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Friday, July 15, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 9, 2016
Scott Foley

The appeal of music happens deep deep down below charts, social media or fashion.  How else can we explain the impact of just a couple lines of evocative lyric:  It's alright to feel okay (Mando Saenz);  Eight years old, running with a dime in my hand  (Springsteen).  There's no easy formula to the music that reaches us.  This is where we get the idea of "guilty pleasure" - I really shouldn't like this Hanson song ("Mmm Bop"), but god help me I do!  I head into every week hoping against hope that I'll trip across an artist, an album, a song that will make that rare trip on the expressway to my heart.  I page through countless widecast emails from promoters asking me to "push" or "give some love" to their very average projects (and each wants me to know what they've done with their weekend).  I make regular visits to blogs that hemorrhage superlatives in praise of a different record everyday.  And then it accidentally happens, and I decide that maybe it's not a waste of my time after all.  R&B is driven by an exceptionally personal musical vision, stuff that resonates for me but that I fully expect many listeners simply won't get.  My hope is that for every hundred people that dismiss me as "playing music that nobody's ever heard of" (maybe my new tagline?), there might be one person who feels like they've found a new musical home.

It's especially worthy when that connection happens with an under-the-radar band like Florida's Big Shoals trio, whose Hard Lessons landed this week.  I file them loosely alongside acts like Fire Mountain, Sons of Bill or certain strains from fellow Gainesville son Tom Petty  -  fully realized artists that follow the Jayhawks into the roots-pop realm.

This is where I insert my public service announcement reminding you that "pop" is never a bad word in my lexicon.  It means having the capacity to paint with primary musical colors and broad, tuneful strokes, as heard on tracks like Big Shoals' perfect summer rock-a-roller "Happy For a While".  Pounded piano meets riffy electric guitar in your favorite bar:  For 26 years I ain't got much to show / Maybe I been doin' it wrong ... I just wanna be happy for a while.  It's an apt name for the record, Hard Lessons, written on the line between young adulthood and just plain adulthood.  "Only Queen" alternates between weepy steel and a more beat happy chorus:  Been holdin' onto my youth / It's my last piece of gold.

I'm by no standards an audio wonk, but I love the sound of this album, full of thoughtful arrangements and a sound that balances clean separation amidst the clutter and racket of frequently buzzing guitars.  I fully expect "You Ain't Nothing Like the Girls Back Home" to earn a place on my list of the year's most engaging cuts.  Leading with a great guitar line, Lance Howell's vocal recalls a young Jason Isbell:  I wanna make a bad decision / I wanna make a mistake / I wanna take a chance on losin' / I'm tired of playin' it safe.  You'll hear Isbell as well on the sprawling "Losing Hand", which takes its sweet time to unfurl into the record's most ambitious and mature track.

Alas, man cannot subsist on sad bastard songs alone, and I would argue that Bad Decisions doesn't come across as any more of a downer than, say, American Aquarium's reflection on maturity, Wolves.  We find our narrator accepting his fate on "Only God Knows", and recognizing the difficulty of reconnecting with the past on "Way It Goes":  I know time will change you / Hell it's changing me too / Back then it used to move so slow.  Where 2014's Still Go On boasted a harder, more immediate sound, Big Shoals' sophomore collection makes some less obvious choices for a more satisfying effect.

Elsewhere on this Episode:  Matt Woods makes a mighty leap forward with the debut single from his pending How To Survive.  It comes to my attention that Robert Rex Walker Jr from I See Hawks in LA has released an album of covers.  And I really (really) miss the Scud Mountain Boys.

- Adia Victoria, "Lonely Avenue / Dead Eyes" Beyond the Bloodhounds  (Atlantic, 16)
- Band of Horses, "Throw My Mess" Why Are You OK  (Interscope, 16)
- Bottle Rockets, "Gravity Fails" Brooklyn Side  (Tag, 94)
- Massy Ferguson, "Makin' It" Run It Right Into the Wall  (MF, 16)
- Big Shoals, "You Ain't Noting Like the Girls Back Home" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Matt Woods, "American Way" How To Survive  (Woods, 16)  D
- Joe Purdy, "Maybe We'll All  Get Along Someday" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Rod Picott, "Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues" Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues  (Welding Rod, 01)
- BJ Barham, "American Tobacco Company" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Lucinda Williams, "If There's a Heaven" Ghosts of Hwy 20  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Let's Get Drunk and Get It On" Desperate Times  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Tapped Out In Tulsa" You Can't Go Back  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Scud Mt Boys, "Holy Ghost" Massachusetts  (Sub Pop, 96)
- Western Centuries, "Rock Salt" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Amy Blaschke, "Breaking the Blues" Breaking the Blues  (Bird on a Lyre, 16)
- Levi Parham, "Chemical Train" These American Blues  (Music Road, 16)
- Sean McConnell, "Ghost Town" Sean McConnell  (Rounder, 16)  D
- Paul Westerberg, "Lookin' Up In Heaven" Folker  (Vagrant, 04)
- Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, "L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" Shine a Light  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Headed South" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Chuck Ragan, "Flame In the Flood" Flame In the Flood  (Ten Four, 16)
- White Buffalo w/Audra Mae, "I Got You" Love & the Death of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
- Shovels & Rope, "I Know" Little Seeds  (NewWest, 16)
- Ana Egge & the Sentimentals, "Promises to Break" Say That Now  (Grace, 16)  D
- Robert Rex Walker Jr, "Counting My Lucky Stars" Fancy Free  (Walker, 16)  D
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Dark and Dirty Mile" Dark and Dirty Mile  (Proud Souls, 13)
- Porter, "Harder Stuff" This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
- Jason Isbell, "Travelling Alone" Southeastern  (12th St, 13)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
July 2, 2016
Scott Foley

Does this fall under "counting your chickens ..."?  Here are 20 records that are currently in the running for my favorites of the year, halfway through 2016, roughly in order of appearance.

Lucinda Williams, Ghosts of Highway 20
Margo Price, Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Caleb Caudle, Carolina Ghost
Richmond Fontaine, You Can't Go  Back
Freakwater, Scheherazade
Mount Moriah, How to Dance
Parker Millsap, Very Last Day
Left Arm Tan, Lorene
Austin Lucas, Between the Moon & the Midwest
Jayhawks, Paging Mr Proust
John Doe, Westerner
Sturgill Simpson, Sailor's Guide to Earth
Honeycutters, On the Ropes
Various Artists, Day of the Dead
Felice Brothers, Life in the Dark
Avett Brothers, True Sadness
Bonnie Bishop, Ain't Who I Was
Arliss Nancy, Greater Divides
Frankie Lee, American Dreamer
Matt Haeck, Late Bloomer

And here's what I'm most looking forward to hearing in the weeks 'n months to come:  Kelsey Waldon, Lydia Loveless, Two Cow Garage, Devil Makes Three, Tim Easton, Amanda Shires, Drive-by Truckers.


There was a time during college when I wisely chose to sell my beloved vinyl collection.  I didn't do this for rent, grocery or beer money, but so that I could invest in sweet sweet cassette tapes.  I believe I had to sell at least a dozen hard-won discs in order to afford the hiss and warble of one tape.  Who knew that there would come a time when these very faulty plastic time bombs would no longer be valuable, let alone playable.  Curiously enough, cassette tapes are recently experiencing a slight renaissance, to the point where there are cassette only labels, and bands like Massy Ferguson who choose to make their music available on cassette.

Seattle trio Massy Ferguson borrow their name (dropping a vowel for legal reasons) from a farm equipment manufacturer.  There are no songs about the dustbowl on their new album.  No indulgent twangfest.  Instead, picture a big ol' combine rumbling down the streets of Middle America, harvesting the souls of folk like me who yearn for heavy guitar, reckless drums and no bullshit roots rock.  Here's what they have to say about their 4th record, Run It Right Into the Wall:

We wanted to pay homage to other music we grew up with and were inspired by: the sounds of college rock of the 80s.  Think early REM, Husker Du, the Church, the Connells and a big dose of the Replacements ...

As a card carrying college student during the 80s (don't do the math), these are the quintessential sounds of my life, largely upon which my presently sprawling musical tastes were constructed.  Of course, much of this scaffolding was strengthened with the addition of earlier acts such as Bottle Rockets, Uncle Tupelo, Drive-by Truckers, etc.  It's at these hallowed crossroads that Massy Ferguson has erected their roadhouse.

Massy Ferguson wisely choose not to disguise these compass points, leaping into the album's opener, "Gallipoli", with guitars that alternately stab and chime and vocals that recall Jay Farrar perhaps as crossed with early REM.  An instantly familiar musical equation, it manages to avoid the common retro-for-retro-sake traps. And the unabashedly tuneful single, "Makin' It", embraces the Southern roots pop practiced by Bottle Rockets in their heyday.

In the wake of the departure of the band's keyboardist, Run It opts for an edgier, pared back approach that layers guitars for that retro-perfect production.  Pieces such as "Firewater" still feature keys, but as a deeper musical background rather than a primary color.   "Dogbone" unleashes a swampier sound with loping drums and Fogerty-worthy guitar before slipping into a major key chorus that affirms the trio's sure pop ear.

With its neon bright blue and pink packaging, Run It Right Into the Wall might've fit just fine alongside my other cassettes from Let's Active, Pylon, Hoodoo Gurus and Green On Red.  In my digital files, however, it earns its place snugly among classics from Son Volt, Supersuckers and Blue Mountain, maintaining that essential edge so crucial to the relevance of and roots rock.

New stuff this week from Dale Watson, offering a live Jerry Reed cover.  Ronnie Fauss gives the roots treatment to a Slobberbone classic, and we revisit Will Johnson's masterful take on a lesser known Old 97s cut.  That, and some brand new solo Dex Romweber.   And I didn't play Dave Alvin's "Fourth of July".

- Two Tons of Steel, "Crazy Heart" Unraveled  (Smith, 13)
- Darrell Scott, "Moonlight Midnight" Couchville Sessions  (Full Light, 16)
- Avett Brothers, "Mama I Don't Believe" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Surrender Under Protest" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Cross Canadian Ragweed, "The President Song (live)" Live and Loud at the Wormy Dog Saloon  (Smith, 01)
- Dale Watson, "Amos Moses (live)" Live at the Big T Roadhouse  (Red House, 16)  D
^ Massy Ferguson, "Santa Fe" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Massy Ferguson, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Orange Blossom Trail" Exodus of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Luke Bell, "Loretta" Luke Bell  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Rusty Truck, "Tangled In the Fence" Broken Promises  (Coda Terra, 03)
- Joe Purdy, "Kristine" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Matt Haeck, "Lucky Cigarette" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Lumberlung" single  (New West, 16)  D
- Big Shoals, "Only God Knows" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- BJ Barham, "Reidsville" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Whitney, "Golden Days" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- Eddie Hinton, "I Got the Feeling" Very Extremely Dangerous  (Capricorn, 97)
- Corb Lund, "Bible On the Dash" Cabin Fever  (New West, 12)
- Dex Romweber, "Trouble of the World" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Plunder" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Fruit Bats, "Humbug Mountain Song" Absolute Loser  (Easy Sound, 16)
- Will Johnson, "Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Rob Baird, "Horses" Wrong Side of the River  (Hard Luck, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Poor Man's Melody" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Factory Smoke" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C
- Israel Nash, "Drown" Barn Doors &  Concrete Floors  (Israel Nash, 11)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 25, 2016
Scott Foley

Time will tell if I lose some cred points for reserving my review spot for a band that sells out three nights at Red Rocks.  I think it's a good likelihood that the Avett Brothers don't need any help from the fabled "R&B bump".  But I've been tracking the band since their 2004 Mignonette album, falling immediately for their naive energy, their approximated harmonies and their heart-on-sleeve lyrical tendencies.  While national appreciation has mushroomed and production has sharpened, I would argue that they have stayed admirably true to their muse, maybe to the point of being formulaic, even on their ninth release.  True Sadness does add some unnecessary studio touches, and perhaps someday someone will see fit to release the "naked" tapes, sans all the curious studio decisions.  A glitchy electro-bass and click drum populate the otherwise excellent "You Are Mine", while "May It Last" launches with uber-lush strings and morphs into a roots band estimation of a Pink Floyd track.

But I'll remind you of my appreciation of a band that doesn't shy away from the musical sandbox.  There's no harm in exploring new directions, especially while staying true to your musical identity, and the Avetts do that in spades.  "Ain't No Man"  boasts the sound of 100 computers clapping in unison, accompanied by Bob Crawford's bass and Seth and Scott's harmonies.  It is the most good-natured moment on an album that sails along in the wake of divorce and midlife self doubt (and it promises countless opportunities for audience singalongs).  "Satan Pulls the Strings" features both banjo and electronic pulses, along with the ecstatic shouted vocals that drove their earlier sound.

More typical of True Sadness are cuts like "No Hard Feelings":  When I lay down my fears / My hopes and my doubts / the rings on my fingers / and the keys to my house / With no hard feelings.  It's a song of separation, whether from loved ones, from youth or from old habits.  These quieter moments are beautiful, and they're what the Avetts do best.  Melancholy and disappointment practically serve as 5th and 6th members of the band.  "Mama I Don't Believe" is one of the more organic moments on Sadness, with lyrics stripped to the bone and emotions on bold display:  Are we just acting / Is this the real you and me.  In "Smithsonian", they admit Turns out we don't get to know everything.

Despite the subject matter, it's by no means a downer of a record.  A spirit of acceptance and humility also haunts True Sadness.  On the title track, I hate to say it / But no one is fine.  Seth and Scott readily recognize the potentially redemptive qualities of sadness and setback, and their trademark humor and occasional goofiness are present in even the cloudiest moments.  What's more, spirituality seems to play more of a role on certain songs:  Just know the kingdom of god is within you / Even thought the battle is bound to continue.

Bottom line:  the Avett Brothers' True Sadness is by no means their Mumford Moment.  While they won't escape their part in helping to birth the faux folk movement and bands like Lumineers or Head & the Heart.  But like the Felice Brothers, there is a depth and a genuineness to their musical decisions that floats them above fleeting trends.

- Al Scorch, "Lonesome Low" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)
- McDougall, "Cut Loose" Reaching for Some Light  (McDougall, 16)
- Western Centuries, "Weight of the World" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Jesse Dayton & Brennen Leigh, "Two Step Program" Holdin' Our Own  (Stag, 07)
- Amy Blaschke, "Breaking the Blues" Breaking the Blues  (Blaschke, 16)  D
- St Paul & the Broken Bones, "All I Ever Wonder" Sea of Noise  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Paper Bird, "I Don't Mind" Paper Bird  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  C, D
- Frankie Lee, "Where Do We Belong" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)
- Steve Gunn, "Ancient Jules" Eyes on the Lines  (Merge, 16)
- Patty Griffin, "Rain" 1000 Kisses  (ATO, 02)
- Austin Lucas, "Unbroken Hearts" Between the Moon and the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Headed South" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)  D
- Kelly Willis, "Rollerskate Skinny" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Big Shoals, "You Ain't Nothing Like the Girls Back Home" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Joe Purdy, "New Years Eve" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Surrender Under Protest" American Band  (ATO, 16)  D
- Ben Weaver, "Voice In the Wilderness" Stories Under Nails  (Fugawee Bird, 04)
- BJ Barham, "American Tobacco Company" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)  D
- Levi Parham, "These American Blues" These American Blues  (Music Road, 16)  D
- Kalispell, "Parting Ground" Printer's Son  (Cartouche, 16)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Time of the Blue" Time of the Blue  (Merge, 16)
- Rosanne Cash, "Child of Steel" 10 Song Demo  (Capitol, 96)
- Shovels & Rope, "I Know" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)  D
- Massy Ferguson, "Dogbone" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Proper, 16)  D
- Kurt Vile, "Box of Rain" Day of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Just How Lonely (live)" Doublewide and Live  (YepRoc, 06)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Crackalacka" Beck in Black  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

a home to the americana diaspora  
June 18, 2016
Scott Foley

I hope I can find the courage to speak / When there's something that needs to be said / And I hope that my words won't tear us apart / But will being people closer instead
That's Joe Purdy.

As much as I badmouth folk music, if you're gonna do it you might as well do it like Joe Purdy on Who Will Be Next.  It's music that's gentle but with lyrics that can rip a jagged hole in your status quo.  The songs can be pretty, but they highlight what's ugly in our society.  It's not "come together" campfire music.  It's shine-a-rude-light-into-the-dark-crevices-of-your-soul.  Purdy's not a preacher but maybe he's a prophet.  The music on Who Will Be Next is hardly a by-the-way vehicle for his political proclamation.  Try "Kristine", which provides a momentary oasis from the record's perennial heat:  Maybe I'll play for all the people I can find / Maybe I'll write a hit song, make the big time / Maybe I'll change the world / Just like my mama say / Maybe I'll just get stoned and call Kristine.  Brings to mind the sweet, sad vignettes of John Prine.  Purdy is a prolific fellow (think this is album #14), generous with his releases that mislead with their spare arrangements and analog equipment underlying these electric, wide-awake lyrics.   Such a handbuilt approach let listeners get nearer the soul of Purdy's masterpieces.  With only an acoustic guitar and fiddle in his arsenal, he sets his sites on middle america on "Cairo Walls":  I love my country / But my country has sinned / And changes are overdue.  "New Years Day" is the collection's anthemic battle hymn, a boldly naive litany of hopes and dreams.  "Who Will Be Next" isn't so much a scathing ambush of the gun lobby as it is a personal appeal to heart.  It's too easy to simply point a finger.  The challenge and the grace comes in refocusing the issue as a personal one, reversing that accusing finger.  Purdy demonstrates the sort of soul searching that proves beyond mere rhetoric that all politics is personal.  Who Will Be Next is nothing but heart.  And the simple, steady beating pulse of the record is best heard in "Maybe We'll All Get Along Someday":  Treat me like a human / I'll treat you like the same / Maybe we'll all get along someday.

Also on this crisis of conscience that is my weekly radio broadcast, we eavesdrop on a refreshingly intimate, lo-fi moment from Tallest Man on Earth.  We are generously gifted by a new Slobberbone tribute to Old 97s from a curiously under-the-radar gem of a compilation.  There's the fantasy pairing of Dwight Yoakam and Jack White on Third Man Record's newest single, and more from a record by Big Shoals that is generating a slow burbling passion in my soul.  Like I said, it's not just a radio show.  It's good church.

- Devil Makes Three, "Drunken Hearted Man" Redemption & Ruin  (New West, 16)
- Wayne Hancock, "Your Love and His Blood" Viper of Melody  (Bloodshot, 09)
- Rachel Brooke, "Gold" World's Greatest Anchor  (Brooks Robbins, 16)
- Robbie Fulks, "Katy Kay' Upland Stories  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Matt Haeck, "Tennessee" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Big Shoals, "Only God Knows" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Esme Patterson, "No River" We Were Wild  (Grand Jury, 16)
- Avett Brothers, "True Sadness" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)
- Frankie Lee, "Buffalo" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)
- Whitney, "No Woman" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- St Paul & Broken Bones, "All I Ever Wonder" Sea of Noise  (Records, 16)
- William Tyler, "I'm Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me)" Modern Country  (Merge, 16)
^ Joe Purdy, "Kristine" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)  D
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Time of the Blue" single  (Merge, 16)  D
- Haunted Windchimes, "Sun Shining Bright" Rattle Your Bones  (Blank Tape, 16)  C
- Americans, "Right Stuff" I'll Be Yours  (Americans, 16)  D
- Band of Horses, "Country Teen" Why Are You OK  (Interscope, 16)
- Lydia Loveless, "Longer" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Georgia Stars" Case/lang/Veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Slobberbone, "Melt Show" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Felice Brothers, "Aerosol Ball" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- John Doe, "Alone in Arizona" Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Ben de la Cour, "Walkin' 'Round With the Blues" Midnight in Havana  (Flour Sack Cape, 16)
- Mudcrutch, "Dreams of Flying" 2  (Reprise, 16)
- Western Centuries, "Philosophers and Fools" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day" single  (Third Man, 16)  D
- John Paul White, "The Martyr" Beulah  (Single Lock, 16)  D
- Birger Olsen, "Lights Just Buzz" Lights Just Buzz  (Mama Bird, 16)  D
- Sarah Watkins, "Move Me" Young in All the Wrong Ways  (New West, 16)

Friday, June 17, 2016

featuring the very best of americna, and roots music
June 11, 2016
Scott Foley

There was a span of several years when I hosted both Routes & Branches and an eclectic "mix" show.  I drew a pretty sure line between the two, playing almost no americana music on my mix, filling it to the brim with all the roots-free genres I appreciate.  When I pared away my mix responsibilities, I missed flirting with all that stuff that wouldn't fit so neatly into my R&B sandbox.  While I've always carved a much wider musical swath with Routes than any other broadcast of which I'm aware, lately I find myself pushing harder than ever against those boundaries.  It all still holds together well to my ears, though I recognize that it's not  your grampa's americana broadcast.  Lately I've fallen for new stuff from Band of Horses, Diarrhea Planet, Low Anthem, Margaret Glaspy, Daniel Markham, Steve Gunn and too many more to mention.  I've been able to justify airing just a couple things from those releases, but sometimes I fear it may be too much of a musical whiplash to air an Appalachian hymn from Emmylou, Dolly and Linda on the same program I share a cut from Diarrhea Planet ...

Which all brings us to Whitney, fronted by former members of SmithWesterns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and sounding nothing like either of those bands.  Curiously, their debut, Light Upon the Lake, presently owns the top spot of the new Americana UK charts though it is not even on the radar for most americana radio.  Reportedly set to tape during a deep Chicago winter, Light may be the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer.  While summer actually happens to be among of my four favorite seasons, it is by no means my Number One.  Nevertheless, there is such a distinct spirit to the season’s music that listeners yearly opine about THE song of the summer.  When was the last time you were moved to assemble a similar list for, say, Fall?  For my part, Whitney’s “No Matter Where We Go” is a smart bet for that honor.  Summer songs don’t spend too much time on lyrical brilliance:  I wanna take you out / I wanna drive around / With you with the windows down / And we can run all night.  Like the rest of Light Upon the Lake, it is built on a musical bed of nimble guitar lines, horns and Julien Ehrlich's fragile falsetto.  "The Falls" and "No Woman" are similarly upbeat, more indie pop 'n soul than roots, but you can see it from there.  There is a good natured sweetness to even the quieter cuts.  The title track sets forth in an almost pastoral folk spirit, a lazy day stony vibe lending itself to an introspection that asks, Will life get ahead of me?  "On My Own" favors a jazz driven guitar line, while "Red Moon" is a brief groove that foregoes vocals in favor of a simple jazz trumpet.  There is no keening pedal steel on Whitney's satisfying debut, no weepy violin or songs about whiskey 'n weed.  Very little goes twang, nothing is suitable for a drive around the sawdusted dancefloor, and the men of Whitney would be very out of their element in a honky tonk.  Nevertheless, "Golden Days" is all that I'm currently about.  Those golden days snuck away from us / Lately I've been close but I'm up to trouble / Those golden days keep you hanging on ... na na na na na na ... 

- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Sound of a Train" What Kind of Love  (Loose, 15)
- Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, "Midnight Special" Shine a Light  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, "Raise the Dead" Colvin & Earle  (Fantasy, 16)
- Matt Haeck, "Cotton Dress" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Lucero, "Hey Darlin' Do You Gamble" 1379 Overton Park  (Universal, 09)
- Arliss Nancy, "Finches" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Bible Black Lincoln" Torquila Torquila  (Wizardvision, 11)
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Duendes" El Astronauta  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Luke Bell, "Glory and the Grace" Luke Bell  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Kalispell, "Windfall" Printer's Son  (Cartouche, 16)
- Haunted Windchimes, "Banjo and the Bottle" Rattle Your Bones  (Blank Tape, 16)  C, D
- Justin Townes Earle, "One More Night In Brooklyn" Harlem River Blues  (Bloodshot, 10)
- Fernando, "Kingdom Come" Leave the Radio On  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
- Honeycutters, "Back Row" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)
- Avett Brothers, "Satan Pulls the Strings" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)
- Fruit Bats, "From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town" Absolute Loser  (Easy Sound, 16)
- Devil Makes Three, "Drunken Hearted Man" Redemption & Ruin  (New West, 16)  D
- Steve Gunn, "Full Moon Tide" Eyes On the Lines  (Merge, 16)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Oh Sarah" Sailor's Guide to Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- Hard Working Americans, "Roman Candles" Rest in Chaos  (Melvin, 16)
- Deslondes, "Tres Grand Serpent" single  (New West, 16)  D
- Jason Molina, "I'll Be Here In the Morning" Townes Van Zandt Covers  (Secretly Canadian, 16)  D
- Will Johnson, "Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)  D
^ Whitney, "No Matter Where We Go" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Plunder" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Wilco, "The Thanks I Get" Alpha Mike Foxtrot  (Nonesuch, 14)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Not Cause I Wanted To" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

a home to the americana diaspora
June 4, 2016
Scott Foley

I have a file on my iTunes where I keep most of my favorite songs - the rare stuff I can listen to with relative frequency and not get tired.  The other day I was streaming this playlist and one of my kids remarked how similar some of these tunes were in terms of structure and melody, and he was right.  As much as I consider myself a reactionary music curmudgeon, when the rubber hits the road I like a melodic hook as much as the next guy.  Case in point:  Cahalen Morrison's new project, Western Centuries, whose "Weight of the World" sounds so much like a Sturgill song that the more I listen to it the more I think of Sturgill.  Still a great song, though.

Other evocative moments on this Episode come from Lydia Loveless, whose "Longer" accompanies her country-perfect voice with a more urban garage guitar buzz.  I spin Tom Petty for the first time in more than ten years of R&B.  While I've been a fan since I purchased a cassette copy of Damn the Torpedoes, it's apparently taken until his second Mudcrutch record for me to justify the airspace.  Jeez, I've even played John(ny Cougar) Mellencamp in the ensuing years.  And yet, all it took was a quick listen to Shane Leonard's Kalispell to pique my interest in the multi-instrumentalist's primarily acoustic chamber-americana.  Good news is that Tom Petty has done fine without my imprimatur.

All it took to commit me to Matt Haeck's Late Bloomer was a glance at the playlist.  A duet with Caitlin Rose, a song called "Pissing Contest" and another called "Minnie Pearl".  Tracking into the freight train roar of "Tennessee" was really the final blow in deciding that I wanted to write about Haeck.  His origin story says he was born in the West Indies, raised by evangelist parents and even attended seminary until he was sidetracked by more worldly pursuits.  While it's not strictly a concept album, some of these personal details populate the songs on Late Bloomer.  That aforementioned contest really did happen, though the track which flows from the episode has more to do with Haeck's efforts to square his professed faith with some of the hobbies he had adopted:  Have you ever read the Hebrew Bible and argued with a fossil / Or testified loudmouthed and wide-eyed with cocaine in your nostril.  The music is loose and good-natured, the kind of freewheeling ramble that provided the bed for much of Roger Miller's work. And though Haeck isn't necessarily hard on himself, he readily acknowledges his foibles:  Every hypocrite is a human / And we're all human down to a man.  "28 Years" adds a satisfying blast of both horns and accordion, like a beast from Memphis by way of Terlingua.  A manic dose of pedal steel recklessly drives the cut like a truck threatening to veer into the ruts.  By contrast to the charming bombast of  these tunes, many of Late Bloomer's sweeter moments hail from the more subtle, more traditional gestures.  "Minnie Pearl" twines gospel and 'grass in a hymn to the women who have crossed Haeck's path:  But in the darkness there's a song / That's kept me going for so long / And as long as I keep singing / There's a purpose and a meaning to this life ...  Fellow songwriter Elizabeth Cook adds a layer of nuance and beauty to several cuts on Bloomer, one of a small cadre of cohorts joining Haeck, including Aaron Lee Tasjan, Critter Fuqua and producer David Mayfield.  Caitlin Rose provides another alluring contribution on one of the record's quiet but resonant highlights.  "Cotton Dress" sets aside some of the collection's cynicism and self-deprecation for an almost pastoral folksong.  Matt Haeck's most worthy statement as a writer comes from "Lucky Cigarette".  Slow as late summer, the track simmers with delicious melancholy:  So darlin' / Won't you do me the honor / Of burnin' the lucky one.  It erects an appropriately sober compliment to the carefree romp of "Tennessee" that begins Late Bloomer, and serves to cement Matt Haeck's  promise as a top notch writer of unusual sensitivity a'la early Todd Snider or present day Aaron Lee Tasjan.

- Trampled by Turtles, "Walt Whitman" Stars & Satellites  (Thirty Tigers, 12)
- Al Scorch, "Lost at Sea" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Sara Watkins, "Truth Won't Set Us Free" Young in All the Wrong Ways  (New West, 16)
- Yarn, "Carolina Heart" This is the Year  (Redbush, 16)
^ Matt Haeck, "Tennessee" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Western  Centuries, "Weight of the World" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)  D
- Austin Lucas, "Kristie Rae" Between the Moon & the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
- John Doe, "Drink of Water" The Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Dyin" Exodus of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Robert Ellis, "How I Love You" Robert Ellis  (New West, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Deadman's Blues" With Love From Brushy Mountain  (Pisgah Ridge, 12)
- McDougall, "Ten Speed" Reaching For Some Light  (McDougall, 16)
- Poet's Row, "Goin' Down" The Artichoke  (Poet's Row, 16)  C, D
- Drunken Hearts, "Happy" Love & Thirst  (Drunken Hearts, 16)  C, D
- Uncle Tupelo, "Train" No Depression  (Columbia, 90)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Ship of Fools" Day of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Kalispell, "Printer's Son" Printer's Son  (Cartouche, 16)  D
- Magnolia Electric Co, "Dark Don't Hide It (live)" Trials & Errors  (Secretly Canadian, 05)
- Kevin Morby, "I Have Been  To the Mountain" Singing Saw  (Dead Oceans, 16)
- Ben de la Cour, "Walkin' 'Round With the Blues" Midnight in Havana  (Flour Sack Cape, 16)  D
- Lydia Loveless, "Longer" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Frankie Lee, "High &  Dry" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)
- Two Cow Garage, "Mantle in '56" Death of the Self Preservation Society  (Last Chance, 13)
- Felice Brothers, "Triumph '73" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Whitney, "No Matter Where We Go" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)  D
- Mudcrutch, "Trailer" Mudcrutch 2  (Mudcrutch, 16)  D
- Dwight Yoakam, "Bury Me" Guitars Cadillacs Etc Etc  (Reprise, 86)

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 28, 2016
Scott Foley

I'm certain that I've never played a Grateful Dead song on Routes & Branches.  Of the roughly 30,000 songs on my laptop, there is not one Dead recording, and of the couple thousand CDs in my basement Jerry ain't on one of them.  That said, I appreciate the group's influence and recognize that it runs shamelessly through much of the music we enjoy.  And that recognition has carried me through all 5 discs of the new tribute compilation Day of the Dead.  Lovingly assembled over the past 4 years by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National, it's the most impressive and sprawling tribute to a single artist since Amnesty International's 4 disc Chimes of Freedom nod to Dylan.  Good News:  I won't review the box cut-by-cut, but rather have pared down the mammoth collection to a single, 15 song compilation of highlights.  The more successful covers don't try too hard to either escape or to replicate the Dead's sound, choosing instead to meet the icons halfway.

Because it is a compilation, and because Lucinda Williams wanders her way onto just about every compilation, Lucinda appears here with a bluesy rag on "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad", guitars blazing appropriately.  Keeping with the blues theme, Charles Bradley teams with his friends from the Menahan Street Band for a fiery and dark "Cumberland Blues".  The National pare it way back for an unexpectedly folky "Peggy-O", with Aaron Dessner delivering a tender and patient vocal.  Acoustic guitar and piano ride atop a mounting wave of ambiance.

Given the space of 5 discs, there are bound to be both deeper cuts and Dead standards, with the latter posing more of a challenge to avoiding the danger of a bar band cover.  Currently on hiatus, the Walkmen play it loose and jangling in the spirit of the Dead, their "Ripple" providing one of the collection's more ready sing-a-long moments.  Bonnie "Prince" Billy earns a pair of cuts on Day of the Dead, including a stellar run through "Rubin and Cherise".  He replicates the song's chiming guitar and adds heralding mariachi horns as the track progresses, topped off with a perfect pocket vocal.  I've embraced Angel Olsen's first couple records of vulnerable indie folk.  Her run through the lesser known "Attics of My Life" is built upon little more than angelic choral vocals and brushed drums.  Bill Callahan takes a similarly sparse approach for his "Easy Wind".  His trademark deadpan delivery floats along a druggy blues vibe of keys and guitars like a desert mirage.

Phosphorescent's sweet "Sugaree" falls closest to the musical tree, with Matt Houck's creaky croon sounding like a young Jerry.  One of a handful of cuts featuring Jenny Lewis, it's the kind of upbeat joyfest that the Dead did well.  Surprisingly, Kurt Vile's "Box of Rain" with J. Mascis also follows the original's blueprint faithfully.  While Vile applies his trademark wall of noise production, the familiar melody of the original is allowed to shine through brightly.  The guitars and vocals on Hiss Golden Messenger's "Brown Eyed Women" are a reverent tribute to the trademarked Dead sound.

Wrapping up my 15-song playlist, Tallest Man On Earth takes a slow cruise on "Ship of Fools", with added horns and lazy rhythms adding to the conjecture that the boat will be departing from New Orleans.  A second offering from Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Bird Song", confirms that Will Oldham is deeply familiar with the jazz nods inherent in the Dead's music.  Phosphorescent's "Standing On the Moon" is an understated but gorgeously atmospheric flight.  The final two cuts are a couple of the set's most unexpected surprises.  Lone Bellow digs into "Dire Wolf" with shared male/female vocals and a heavier approach than they've brought to their own music.  Most impressive is current indie sweetheart Courtney Barnett's bluesy rock drive through "New Speedway Boogie".

The Grateful Dead's musical sandbox was deeply informed by american roots music, though the offerings on Day of the Dead greatly overflow your standard R&B faire.  Does the box set lead me to a greater appreciation of the band's catalog?  Naw.  I wouldn't have had the attention span to sit through 326 minutes of the originals.  I seem to have more patience for these Dead covers (and I think this is the case for Dylan tributes as well).  There's less filler than you might expect here, though it wouldn't have been a struggle to narrow down to 2 or 3 discs of the strongest material.  Nevertheless, it speaks well for the Dessner's tribute that a non-Deadhead like me can eagerly travel through the entire set and exit without signs of musical indigestion.

A number of weeks ago I posted about leaving my post as KRFC's Music Director.  As of June 1, that will have become a reality.  One of my foremost concerns about making the split was how it might effect my relationship with music.  I was also wondering if I would have the same generous availability to new music that I've had over the years as MD.  For the time being I'll continue to broadcast my weekly Routes & Branches program from the KRFC studios, but it's a bittersweet parting in some ways.  The most welcome challenge may just be how I'm able to use some of the newly freed headspace that I hope to gain from simplifying - it will be the first time in recent memory that I will be down to just one single paying job.

- Mando Saenz, "Pocket of Red" Bucket  (Carnival, 08)
- Rob Baird, "Pocket Change" Wrong Side of the River  (Hard Luck, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Too Late" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)
- Sam Lewis, "Southern Greek Tragedy" Sam Lewis  (Lewis, 12)
- Chris Stapleton, "Feel So Bad" The Big E  (MPI, 13)
- Luke Bell, "All Blue" Luke Bell  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Fruit Bats, "Absolute Loser" Absolute Loser  (Easy Sound, 16)
- Felice Brothers, "Dancing On the Wing" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Esme Patterson, "Wantin' Ain't Getting" We Were Wild  (Grand Jury, 16)
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Best Kept Secret" Case/lang/veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Eli "Paperboy" Reed, "Hold Out" My Way Home  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Shaver, "If I Give My Soul" Tramp On Your Street  (Volcano, 93)
- Sara Watkins, "Truth Won't Set Us Free" Young In All the Wrong Ways  (New West, 16)
- Jeremy Nail, "My Mountain" My Mountain  (Open Nine, 16)
- Green On Red, "Broken Radio" Here Come the Snakes  (Restless, 93)
- Guy Clark, "I Don't Love You Much Do I" Boats To Build  (Elektra, 92)
- Lori McKenna, "Wreck You" Bird & the Rifle  (McKenna, 16)
- Loretta Lynn, "Who's Gonna Miss Me" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)
- John Moreland, "American Flags in Black & White" High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
- Avett Brothers, "Divorce Separation Blues" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)
^ Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Rubin and Cherise" Day of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Frankie Lee, "Where Do We Belong" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)  D
- Matt Haeck, "Lucky Cigarette" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)  D
- Colvin & Earle, "Come What May" Colvin & Earle  (Concord, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Straightjacket Love" Exodus of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "The Pusher" Beck in Black  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "Rebels" Fine Print  (New West, 09)