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Thursday, October 20, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
October 15, 2016
Scott Foley, Purveyor of Dust

Does punk music make sense everywhere?  Does it ring true driving down a Northern Colorado road on an uncommonly warm October dusk, heading into a massive, squashed orange moon?  Restless leaves rioting in the wake of speeding cars, patchy clouds a ridiculous cartoon pink.  I've always argued that punk is a spirit, woven through Alejandro Escovedo's stories of urban survival as much as Jack Rose's "american primitive" acoustic guitar.  Punk glints through Lydia Loveless' anxious lovesongs and you'll find it in the fingernail grit of garage-soul giant Barrence Whitfield.

Of course, sometimes punk comes in chunks, more deliberate musical gestures like Brand New Flag, the brand new record (long awaited, natch) from Two Cow Garage.  Like folk, punk is a peoples' music, a theoretic danger to the status quo and a liferaft for the huddled masses.

Songs like the funereal "I Promise" stare self-doubt and dark sentiment in the face.  But Schnabel forces his voice through the accusatory bellowing and the hellish cacaphony, "I promise I will never give up!"  Crucible and challenge are part and parcel for young people who are force fed politics and religion, kids who are lucky to trip through the gate of young adulthood with their integrity and their dreams intact.  From "A Lullaby of Sorts" (a lullaby of sorts):  "So go to sleep now / Don't you cry / We're all just doing our best not to die / So load your guns and say your prayers / Just kidding, there is no god".  It's a brutal pat on the back.

More than any other Two Cow record, writers Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney are direct about their socio-politics.  Brand New Flag is an important and unabashed product of its time.  No song (possibly no song this year) better epitomizes this focus than "Let the Boys Be Girls".  Actually released last year, it's a highwater mark for the group in terms of original music and relevant ideas.  Like the best punk songs, it will anger certain parents and serve some young people with a renewed strength of purpose:  "Cause we can listen to Slayer / Or we can get stoned / We can teach ourselves it's okay to be alone / We can start our own bands in our basements / We can break up citing creative differences / These are the things they never tell you".  The songs on the band's 7th record can simultaneously bemoan the state of our nation while positing glimpses of hope, or at least respites from the onslaught.

With their youth largely in the rearview mirror (but near enough that they don't come off as narcs or teachers with an Important Lesson to impart), Two Cow actually seem to be taking up the mantle as flagbearers and spokesmen, speaking from their own experience in hopes of reaching fellow fugitives from the battle.  Here's the title cut:  "I'm stitching up a brand new flag / From old newspapers and dirty rags / A nation of the lonely and broken / That still have something to prove / A place for everyone who's never fit in / Any single place they've ever been / So bring me your outcasts, your freaks / Your broken hearts and fools".  

It's been so long since 2CG issued their debut, '03's Please Turn the Gas Back On.  From production to writing to the addition of guitarist/writer Todd Farrell Jr, it's a different band with a different purpose. Flag is musically more diverse, with a cleaner sound courtesy, in part, of Joey Kneiser.  Micah Schnabel has morphed from a mere frontman to a poet and a unique voice among his peers.  As he acknowledges on "Beauty in the Futility":
When I was young I was too messed up to realize I wasn't very good / I was just so happy to be here so I sorta smiled and did the best I could /  Which was mostly poor imitations of my heroes / But now most of them are dead and gone / And I've finally found my voice

Finally, it came across my digi-desk while I was polishing this week's Episode that Chris Porter had been killed in an accident.  Whether a solo artist, a member of Some Dark Holler or Back Row Baptists, or with his new project, Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, Porter shone with a definite musical vision.  We'll make room for some of that stuff on next week's broadcast.

- Sturgill Simpson, "Some Days" High Top Mountain  (Thirty Tigers, 13)
- Justin Wells, "The Dogs" Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)
- Gillian Welch, "Dry Town (demo)" Boots No. 1: the Official Revival Bootleg  (Acony, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Beauty & the Buzz" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Jack Rose, "Soft Steel Piston" Dr Ragtime & His Pals  (Three Lobed, 16)  D
- Handsome Family, "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" Nothing Left to Lose: Tribute to Kris Kristofferson  (Incidental, 03)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Wishing Well" Temper Of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Call Me Sometime" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)  D
- Jon Snodgrass, "1-2-3-4 Won't Go Down to the Basement No More" Carpet Thief 7"  (Snodgrass, 16)  C
- John Calvin Abney, "Goodbye Temporarily" Far Cries & Close Calls  (Horton, 16)
- Honeycutters, "Blue Besides" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)
- Robert Earl Keen, "Feelin' Good Again (live)" Live Dinner Reunion  (Dualtone, 16)  D
- American Aquarium, "North Texas Women (live)" Live at Terminal West  (AA, 16)  D
- Lydia Loveless, "Real" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Whiskey Myers, "Lightning Bugs & Rain" Mud  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
- Turnpike Troubadors, "Every Girl" Diamonds & Gasoline  (Onward, 10)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "You're the One" Innocent Road  (West Sound, 16)
- Flat Five, "Buglight" It's a World of Love and Hope  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "John the Gun" Heart Like a Levee / Vestapol  (Merge, 16)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "12 Bar Blues" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Dan Layus (w/Secret Sisters), "Dangerous Things" Dangerous Things  (Plated, 16)
- Bobby Bare Jr, "Sad Smile (live)" Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)  (Bloodshot, 15)
- Tami Nielson, "So Far Away" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Little Heartache" How to Survive  (Last Chance, 16)
- Cory Branan, "Wayward & Down" The Hell You Say  (Chin Up, 02)j
- Barrence Whitfield & Savages, "Incarceration Casserole (live)" Audiotree Sessions  (Audiotree, 16)  D
^ Two Cow Garage, "This Little Light (edit)" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)  D

Thursday, October 13, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 8, 2016
Scott Foley, Purveyor of Dust

I keep flirting with the idea of airing a show featuring all pre-2000 americana, and roots music.  Other thoughts:  Long ago I aired a program composed of all Townes Van Zandt, a couple performed by the man himself, with all the rest TVZ covers.  What about two hours of songs almost everyone would recognize - the "greatest hits" of our kind of music?  An A-B-C show selecting my favorite artist for each letter of the alphabet.  Nothing but instrumentals?  Or is this counter to my restriction against novelty shows?

For now, we get what we get, and we'll like it: Another collection of new stuff that matters, music that challenges our notions of what fits, and All the Rest.  Live Ryan Bingham.  Great rusty Two Dollar Pistols.  The stentorian tones of Paul Cauthen.  And brand new Gillian Welch from 20 years ago ...

I'm a fan of Van.  Van Morrison.  I was in attendance at the concert that became his 1994 Night In San Francisco record (my wife was quite expecting and slept thru much of the concert, plus Van played far too much saxophone).  Sure, there's Astral Weeks and Saint Dominic's Preview and even Into the Music.  But my favorite Van happens to be 86's underappreciated No Guru No Method No Teacher.  I love his occasional departure into ecstatic reverie, and how he weds folk and soul.

That's a long intro to an appreciation for Hiss Golden Messenger's new Heart Like a Levee record.  Born from the ashes of Court & Spark, MC Taylor's initial forays as HGM were more intricate acoustic pastoral folk, sometimes going so far as to include birds, streams and nature sounds between and beneath tracks. It's not especially surprising that Taylor's educational background is as a folklorist and field recorder.  2014's Lateness of Dancers found HGM  incorporating a fuller band sound, with occasional horns and gospel touches.  I voted it my 3rd favorite album for the year.

Heart Like a Levee was reportedly begun as a commission for Taylor to write music inspired by a collection of black-and-white photos of a coal mining camp in Kentucky.  Listeners curious about that project might do well to track down Vestapol, a much more pared back acoustic session that accompanies deluxe editions of the record.  While Heart Like a Levee drops the occasional geographical reference point, songs like "Cracked Windshield" or the crushing "Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer" deal more in matters of home and away, dedication to music and focus on the family.  The title cut bounces along merrily enough, on strummy mandolin and choral backing vocals, but asks, "Go easy on me / I'm not doing well / Do you hate me honey / As much as I hate myself".  The record offers as many acoustic as electric moments, but is largely propelled by what Rolling Stone called a "gospelized country-soul" vibe. And MC Taylor often seems to be writing from a very conflicted place of self doubt and confession.

Whereas much of Haw and Poor Moon addressed the world from a more introspective vantage, Levee makes a good deal more noise.  Like Van Morrison, Taylor is becoming a spirit-driven bard of sorts, a bandleader driving into spirals of reverie alongside the Cook brothers of Megafaun, Matt McCaughan of Bon Iver and pitch perfect backing vocals from Tift Merritt and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man.  "Biloxi" establishes an immediate country rock current as one of the year's strongest singles.  But in the midst of the rootsy stomp he's singing, "All around my old hometown I was known as a loner / Oh you know I wasn't lonely / I just liked being alone / Lord it's hard".  "Tell Her I'm Just Dancing" is the heaviest Hiss Golden moment to date.  Alongside "Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer", there's an uncommonly urgent propulsion behind the cuts.  It's on tracks like "Happy Day (Sister My Sister)" and the closer "Highland Grace" that the Van Morrison comparison is best appreciated.  Both cuts are deeply soulful reveries, lovely "gospelized" extensions of folk 'n soul.   Heart Like a Levee is as personal as anything from MC Taylor's catalog, while establishing a new highwater mark for inviting us into the places where he celebrates the stuff that makes life worth bearing.

- Ryan Bingham, "Southside of Heaven (live)" Ryan Bingham Live  (Axster Bingham, 16)  D
- Blitzen Trapper, "Love the Way You Walk Away (live)" Live At Third Man Records  (Third Man, 16)  D
- Longest Day of the Year, "Damage Done" Seth & May EP  (Mulewax, 16)  C
- Handsome Family, "Red Door" Unseen  (Handsome, 16)
- John Calvin Abney, "Weekly Rate Palace" Far Cries and Close Calls  (Horton, 16)
- Two Dollar Pistols, "There Goes a Heartache" You Ruined Everything  (Yep Roc, 02)
- Nathan Bowles, "Burnt Ends Rag" Whole & Cloven  (Paradise of Bachelors, 16)  D
^ Hiss Golden Messenger, "Heart Like a Levee" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)
- Tift Merritt, "Dusty Old Man" single  (Yep Roc, 16)  D
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Ready To Die" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Shovels & Rope, "Last Hawk" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)
- William Elliott Whitmore, "Old Devils" Animals In the Dark  (Anti, 09)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "15 Highway Lanes" Honest Life  (Mama Bird, 16)
- M Lockwood Porter, "Strong Enough" How To Dream Again  (Black Mesa, 16)
- Dan Layus (w/Secret Sisters), "Only Gets Darker" Dangerous Things  (Plated, 16)  D
- Bap Kennedy, "I Should Have Said" Reckless Heart  (Last Chance, 16)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "Filthy and Fried" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Paul Cauthen, "Once You're Gone" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Tami Neilson, "Holy Moses" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)
- Seth Walker, "Turn This Thing Around" Gotta Get Back  (Royal Potato Family, 16)
- Band of Heathens, "Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler" Highway Prayer: Tribute to Adam Carroll  (Eight 30, 16)
- Deer Tick, "Twenty Miles" Black Dirt Sessions  (Partisan, 10)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Laid Low" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Gillian Welch, "Dry Town (demo)"  Boots No. 1: Official Revival Bootleg  (Acony, 16)  D
- Roger Hoover, "Dust" Pastures  (Last Chance, 16)  D
- Jason Isbell, "Blow Wind Blow" Musical Mojo of Dr John  (Concord, 16)
- Chuck Prophet, "Countrified Inner-City Technological Man" Night Surfer  (Yep Roc, 14)

Thursday, October 06, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
October 1, 2016
Scott Foley, Purveyor of Dust

When I die, do not mention grace / Don't speak of the sweet by and by / We'll live alone in a quiet place / The dirt the bells and I  --  JPKS

As individual songs have become available, I've increasingly entertained the thought that Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster's Constant Stranger might just be a contender for record of the year.  Now that the full thing has landed, my suspicions have been largely confirmed.  As one-third of Oxford, MS's Water Liars, he's been responsible for three remarkable albums to date.  He's recently mentioned a project in the works with Will Johnson, which would possibly fulfill all my musical needs ...

There's such an intimacy to songs like "Brake Dust", from the close and simple production to the lyrics.  A fingerpicked acoustic, a descending piano line, and "Sunday morning / Choking on brake dust / Feeling me rust / How will I know / When I am broken and I've had enough".  It's music may sound familiar to fans of Water Liars, though the hush is thicker and the sound more introspective.

When I decide what album I'm going to review for a given week, it will live with me in my car and in my office and on my laptop for several days.  The songs on Constant Stranger are warm and immediately familiar, bringing to mind the late night yearning of Jason Molina with the folk roots of Joe Pug.  Pieces like "Half Broke" twine the acoustic and electric, a moderate echo on the vocals.  JPKS is unafraid of embracing a melodic line, though unexpected departures occur throughout in rhythms and musical choices.  "Laid Low" features a gorgeous vocal and chiming melody that could've been written in 60s Greenwich Village :  "I know it has been said / That man can't live on only bread / But somehow I've survived on smoke and gravel".  Kinkel-Schuster's imagery is steeped in the everyday, but is also deeply poetic.  From the terrific "Headed South": "Delta moon come hanging / A curving spine / In a sky the color / Of dark melon rind".

My highlight on Constant Stranger arrives with the record's final cut, "The Dirt, the Bells and I".  As a fan of worthy lyrics, this is one I could cite at length, a song that achieves peace with, and even embraces the idea of mortality.  This secular spirit pervades JPKS's songs, a biblical language that has more to do with the ghosts of the South than with the book on your shelf.  "It ain't my place to comfort anyone", he sings on an earlier song.  "It ain't my place to say whose will be done".  Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster provided a subtly beautiful soundtrack for these first cold days of fall.

Thanks to once and future host of Tarnation! Andy D, who kept me company instudio during KRFC's twice-yearly membership drive.  And special gratitude towards everyone who called to support Routes & Branches.  If you've still got some change rattling around your cupholder, or if you weren't able to contribute during the show, you may still do so at the station's website.

Not a load of new stuff for this week's Episode.  Most notably, Tami Neilson lends her powerhouse voice to a new collection of originals that brings to mind Neko Case as crossed with Linda Ronstadt at a tribute to Patsy Cline.  Roughly.  And let's agree right here that nobody does what Reckless Kelly do as well as the veteran band do it themselves.  Certainly among the pantheon of the most consistently satisfying acts of the past decade.

And folks sometimes ask what I'm enjoying beyond the roots music borders.  Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree is a soul shattering personal hymn of grief.  Conor Oberst's captivating new solo record is built solely on guitar, piano and broken voice.  Julia Jacklin is following in fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett's footsteps as a capable purveyor of punk-inflected rock.  And take a listen to Say Yes! a Tribute to Elliott Smith, which features contributions from Julien Baker, Sun Kil Moon, Waxahatchee and others.  Oh, and try the new Wovenhand record, Star Treatment, from hard roots genius David Eugene Edwards.

- Jesse Dayton, "Holy Ghost Rock n' Roller" The Revealer  (Blue Elan, 16)
- Southern Culture On the Skids, "Smiley Yeah Yeah Yeah" Mojo Box  (Yep Roc, 04)
- Shovels & Rope, "I Know" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)
- Massy Ferguson, "Firewater" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Proper, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "Give All You Can" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)
- Golden Smog, "Until You Came Along" Weird Tales  (Ryko, 98)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Surrender Under Protest" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Matt Woods, "American Way" How To Survive  (Last Chance, 16)
- Dexateens, "Eat Cornbread Raise Hell" Teenage Hallelujah  (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- Big Sandy, "Jumpin' From 6 to 6"  Jumpin' From 6 to 6  (Hightone, 94)
- Reckless Kelly, "Radio" Sunset Motel  (No Big Deal, 16)
- Tami Neilson, "Holy Moses" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)  D
- Luke Winslow-King, "Act Like You Love Me" I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "These Arms" Swimmin' Pools Movie Stars  (Sugar Hill, 16)
- Amanda Shires, "Way It Dimmed" My Piece of Land  (BMG, 16)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Biloxi" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)
- Rosie Flores, "Blunderbuss" Rockin' Legends Pay Tribute To Jack White  (Cleopatra, 13)
- Southern Culture On the Skids, "Swamp Fox: the Original" Electric Pinecones  (Kudzu, 16)
- Tim Easton, "Burning Star" American Fork  (Last Chance, 16)
- Yawpers, "Faith and Good Judgment" American Man  (Bloodshot, 15)
- Kelsey Waldon, "Travelin' Down This Lonesome Road" I've Got a Way  (Monkey's Eyebrow, 16)
- Devil Makes Three, "Drunken Hearted Man" Redemption & Ruin  (New West, 16)
- Justin Wells, "Going Down Grinnin'"  Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)
- Son Volt, "Down to the Wire" American Central Dust  (Rounder, 09)

Saturday, October 01, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 24, 2016
Scott Foley

Another year, another Americana Honors & Awards Ceremony to remind me how mainstream my restless tastes can be.  My three favorite records from 2015 were all well represented in Nashville this week.  John Moreland took the stage for a stellar performance.  Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell carted home the hardware.  I've started giving some consideration to my own honors and awards list for 2016 (aka the handicapper's AMA lineup for next year).  While the year's early releases continue to hold their own, stuff from the last several weeks is demanding some space as well.  With a bit of prayer and clean living this should all sort itself out in the coming weeks ...

One act that already has a foot in the door for next year's accolades is Shovels & Rope.  Last year's Busted Jukebox release permitted a glimpse behind the duo's curtain of influences.  In addition to familiar roots quantities like Neil Young and Rodney Crowell, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst recorded covers of songs originally by Nine Inch Nails, Lou Reed and Guns n' Roses.  Their new collection of originals, Little Seeds, won't be mistaken for Axl & Slash, but the duo's fifth release does make its fair share of racket.  With speakers at the appropriate volume, songs like "I Know" and "Buffalo Nickel" are felt in the chest as much as in the ears.  Drums demand center stage, rudely banging and crashing for attention, a perfect noise that immediately sets Shovels & Rope apart from any other americana act.  Guitars are almost as in-your-face on much of the record - the solo on "Buffalo Nickel" comes across like an electric guitar being strangled with piano wire (in all the best ways).

On the other side of the nickel are quieter stunners such as "This Ride" and "St. Anne's Parade", where accompaniment is dialed way way back to create space for the phenomenon of Heart and Trent's vocals.  I've already heaped praise upon the latter of those pieces, as heartfelt and soul-warming a declaration of friendship as we've heard.  Regarded separately, either of Shovels & Ropes' extremes wouldn't mean as much.  But it's the noise that lends the quiet such a reverence, and the acoustic songs add an extra crunch to the ragers.  And the pair's vocals don't blend and weave as much as they tangle and thrive on tension.  Both singers are outstanding, and in all honesty Cary Ann Hearst might be the best we have.  That said, they are very rarely heard apart from one another, and attempting to catch the melody in one or the other is a fruitless task.  Most importantly, few acts can shout in tune as consistently. While Hearst's voice tends to take top billing, the sound of Shovels & Rope wouldn't be the same without the storm created between voices.

Recorded in the wake of some life changing events, Little Seeds is a grounded but life affirming project, one that acknowledges the sharp edges while burrowing into the warm corners.  From "This Ride":

It's like Old Yeller and Lonesome Dove / When you hate how it ends, but you can't get enough / This ride / It lifts and it give and it singles you out / It shames and it blames and forgives and it doubts / It inspires and it opens our eyes and it heals / And it coughs and it slips and it falls and it steals / Your memory, your dignity, your husbands and your mothers ...

This Episode dawns with a pair of Colorado releases, in a year hauntingly devoid of square state hitz.  We continue our wooing of Angel Olsen, and praise the brothers Bielanko for cutting the crap and hooking up once more for the reissue of their classic Angels of Destruction and related tour (here's a quality Rolling Stone article).

Coffee tastes like birthday cake / And we get older with every sip I take / Days they come with price tags / Like old Air Jordans or Gangster Gold   --  Marah, "Angels On a Passing Train"

- Chris Stapleton, "When the Stars Come Out" Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
- Jason Isbell, "24 Frames" Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Ramon Casiano" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Carey Ott, "Nocona (High Hangin' On a Limb)" Nocona  (Carey Ott, 16)  D
- American Aquarium, "Nothing To Lose (live)" Live In Raleigh  (Barham, 12)
- Parton, Ronstadt & Harris, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" Complete Trio Collection  (Rhino, 16)
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Past My Prime" Shouted Written Down & Quoted  (Big Blue Zoo, 16)
- Longest Day of the Year, "Damage Done" Seth & May EP  (Mulewax, 16)  D,C
- Jon Snodgrass, "1234 Won't Go Down To the Basement No More" Carpet Thief 7"  (Snodgrass, 16)  D,C
- Lydia Loveless, "European" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Heartbeat Smile" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- M Lockwood Porter, "Future Ain't What It Used To Be" How To Dream Again  (Black Mesa, 16)
- Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, "KC Moan" Shine a Light  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Margo Price, "Desperate & Depressed" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "Weight of the World" Traveling Kind  (Nonesuch, 15)
- Jack Ingram, "I'm Drinking Through It" Midnight Motel  (Rounder, 16)
- Todd Snider, "Ways & Means" Eastside Bulldog  (Aimless, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Love In the Nuclear Edge" How To Survive  (Last Chance, 16)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "Been On the Rocks" Innocent Road  (West Sound, 16)  D
- Dex Romweber, "Where Do You Roam" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Angel Olsen, "Heart Shaped Face" My Woman  (Jagjaguwar, 16)
- Marah, "Angel On a Passing Train" Angels of Destruction  (Yep Roc, 08)
- Dexateens, "Fellowship of the Saturday Night Brotherhood" Teenage Hallelujah  (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- John Calvin Abney, "Beauty Seldom Seen" Far Cries & Close Calls  (Horton, 16)
- Wilco, "If I Ever Was a Child" Schmilco  (dBpm, 16)
^ Shovels & Rope, "Buffalo Nickel" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)
- John Prine w/Amanda Shires, "Dim Lights Thick Smoke" For Better Or Worse  (Oh Boy, 16)
- Jesse Dayton, "Take Out the Trash" The Revealer  (Blue Elan, 16)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
September 17, 2016
Scott Foley

Here's the question:  Does every band need to "mature"?  If last year's album sounds just like this year's album, do we accuse the band of spinning its wheels?  Conversely, is that band selling out if their approach changes noticeably from one record to the next?

Drive-by Truckers tore out of Athens (by way of AL) in the latter days of the 20th Century, purveyors of gloriously unpolished gems like "Living Bubba" and "Nine Bullets".  2002's Southern Rock Opera earned widespread accolades if for no other reason than for having the balls to release a double album song cycle in praise of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  What's followed from Dirty South and Brighter Than Creation's Dark and 2014's English Oceans has traced Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley through lineup changes, cleaner sounds and a deeper mythology, shedding Jason Isbell, John Neff, Shonna Tucker and others in their wake.  But the output's been admirably consistent, establishing the band as among the best American bands of the aughts.  One of the heartier branches of the Routes & Branches musical shrubbery.

We're used to enjoying a new Wes Freed illustration with every Drive-by Truckers release.  The band's 11th record instead bears the striking image of a U.S. flag at half mast.  American Band could be called their "state of the union" album, stepping back to take stock of all that's led to the lowering of Stars & Stripes depicted on the cover.  Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley talk borders and guns, war on culture and on populations, individuals caught in the crosshairs and a country gone awry.  Both have shown themselves to be smart writers since the start, but "What It Means" and "Surrender Under Protest" feature some of their most direct and effective social commentary to date.  While there are moments of anger and accusation on American Band, the pervading spirit is one of observation and concern.  Overall, it's a tighter, more deliberate collection than listeners might expect.

Songs like "Ramon Casiano" are also quick to establish a driving and tuneful guitar groove, the true story of two radically different lives converging at the point of injustice.  "Killing's been the bullet's business / Since back in 1931 / Someone killed Ramon Casiano / And Ramon's still not dead enough".  "What It Means" lopes along on an unexpectedly restrained acoustic strum that builds over nearly 7 minutes.  Patterson Hood assumes the prophet's role, naming names and raising questions, but the response is ours to decide. "We're living in an age / Where limitations are forgotten / The outer edges move and dazzle us / But the core is something rotten".   "Guns of Umpqua" juxtaposes the gorgeous Oregon Cascades with the senseless Roseburg school shooting.

"We're all standing in the shadows of our noblest intentions of something more / Than being shot in a classroom in Oregon / It's a morning like so many others with breakfast and birthdays / The sun burned the fog away, the breeze blew the mist away / My friend Jack is having a baby / And I see birds soaring through the clouds outside my window / Heaven's calling my name from the hallway outside the door".  

Elsewhere, Mike Cooley unleashes "Filthy and Fried", a rambling rocker that juggles scattershot stream-of-consciousness phrases and immediately stands among his best.  "The old man's world was more doing than thinking and the doing was more cut and dried / Now girls collect trophies as much as the boys and come home just as filthy and fried".  

While American Band finds the outfit widening its perspective to encompass goings on in Oregon, St Louis, Florida and elsewhere, one of Hood's most moving contributions finds him reflecting on his identity as a Southerner from the porch of his Portland home.  "Ever South" is built on little more than martial drums and a blunt bass, a history lesson that resonates in the heart of one man.  "Everyone takes notice of the drawl that leaves our mouth / So no matter where we are we're ever South".

Freed's colorful art projects a cartoon-like impression of Southern life.  We recognize the faces and the broad caricatures, the dark and almost sinister proposition of working class existence.  On American Band, Drive-by Truckers set aside the fables and stories to talk about the warm blood flowing from real people on our streets.  For a band that's flirted for nearly two decades with the edge, it's an impressively mature, measured and heartfelt gesture.  The guitars continue to play loud and the ghosts of Muscle Shoals continue to haunt these songs, even as we struggle to understand the weight that's bringing down the country and our possible role in raising the flag.

As though we need more, this week also brought me full copies of new records by Reckless Kelly, Matt Woods, Dwight Yoakam and Hiss Golden Messenger, each of which could nose its way onto my yearly favorites over the next several weeks.  Less pressing but more essential is Charlie Rich's devastating 2002 "Feel Like Going Home".  And there's nothing I'm looking forward to more than Alejandro Escovedo's pending collaboration with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.

- Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Don't Hang Up Virginia" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Porter, 16)
^ Drive-by Truckers, "Ever South" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Reckless Kelly, "Moment In the Sun" Sunset Motel  (No Big Deal, 16)
- Justin Wells, "Three Quarters Gone" Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" Honest Life  (Mama Bird, 16)
- Terry Allen, "Amarillo Highway" Lubbock (On Everything)  (Paradise of Bachelors, 16)
- Ward Davis, "Old Wore Out Cowboys" 15 Years In a 10 Year Town  (Hawkville, 15)
- Brent Cobb, "Solving Problems" Shine On Rainy Day  (Elektra, 16)
- Handsome Family, "King of Dust" Unseen  (Handsome, 16)
- Paul Cauthen, "My Gospel" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Hollis Brown, "Don't Want To Miss You" Cluster of Pearls  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Guitars Cadillacs" Swimmin' Pools Movie Stars  (Sugar Hill, 16)
- Amanda Shires, "When You're Gone" My Piece of Land  (BMG, 16)
- Charlie Rich, "Feel Like Going Home" Pictures & Paintings  (Sire, 92)
- Jim Lauderdale, "Lonely Weekends" Feel Like Going Home: Songs of Charlie Rich  (Memphis Int'l, 16)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "As the Crow Flies" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)
- Tallest Man On Earth, "Rivers" single  (Merge, 16)
- Joe Purdy, "New Years Eve" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Wayne Hancock, "Slingin' Rhythm" Slingin' Rhythm  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Bonnie Whitmore, "She's a Hurricane" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Whitmore, 16)  D
- Ryan Bingham, "Back By the River (live)" Musical Mojo of Dr John  (Concord, 16)  D
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Heartbeat Smile" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)  D
- Mountain Goats, "New Chevrolet In Flames" See America Right  (Mt Goats, 02)
- Matt Woods, "Little Heartache" How To Survive  (Last Chance, 16)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Memphis Rain" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- J Roddy Walston & the Business, "Don't Get Old (acoustic)" Don't Break the Needle  (Vagrant, 10)
- Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Two Crooked Hearts" Way We Move  (Ramseur, 08)
- Luke Winslow-King, "Change Your Mind" I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always  (Bloodshot, 16)

... and your Soundcloud playlist for this week's Episode awaits you below.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 10, 2106
Scott Foley

In this, the year of uber producer Dave Cobb, it's appropriate that one of his most worthy offerings comes from a project completed with a cousin, Brent Cobb.  Fact is, the two only became acquainted as adults, reportedly meeting at an aunt's funeral.  Dave has heralded the resulting record, Shine On Rainy Day, as deeply fulfilling, "... everything I wanted to say".  Like Caleb Caudle's release from early this year, or Andrew Combs' 2015 highwater mark, Brent Cobb's fulfilling new collection is a musical revelation.

“South of Atlanta” is a loveletter to a small South Georgia town, to a way of life that still exists (but mostly in our childhood memory).  The music Cobb lays down is as warm and familiar as the small town people he celebrates.  “Lord when I die, let’s make a deal / Lay me down in that town where time stands still”.  It’s a wide open sound, where electric and acoustic share the space with the singer’s charmingly lazy drawl.   

It’s good natured music, too, like the self-deprecating working class romp “Diggin’ Holes”.  Atop a perfect 70s Nashville groove, Cobb apologizes for his shortcomings, “I oughta make my living in a graveyard / Lord knows I’m good at diggin’ holes”

The best music brings to mind friends on a porch, not suits in a studio.  “Solving Problems” paints a picture about buddies shootin’ the shit on a Sunday afternoon.  Silence is broken by meandering conversation touching on marrying well, “Mama Tried” by Merle, buying a jeep and “mak(ing) it through next week”.  At just under the 3-minute wire, it checks all the necessary boxes.  It’s Roger Miller-meets-John Hartford with just the right shade of soul.  It’s as laid back and sneakily literate as early John Prine (the mailman, not the folkstar).

A handful of songs on Shine On, especially “Black Crow” and “Let the Rain Come Down”, recall the humid bluesy rock of Tony Joe White.  There’s an overcast darkness and threat to the songs as the music leaves the front porch and wanders a bit along muddy creeks and shadowy hollers. 

“Shine OnRainy Day” eavesdrops on Cobb and an acoustic, his voice filling the small room.  The title cut is the gentlest moment on the record, but resonates with such a genuine Southern sweetness and melancholy soul:  “Ain’t it funny how a little thunder / Make a man start to wonder / Should he swim or just go under / And ain’t it funny how you learn to pray / When your blue skies turn grey / When there’s nothing left to say …”

- Eric Ambel, "Here Come My Love" Lakeside  (Last Chance, 16)
- Seth Walker, "Way Past Midnight" Gotta Get Back  (Royal Potato Family, 16)  D
- Jesse Dayton, "Holy Ghost Rock n' Roller"  The Revealer  (Blue Elan, 16)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Dirt Road" Electric Pinecones  (Kudzu, 16)
- Sara Rachele & the Skintights, "Ain't No Train" Motel Fire  (Angrygal, 16)
- North Mississippi Allstars, "Jumpercable Blues" Keys to the Kingdom  (Songs of the South, 11)
- Dex Romweber, "I Don't Know" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Katy Goodman & Greta Morgan, "Over the Edge" Take It It's Yours  (Polyvinyl, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Filthy & Fried (edit)" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- M Lockwood Porter, "American Dream Denied" How to Dream Again  (Black Mesa, 16)  D
- Jack Ingram, "Old Motel" Midnight Motel  (Rounder, 16)
- Kasey Chambers, "Ain't No Little Girl" Ain't No Little Girl EP  (Chambers, 16)  D
- Angel Olsen, "Shut Up Kiss Me" My Woman  (Jagjaguwar, 16)
- Dexateens, "Teenage Hallelujah" Teenage Hallelujah  (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- Reckless Kelly, "Moment In the Sun" Sunset Motel  (No Big Deal, 16)
- Eilen Jewell, "Home to Me" Queen of the Minor Key  (Signature Sounds, 11)
- John Calvin Abney, "Weekly Rate Palace" Far Cries and Close Calls  (Horton, 16)
- James McMurtry, "Screen Door" Highway Prayer: Tribute to Adam Carroll  (Eight 30, 16)
- Amanda Shires, "Slippin'"  My Piece of Land  (Shires, 16)
- Tim Easton, "Right Before Your Own Eyes" American Fork  (Last Chance, 16)
- Massy Ferguson, "Santa Fe" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Proper, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "Give All You Can" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)
- Kelsey Waldon, "All By Myself" I've Got a Way  (Monkey's Eyebrow, 16)
- Deadstring Brothers, "Talkin' Born Blues" Starving Winter Report  (Bloodshot, 05)
- Coal Men, "The Singer (in Louisville)" Pushed to the Side  (Vaskaleedez, 16)
^ Brent Cobb, "Diggin' Holes" Shine On Rainy Day  (Elektra, 16)
- Paul Cauthen, "I'll Be the One" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Zoe Muth, "Hard Luck Love" Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers  (Muth, 09)
- Wilco, "Quarters" Schmilco  (Nonesuch, 16)  D

So, problem with these Spotify playlists (other than the fact that you gotta subscribe to the service) is that not everything I play is available yet.  This makes for an incomplete listening experience, though it's still a bunch of good stuff.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

a  home for the americana diaspora
September 3, 2016
Scott Foley

I was born on a side road far from here / While the town was burning out my dark window /  I was crowned with a cage of cold barbed wire / And my bottle I keep with me even till now
-- Boz Skaggs

Very nice this week to be contacted by Mr Bill Frater of Freight Train Boogie fame regarding an interview for his No Depression column.  Frater writes "Radio Friendly", shedding light on americana djs, promoters, luminaries and such.  Please take a look at my lil' interview here.  One of my sons called it "dad humor"  -  fathers must be a plenty funny people ...

Also, you'll notice that I've been paying good attention to Lydia Loveless' recent Real release over the past several weeks.  I wrote a piece about it on Charles Hale's Ajax Diner Book Club blog (brought to you by the word "smitten").

Little shorter playlist this Episode, owing to a kind studio visit from cellist singer-songwriter Ben Sollee.  Not a slew of debuts, but following the muse deeper into new stuff from Devil Makes Three, Handsome Family, Dexateens and more.  Hollis Brown have taken a really satisfying turn in a more soulful direction on their new EP.  Plus, I spin a 2001 Songs: Ohia cover of a Boz Scaggs song. I didn't know the thing existed until this week, but it's one of the fullest, most transcendent things Jason Molina recorded.  Fortunately, you can check it out on the Spotify playlist below, if you got the Spotify.

Got a generous mailing from John Calvin Abney this week.  In addition to his laudable new Far Cries & Close Calls record, there was a short typewritten note.  Like from a typewriter.  In an age of mass produced, impersonal communications, it was special to hold the paper to the light, run my hands across the type and know that there was a human at the return address.

Abney's 2015 debut, Better Luck, initially caught my attention because of the involvement of fellow Okie John Moreland.  It earned its spot on the R&B playlist for its mature roots rock writing and originality.  Far Cries exceeds that promise, and should by all means vault the perennial multi-instrumental sideman to a more prominent national position.

"Beauty Seldom Seen" kicks Far Cries into gear, melodic roots pop built on chiming electric guitars and sighing steel. Abney sings with a youthful snarl that might recall early Tom Petty:  It's a long tired dream / Fighting for a losing team / And I feel just like a refugee.  A bright wurlitzer chirps through "Goodbye Temporarily", which also adds violin and harmonica for a mid-period John Mellencamp vibe.  The upbeat, major key spirit of a number of the songs are balanced by accompanying lyrics that are by no means dour, but tend towards self doubt and uncertainty.  I'm not the man that you refused / You're not the girl I left behind me.

Other songs pare the arrangements to a bare minimum and bring to mind the tragic urban folk of Elliott Smith - the vocals are sometimes even double-tracked a'la Smith.  "In Such a Strange Town" is a beautifully, confidently spare acoustic waltz:  I want a picture over a prayer / Maintenance touch, your reticent glare / Star keeper I'm back / Can you tell me / I've confused dreams with memories.  Abney's lyrics are rarely direct, but can be meaningful in a poetically opaque way.

The point to the parade of comparisons isn't to say that John Calvin Abney isn't his own artist.  While there's an appealingly eclectic quality to his music, there's also an accompanying familiarity that abides from one song to the next.  He is neither burdened by the pressure to stay true to any single "vibe" nor driven to wander too far afield in an artificial attempt to be everything to everybody.  At heart, songs like "Jailbreak" simply engage at the most genuine level, appealing to our love of a true tune well constructed.  In that light, perhaps the most apt comparison would be to Ryan Adams.

With a rude swagger, hellbent guitar and pounding drums, "Weekly Rate Palace" is the record's most direct bar band rocker.  On a record that's so smartly arranged and impressively played (primarily by the man himself, it would seem), it's heartwarming to hear such a freewheeling racket from Abney and friends.  It's just another sharp tool in his belt, another shade on a record that ranges from bright and brash sunlight to overcast and introspective.

- Songs: Ohia, "Sweet Release" Burlap Palace: Tribute to the Muscle Shoals Sound  (Soundgun, 01)
- Shinyribs, "Victoria" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Devil Makes Three, "I Am the Man Thomas" Redemption & Ruin  (New West, 16)
- Shakey Graves, "Tomorrow" In Case You Missed It: 15 Years of Dualtone  (Dualtone, 16)  D
- Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Don't Hang Up Virginia" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Chris Porter, 16)  D
- Angel Olsen, "Never Be Mine" My Woman  (Jagjaguwar, 16)  D
- Dexateens, "Fellowship of the Saturday Night Brotherhood" Teenage Hallelujah  (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- Hollis Brown, "Cold City" Cluster of Pearls  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
- Lydia Loveless, "Midwestern Guys" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Laid Low" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- BJ Barham, "Reidsville" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Jack Ingram, "I'm Drinking Through It" Midnight Motel  (Rounder, 16)  D
- Justin Wells, "The Dogs" Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)
- Shelby Lynne, "Lonesome" Identity Crisis  (Capitol, 03)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Rookie Dreaming" Honest Life  (Mama Bird, 16)
- Handsome Family, "Tiny Tina" Unseen  (Handsome Family, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Purple Rain" Swimmin' Pools Movie Stars  (Sugar Hill, 16)
- Luke Winslow-King, "I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always" I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Dufresne" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C
- Shovels & Rope, "St Anne's Parade" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)
- Elliott BROOD, "Garden Rivers" Mountain Meadow  (Six Shooter, 09)