet on Alright seems more akin to the softspoken, introspective artist we encountered on those earlier solo works, there are also aspects of the engaging showman on some of the new songs.  While Rateliff won't break into the shuffling dance step that garnered him so much attention delivering the ubiquitous "SOB", this new collection couldn't have happened without the musical and personal confidence Rateliff accrued while fronting the Night Sweats. 

For one thing, he has evolved as a singer.  The gruff folkie who would mumble his incantations over an acoustic guitar is scarce here, with "Kissing Our Friends" standing as the sole sensitive-guy-with-a-guitar moment.  Instead, Rateliff delivers songs like "Time Stands" with much of his Night Sweats brawny soulfulness on display.  In exchange for the ensemble's funkiness, there is a Harry Nilsson theatricality peppered throughout.  "What a Drag" is set to a loosely jazzy guitar and finger snaps, and strings just this side of schmaltzy cushion several tracks. 

With so much emotional work to do, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of the identity of the you from song to song.  Rateliff himself seems to be the focus of some pieces, while others are directed to his -ex or to Swift.  No matter the subject, the writer continues to wear his heart on his sleeve, communicating great anger, regret or deep sadness with a howl or a cry.  On "Kissing Our Friends", he addresses his former wife: I ran the water for your bath / But you never came in.  "Mavis" finds the singer looking over his should at the wake of his relationship: I recall a time, you were mine / And all the time you bared your teeth / It was always just a smile for me.  Drums and a choir kick in halfway through. 

Alright features Rateliff surrounded by cohorts like DeVotchKa's Tom Hagerman on strings, and Luke Mossman of Night Sweats on guitar.  The outfit is strongest on cuts where they are allowed to stretch on to the corners of a track.  The beautiful "Tonight #2" is built on Spanish-inspired guitar and yearning strings:  Tonight, you're a one-armed man / Pinned to the ground in the coolest pose ... Tonight / We'll pretend we're friends.  "You Need Me" and "Expecting to Lose" are the CD's loosest arrangements, with Rateliff vamping on Roger Miller-esque doo-dit-doo's.  The latter rides on a swampy electric groove. 

At the heart of the album are the moments where Rateliff struggles to express his grief at Swift's passing.  The title cut is one of the year's most engaging singles, an introspective and soul-searching acoustic number, filled out by Eric Swanson's pedal steel:  I'll be damned if this old man / Don't start to count his losses / But it's still alright.  It's a song that is imbued with real emotion, and one of the high watermarks of Rateliff's career.  Even more effecting is "Rush On", the record's closing number.  In a heartbroken vocal, the singer confronts both guilt and gratitude, conducting an emotional wake: I hoped like a prayer / That your brokenness would leave you / But months turned to years / And the emptiness prevailed.  Rateliff lays bare his heart on the session, offering the collection's most cutting and direct lyric:  All the love and cries could not shake you from your rest / Would've given up my sight to take the jaundice from your skin

And It's Still Alright presents Nathaniel Rateliff reinvented as a solo performer, passed through the gauntlet of his years with Night Sweats.  The collection finds him improved as a guitarist and light years more confident as a singer and lyricist.  While the record likely won't achieve the popular acclaim of his party projects, it's certain that he's got the attention of many more ears than if he had remained a solo artist.  And he's earned it. 

- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Be Afraid" Reunions  (Southeastern, May 15)  D
- Daniel Romano, "When I Learned Your Name" Modern Pressure  (New West, 17)
- Honey Harper, "Something Relative" Starmaker  (ATO, Mar 6)  D
^ Nathaniel Rateliff, "Mavis" And It's Still Alright  (Stax, 20)
- Nicole Atkins, "Captain" Italian Ice  (Single Lock, Apr 17)  D
- Jonathan Wilson, "Oh Girl" Dixie Blur  (BMG, Mar 6)
- Mastersons, "Spellbound" No Time For Love Songs  (New West, Mar 6)
- Panhandlers, "Cactus Flower" Panhandlers  (Next Waltz, Mar 6)
- Matthew Logan Vasquez, "Halfcolt" Austin EP  (MLV, 15)
- Esme Patterson, "All Mine" There Will Come Soft Rains  (BMG, Mar 6)
- James Elkington, "Ever-Roving Eye" Ever-Roving Eye  (Paradise of Bachelors, Apr 3)
- Tre Burt, "Only Sorrow Remains" Caught It From the Rye  (Oh Boy, 20)
- Teddy Thompson, "Heartbreaker Please" Heartbreaker Please  (Chalky Sounds, Mar 8)  D
- Katy Moffatt, "I Just Keep Falling In Love" Chrysalis  (Sunset Blvd, 20)
- Mapache, "Me Voy Pa'l Pueblo" From Liberty Street  (Yep Roc, Mar 20)
- Gabe Lee, "Honky Tonk Hell" Honky Tonk Hell  (Torrez, Mar 13)  D
- Michigan Rattlers, "Desert Heat" single  (Rattlers, 20)  D
- James McMurtry, "South Dakota" Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
- Aubrie Sellers, "My Love Will Not Change (feat. Steve Earle)" Far From Home  (Soundly, 20)
- John Moreland, "A Thought Is Just a Passing Train" LP5  (Old Omens, 20)
- Swamp Dogg, "Good Better Best" Sorry You Couldn't Make It  (Joyful Noise, Mar 6)
- Houndmouth, "Come On Illinois" From the Hills Below the City  (Rough Trade, 13)
- Brandy Clark, "Love Is a Fire" Your Life Is a Record  (Warner, Mar 6)
- Jessi Alexander, "I Should Probably Go Now" Decatur County Red  (Lost Creek, Mar 27)
- Clem Snide, "Don't Bring No Ladder" Forever Just Beyond  (Ramseur, Mar 27)
- Phosphorescent, "Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)" Here's To Taking It Easy  (Dead Oceans, 10)
- Frazey Ford, "Money Can't Buy" U Kin B the Sun  (Arts & Crafts, 20)
- Kim Richey, "Keep Me" Long Way Back: Songs Of Glimmer  (Yep Roc, Mar 27)
- Grahams, "Searching the Milky Way" Kids Like Us  (Three Sirens, Mar 27)
- Secret Sisters, "Late Bloomer" Saturn Return  (New West, Feb 28)

Has it been a remarkable week for new releases, as seen on A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster?  No.  No it hasn't.  But I'll trust just about anything Bloodshot Records stands behind.  Their most recent signing is Chicago rock 'n roll band ROOKIE (in all caps, and on your shelves March 13).  Early James is an Alabama singer whose influences span from folk to blues, as heard on his debut full-length, planned for March 13 on Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound label.  Auerbach has also chosen to serve as the project's producer.  It seems like just yesterday that Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real shared their last record.  Nelson's keeping pace with his old man's record release schedule, unleashing Naked Garden via Fantasy Records on March 27.  Illinois country rocker Craig Gerdes calls his April 13 CD, a documentary in album formTough As Nails follows 2018's Smokin' Drinkin' & Gamblin'.  Single Lock Records will serve as the home for Nicole Atkins' promising Italian Ice, appearing wherever music matters in April 17.  Atkins' seventh full-length features contributions from producer Ben Tanner, David Hood, Spooner Oldham and more.  And by more, I mean this week's ROUTES-cast below:

Monday, February 10, 2020

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 9, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

On a recent Facebook post, John Moreland updated friends and fans on his listening habits, directing readers to a Spotify playlist featuring some of the stuff that had been turning his wheels of late.  Alongside Tallest Man on Earth and Shelby Lynne were DaBaby, Big Audio Dynamite and Sheryl Crow.  Like a lot of artists, Moreland doesn't drive from one show to the next blasting his own records on repeat, or even always spinning the music of other performers who share his penchant for thoughtful contemporary folk 'n country.  Matter of fact, in a recent Rolling Stone piece, he admitted spending more time building loops and creating sounds on studio toys and Casio keyboards than he did writing on his acoustic guitar.

Especially since 2013's In the Throes, few musicians have resonated like John Moreland, gathering a fiercely loyal following of listeners who cite lyrics and even tattoo his words into their skin.  Here at R&B HQ, both Throes and 2015's High On Tulsa Heat found a place on our decade's end pantheon of essential records.  2017's Big Bad Luv introduced Moreland to a wider audience via 4AD Records.  With the advent of his new collection, LP5, he's back to releasing his own music.  And, for the first time in his career, Moreland is focused on sounds, songs and textures at least as much as he's attending to those celebrated lyrics.

Good News:  LP5 still features plenty of worthy turns of phrase.  More than any other artist of his generation, Moreland practices a lyrical mastery, an appreciation of the rhythms and the sounds of words:  All the gods are watching wars on television / Placing their bets and telling jokes about religion.  In that Rolling Stone interview, he also betrays some impatience with listeners who regard his verses as if they were deeply personal confessions:  It bums me out so hard when people think my songs are like a TMZ version of my life.  How's John's marriage faring?  Is the artist happy?

Well, if nothing else, Moreland is having a good time in the studio, surrounding himself with longtime friends and musical allies like bassist and vocalist Bonnie Whitmore, producer/drummer Matt Pence and sidekick/multi-instrumentalist/secret weapon John Calvin Abney.  LP5 isn't his electronic album.  It's not even Moreland's Sound & Fury (see Sturgill Simpson's 2019 project).  Rather, songs like "Harder Dreams" simply allow him to explore the sonic synapses between what's come before and what he does in his spare time.  Little by little, crisp acoustic guitar is joined by clicks and taps, unidentified elements that generate a rich percussive soundscape.  While previous records have presented Moreland fronting a fuller band, these textures make LP5 the most musically interesting, aurally engaging project of his career.  One of two instrumentals, "For Ichiro" is built on a lyrical piano passage, overlaid with watery synths and squelching beats.  Even longtime fans would struggle to recognize their hero behind the track.

None of the songs are as bare bones as Throes, or as heartland rocky as Tulsa, but Moreland has by no means lost the thread of what has made him such an entrancing artist.  We're in immediately familiar territory on "Let Me Be Understood", to the point where he even references an earlier song:  I used to walk around with shackles on my hands / Back when I still needed you to tell me who I am.  In a voice as warm and familiar as ever, he is accompanied by acoustic and bass guitar, with satisfying harmonica for good measure.  See also "In Times Between", a beautiful acoustic cut that boasts one of Moreland's most striking vocals:  I sit up in a satellite and watch the cold world spin / Well damn it all to hell, don't it mean a thing.  Even the rare blues-based number, "A Thought Is Just a Passing Train", would not be out of place on either Tulsa or Luv, even considering the rubberband keyboard solo and the tremendous guitar squall that closes out the song: Shame is a cancer / Go easy on your heart.

But what largely characterizes and defines LP5 are the moments which portray John Moreland relaxing into his less familiar means of expression, indulging his fascination for percussive loops and textures.  These aren't intrusive or redefining bits, the scratchy drum loop and barely-there keys and horns of "I Always Let You Burn Me To the Ground", for example, or the subtly thumping beats and atmospheric keys of his collaboration with Will Johnson, "I'm Learning How To Tell Myself the Truth".  He still takes to his acoustic guitar to flesh out the tracks, and it's all in service to the songs.  And whether or not we chose to read anything especially personal into them, these are genuinely introspective lyrics.  Looking backwards, all my pictures / Look like send-ups of stolen scriptures he sings on his memorial to fellow songwriter Chris Porter, "East October".  The record's first single is marked with distant heartbeats and soft bursts of sound.

The collection's most outstanding departures also stand as some of LP5's strongest moments.  "When My Fever Breaks" is a bright shining lovesong written for Moreland's wife (he said it, not me).  It's as extroverted a sentiment as you're likely to hear from the writer, and a lovely song: Star-crossed eyes and cross-eyed stars / No use hiding age old scars.  "Terrestrial" is a a standout on a CD that offers some eye-opening rhythmic choices.  Abney's keys are just this side of jazzy, and reflections are set to a syncopated, percussive soundscape.  It sounds like no other Moreland number, though the voice and the sentiment are familiar:  You gave me purpose but I could not complete the task / As a child I repented my nature, 'til as a man I repented my past.

Of course, we celebrate artistic evolution on Routes & Branches, we've built our blog on the spirit of musical discovery.  Whereas Sturgill Simpson challenged dedicated listeners to follow him on into his relatively radical new territory, John Moreland's LP5 lands as more of an organic progression.  It's a change, but it must be said that he hasn't released the same album twice during his career.  Simpson might've seemed bored and impatient, where Moreland has seemingly found a path to continued engagement.  Alongside producer Matt Pence, sharing the stage with his friend John Calvin Abney, he does no less than set the bar for the most worthy record of our early year.

- Aubrie Sellers, "Lucky Star" Far From Home  (Soundly, 20)
- Richard Swift, "Lady Luck" Atlantic Ocean  (Secretly Canadian, 09)
- James Elkington, "Nowhere Time" Ever-Roving Eye  (Paradise of Bachelors, Apr 3)  D
- Califone, "Bandicoot" Echo Mine  (Jealous Butcher, Feb 21)
- Jonny Fritz, "I Love Leaving" Sweet Creep  (ATO, 16)
- Amanda Shires, "Deciphering Dreams" single  (Silver Knife, 20)  D
^ John Moreland, "Learning How To Tell Myself the Truth" LP5  (Old Omens, 20)
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "Manhattan Island Serenade" single  (la Honda, 20)  D
- Jeffrey Martin, "Thief and a Liar" Build a Home  (Martin, 12)
- Leslie Mendelson, "If You Can't Say Anything Nice" If You Can't Say Anything Nice  (Royal Potato Family, Apr 17)  D
- Corb Lund, "90 Seconds of Your Time" Agricultural Tragic  (New West, Apr 24)  D
- Jesse Daniel, "Rollin' On" Rollin' On  (Die True, Mar 27)  D
- Western Centuries, "Lifeblood Sold" Call the Captain  (Free Dirt, Apr 3)  D
- Nora Jane Struthers, "Slow Climb" Bright Lights Long Drives First Words  (Blue Pig, Feb 21)
- Brent Cobb, "Black Creek" No Place Left To Leave reissue  (Ol' Buddy, 20/06)  D
- Pokey LaFarge, "End of My Rope" Rock Bottom Rhapsody  (New West, Apr 10)
- Christopher Paul Stelling, "Hear Me Calling" Best of Luck  (Anti, 20)
- Leslie Stevens & the Badgers, "Old Timers" Roomful of Smoke  (Lyricland, 10)
- Nathaniel Rateliff, "All or Nothing" And It's Still Alright  (Stax, Feb 14)
- David Ramirez, "Lover Will You Lead Me" single  (Sweetworld, 20)  D
- Dave Simonett, "Revoked" Red Tail  (Dancing Eagle, Mar 13)
- Lucinda Williams, "Man Without a Soul" Good Souls Better Angels  (Hwy 20, Apr 24)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "21st Century USA"  The Unraveling  (ATO, 20)
- Chatham County Line, "Station to Station" Strange Fascination  (Yep Roc, May 15)  D
- Paul Burch, "Full About Me" Light Sensitive  (Plowboy, Apr 17)  D
- Robert Earl Keen, "Broken End of Love" What I Really Mean  (Koch, 05)
- Whitney Rose, "Believe Me Angela" We Still Go To Rodeos  (MCG, Apr 24)  D
- Logan Ledger, "(I'm Gonna Get Over This) Some Day" Logan Ledger  (Rounder, Apr 3)  D
- James Steinle, "What I Came Here For" What I Came Here For  (Steinle, 20)
- Frazey Ford, "Golden" U Kin B the Sun  (Arts & Crafts, 20)

Here's where we tip you off on new projects and forthcoming albums that were announced since last Episode.  We tend to only cherry-pick the highest profile releases in this space, though you'll find a full accounting by clicking on A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Jon Langford and Waco Brothers were around at the birth of, and they continue to make socially charged LPs to this day.  You can expect a collection of barbed and topical songs when Resist! hits shelves wherever music matters (Bloodshot, Feb 28).  Guitarist James Elkington has earned credits on records from Joan Shelley and Freakwater to Steve Gunn and Jeff Tweedy.  And every once in a while he saves some stuff for his own project.  Expect Ever-Roving Eye February 3 via Paradise of Bachelors.  Seattle's Western Centuries are sharing their third CD, called Call the Captain April 3 on Free Dirt Records.  There's been quite a buzz around Bay Area singer-songwriter Logan Ledger since about this time last year.  Following an EP teaser, our patience will be rewarded with a full-length, self-titled collection on April 3.  Produced by T Bone Burnett, the Rounder release also features contributions from Burnett's friends Marc Ribot, Jay Bellerose and Dennis Crouch.  From Texas by way of Canada, Whitney Rose has recorded We Still Go To Rodeos, and will be ready to give it to us on April 24.  That same day, you'll want to save room for Corb Lund's Agricultural Tragic (New West) and Good Souls Better Angels from Lucinda Williams.  Oh, and at presstime (basically Monday morning when I get around to it), Jason Isbell & 400 Unit dropped news of a new CD, Reunions, scheduled for May 15 via Isbell's Southeastern label.  For now, the following ROUTES-cast will have to do:

Monday, February 03, 2020

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 2, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust


God but January was a long month.  Think I counted 35 days there.  S'pose that just means more days dawning with the possibility of new music.  January 35th, the final day of the ordeal, brought nearly twenty releases to consider for our list of favorites.  So the month more than earned its keep, posing the difficult challenge of selecting just five records to highlight.  So I chose six (in order of appearance):

Futurebirds, Teamwork  (VL4L, Jan 15)
Terry Allen & Panhandle Mystery Band, Just Like Moby Dick  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jan 24)
Bart Budwig, Another Burn On the Astroturf  (Fluff & Gravy, Jan 24)
Bonny Light Horseman, Bonny Light Horseman  (37d03d, Jan 24)
Drive-by Truckers, The Unraveling  (ATO, Jan 31)
Tre Burt, Caught It From the Rye  (Oh Boy, Jan 31)

I would also throw in an enthusiastic vote in the direction of Ben Watt's eloquent Storm Damage and Have We Met from Destroyer, a pair of un-roots albums that deserve your attention this month.  And also Frances Quinlan Likewise.

The first time I remember noticing Tre Burt, I was wading in the internet in search of information about Haley Heynderickx for a Spring 2018 piece I was publishing in praise of her I Need To Start a Garden release.  I discovered a duet between Heynderickx and Burt, a mesmerizing take on Jackson Browne's "These Days", recorded on a picturesque street somewhere in Munich.  The two have shared stages over the years, as well as sharing a common commitment to developing their own respective voice in the crowded field of contemporary folk music.

Tre Burt has taken the proverbial road less traveled to his first full-length project.  In addition to living in Sacramento and Portland for a time, he followed a romantic whim to Australia.  While Down Under, he shared his Takes From the Dungeon, an EP recorded on my old shitty Samsung that couldn't hardly do nuthin' but record voice memos.  2018 brought a pair of under-successful crowdfunding campaigns that would eventually lead to Caught It From the Rye.  Burt's debut full-length caught the attention of Oh Boy Records and co-owner John Prine, who have just reissued the collection.  It bears repeating that Tre Burt is just one of two artists Oh Boy has signed to their roster in the past fifteen years (the second being Kelsey Waldon).

While the roots of Burt's brand of impressionistic, rambling folk can be followed to classic writers like Ochs and Dylan, he has earned his stripes and honed his instrument through countless miles on the road.  What emerges in his collection has been years in the making, presenting the artist as a fully formed performer.  That said, Caught It From the Rye is as unadorned as the photo that graces its jacket.  The CD's most trad-folk cut, "Undead God of War" features only Burt's bluntly strummed acoustic and train whistle harmonica.  Not a storyteller or a straightforward lyricist, his verses are poetic and driven by imagery:  Up in the clouds, the eagle flies so mournfully / From its claws, the head of a boar spills blood on Main Street.

Other songs introduce Burt's acoustic fingerpicking.  "What Good" finds the narrator remarking on fleeting youth, pulled along the currents of time: Make amends, tell your childhood friend they were something to you / Cos it gets dark.  While his playing is not especially ornate, Burt's vocals are distinct, gruff like Ryan Bingham but with a meter and phrasing all his own.  "Get It By Now" is a highlight, a pretty acoustic cut that allows room for that expressive keening delivery:  It's been a long time since I've had you near / Now you're the bell in my pocket that chimes out of fear.

The most intriguing moments of Caught It From the Rye are those that speak to a more contemporary take on Tre Burt's sound.  The title song adds a bluesy lilt to one of his most impressionistic lyrics:  I need savin' by the grace of god / But I know he's off creatin' / Another one like me / Just a cage bird sing prison tunes to pass the time.  Listeners might hear Benjamin Booker in "Real You", introducing more aggressive guitars and a present day take on relationships.  The album's strongest cut, "Franklin's Tunnel" includes a loose and lovely vocal accompaniment from Julie Baenziger of Sea of Bees along with slide guitar:  Tobacco and whiskey next to me / I take a drag of my Zig-Zag and have a drink.  It offers an intriguing glimpse at what might be next for Burt if he opens his studio doors a bit wider for further collaboration.

For now, Tre Burt's Caught It From the Rye serves as a great opening volley, a collection that ushers in an artist with great integrity and his own approach for setting the world to song.  His rawness and lack of compromise place him alongside others like Hayley Heynderickx and Bedounine, forces working for good in the world of folk music:  You are the light in the dark / No the moth don't cross without you / And your luminous rings / Oh my kerosene dreams ...

- Drive-by Truckers, "Rosemary With a Bible and a Gun" The Unraveling  (ATO, 20)
- Savage Radley, "Little River Town" Kudzu  (Slough Water, 17)
- Ashley McBryde, "Hang In There Girl" Never Will  (Warner, Apr 3)
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Medicine Hat" King of This Town  (BARK, 20)
- Andrew Combs, "Slow Road To Jesus" All These Dreams  (Coin, 15)
- Posssessed by Paul James, "Your White Stained Dress" As We Go Wandering  (Wert, 20)
- Grace Pruitt, "Loving Her" Expectations  (Rounder, Feb 21)
- Son Little, "Mahalia" Aloha  (Anti, 20)
- Townes Van Zandt, "Cowboy Junkies Lament" No Deeper Blue  (TVZ, 04)
- Black Lips, "Rumbler" Sing In a World That's Falling Apart  (Fire, 20)  D
- Cave Flowers, "Best Lonesome Friend" Cave Flowers  (Hard Bark, 20)
- Panhandlers, "This Flatland Life" Panhandlers  (Next Waltz, Mar 6)
- Gill Landry, "Different Tune" Skeleton At the Banquet  (Loose, 20)
- Wood Brothers, "Satisfied" Kingdom In My Mind  (HoneyJar, 20)
- Reigning Sound, "Pretty Girl" Home For Orphans  (Merge, 05)
^ Tre Burt, "Franklin's Tunnel (feat. Sea of Bees)" Caught It From the Rye  (Oh Boy, 20)
- Lilly Hiatt, "P-Town" Walking Proof  (New West, Mar 27)
- Rev Shawn Amos & Brotherhood, "Counting Down the Days" Blue Sky  (Amos, Apr 17)  D
- Shelby Lynne, "Here I Am" Shelby Lynne  (Everso, Apr 17)  D
- Reckless Kelly, "I Only See You With My Eyes Closed" American Girls  (No Big Deal, May 22)  D
- Elijah Ocean, "Behind the Times" Blue Jeans & Barstools  (Ocean, May 1)  D
- Those Darlins, "Hung Up On Me" Those Darlins  (Oh Wow Dang, 08)
- Mark Erelli, "A Little Kindness" Blindsided  (Erelli, Mar 27)  D
- Brandy Clark, "I'll Be the Sad Song" Your Life Is a Record  (Warner, Mar 6)
- Durand Jones & the Indications, "Young Americans" single  (Dead Oceans, 20)  D
- Terry Allen & Panhandle Mystery Band, "All These Blues Go Walkin' By (feat. Shannon McNally)" Just Like Moby Dick  (Paradise of Bachelors, 20)
- Arbor Labor Union, "Crushed by Fear Destroyer" New Petal Instants  (Arrowhawk, Feb 7)
- Innocence Mission, "Brothers Williams Said" See You Tomorrow  (Therese, 20)
- David Ramirez, "That Ain't Love" Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
- Left Arm Tan, "Mexicali Run" Left Arm Tan  (LAT, 20)

Some weeks it's all we can do to keep pace with the mad rush of new release announcements for A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Then there are weeks like this past one, weeks that leave us plenty of time for reflection an deep life inventory.  Mark Erelli guarantees a fuller, more hooky sound on Blindsided  (March 27).  Swampy is the word of the day for Rev Shawn Amos & the Brotherhood as they proclaim the April 17 debut of Blue SkyTeddy Thompson's forthcoming CD is called Heartbreaker Please, expected on the 24th of April.  Per the advance publicity, Thompson finds inspiration from the Everly Brothers and the classic three minute pop songs of the 1950s.  Towards the end of 2019, Elijah Ocean released Back To the Lander, a project he'd kept on the back burner since its 2017 recording.  He'll waste no time in sharing the follow-up, Blue Jeans & Bar Stools, hitting shelves wherever music matters on May 1.  Finally, we're eager to hear the double LP Reckless Kelly has planned for May 22.  American Girls and American Jackpot find the longtime outfit making up for their four year absence from the recording studio.  But here's your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 26, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Terry Allen perches at a piano when he plays country music, shoulders hunched and leaning into the mic.  He is an essential legend of West Texas music who lives in Santa Fe.  While Allen is responsible for iconic songs like "Amarillo Highway" and "Flatland Boogie", he has also thrown some notorious curveballs, records incorporating experimental or theatrical elements.  A songwriter par excellence who fills galleries worldwide with his sculpture and his visual arts.  Terry Allen is a scoundrel, an enigma and a walking contradiction.  He is a treasure.  And at age 76, he has just released his most cohesive record in decades, Just Like Moby Dick (Paradise of Bachelors).

You'll get a great overview of the man by watching Everything For All Reasons, a 2019 documentary presently streaming on Amazon.  The short features interviews with friends and cohorts, interspersed with live classics from a terrific stage show by Allen and his longtime Panhandle Mystery Band.  Charlie Sexton sums it all up in a phrase: It's high art, covered in dust.

That Panhandle Mystery Band has shared Allen's spotlight in one form or another since the early days.  With Sexton on guitar, the ubiquitous Lloyd Maines on slide and dobro, Glenn Fukunaga on bass, Richard Bowden on fiddle and Terry's son Bukka on accordion and keys, it's a worldclass ensemble that grounds his flights of musical fancy in pure Texas country.  While Allen's voice and piano are all over Moby Dick, the band more than earns their co-headlining status.  You'll hear it in Maines' ghostly dobro on "Houdini Didn't Like the Spiritualists", or in Bukka's accordion that adds great character to "Abandonitis".  This is especially true of Mississippi vocalist Shannon McNally, who accompanies the songwriter on most cuts, and even takes lead on a couple, such as the beautiful "All These Blues Go Walkin' By". She shares a mic with Sexton on the warm and thoughtful "All That's Left Is Fare-Thee-Well".

Of course, more than anything we tune into Terry Allen's frequency in order to enjoy his otherworldly take on our worldly woes.  Half the world is screwed / The other half's insane, he sings on the breezy "Sailin' On Through". While he's as irreverent as ever, a sense of wistfulness pervades Moby Dick, a world-weariness Allen has earned along with other masters like John Prine or the late Guy Clark.  "Death of the Last Stripper" finds the narrator trying in vain to track down the next-of-kin for the last stripper / In the last club in town.  As Bukka's accordion weeps, there's a characteristic grotesquerie to the proceedings: We gave her clothes to Goodwill / Except for one pretty dress / Tried to make her face up / So she could look her best.  It's pure Terry Allen, a man who has penned enough caricatures of these down-and-outers to populate an entire windswept West Texas town.  On "City of Vampires", There's nary a soul to be found / When the sun glints off the church spires.

One of the points driven home by the new documentary is that Terry Allen doesn't delineate one artistic expression from the next.  He regards his sculptures as an outpouring from the same rich vein that produces his paintings or his songs.  This seems especially likely during the collection's more theatrical moments.  Richard Bowden's fiddle soars elegantly through "Houdini", a story about the magician's plans for a final illusion from beyond the grave.  The CD's most ambitious project is the three-part American Childhood.  The ominous, string-driven suite draws a line between a child's duck-and-cover drill, Vietnam and Iraq: It's just the war / Same fucking war / It's always been / It never ends.

Over the years, the term "outlaw" has been lazily applied to countless artists, but primarily for superficial reasons.  Terry Allen has contributed to the pillars of the outlaw country cannon, though his outlaw cred runs deeper than most.  Allen's origin story tells how he attended high school with future legends like Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.  Tossed and thrown atop these waves of artistic inspiration, on deck with his loyal Panhandle Mystery Band, a case can be made that he is the unlikely last man standing among his peers. At an age when nearly all of his contemporaries are cruising on covers and mere fumes of their past brilliance, in Just Like Moby Dick he has built a project that is almost as vital as anything else in his portfolio.

^ Terry Allen, "Houdini Didn't Like the Spiritualists" Just Like Moby Dick  (Paradise of Bachelors, 20)
- Katy Moffatt, "Walking On the Moon" Chrysalis  (Sunset Blvd, Feb 14)  D
- Bonny Light Horseman, "Bright Morning Stars" Bonny Light Horseman  (37d039, 20)
- Bart Budwig, "Northern Sky" Another Burn On the Astroturf  (Fluff & Gravy, 20)
- Wood Brothers, "Little Bit Broken" Kingdom In My Mind  (HoneyJar, 20)
- Sonny Landreth, "Wilds of Wonder" Blacktop Run  (Provogue, Feb 21)
- Waxahatchee, "Fire" Saint Cloud  (Merge, Mar 27)  D
- M Ward, "Unreal City" Migration Stories  (Anti, Apr 3)
- Bright Eyes, "Classic Cars" Cassadega  (Saddle Creek, 07)
- Stephen Malkmus, "Xian Man" Traditional Techniques  (Matador, Mar 6)  D
- No Ones, "No One Falls Alone" Great Lost No Ones Album  (Yep Roc, Mar 27)  D
- Sadies & King Khan, "Most Despicable Man Alive" single  (Ernest Jenning, 20)  D
- Pokey LaFarge, "Fuck Me Up" Rock Bottom Rhapsody  (New West, Apr 10)  D
- Clem Snide, "Roger Ebert" Forever Just Beyond  (Ramseur, Mar 27)  D
- Ryan Bingham, "Ghost of Travelin' Jones" Mescalito  (UMG, 07)
- Hailey Whitters, "Janice At the Bar" The Dream  (Pigasus, Feb 28)
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Trust Yourself" King of This Town  (BARK, 20)
- Pond Diver, "Loosen Up" Flashbacks EP  (Pond Diver, 20)
- Sadler Vaden, "Golden Child" Anybody Out There  (Dirty Mag, Mar 6)
- Left Arm Tan, "La Mirage" Left Arm Tan  (LAT, 20)
- Caleb Caudle, "Better Hurry Up" Better Hurry Up  (Baldwin County Public Records, Apr 3)  D
- Tift Merritt, "Traveling Alone" Traveling Alone  (Yep Roc, 12)
- Nathaniel Rateliff, "What a Drag" And It's Still Alright  (Stax, Feb 14)
- James Steinle, "Blue Collar Martyr" What I Came Here For  (Steinle, Feb 7)
- Mastersons, "Eyes Open Wide" No Time For Love Songs  (Red House, Mar 6)
- Sam Doores, "Other Side of Town" Sam Doores  (New West, Mar 13)
- Gill Landry, "Angeline" Skeleton At the Banquet  (Loose, 20)
- Katie Pruitt, "Grace Has a Gun" Expectations  (Rounder, Feb 21)
- Kurt Vile, "Songs For John in D" God Is Saying This To You  (Kemado, 09)
- Richard Buckner, "Dogwood" Old Enough To Know Better: 15 Years of Merge  (Merge, 04)

A week doesn't go by that we don't add a bunch of forthcoming records to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Just added, f'rinstance:  a March 27th Waxahatchee CD, Saint Cloud (Merge) that promises a more stripped back sound.  Scott Avett serves as producer for Forever Just Beyond, the first full-length from Eef Barzelay and Clem Snide in more than five years (Ramseur, Mar 27).  Caleb Caudle hasn't released an LP in the past several years that hasn't landed near the top of our year-end favorites list.  Expect the same for Better Hurry Up, recorded in Johnny Cash's cabin with contributions from Elizabeth Cook, Courtney Marie Andrews, John Paul White and more (Baldwin County Public Records, April 3).  With "Fuck Me Up", Pokey LaFarge has launched a fierce opening volley to introduce Rock Bottom Rhapsody, out April 10 on New West.  Expect just Shelby Lynne and a piano when she unleashes her topical self-titled project via Everso on April 17.  And we have an April 17 date as well for Light Sensitive, the next collection from Paul Burch and WPA Ballclub, also featuring Amy Rigby, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Luther Dickinson and more.  Speaking of more, here's your weekly ROUTES-cast, which ties it all together:

Monday, January 20, 2020

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 19, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

A visit to Bandcamp or Allmusic will unearth dozens of strains of folk music: folk rock, indie folk, pop folk, experimental folk, contemporary folk, even anti-folk.  And arrayed along this spectrum are artists that reach from Woody Guthrie to Damien Jurado.  You'll find Bonnie Prince Billy rubbing skinny shoulders with Pete Seeger, Joan Shelly and Bedouine.  Beneath the heading for Anais Mitchell, you'll discover links for contemporary folk, political folk, alternative folk, indie singer-songwriter and more.

Once firmly embraced by the folk community, Mitchell's notoriety has exploded over the past couple years, thanks to the unanticipated success of her Hadestown musical, recipient of several Tony Awards.  Prior to that fortunate disruption, she had quietly woven a career behind her originals and her traditional interpretations, including 2013's Child Ballads, a gathering of reinterpreted English folksongs alongside Jefferson Hamer.  You'll also want to spend some time with 2012's ambitious concept record, Young Man In America.

In the wake of her Broadway folk-opera, Anais Mitchell was faced with the challenge of what's next.  That looming question was answered by her chance meeting with Fruit Bats force Eric D Johnson and Josh Kaufman, producer and multi-instrumentalist who has collaborated with artists such as Hiss Golden Messenger, Josh Ritter and the National.  Once that spark was lit, they were granted the opportunity to explore under the auspices of Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner's 37d03d collective, dedicated to the spirit of collaboration, spontaneity and expression.  Their preliminary Berlin sessions also found the trio, now christened Bonny Light Horseman, crossing paths with Lisa Hannigan, the Staves, and Christian Lee Hutson.  With feet firmly planted in the fertile soil of trad folk (primarily from the British Isles), Mitchell, Johnson and Kaufman produced a self-titled collection with a decidedly contemporary spirit.

The non-trad aspects of Bonny Light Horseman can likely be credited to Johnson and Kaufman, neither of whom claim folk as their native musical language.  Nevertheless, both artists make their contributions well within the lines of what we recognize as folk.  Johnson's lead vocal on Alasdair Roberts' "Magpie's Nest" sounds like nothing on Harry Smith's celebrated and influential Anthology, but it works beautifully.  Where the Scottish Roberts accompanied himself on a strummed acoustic, Johnson is backed by a subtle but ringing electric, atop a soft bed of brushed percussion and muted trumpet.

While folk plays by its own set of rules, it's admirably driven by interpretation and variation.  Bonny Light Horseman follow in this tradition, updating lyrics and melodies as their contemporary muse dictates.  "Deep In Love" traces its roots to "Water Is Wide", but Johnson's touches assure that the song would fit snugly alongside the rest of his Fruit Bats' existential make-out music.  The trio blend the minor key "Jane Jane" with the African American spiritual "Children Go Where I Send Thee", with Johnson and Mitchell alternating and twining their vocals.

Anais Mitchell's voice serves as the lightning rod for the project, conducting the songs' electricity and grounding the sessions.  Her delivery on the title cut isn't necessarily what we might think of as trad, but she sings with a familiarity and a mastery that only come with first-hand experience.  Breathy sax and harmonica float through the watery mix, along with atmospheric guitar and Mitchell's lovely vocal.  She is accompanied by piano on "The Roving", one of the CD's strongest tracks, an evolution of "Loving Hannah", previously performed by Mary Black, Jean Ritchie and others.  To my knowledge, just about every piece on Bonny serves as both an ode to and a departure from the original.  "Blackwaterside" (sliced, diced and reconstituted by Led Zeppelin as "Black Mountain Side") is typical of the collection's lovely vocal mix, trad lyrics brought up to date just enough to prevent the album from being a mere period piece.

Longtime R&B readers might recall my sordid history as a onetime folk music promoter.  In that guise, chances are good that I saw performers like Dougie Maclean, Tom Paxton and Peggy Seeger represent one of these tunes onstage a time or two.  My preferences have evolved in the years since, and I've sometimes expressed my distance for expressions of folk that lean towards the earnest and sincere.  Nevertheless, I'll always celebrate the spirit of collaboration, spontaneity and expression that spawned Bonny Light Horseman.  The man of the sea longed for on "Lowlands", gone to New Orleans / To spit in the eye of a hurricane, or the gospel call-and-response of "Bright Morning Stars" aren't stale museum dioramas.  On their loving new project, Mitchell, Johnson and Kaufman have tapped into a warm vein of musical interpretation, honoring tradition by bending and twisting it, then expressing it as their own.

- Left Arm Tan, "Pawn Shop Heart" Left Arm Tan  (LAT, 20)
- EDJ, "Minor Miracles" EDJ  (Easy Sound, 14)
- Samantha Crain, "An Echo" A Small Death  (Ramseur, May 1)  D
- Futurebirds, "Killing Ground" Teamwork  (VL4L, 20)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Hoboes Are My Heroes" Live From Sun Studio  (Chicken Ranch, 20)
- Marcus King, "Sweet Mariona" El Dorado  (Fantasy, 20)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Thoughts and Prayers" The Unraveling  (ATO, Jan 31)
- Ashley McBryde, "Martha Divine" Never Will  (Warner, Apr 3)  D
- Swamp Dogg, "Memories" Sorry You Couldn't Make It  (Joyful Noise, Mar 6)
- Kim Richey, "Come Around" Long Way Back: Songs of Glimmer  (Yep Roc, Mar 27)  D
- John Moreland, "When My Fever Breaks" LP5  (Old Omens, Feb 7)
- Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, "C-side" Texas Sun EP  (Dead Oceans, Feb 7)
- Angelica Garcia, "It Don't Hinder Me" Cha Cha Palace  (Spacebomb, Feb 28)  D
- Lake Street Dive, "Rental Love" Bad Self Portraits  (Signature Sounds, 14)
- Tre Burt, "Real You" Caught It From the Rye  (Oh Boy, Jan 31)
- Pond Diver, "Look Around" Flashbacks EP  (Pond Diver, Jan 24)
- Grahams, "Painted Desert" Kids Like Us  (Three Sirens, Mar 6)
- Possessed by Paul James, "When It Breaks" As We Go Wandering  (JKW, Jan 31)
- Jessi Alexander, "Mama Drank" Decatur County Red  (Lost Creek, Mar 27)  D
- Danny Barnes, "Awful Strange" Man On Fire  (ATO, Mar 6)  D
- Aubrie Sellers, "Haven't Even Kissed Me Yet" Far From Home  (Soundly, Feb 7)
- Mapache, "Life On Fire" From Liberty Street  (Yep Roc, Mar 20)  D
- Innocence Mission, "St Francis and the Future" See You Tomorrow  (Therese, 20)
- Jonathan Wilson, "Korean Tea" Dixie Blur  (Wilson, Mar 6)
- Esme Patterson, "Shelby Tell Me Everything" There Will Come Soft Rains  (BMG, Mar 6)  D
- Dave Simonett, "In the Western Wind and Sunrise" Red Tail  (Dancing Eagle, Mar 13)  D
- Anais Mitchell, "Cosmic American" XOA  (Wilderland, 14)
- Bill Fay, "How Long How Long (Band Version)" Countless Branches  (Dead Oceans, 20)
- Margo Price, "Stone Me" single  (Loma Vista, 20)  D
- Gram Parsons, "Sleepless Nights (feat. Emmylou Harris)" Sleepless Nights  (A&M, 76)

An unreal amount of new stuff wandered onto A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster this week.  For the full enchilada, you'll want to follow the link.  We're more than happy to share a couple highlights with you.  How about a trio of eagerly anticipated releases from some of mainstream country's most talked about artists.  On the heels of a couple singles and an EP in 2019, Hailey Whitters will drop a full-length, The Dream come February 28 via Pigasus Records.  Ashley McBryde has set April 3 as the date for Never Will, the follow-up to 2018's Girl Going Nowhere, which landed atop many year-end favorites lists.  Way back in '04, I was a big fan of Jessi Alexander's Honeysuckle SweetDown Home also pleased in '14.  Set aside March 27 to enjoy Decatur County Red (Lost Creek).  Kim Richey is commemorating the 20th anniversary of her Glimmer CD by re-recording those songs, stripping them back to bare bones like we like and sending them our way via Yep Roc on March 27, under the name of Long Way Back: Songs of Glimmer.  Banjo wizard Danny Barnes has joined the ATO Records lineup for March 6th's Man On Fire, which finds him locked away with Dave Matthews, John Paul Jones, Bill Frisell and others.  California duo Mapache haven't waited long to unleash a follow-up to last year's self-titled Yep Roc debut.  We'll have From Liberty Street in our hands come March 20.  And there are few if any albums we're looking forward to more than Samantha Crain's self-produced A Small Death, though we'll have to wait 'til May 1 to hear it, courtesy Ramseur Records.  Perhaps it'll help to jump on Spotify and stream your weekly ROUTES-cast on repeat:

Monday, January 13, 2020

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 12, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Last April it happened with Daniel Norgren.  The eclectic Swedish roots artist broke onto my field of vision last year, several records into his career.  I like to think I keep pretty close tabs on who's doing what, where, but there's only so much space in my restless ears.  Now the same has happened with Bart Budwig, an Oregon resident who recorded his debut collection more than a decade ago. The discerning Fluff & Gravy label will be releasing Budwig's Another Burn On the Astroturf on January 24, assuring that those of us with short attention span have even less of an excuse to plead ignorance.

On one of those earlier cuts, Bart Budwig asks, Where have all the average people gone?  That's the songwriter in a phrase, boasting numbers that portray him as a luckless Everyday Joe, a cosmic country lawn gnome as one reviewer put it.  But this bystander masterfully wields a blunt sense of the absurd and a soulful vocal delivery that's anything but common.  After years of honing his instruments, Budwig comes across like a hybrid of John Prine and Nathaniel Rateliff, perhaps with a little touch of Harry Nilsson's flair for the theatrical. For the occasion of Another Burn, he's written some new songs and re-recorded a couple others, surrounding himself with a talented cadre of associates on the highest profile release of his career.

Budwig's early records range from live in studio to downright lo-fi, setting up the mics and just pressing RECORD. This new project doesn't turn those tables entirely, but Another Burn presents a fuller, more realized edition of his loose, understated vibe.  And while country and folk have served as the vehicles for Budwig's songs to date, the new collection skews confidently in a more soulful direction, a strategy that allows his uncommon vocal gift to shine.

A fireside strummer on 2018's Sabai, "Time For Two" kicks in with Stones-y fervor and an indelible guitar riff courtesy of the man behind last year's An American Forrest record.  With ecstatic yelps and a briskly walking piano line from Seth Kinzie, Budwig and friends generate an immediate jam worthy of the aforementioned Night Sweats.  I started cleaning my place when you came through / Tried to dust off my heart, got dust on you.  It's an infectious sonic party set to lyrics about a man who doesn't necessarily have the bandwidth for a meaningful connection: Just need a place to sleep / Maybe eat some fried chicken, brush my teeth.

"Rolling Stoned" struts with a similar simmer, with the added bonus of a John Craigie harmonica solo.  The off-the-cuff appeal of Budwig's previous recordings is even stronger on these full band sessions, lending songs a ramshackle spirit that frequently shifts into a deeper groove, though tunes are rarely allowed to stretch out beyond three or four minutes.  The instrumental confidence is juxtaposed with the abiding spirit of Ain't I good enough to fall in love with / Am I better off being alone.

It seems Bart Budwig has never taken himself more seriously as an artist than on Another Burn.  That said, the self-directed sense of the absurd that has characterized his work to date remains strong on pieces like "The Sock Song".  The easy-going country-soul boasts group harmonies and barroom slide guitar, likening wayward laundry to a wandering lover: You always said relationships / Are like a pair of dirty socks / One of them likes staying / One likes getting lost.  "Human Again" features one of Budwig's most impressive deliveries, remarking how that rare love connection might at least temporarily erase those feelings of inadequacy: If I could find the will to stay / And you could find a way to bend / We'd run through the trees, make love on our knees / It's good to feel human again.

While he masquerades as a hapless average joe, there's a classic songwriter beneath Budwig's facade, an artist who plumbs some lovely emotional depth from time to time.  "First To Go" might recall a barebones Bonnie Prince Billy piece, rough hewn and deceptively vulnerable.  Allison Oleander's devastating "Oh Mother" pulls aside the curtain to reveal the effects of alcoholism on a family, punctuated by graceful harmonies and mournful fiddle from Ben Walden: He can only love you so much when he's chosen to drown.  One of the CD's real revelations is the reinvention of Nick Drake's "Northern Sky", replete with Budwig's trumpet and some lovely jazz touches and a Van Morrison-worthy vocal.  A collaboration with The Hackles, "Four Leaf Clover" has been featured on a couple earlier albums, though it's never sounded so complete as it does here, with its brief flares of electric energy.

Of course, Another Burn On the Astroturf has cast my attention to Bart Budwig's rich back catalog, contributing to my growing appreciation for his work.  In light of the strong step forward on these new sessions, I would hope Budwig and his cohorts, like Rateliff, might be able to expand their spotlight eastward from their northwest stronghold. There is already a steady-rolling wave of attention from a number of worthy music blogs like ours, perhaps brought on by the Fluff & Gravy label's trustworthy track record.  With a little help from his friends, there's some hope that Bart Budwig won't be feeling like one of the average people for too much longer.

- Innocence Mission, "On Your Side" See You Tomorrow  (Therese, Jan 17)  D
- Cotton Jones, "Glorylight and Christie" Tall Hours in the Glowstream  (Suicide Squeeze, 10)
- David Dondero, "Thought I Was a Hurricane" Filter Bubble Blues  (Fluff & Gravy, Jan 17)
^ Bart Budwig, "Four Leaf Clover" Another Burn On the Astroturf  (Fluff & Gravy, Jan 24)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Brightest Star" Walking Proof  (New West, Mar 27)  D
- Jonathan Wilson, "In Heaven Making Love" Dixie Blur  (Wilson, Mar 6)
- Christopher Paul Stelling, "Lucky Stars" Best of Luck  (Anti, Feb 7)
- Mary Bragg, "Don't Walk Away (feat. Drivin' n' Cryin')" Think About It ep  (Bragg, Mar 6)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "Little Light" Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (High Top Mt, 14)
- Panhandlers, "No Handle" Panhandlers  (Next Waltz, Mar 6)  D
- Darrell Scott, "My Sweet Love Ain't Around" Sings the Blues of Hank Williams  (Full Light, tbd)  D
- Tre Burt, "Caught It From the Rye" Caught It From the Rye  (Oh Boy, Jan 31)  D
- Bonny Light Horseman, "The Roving" Bonny Light Horseman  (37d03d, Jan 24)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Sunday (live)" Live at WinStar World Casino & Resort  (Moonpies, 16)
- Steeldrivers, "I Choose You" Bad For You  (Rounder, Feb 7)
- Maria McKee, "Page of Cups" La Vita Nuova  (AFAR, Mar 13)
- Bill Fay, "Salt Of the Earth" Countless Branches  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jan 17)
- Promised Land Sound, "Otherworldly Pleasures" For Use and Delight  (Paradise of Bachelors, 15)
- Nathaniel Rateliff, "And It's Still Alright" And It's Still Alright  (Stax, Feb 14)  D
- Benjamin Tod, "We Ain't Even Kin" Heart Of Gold Is Hard To Find  (Tod, 19)
- William Prince, "The Spark" Reliever  (Glassnote, Feb 7)  D
- Alone at 3am, "Burn the Town" Midwest Mess  (Sofaburn, 12)
- Frazey Ford, "Azad" U Kin B the Sun  (Arts & Crafts, Feb 7)
- Terry Allen, "Abandonitis" Just Like Moby Dick  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jan 24)
- Brandy Clark, "Who You Thought I Was" Your Life Is a Record  (Warner, Mar 6)  D
- Ron Pope, "Take the Edge Off" Bone Structure  (Brooklyn Basement, Mar 6)
- Secret Sisters, "Hand Over My Heart" Saturn Return  (New West, Feb 28)
- Califone, "Romans" Echo Mine  (Jealous Butcher, Feb 21)
- James Steinle, "Back Out On the Road" What I Came Here For  (Steinle, Feb 7)  D
- Bedouine, "Dusty Eyes" Bedouine  (Spacebomb, 17)

... and exhale.  It seems the rusty ol' music release engine has kicked into gear after giving us all a scare during the holiday season.  Our own 2020 tally, A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster, is once again growing nicely, thank you.  This week saw more than twenty records added to the ranks.  We'll highlight just a handful.  Having added a very good Kelsey Waldon to their ranks in 2019, John Prine's Oh Boy Records launches into the new year with what promises to be a terrific contemporary folk project from California's Tre Burt.  More than five years after her stellar Indian Ocean, Frazey Ford will apply her game changing voice to U Kin B the Sun, on Arts & Crafts Records come February 7.  With his Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff made some unholy racket with two CDs of rock 'n soul.  Those of us here in the Fair Square State remember when the man was a softspoken solo artist.  Rateliff will set his epileptic dance moves on the back burner on Valentines Day, when he shares And It's Still Alright via Stax.  There's a new red dirt/Texas country supergroup on the horizon.  Set March 6 aside in order to dig into the self-titled debut from William Clark Green, Flatland Cavalry's Cleto Cordero, Josh Abbott and John Baumann - collectively performing beneath the marquee as The Panhandlers.  Country super-writer Brandy Clark has tagged the same day for the release of her long-awaited Your Life Is a Record.  And consider us eager to get our ears on Walking Proof  (New West, Mar 27), the fourth full-length in a series that has seen Lilly Hiatt growing by leaps 'n bounds.  Here we go with your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Monday, January 06, 2020

R O U T E S  &  B R A N C H E S  
featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 5, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Think I'd mentioned that we'd be presenting our favorite records of the decade for this Episode.  For that, scroll down to our post for Dec 29.  Turns out that was actually a fun list to put together, even if the final hours found me flip-flopping.  Jeez, it's hard enough for me to put together a list of my favorite music for a month ...

But with this week's Episode, we climb back on our poor overworked horse and head back out into the frontier in search of new music that matters.  In January alone, we're expecting to encounter fresh new stuff from Drive-by Truckers, Futurebirds, Possessed by Paul James and Terry Allen.  We'll cross paths with Bonny Light Horseman, a supergroup featuring Anais Mitchell, Eric D Johnson and Josh Kaufman.  If all goes as planned, we'll hear from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, David Dondero and Legendary Shack Shakers.  We're gonna need a bigger horse.

One of our first encounters on this journey of musical discovery is with a longtime compadre.  Left Arm Tan is not a new name to frequenters of R&B.  Our blog has made a regular practice of drawing readers' attention to the Fort Worth outfit at least since 2013's Alticana.  We pursued the boys through Lorene (16) and into 2018's great leap forward, El Camino.  I've never done a word count, but there's a good chance we've expended more words on Left Arm Tan than on just about any other artist.  So it's only fitting that we stride boldly into the new decade with their new self-titled record ringing in our ears.

By way of debuting their 6th record, Left Arm Tan are sharing a series of short videos chronicling the birth of their project, due wherever music matters on January 14th.  You'll find those accounts below, along with a preview - They call the doc Phoenix Rising: An Americana Rockumentary

Like Left Arm Tan's music, the video project is polished but personal.  To quote narrator Alan Cross, They take the music seriously, but not themselves.  Overall, it's a good-natured document that celebrates a genuinely hardworking blue collar band during a time of great trial and challenging transition.  We are re-introduced to the group, from founder Daniel Hines to frontman Brian Lee, and others who have been with Left Arm Tan from several months to a couple years.  Despite the jumbled origin story, each member speaks to a cohesiveness and a common dedication to The Song: They write 'em like they got something to lose.

That's where we encounter the new project, at the intersection of these personalities, experiences and influences.  A couple months ago, they created a new hashtag, #nogenre, highlighting the fact that the new songs weren't necessarily beholden to any single sound.  Not country, trad or alt or Texas.  Not rock or blues or americana.  Left Arm Tan would honor each song and give lead to every lyric, following the muse until it just felt right.  To quote the documentary, At 20, commitment was a word. At 40, it has substance. And that substance has worked its way into the new songs.

Which doesn't mean the new stuff is busy with pretension.  On the contrary, Left Arm Tan have never sounded this comfortable, this dialed into their work.  You won't hear the sweat on "Headlights of Cars", an overcast tune awash in the loss of innocence: We used to dance all night in the headlights of cars.  From a strummed acoustic, the instrumentation builds expertly, layering vocals and adding depth and texture. Lead vocalist Brian Lee is a treasure, applying just the right touch and emotion to the song, never giving into theatrics.  As with celebrated writers like Will Hoge and Lori McKenna, you'll only realize the effort and the focus after witnessing dedication evident in the videos.  I dug a well in the pit of my heart / And named it after you.

That substance reveals itself with some new sounds.  The cosmic wash of "Stars and City Lights", or the brash horns which introduce "Mexicali Run", another from Left Arm Tan's auto-themed playlist: The desert sounds better with Ramones on the radio.  More than most acts of their ilk, they understand how to construct a song, how a tune unfolds to reveal itself little by little.  The mariachi horn break that gives way to Lee's gritty Southern rock yowl.  And the well-honed pop hooks are everywhere.  "Harder To Let Go" follows a young woman as she seeks traction on the streets of LA, shining with Eagles-worthy harmonies.

Left Arm Tan have never been a lyrically lazy act.  Each piece earns its grooves as both a story and a song.  "La Mirage" glances between the curtains from room to room of a roadside inn: From prophets to doubters / And those who just can't believe / Everybody's got a tale and a lesson to pass on.  Flickering hotel lights reveal newlyweds and a lifetime serviceman flirting with divorce.  Possibly the same haunted soldier who narrates the remarkable "Alpha Bravo": Oh Bobby can't you hear my voice / Above the sounds of collateral noise / All zipped up and barely hanging on.

Truth be told, I don't need to admire an artist as a person to enjoy their music.  But you can't help but root for the guys of Left Arm Tan, a bruised and battered band of brothers scratching and clawing their way through a decade of small victories and challenging setbacks that have driven other talented acts off the road.  Even in the wake of a difficult year, the dedication shines through on this new collection, spotlighting a group of road warriors who respond to the challenge the only way they know how.  By continuing to mature as writers and as instrumentalists.  Perhaps there's a little sarcasm in calling their docu-series Phoenix Rises (as the narrator notes, the phoenix has risen until somebody shoots it ...).  Nevertheless, those fifteen-hour recording sessions have given birth to something that should raise Left Arm Tan's profile, songs that deserve to reach the ears of folks listening for new music that matters.

Perhaps it's appropriate the the album's trailing tune is a laconic ode to radio waves bouncing across outer space, unwittingly landing in the ears of aliens.  "Good Ol' Days" is evocative with accordion, horns and guitar: They write 'em like they got something to lose / But somewhere in outer space / There's some old radio waves / And aliens are starting to sway / To songs from the good ol' days ... Damn aliens don't know how good they got it.

- Lula Wiles, "It's Cool" single  (Smithsonian, 19)  D
- Dave & Phil Alvin, "Wild Man On the Loose" If You're Going to the City: Tribute to Mose Allison  (Fat Possum, 19)
- Jakob Dylan, Dhani Harrison, et al.  -  "For Real" single  (BMG, 19)  D
- Wood Brothers, "Little Bit Sweet" Kingdom of the Mind  (HoneyJar, Jan 24)
- Becky Warren, "Full of Bourbon" War Surplus (Deluxe) (Warren, 16)
- Elijah Ocean, "Toms River" Back to the Lander  (New Wheel, 19)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Dump Road Yodel" Love From Sun Studio  (Chicken Ranch, Jan 17)  D
- Esther Rose, "Flowers" single  (Rose, 19)  D
- Scott H Biram, "God Don't Work" Sold Out To the Devil  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Jung Shackleton, "Proof of Life (feat. Buck Meek)" single  (Elephant Island, 19)  D
- Secret Sisters, "Hold You Dear" Saturn Return  (New West, Feb 28)
- Jack Broadbent, "Everytime I Drown" Moonshine Blue  (Creature, 19)
- Mail the Horse, "Pitch and Haw" Mail the Horse  (Baby Robot, 19)
- Neko Case, "If I'm Gonna Sink" Touch My Heart: Tribute to Johnny Paycheck  (Sugar Hill, 04)
- Harvest Thieves, "Mercy Kill" As the Sparks Fly Upward  (Harvest Thieves, 20)  D
- Micah Schnabel, "Memory Currency" Teenage Years of the 21st Century  (Here You Go, 19)
- I Can Lick Any SOB in the House, "Break All Your Strings" Mayberry  (Sad Crow, 13)
- Jonathan Wilson, "69 Corvette" Dixie Blur  (BMG, Mar 6)  D
- Carman AD, "Diesel Engine Songs" Wilderness EP  (Carman, Jan 10)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff, "Summer's End" Marigold Singles  (Stax, 19)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Keep Me In Your Heart" Sigourney Fever EP  (Banjodad, 19)
- William Clark Green, "The One I Was Then" Next Waltz Vol 2  (Next Waltz, 19)
- Gabriel Birnbaum, "Stack the Miles" Not Alone  (Arrowhawk, 19)
- Sarah Lee Langford, "Big Women" Two Hearted Rounder  (Cornelius Chapel, 19)
- Benjamin Tod, "Sorry For the Things" A Heart of Gold Is Hard To Find  (Tod, 19)  D
- Rock*a*Teens, "Count In Odd Numbers" Sixth House  (Merge, 18)
- Fruition, "Where Can I Turn" Broken At the Break of Day  (Fruition, Jan 17)  D
- Joshua Black Wilkins, "Welcome Back Sweet Misery" 17th and Shelby  (JBW, 03)
- Bettye LaVette, "Joy" I've Got My Own Hell To Raise  (Anti, 05)
- Lula Wiles, "You Only Want Me When You Need Me" single  (Smithsonian, 19)  D

We haven't added a ton to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster lately, in the great music news graveyard that typifies this time of year.  Rising Austin songwriter James Steinle will be bringing a new record our way come February.  What I Came Here For bears the producer's stamp of Bruce Robison.  After a long absence from solo stuff, Will Sexton is joined in studio by the Iguanas for Don't Walk the Darkness (Big Legal Mess, Mar 6).  Longtime LA presence Jonathan Wilson has relocated to Nashville for Dixie Blur (Bella Union, Mar 6), which finds him backed by Mark O'Connor, Dennis Crouch, Kenny Vaughn and others.  We should also have some news soon about the next Harvest Thieves full-length.  Now, your long-awaited ROUTES-cast, your first of the decade: