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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 8, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Will Johnson has been on a tear for ... well, since his early work with Centro-Matic in the 90s.  In what seems like quick succession, the serial collaborator presented projects with what's become a familiar litany of like-minded pilgrims:  Jason Molina, Vic Chesnutt, Jim James, Jay Farrar, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, just to name a handful.  The commonality in Johnson's free-range artistry has been a dogged pursuit of his muse, an elusive and secretive thing.

What's evident and rewarding in Will Johnson's 6th solo outing, Wire Mountain (Keeled Scales, Sept 27) is that his muse is a moving target.  Throughout his band work, his "supergroup" projects and his solo work, there's been a consistent sonic value, even as his music has continuously evolved.  His first collection for the Keeled Scales label follows 2017's Hatteras Night A Good Luck Charm, finding Johnson digging deeper into the grit of his electric guitar, as he surrounds himself with a more diverse assemblage of sounds and instrumentation.

It could be argued that the story of Wire Mountain can be traced back further, to 2015's Swan City Vampires.  All three sessions were conducted by Britton Beisenherz at his Ramble Creek stronghold in Austin.  Each record is to some extent an experiment in manipulating sonic space, and in composing a soundtrack to a certain landscape and people.  Like Matthew Genitempo's cover art, the specific elements of Johnson's songs are immediately recognizable, even when delivered through a lens of fuzz and distortion.  Also joining him in the studio are Bill Callahan percussionist Thor Harrison, legendary Austin guitarist and songwriter Jon Dee Graham and members of the enigmatic folk act Little Mazarn.

This trilogy of records achieves a balance between intimacy and distance, directness and ambiance.  Wire Mountain opens with the crash of guitar and hammered percussion, Johnson's vocals nestled close to the ears like a conspiratorial whisper.  In some ways, this is some of the most spacious music he's created as a solo artist, though the persistence of growling electric guitar and heavy percussion muddy the view (in all the best ways).  Just over two minutes into "A Carousel Victor", that electric guitar lurches to life, a spark illuminating the otherwise obscured proceedings.

As a writer, Will Johnson tends to be an impressionist rather than a storyteller.  He's not using lyrics carelessly, though it's never easy to say what any song is "about".  One of the CD's more straightforward cuts, "A Solitary Slip" is reportedly an apology to his spouse for his own shortcomings.  A beautiful piece lifted by piano and echoed guitar, Johnson confesses: For all you give to me / I'll fail to repay thee / Clumsy and adrift and / Rarely something graceful.  More typical is the heavy cascading drums and stinging guitar of "Cornelius":  Now look at us / You and me are stuck amongst the hopers, creeps and fluffers out here in the dust.  Johnson's vocals are frequently joined by Lindsey Verrill's, here adding a choral effect new to his songs.

Other songs on Wire Mountain feature banjo, marimba, lap steel or mbira, instruments that rattle around in the relative space created by these sometimes spare arrangements.  Songs like "Gasconade" venture into the buzz or hum of an unidentifiable drone beneath Johnson's lyric.  A pair of instrumentals mark the aural poles of the sessions.  "Chimera" is an electric passage with guttural guitar and a haunting background ambiance, while the album closes on the brighter, more reassuring piano and percussion of  "(You Were) Just Barely You".  In between is the collection's most accessible cut, the melodic guitar and jazz-leaning chords of "To the Shepherd, To the Lion".

What seems exotic early on establishes itself as more familiar and purposeful with repeated listenings, thoughtful and rewarding work that takes its place alongside years of Will Johnson's other projects.  Like Molina and David Bazan and others with whom he's shared a groove, he maintains a mystery from record to record, while building a trust and an intimacy that bring us back with every new iteration.  Wire Mountain can be beautiful and chilling, with a wide-open allure of an artist who satisfies at every turn:  So when it comes time for our parting / Find the spirit and the force and the light / Let the shadows and moonlight still guide you / With a voice you can trust in the night.

- Avett Brothers, "Bang Bang" Closer Than Together  (American, Oct 4)
- Whitney, "Rhododendron" Forever Turned Around  (Secretly Canadian, 19)
- Pernice Brothers, "Skinny Jeanne" Spread the Feeling  (Ashmont, 19)
- Andrew Combs, "Dry Eyes" Ideal Man  (New West, Sep 20)
- Damien Jurado, "Arkansas" Saint Bartlett  (Secretly Canadian, 10)
- Joan Shelly, "The Sway" Like the River Loves the Sea  (No Quarter, 19)
- North Mississippi Allstars, "Mean Old World (feat. Jason Isbell & Duane Betts)" Up and Rolling  (New West, Oct 4)
- Ruston Kelly, "Screaming Infidelities (feat. Chris Carrabba)" Dirt Emo Vol. 1  (Rounder, Oct 11)  D
- Kenny Roby & 6 String Drag, "Red" Tired of Feelin' Guilty: 25 Years  (Schoolkids, Sep 27)  D
- Ana Egge, "Hurt a Little" Is It the Kiss  (StorySound, 19)
- The Deer, "Move To Girls" Do No Harm  (Keeled Scales, Nov 1)  D
- Nathan Salsburg, "New Bold Ruler's Joy" Affirmed  (No Quarter, 11)
- Sammy Kay, "Orange Swirl" civil/WAR  (Kay, Oct 11)  D
- Lillie Mae, "Some Gamble" Other Girls  (Third Man, 19)
- Chris Knight, "Almost Daylight" Almost Daylight  (Drifters Church, Oct 11)
- Replacements, "Alex Chilton (live)" Dead Man's Pop  (Warner, Sep 27)
- Charlie Worsham, "I Hope I'm Stoned (When Jesus Takes Me Home)" single  (Warner, 19)  D
- Neal Casal, "Real Country Dark" Leaving Traces: Songs 1994-2004  (Fargo, 04)
- Highwomen, "Old Soul" Highwomen  (Elektra, 19)
- Charley Crockett, "9 Lb Hammer" The Valley  (Son of Davy, Sep 20)
- Pieta Brown, "Bring Me" Freeway  (Righteous Babe, Sep 20)
- Daniel Norgren, "I'm a Welder" Buck  (Superpuma, 13)
- Paul Cauthen, "Lay Me Down" Room 41  (Lightning Rod, 19)
- Michaela Anne, "I'm Not the Fire" Desert Dove  (Yep Roc, Sep 27)
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "7 Come 11" Fried Chicken & Evil Women  (la Honda, Sep 13)
- Elliott BROOD, "Whiskey Bottle" Brighter Side: 25th Anniversary Tribute to Uncle Tupelo's No Depression  (Reimagine, 2015)
- Tom VandenAvond, "A Good Saloon" Common Law  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 19)
- Cody Jinks, "Same Kind of Crazy As Me" After the Fire  (Late August, Oct 11)
- Kill County, "Everything Must Die" Everything Must Die  (573668, 19)
- Captain Beefheart, "Call On Me" Safe As Milk  (Buddha, 67)

It came to my attention this week that we're nearing what's considered by most the end of the Twenty-teens decade.  This means we'll soon be putting a list together of our choices for favorite records of the 2010's.  This will be on top of our usual year-end lists for favorite songs and albums of 2019.

This week we added a date for the forthcoming Hailey Whitters EP.  The Days will see the light of day on September 13, followed by a full-length next year.  Expect a self-titled EP the following week from Oxford, Mississippi's Kate Teague.  Kenny Roby of 6 String Drag was fixing to enter the studio with Neal Casal at the helm for a new solo work.  Of course, in light of Casal's sudden passing those plan will likely be reworked.  In the meantime, September 27 will bring us a nice retrospective on Schoolkids Records: Tired of Feelin' Guilty: 25 Years of Kenny Roby & 6 String Drag.  Sofaburn Records is the new home of Kentucky's Daniel Martin Moore.  His Never Look Away is slotted for the beginning of Punkin' Month.  Rustin Kelly has announced a promising covers EP, Dirt Emo Vol. 1, due wherever music matters on October 11.  Kelly's new project will features his take on stuff originally by Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, Dashboard Confessional and more.  The great Keeled Scales label has chosen November 1 as the date for their first LP from The DeerDo No Harm.  Save some space on the shelves that same day for the next record from Micky & the MotorcarsLow Anthem has strayed quite a bit since the release of Oh My God Charlie Darwin, but they'll be celebrating the album's 10th Anniversary with a repackaging in November.  Also added to this week's Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster are 2020 promises from Tami Neilson, Chickaboom, and American Aquarium, Lamentations.  You'll see just about everything that's been issued this year in our kind of music by clicking on the link.  You can also enjoy this week's ROUTES-cast below:

Thursday, September 05, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 1, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

It's forecast to reach 97 damn degrees this afternoon here in Colorado's Front Range (home of Routes & Branches).  But in my heart it's "almost Fall" - once we reach the shores of September, I gladly shut the door on Summer.  Yesterday I caught myself considering a list of my favorite songs that have reached the pop radio charts in 2019.  Then I realized we still have three months of music to go.  But since I'm a List Making Fool, here are my five favorite records from the past four weeks of hot hot heat (in order of appearance):

Tyler Childers, Country Squire  (Hickman Holler, Aug 2)
Mike & the Moonpies, Cheap Silver & Solid Country Gold  (Prairie Rose, Aug 2)
Jason Hawk Harris, Love & the Dark  (Bloodshot, Aug 23)
Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, Take Heart Take Care  (Big Legal Mess, Aug 30)
Joan Shelley, Like the River Loves the Sea  (No Quarter, Aug 30)

Time to drag out my sweaters (as the world burns).

I do this from time to time;  I check on social media to see what's up with favorite artists who I haven't heard from in awhile, just to see if there's anything in the works.  Last week I checked up on Austin's Kill County, only to find that they'd dropped a full-length album just the previous week.  I first discovered their deep grained strain of country-grass in 2013, when their Dust in Wire appeared on my favorites list.  2015's Broken Glass In the Sun tightened things up just a bit with regards to writing and production.  The band, fronted by Josh James and Ringo, had called Nebraska home during those years, even as members spread to different regions of the country (or, in one case, different hemispheres).  Their center of operations seems to have shifted south to Texas for Everything Must Die, though Kill County remain one of the best kept secrets in our kind of music.

The album's title is ripped from its most hell-bent cut, a boot stomping acknowledgement of the futility of the blue collar life: Everything must die / And boy you ain't looking right.  It's the sort of nitro-driven 'grass that's just the thing to scratch an itch, country and punk shoulder-to-bony shoulder as fiddle, banjo, guitar and drums jostle for the listener's attention.  Kill County aren't the only band that favors an alt qualifier by way of introduction, though they write and play with such an apparent authenticity that they might as well be.

As the title might suggest, Everything Must Die isn't a feelgood CD.  As one song declares, The whole damn world is crashing down / Right before my eyes.  Kill County don't outright blame the president, the economy or the patriarchy, though "A Little More Blood" follows some of the fault down to the country's perennial state of war.  Credit much of the act's effectiveness to their direct approach, playing an unadorned strain of country propelled by a punk spirit and a songwriter's dedication to lyrics that matter.  While we were sleeping they built a beast / Out of fire, gears and skin, Josh sings.

The two frontmen alternate vocals, and share in an unexpectedly tight harmony even as you'd be hard pressed to find two singers with more divergent styles.  Josh James' deep throaty growl weaves with Ringo's more traditional high country croon; both are remarkably expressive. "Angel of Mercy" lays a sweet pedal steel line atop Ringo's vocal, suspicious of the motives that drive our engines and drown out the still small voice of peace and quiet:  So get me out of this town / Get me out of this country / Let me lay here on this floor just as quiet as a wing / I'm sick of the way / We worship violence and fame.

It's this need for peace and a sense of betrayal that lies beneath much of Everything Must Die.  Kill County are a deceptively thoughtful bunch, entirely grounded in the world of the working class, but unafraid to drop some French existentialism on "Sartre's Blues".  The downtempo tune begins with Josh remarking There's fruit flies in the kitchen fucking up all my food, but ends at the bookshelf:  I read a book on being and existential dread / If we're all just suffering for nothing babe then why get out of bed ... This half-blind Frenchman's getting to me.  Not necessarily the stuff to bump at your next backyard barbecue.  Nevertheless, there's not a drop of pretension or detachment to the new collection.  Kill County's genuine deep blacks and blues sweat from every pore and ring from every banjo, dobro and guitar string.

Appropriately, Everything Must Die is generally a quieter album, its songs more reflective and probably more personal than much of the outfit's earlier work.  Any social commentary is couched in the travails of everyday existence.  Interspersed with those heavier cuts are some genuinely pretty sounds.  See especially "Oblivion Blues".  Josh closes the CD letting the piano and fiddle shine through, and "Coyote Trail" is a devastating but beautiful acoustic country ballad.  There's also some heartfelt sentiment on the session, songs like "Wolves" that recognize how these bad times can seep down into our homes and the relationships we rely on for strength and support:  If only my arms could keep you from harm / And my hands keep the wolves from the door.  The uptempo "Lovers Without Love" plays like an early Dwight Yoakam track, a Bakersfield inspired racket the finds a heart of gold on the way home from the bars: I used to need things no good man should need / But I can't regret one single misstep / Because every drunken one led me onto you.

As bleak as Kill County's fifth album can be, Ringo and Josh James deliver hope the way we like it here at R&B.  That's through smart, sturdily-built songs that speak honestly about how things are.  There's some real redemption, some small victory in music that matters, even when the message is that we'll try again tomorrow:  I'm gonna follow my heart / Straight back to bed / And try again in the afternoon / When I ain't shaking so bad.

- McCarthy Trenching, "Barroom and I (Sure Miss You)" Fresh Blood and Piano  (McCarthy, 19)
^ Kill County, "Lovers Without Love" Everything Must Die  (573668 Records, 19)
- Jesse Malin, "Dead On (feat. Lucinda Williams)" Sunset Kids  (Wicked Cool, 19)
- Pernice Brothers, "Mint Condition" Spread the Feeling  (Ashmont, Sep 6)  D
- Red House Painters, "Michigan" Old Ramon  (Sub Pop, 01)
- First Aid Kit, "Random Rules" single  (Columbia, 19)
- Ags Connolly, "Wrong Again (You Lose a Life)" Wrong Again  (Finstock, Nov 1)  D
- Eilen Jewell, "Miles to Go" Gypsy  (Signature Sounds, 19)
- Whiskey Myers, "Houston County Sky" Whiskey Myers  (Wiggy Thump, Sep 27)
- Jon Dee Graham, "Mother Blues" Messenger: Tribute to Ray Wylie Hubbard  (Eight 30, 19)
- Joan Shelley, "The Fading" Like the River Loves the Sea  (No Quarter, 19)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Plenty Wonder" Take Heart Take Care  (Big Legal Mess, 19)
- Iron & Wine, "Trapeze Swinger" Around the Well  (Sub Pop, 09)
- John Calvin Abney, "Maybe Happy" Safe Passage  (Black Mesa, Sep 27)
- Paul Cauthen, "Prayed for Rain" Room 41  (Lightning Rod, Sep 6)'
- Jason Hawk Harris, "Giving In" Love & the Dark  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Matthew Ryan, "Are You the Matador" Fallen Ash & Embers  (Ryan, Oct 4)  D
- Patty Griffin, "Ruby's Arms" Come On Up To the House: Women Sing Waits  (Dualtone, Nov 22)
- Will Johnson, "Necessitarianism (Fred Merkle's Blues)" Wire Mountain  (Keeled Scales, Sep 27)
- Amy LaVere, "Shipbuilding" Painting Blue  (Nine Mile, 19)
- Tom VandenAvond, "Big Two Hearted River" Common Law  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 19)  D
- My Morning Jacket, "Old Sept Blues" Tennessee Fire: 20th Anniversary  (Darla, 19)
- Larry & His Flask, "Full Time Job (Do What You Want) (demo)" Everything Besides  (Xtra Mile, 19)
- Sam Baker, "Waves (live)" Horses and Stars  (Baker, 19)
- Caleb Caudle, "Howlin' At the Moon" single  (Caudle, 19)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Hey Hey Revolver" Tonight at the Arizona  (Loose, 07)
- Vetiver, "To Who Knows Where" Up On High  (Mama Bird, Nov 1)  D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Methamphetamine (live)" Live at the Ryman  (OCMS, Oct 4)  D
- Dan Auerbach, "Street Walkin'" Keep It Hid  (Nonesuch, 09)
- Candi Staton, "He Called Me Baby" Stand By Your Man  (Parlophone, 71)

Speaking of coming across surprise projects from favorite artists, looks like Tom VandenAvond released Common Law in July without telling me.  When October comes, expect a new EP from Matthew Ryan, Fallen Ash & Embers.  I don't know that we've ever covered David Newbould's solo stuff, but I'm sure he's played on several records we have supported over the years.  We'll try to rectify that when Newbould issues Sin & Redemption on October 18.  British honky tonk master Ags Connolly was virtually unknown when we started sharing stuff from his last CD.  He'll continue his stateside onslaught with Wrong Again on the first of November.  That very same day we'll welcome another in a series of Andy Cabic's remarkably consistent Vetiver projects, Up On High will appear on Mama Bird Records.  Finally, while there's been no date mentioned yet, we're happy to add Caleb Caudle to our short list of 2020 projects on the musical horizon.  You can find out so much more just by clicking A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Or just listen to this week's ROUTES-cast below:

Monday, August 26, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 25, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

... there's not a more lovely, more quiet, more intense record out this year ...

That's what I wrote in praise of Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster's 2016 Constant Stranger album, his first solo effort since stepping aside from the excellent Water Liars (his project alongside Andrew Bryant).  I remember leaning into the speakers in order to catch each intimate moment of hushed beauty.  While Stranger was a different beast than his work with Bryant (or last year's superb collaboration with Will Johnson), the songs continued to emanate from an insular place, speaking of surviving on smoke and gravel, and choking on brake dust.  He ended one interview by quoting deep Southern writer Harry Crews: Survival is triumph enough.

But there were passages on that earlier album that alluded to Kinkel-Schuster's new collection, Take Heart Take Care (Big Legal Mess, Aug 30).  There were fleeting flashes of hope that illuminated the grace hidden in Crews' line, celebrating the ability of the world's jagged people to abide.  It's a seemingly minor adjustment in spirit, but a realignment of perspective that makes all the difference in the world on these new songs.  JPKS has spoken of the challenge of expressing gratitude and belonging in a genuine manner.  He's called Take Heart "a collection of songs that hold a light to the joys and comforts of life not given up on".  Take heart, take care, hold on.

God bless him, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster draws much of his guidance from literature, from writers like Barry Hannah and Charles Portis.  An extended passage from the great William Boyle welcomes us to his website with a piece of writing light years better than you'll find here: We're in deeply hopeful territory.  Even the overall acoustics of the new record speak to turning a corner into the light.  Take Heart is not an especially quiet collection, built on electric guitar and the singer's increasingly confident vocal.  "Plenty Wonder" introduces the CD with a sturdy guitar hook, adding an undercurrent of organ to the reflection about striking a balance in relationship: There's plenty of wonder in this world still to be found.

This is still a JPKS record, and we're never asked to avert our ears from life's darker elements.  With buzzing guitars and overcast chords, the acerbic "Flies on Shit" accuses an unnamed figure: There's a price you pay to put folks on their knees.  A later song acknowledges: You'll tire of losing / Games to luck / When death is cheating / And he don't give a fuck.  But the writer never promises stuff will work out, not once does he fall back on easy comfort.  Instead, Kinkel-Schuster counsels patience, discernment and gratitude.  The simple heart of that affirming gospel beats on "Poor Relations":  Take it easy, and take it as it comes.

Boyle writes of "this ability to access deceptively simple moments and turn them into epiphanies about kindness and wonder and human communion".  "Take Heart" is a stunning acoustic piece, Kinkel-Schuster's high-lonesome voice soaring like Jim James. There's an ease and a comfort even as he navigates one of the record's most beautifully poetic passages: Time is the mender / Whose strange mechanics / Yet untold / Bid us rise entwined together.  JPKS is typically a more direct poet, but he is capable of magic.  Read it again, then hold it to your heart.

Friends sometimes ask how I can bear reading some of the "Southern gothic" authors I enjoy.  Circumstances are rarely easy, and happy endings are unheard of.  Like those artists, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster can be compassionate and forgiving.  Looking back at a photo of a mother and father on the chiming "Educated Guesses": Have you ever wondered how they were when they were younger / And the only thing they had to lose was faith.  On "Name What You Are" or the beautiful closer "Held My Own", he encourages listeners to extend that compassion to themselves: It's a hard hard thing to believe in yourself.  In their own way the lines echo those of Crews, embracing the strength in survival regardless of any more traditional victory.  He closes the album, hope stirring in his final words: Someday I will say I held my own.

Previously, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster has cited Seventeenth-Century English Poet John Milton: The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.  On Take Heart Take Care, the artist recognizes that we can't always effect the change we want when circumstances are beyond our control.  Here at R&B, I'll never be the one to dwell on the state of our nation in a political sense, I won't be the place where you discover these things.  Instead, like JPKS I hope to help you recognize the current of meaning coursing through our everyday moments.  Because that might be where we find our redemption.  In "Friend of Mine", one of the CD's most melodic offerings, the writer seems to agree: Never since have seasons seemed to stay so long / Now they come and go like old top 40 songs / I'd do the dishes, dump the trash and meet the night / With 20 dollars cash to sew the world up tight.  Take heart, take care.

- Amy Rigby, "Summer of My Wasted Youth" 18 Again: An Anthology  (Koch, 02)
- GospelbeacH, "Bad Habits" Let it Burn  (Alive Naturalsound, Oct 4)
- Sierra Ferrell, "Washington By the Sea" Washington By the Sea  (Ferrell, 19)
- Allison Moorer, "Rock and the Hill" Blood  (Autoetic, Oct 25)  D
- Darrin Bradbury, "Breakfast" Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs  (Anti, Sep 20)
- Spirit Family Reunion, "When I Get Home" Ride For Free  (SFR, 19)
- Dalton Domino, "Dead Roses" Songs From the Exile  (Lightning Rod, 19)
- Them Coulee Boys, "Die Happy" Die Happy  (TCB, 19)
- Jay Bennett, "Wide Open" Magnificent Defeat  (Ryko, 06)
- Leslie Stevens, "You Don't Have To Be So Tough" Sinner  (LyricLand, 19)
- Miranda Lambert, "Bluebird" Wildcard  (Vanner, Nov 1)
- Jason Hawk Harris, "Confused" Love & the Dark  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Blowin' Smoke" Same Trailer Different Park  (Mercury, 13)
- Dead South, "Alabama People" Sugar & Joy  (Six Shooter, Oct 11)
- Kill County, "No Surrender" Everything Must Die  (573668 Records, 19)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Sing Along" Sound & Fury  (Elektra, Sep 27)
- Charley Crockett, "5 More Miles" The Valley  (Son of Davy, Sep 20)
- Murder by Death, "Rumbrave" Red of Tooth and Claw  (Vagrant, 08)
- Esther Rose, "Five Minute Drive" You Made It This Far  (Father/Daughter, 19)
- Lillie Mae, "Whole Blue Heart" Other Girls  (Third Man, 19)
- Simon Joyner, "Tongue of a Child" Pocket Moon  (Grapefruit, Oct 25)  D
- Minus 5, "Blue Rickenbacker" Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Itasca, "Bess's Dance" Spring  (Paradise of Bachelors, Nov 1)  D
- Joan Shelley, "The Fading" Like the River Loves the Sea  (No Quarter, Aug 30)
- First Aid Kit, "Strange Beauty" single  (Columbia, 19)  D
- Deer Tick, "Dream's in the Ditch" Negativity  (Partisan, 13)
- Molly Sarle, "Twisted" Karaoke Angel  (Partisan, Sep 20)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Downtown Train" Come On Up To the House: Women Sing Waits  (Dualtone, Nov 22)  D
- Ana Egge, "Ballad of the Poor Child (feat. Iris Dement)" Is It the Kiss  (StorySound, Sep 6)
- Little Teeth, "Avondale" Redefining Home  (Gunner, 19)

Great to know that Matt the Electrician is setting his sites on something new, looking for some support for a Tucker Martine-produced record.  Also this week, First Aid Kit threw their hat in the teeming ring of artists paying tribute to the late David Berman.  The sisters have issued a single featuring an original and a Silver Jews cover.  We now have a release date for Sturgill Simpson's seemingly ambitious record/anime project, Sound & Fury, which will doubtless stir up controversy upon its September 27 release.  Looking forward to both a new album and memoir by the talented Allison Moorer.  Both are called Blood, and will be issued the week of October 25.  With Itasca, we will herald the arrival of Spring in the depths of Fall, when Paradise of Bachelors releases the CD on November 1.  Finally, there's great promise in Come On Up To the House: Women Sing Waits.  Dualtone will be releasing the compilation on November 22, boasting a stellar line-up of artists like Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne, Angie McMahon, Courtney Marie Andrews and more.  You'll find it all by clicking to connect with A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  See also your ROUTES-cast for this week:

Monday, August 19, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 18, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

When you come across a band named Leslie Stevens and the Badgers, you just gotta listen.  The LA outfit's 2010 Roomful of Smoke flirted with national attention, and I believe I met them briefly during a tourstop at the former radio home of R&B.  Despite the worthy moniker, the group disbanded, leaving Stevens to release 2016's Donkey and the Rose, an overlooked gem (that was even overlooked by me).  Leslie Stevens' new collection, Sinner (LyricLand, Aug 23), appeared on my radar several weeks ago.  The record's first singles herald the long-awaited arrival of the songwriter onto a national stage.

Leslie Stevens' voice, a pure and emotive wonder, will have you curious about where she's been and why you might not have heard from her sooner.  In an interview from a couple years ago, she admitted to being a chronic songwriter: If you could see how many hours I spend writing songs and the percentage of crap that comes of it ... I guess if you write a thousand songs, chances are nine of them aren't gonna suck.  Fortunately, it seems her bubble has risen nearer the surface once again, lifted by some national publicity and a handful of songs that truly don't suck ...

Sinner is a wide-ranging affair, with a generous range of styles on tap.  Stevens originally hails from Missouri, and she brings both the backwoods and the big city LA to her music. "Storybook" recalls Nanci Griffiths' country-folk, anchored by low end piano and cushioned in breezy synthesizer.  "Falling" is an old school country weeper, a pretty sigh that sounds like Patsy Cline as crossed with Dolly.  With producer Jonathan Wilson, Stevens has created a picture-perfect setting for these numbers, more piano than guitar, and never too far from the next keening pedal steel.  While her voice assures that listeners will have no trouble identifying Sinner as a country album, its more contemporary gestures assure that it sounds current as Kim Richey or Lori McKenna.

There's simply no overlooking the power of Stevens' voice on songs like the lovely "You Don't Have To Be So Tough".  While they travel different musical landscapes, it's almost as remarkable as hearing Patty Griffin or Brandi Carlile on their respective debuts. "Sylvie" is a slowbuilding number, an homage to an artist that boasts Stevens' most indelible delivery.  She pushes her voice beyond the typical country modes of expression.

This being said, and despite her evident humility, Leslie Stevens' vocal instrument shouldn't overshadow her skills as a roots music writer.  There's bad in the best of us / There's good in the rest of us she declares on the dark title track.  "Sinner" is more Wrecking Ball than Blue Kentucky Girl, an ambient and unhurried confession.  "Depression Descent" is a more upbeat track, featuring producer Wilson sharing backing vocals: Happiness came and went / Depression descent.  "12 Feet High" recalls a soulful Doug Sahm cut, replete with an Augie-esque organ line:  I try to keep the weakness from my poetry / But it sneaks back in just like a honeybee.  As a writer, she is unafraid of momentary descent into darker matter, capable of sliding aside the curtain to reveal fears and shortcomings that serve to make her music more human.

Over the past several weeks I've focused the efforts of this blog on stuff that does unexpected things with the familiar notes that populate all of the music we play.  In the world of Routes & Branches, it is these artists who continue to assure the relevance of our kind of music.  It's actually a bit of a warm homecoming to shed this week's light on a performer like Leslie Stevens who simply makes me want to listen to a gorgeous voice delivering a well-wrought song.  In the end, that's what keeps me coming back week after week, ready for what's next.

- Adrienne Lenker & Buck Meek, "Indiana" A-Sides  (Saddle Creek, 14)
- Big Thief, "Not" Two Hands  (4AD, Oct 11)  D
- Whitney, "Used to Be Lonely" Forever Turned Around  (Secretly Canadian, Aug 30)
- Allah-Las, "Polar Onion" LAHS  (Mexican Summer, Oct 11)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Happy Birthday Baby" Terms of Surrender  (Merge, Sep 20)
- Brittany Howard, "He Loves Me" Jaime  (ATO, Sep 20)
- Andrew Combs, "Born Without a Clue" Ideal Man  (New West, Sep 20)
- Jeremy Ivey, "Greyhound (feat. Margo Price)" Dream and the Dreamer  (Anti, Sep 13)
- Beachwood Sparks, "Tarnished Gold" Tarnished Gold  (Sub Pop, 12)
- RF Shannon, "Buzzards on the Breeze" Rain on Dust  (Keeled Scales, 19)
- Replacements, "Achin' to Be (Bearsville Version)" Dead Man's Pop  (Warner, Sep 27)
- Angie McMahon, "Play the Game" Salt  (Dualtone, 19)
- Jesse Malin, "Chemical Heart" Sunset Kids  (Wicked Cool, Aug 30)
- Old 97s, "When I Crash - demo" They Made a Monster  (Omnivore, 12)
- John Calvin Abney, "Kind Days" Safe Passage  (Black Mesa, Sep 27)
- Rodney Crowell, "Texas Drought Pt. 1" TEXAS  (RC1, 19)
- Lillie Mae, "Didn't I" Other Girls  (Third Man, 19)
- Darrell Scott, "Hopkinsville" Long Ride Home  (Full Light, 11)
- Corb Lund, "Ride On (feat. Ian Tyson)" Cover Your Tracks  (New West, Sep 13)
- Eilen Jewell, "You Cared Enough To Lie" Gypsy  (Signature Sounds, 19)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Friend of Mine" Take Heart Take Care  (Big Legal Mess, Aug 30)
- Richmond Fontaine, "$87 Dollars and a Guilty Conscience" $87 and a Guilty Conscience  (El Cortez, 07)
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "Alice" single  (JLW, 19)  D
- Highwomen, "Highwomen" Highwomen  (Elektra, Sep 6)
- Michaela Anne, "Somebody New" Desert Dove  (Yep Roc, Sep 27)
- Chris Knight, "Mexican Home (feat. John Prine)" Almost Daylight  (Drifter's Church, Oct 11)
- Kill County, "A Little More Blood" Everything Must Die  (573668 Records, 19)  D
- Alexa Rose, "Like a Child" Medicine For Living  (Big Legal Mess, Oct 4)
- Amy LaVere, "No Battle Hymn" Painting Blue  (Nine Mile, 19)  D
- James Leg, "Is That You In the Blue" While No One Was Looking  (Bloodshot, 14)

So remember last week's Episode when I bemoaned how new release announcements had gone dry?  And then the week before when I mentioned how I'd be keeping our mentions to just the five most prominent?  Well, to hell with 'em all.  This week saw almost twenty additions to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster, our compulsively updated accounting of what's on the horizon for our kind of music.  This week, that horizon is simply nutty with stuff.

We'll start with a couple mentions of records that dropped on Friday, but largely escaped my notice until then.  Actually, I'd included Messenger: Tribute to Ray Wylie Hubbard at the bottom of our list for months (literally, months!) without a proper release date.  Songs had dropped here and there, and I'm still not finding everything on all streaming services, but it looks like the tribute is at least available on Bandcamp.  Contributors to this one include James McMurtry, Band of Heathens, Scott Biram, John Dee Graham and many mo'.  Also landing on doorsteps this week is Kill County's cheerily titled Everything Must Die.

Wood Brothers have announced a September 6th date for another live set, this one recorded over a two-night stand at San Francisco's iconic music hall, Live at the Fillmore.  We loved JP Harris' 2017 EP of classic duets with female singer-songwriters.  Harris has scheduled a follow-up for September 13, Why Don't We Duet In the Road (Again) promises four more classics with contributors like Erin Rae and Elizabeth Cook.

Looking towards October, we're expecting Let It Burn from GospelbeacH on the 4th, as well as our first holiday addition, a promising full-length from Los Lobos called Llego Navidad.  Come October 11th, we can expect something "pretty harsh" from Tim Barry, who will be issuing Roads to Richmond.  And consider us eager to hear more from Big Thief's second full-length of 2019, a bare-bones project called Two Hands.  Save October 25th to engage with new stuff from Simon Joyner and Michael Kiwanuka.

Finally, November brings records from Miranda Lambert, whose Wildcard is guaranteed to be on the harder side if our first three singles are any indicator.  The digital edition of Kasey Anderson's seventh CD, To the Places We Lived, will happen on November 8th, though fans of more tangible souvenirs will have to wait until Spring.  We're also saving space before the year's end for Spread the Feeling, the first proper Pernice Brothers album since 2010.

So yes ...  your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Monday, August 12, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, & roots music
August 10, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Wanna hear something different? Introduce your stylus to the final song on Jason Hawk Harris' Love & the Dark (Bloodshot, August 23). It's called "Grandfather", and it portrays the artist encountering his elder at the Pearly Gates. The old man appears strong and vibrant, his youth restored courtesy of Heaven's magical elixir. Surely, thinks the narrator, my mother must be here as well? Death is undone, declares the grandfather in a passage as stirring as any gospel song. Your mother's over there / She is singing this song as she braids her black hair / Free from death and destruction, decay and despair / She's peaceful and lovely and breathing new air. A song that starts as a relatively straight folk or country piece is transformed into a transcendent orchestral outro with xylophone and strings and cascading percussion. It's genuinely breathtaking. Welcome to Jason Hawk Harris.

Harris' name has been on the lips of people who care about our kind of music since he was welcomed into the Bloodshot Records stable of artists. Prior to that, he had served with Show Ponies, and had released a promising 2017 EP, Formaldehyde Tobacco and Tulips. Promotional materials tell of how Love & the Dark grew out of a monumentally challenging period that saw the passing of his alcoholic mother, his father in unimaginable financial straits, and some of his own substance abuse issues. In that sense, Harris' debut full-length is roughly a concept album following the artist through the crucible that forges the mettle for a new man.

Not everything on Love & the Dark is as ambitious as "Grandfather". "Cussing at the Light" is your basic, well-executed song about reaching the bottom of a bottle as a coping mechanism. Jason Hawk Harris demonstrates an impressive range, a reach that serves him especially well near the top of his register like a more boyish Jason Isbell. With producer Andy Freeman (who also directed that introductory EP), he has populated his songs with a busy but satisfying ensemble including some soulful piano (Philip Glenn) and enthusiastic pedal steel (wielded by a couple contributors). "Confused" showcases that piano and a restlessly shuffling drum beat that mirrors Harris' own spirit: Why can't I be in love and be confused.  But Harris is a lyricist who refuses to settle with a generic rhyme scheme, making the collection a rowdier, more original ride: Certainty, uncertainty / Learning Greek between our sheets / Evolution, holy ghosts and entropy.

Even on those more standard offerings, Harris incorporates sonic elements that raise his music beyond the fray. With some classical training under his belt, he takes non-traditional routes to what is effectively still country music. "Smoke and the Stars" eases in on a drone of feedback and sparkling steel. The song alternates between an acoustic strum and full-out audio bombast with language that sounds like a cast-off from Revelations: Then they all turn into fireballs / Roll to the corners and burn up the walls / Now it's just us with the smoke and the stars / Holding hands in the dark. "Giving In" is the CD's most standard faire, serving as the bookmark announcing our departure into less commonly traveled musical territory. 

That second half of Love & the Dark is haunted by the spirit of Jason Hawk Harris' late mother, who apparently passed away from the effects of alcoholism. "Phantom Limb" begins with a striking image: I got this shirt / Smells like the viewing / Formaldehyde tobacco and tulips. And later: I feel your fingers comb through my hair / Open my eyes and there's no one there. As Harris acknowledges Mother you're dead, the song takes flight with spacebound pedal steel in a gorgeous, fiery extended outro. A manic rockabilly number, "I'm Afraid" journeys back to his impressionistic childhood and a picture of Jesus that his mother hung upon the wall, the specter of which didn't sit well with Harris: When I talk to Jesus / I'm gonna ask him to his face / Why'd you make this shit so hard / Lord it feels like I've been played.  In a record bursting with memorable passages, the song's piano interlude is tremendous.

Like Robert Ellis, Harris is grounded in the language of country and folk, even as he chooses to overrun those boundaries. "Blessed Interruption" begins at his mother's funeral: When they lower her down (in a clockwise motion, now) / It can't be too slow and it can't be too fast.  It couldn't have been easy to come of age with an alcoholic mother, but her death has apparently burned a fiery hole in Harris' heart. Whether struggling against his demons (Once upon a time I wasn't such a mess) or raging against the dark of his family's tragedy, music is an obvious catharsis for the songwriter, a vehicle to confront those ghosts and perhaps to achieve some tentative peace.  The musical wtf-ery contributes mightily to the overall vision of Love & the Dark.  Like Sturgill Simpson's groundbreaking Metamodern Sounds or Sailor's Guide, Jason Hawk Harris plants himself firmly in the soil of roots music, then uses the plot as a springboard for some iconic departures of his own.

- Silos, "Mary's Getting Married" Cuba  (Sonic Pyramid, 87)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "If You Want a Fool Around" Cheap Silver & Solid Country Gold  (Prairie Rose, 19)
- Beth Bombara, "I Only Cry When I'm Alone" Evergreen  (Bombara, 19)
- Tyler Childers, "Country Squire" Country Squire  (Hickman Holler, 19)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Marry Me" Decoration Day  (New West, 03)
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "Willie Nelson's Wall" Fried Chicken & Evil Women  (la Honda, Sep 13)
^ Jason Hawk Harris, "Smoke and the Stars" Love & the Dark  (Bloodshot, Aug 23)
- Kelsey Waldon, "Sunday's Children" White Noise / White Lines  (Oh Boy, Oct 4)
- Joseph Huber, "Rivers of Smoke" Moondog  (Huber, 19)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "It's OK Dear" Pine Mountain Sessions Vol 1 & 2  (OK, 19)
- Smooth Hound Smith, "Waiting For a Spark" Dog In a Manger  (SHS, 19)
- Devil Makes Three, "Wheels" single  (New West, 19)  D
- Rodney Crowell, "56 Fury (feat. Billy Gibbons)" TEXAS  (RC1, Aug 15)
- Bash & Pop, "Tiny Pieces" Friday Night is Killing Me  (Sire, 93)
- Jones Sisters, "Iris" Perpetual Grace Ltd  (Fat Possum, 19)
- Karen Jonas, "Country Songs" Lucky Revisited  (Yellow Brick, 19)
- Jordan Moser, "Down With Me" Long Night  (Keeled Scales, 19)
- Spirit Family Reunion, "Midnight Train" Ride For Free  (SFR, 19)
- Eilen Jewell, "These Blues" Gypsy  (Signature Sounds, Aug 16)
- Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, "You Want What You Can't Have (feat. Lori McKenna)" Dragons  (Magnolia, Aug 16)
- Whiskey Myers, "Bury My Bones" Whiskey Myers  (Wiggy Thump, Sep 27)
- Ryley Walker, "Summer Dress" Primrose Green  (Dead Oceans, 15)
- Nels Andrews, "South of San Gregario" Pigeon & the Crow  (Andrews, 19)
- Pieta Brown, "Hard Way" Freeway  (Righteous Babe, Sep 20)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Educated Guesses" Take Heart Take Care  (Big Legal Mess, Aug 30)
- Magnolia Electric Co, "Shiloh" Josephine  (Secretly Canadian, 09)
- GospelbeacH, "Dark Angel" Let It Burn  (Alive Naturalsound, Oct 4)  D
- Jeff Tweedy, "Ten Sentences" WARMER  (dBPM, 19)
- Kacy & Clayton, "High Holiday" Carrying On  (New West, Oct 4)
- Jayhawks, "Stick In the Mud" Sound of Lies  (American, 97)

The last couple weeks I've commented in this space about the proliferation of forthcoming album announcements. Apparently, this week the factory ground to a halt. Very little was added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster, though we know it's just a temporary blockage in the pipes. Nevertheless, our mission remains strong, to journey through each of these worthy projects song-by-song, hoping that some of our passion and distraction might rub off.  This week's ROUTES-cast:

Monday, August 05, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 4, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

As a kindergartner I lived for a year in China Lake, California.  My father was in the Navy, and this base is situated on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert, a couple miles from Ridgecrest.  I hold just a couple memories from this time, including learning to ride my bike in the sand, cultivating a broken glass collection from shards I found buried in sand, and walking through the sand to get to school.  To this day I'm not especially fond of sand.  At the coast I will stand in the parking lot and admire the view rather than trekking into the glorified litter box that is the beach.  While I'm sure it was deadly hot in China Lake, I don't recall that aspect of my year.  I do recall, however, how my mother wept when she beheld our sandy new home.

Heat and Summer are all of a piece.  For me, the songs of this season don't sound like the Beach Boys or Jan & Dean.  Summer sounds like RF Shannon and their new Rain on Dust record (Keeled Scales).  It is the wide-open sonic skies and the dripping landscapes and claustrophobic closeness of it all.  Fronted by Shane Renfro, the collective has released two other projects in quick succession since their 2017 debut.  Jaguar Palace and Trickster Blues saw RF Shannon circle the psychedelic country-soul upon which they've settled for Rain on Dust.

The new songs derive their sound from the space between LA and Austin.  Renfro triangulates, I like the idea of a Southwestern sound. We're too country for the indie world, not country enough for the americana crowd, too mellow for the psych scene, too Texas thunderstorm for the California sunshine.  This deliberate sense of place expresses itself in layered vocals, gossamer pedal steel and language rooted in the landscape.  "Lay Low" is characterized by a darker Western twang: Everywhere is beauty / Everywhere is pain.

Renfro has corralled the cinematic sprawl of those first two records, presenting instead shorter pieces favoring tighter song structures.  "Buzzards On the Breeze" showcases evocative pedal steel atop strummed acoustic and hushed vocals.  As the title might suggest, it's a breezy number that demonstrates allegiance to both LA's pop-folk and Texas' country legacies.  The song is unhurried without giving into indulgence, structured without being predictable.  The languid pedal steel of "Angeline" conjures a desert oasis: You know I'm a believer baby / It's easy when you don't know anything / Maybe it's something in the water / It's swimming in the ancient ocean / I'm drowning in this empty bottle

RF Shannon also give lead to a fondness for classic R&B on songs like "Don't Be Shy", floating on echoes of old school soul, albeit slowed and stirred a bit.  A subtle but steady beat carries the song, Renfro's yearning reverbed vocal joined by piano and Beach Boy harmonies.  "Mother Be" embraces what the artist terms desert bluesWatch how the wind / Fingers the sea / None of you miss her company.  At the close of an admirably restrained session, the song is finally released, a prayer unspooled into the stratosphere, only a single parched cloud on the horizon.

Rain On Dust might recall the mystery of acts like Mojave 3 or the psychedelic undercurrents of Blank Range.  But while Renfro and his cohort are by no means purists, they are schooled in the iconic country figures like Townes Van Zandt or early Jerry Jeff Walker.  Where other bands might get lost in clouds of heavy-osity, there's a dreamy lightness to "Wild Rose Pass": I fell in love with a silhouette / Blue sky and linen thread.  RF Shannon won't be mistaken for denizens of the state's honky-tonks, but there's a distinct West Texas elevation to songs like "Ballad of a Thin Place".  Repeated listenings will reward listeners with an appreciation for the sessions' perfectly simple arrangements, especially with regards to Luke Dawson's beautiful pedal steel work.  Like a journey through the desert Southwest, there's a lot more happening on Rain On Dust than might first meet the eye.

RF Shannon's new CD hails from the Keeled Scales label.  Keeled Scales is a (very) small Austin operation built by a pair of musicians in 2014.  Below the radar, the label issued music that matters from artists like Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, David Dondero and Twain.  2019 has proven a stellar year for Keeled Scales, having shared records from Buck Meek, Jo Schornikow and Jordan Moser, with others on the docket from Erin Durant and Will Johnson.  For my part, the best music often hails from these tiny labels, these labors of love.  We probably wouldn't do what we're doing here at Routes & Branches if outfits like Keeled Scales weren't doing what they're doing.

- Tyler Childers, "Bus Route" Country Squire  (Hickman Holler, 19)
- Charlie Parr, "Cheap Wine" Charlie Parr  (Red House, Sep 27)
- Ruston Kelly, "Weeping Willow" single  (Rounder, 19)  D
- Charley Crockett, "Borrowed Time" The Valley  (Son of Davy, Sep 20)
- Alexa Rose, "Medicine For Living" Medicine For Living  (Big Legal Mess, Oct 4)  D
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "Letters on the Marquee" Fried Chicken & Evil Women  (La Honda, Sep 13)
- Dalton Domino, "Cheap Spanish Wine" Songs From the Exile  (Lightning Rod, Aug 23)
- Spirit Family Reunion, "Would You Would" Ride Free  (SFR, Aug 9)
- Hellbound Glory, "Chico's Train" Scumbag Country  (Gearhead, 08)
- Leslie Stevens, "Sinner" Sinner  (LyricLand, Aug 23)
- Little Teeth, "Thinning Out" Redefining Home  (Gunner, 19)  D
- Centro-Matic, "All the Talkers" Candidate Waltz  (Undertow, 11)
- Angela Perley, "Let Go" 4:30  (Perley, 19)
- Jones Sisters, "Comet" Perpetual Grace Ltd  (Fat Possum, 19)  D
- My Morning Jacket, "The Dark" Tennessee Fire: 20th Anniversary  (Darla, 19)  D
^ RF Shannon, "Don't Be Shy" Rain on Dust  (Keeled Scales, 19)
- Esther Rose, "Lower 9 Valentine" You Made It This Far  (Father/Daughter, Aug 23)
- Mark Utley, "Jesus Wept" Bulletville  (Utley, 15)
- Larry & His Flask, "Pace That It Belongs (demo)" Everything Besides  (Xtra Mile, 19)
- Lillie Mae, "A Golden Year" Other Girls  (Third Man, Aug 16)
- Nels Andrews, "Table By the Kitchen" Pigeon and the Crow  (Andrews, Aug 9)
- Sam Baker, "Migrants (live)" Horses and Stars  (Baker, 19)  D
- Molly Sarle, "Suddenly" Karaoke Angel  (Partisan, Sep 20)
- David Wax Museum, "Equal in the Darkness" Line of Light  (Nine Mile, Aug 23)
- Angie McMahon, "Soon" Salt  (Dualtone, 19)
- Porter & the Pollies, "Rest These Bones" Porter & the Pollies  (TiAM, 13)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Cheap Silver" Cheap Silver & Solid Country Gold  (Prairie Rose, 19)  D
- Bonny Light Horseman, "Bonny Light Horseman" single  (37d03d, 19)  D
- Chris Knight, "I'm William Callahan" Almost Daylight  (Drifter's Church, Oct 11)  D
- Angel Olsen, "All Mirrors" All Mirrors  (Jagjaguwar, Oct 4)

So typically in this little space I've been highlighting stuff that's been added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster since our last Episode.  As we've found, this can lead to a sprawling tangle of words.  So starting today we'll be tempering our celebration a smidge, holding to maybe just five new records.  For a fuller accounting of what's happening when, you'll have to click the link.

This week, Joseph Arthur proclaimed his return to the fray with an October 11 project, an album about rebirth and survival called Come Back World.  October 4 seems a busy release day, boasting new CDs from Dallas Moore, a follow-up to last year's Mr Honky Tonk to be named Tryin' to Be a Blessing.  Also on that date we'll have The Walk, Bonnie Bishop's seventh album, and Medicine For Living, a debut from Alexa Rose on Big Legal Mess.  And on September 27 New Pornographers will issue In the Morse Code of Brake Lights.  Please enjoy this week's ROUTES-cast:

Monday, July 29, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 28, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Fun is an underrated quality in our kind of music.  For my part, I prefer my songs dark and introspective with a strong shot of melancholy for good measure.  But too often we are sold "stupid" in the guise of fun.  On All Your Favorite Songs, Will Bennett & the Tells offer a satisfying dose of Good Smart Fun.

This isn't to say that everything is kittens 'n rainbows for the Chicago foursome.  Relationships are in the balance, and we're not entirely certain where home is anymore.  Bennett spent much of his boyhood in small town Iowa, prior to shifting to Ohio and then up to Chicago.  On the title cut of his second full-length, he is heading back home on the news of his father's illness:  I got the news today / From a couple states away / You said I shouldn't worry yet / But I caught the next bus west / Cause I couldn't stand to be alone right now / I just need to be at home right now / Where the stereo keeps playing all your favorite songs.  Will Bennett's 2016 debut, Wichita, introduced us to his boyish delivery and his penchant for jangly guitar and shuffling drums.  While lyrics were thoughtful, songs rambled by with an appealing looseness and pop punch that might bring to mind Rhett Miller and his Old 97s.  Songs like "I Hope You Hear This On the Radio" and the subsequent standalone single, "Tumblin' Down" whet my ears for more.

There's a definite country element to Will Bennett & the Tells, though they're quick to dismiss any connection to Nashville's grinding gears.  They rage against the country music machine on "In Nashville":  Everyone's a starlet, a charlatan or harlot in Nashville / The suits on Music Row don't know a songbird from a crow in Nashville / They're picking at the bones of the Cashes and the Joneses / Til the cops can't even make out the remains.  With its pedal steel and keys, the song fits snugly within Chicago's notorious outsider tradition.

Bennett does know his country, though it's run through a decidedly alt filter, and blended with a generation of college radio - think a less backwoods Violent Femmes or a twangier approach to They Might Be Giants.  "Charades" speaks both to the band's pop shades and to the writer's barbed smarts:  What you don't know can't hurt ya / But I've got way too much inertia / To stop myself from asking you right now.  I'll give you a couple minutes to find another country song that uses 25 cent words like languish or intuition.  "Linger On" owes as much to the country jangle of Buddy Holly as it does to the punk pop of Elvis Costello.

With its ill-fated relationships and perennial self-doubt, All Your Favorite Songs is thematically a bit overcast.  But the Good Smart Fun is in the propulsive rhythms and the youthful spirit through which the set is delivered.  Like early Old 97s, Bennett's music speaks to small town restlessness without the self-serious romanticism (though he cleverly cites Springsteen: We race to find our Wendys for our everlasting kiss).  Because they're still a new act, having switched out half their lineup since that first CD, there's a charming wide-eyed recklessness that prevents any of these Important Life Issues from being taken too seriously.

It's a great time to discover a band, as they drift a bit nearer the warmth of a national spotlight.  Will Bennett is a refreshing talent, and he's brought some worthy supporting musicians to the table with him.  "Rabbit's" is one of my dark horse candidates for favorite song of the year.  It's the album's most country-leaning cut, an undeniably catchy ode to a hometown dive that draws us together only to spit us back onto the street after last call.  But give Bennett room and he'll gladly exceed your expectations:  Spinning cigarette soliloquies on cinema and sex / As we cling with rigid fingers out of fear for what comes next ...


Oh, that's right.  It's time for this:


What's so great indeed?  It's hot and there's mosquitoes.  But between the incessantly clicking fans and the hissing of summer lawns, these were the five records that served as the soundtrack for my past couple weeks (in order of appearance):

Joseph Huber, Moondog  (Huber, Jul 12)
Have Gun Will Travel, Strange Chemistry  (Mile Wide, Jul 12)
Joe Pug, Flood in Color  (Nation of Heat, Jul 19)
Rod Picott, Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil  (Welding Rod, Jul 19)
Angie McMahon, Salt  (Dualtone, Jul 26)

And what's August got that July didn't have?  Well, I'm especially looking forward to new stuff from Tyler Childers, Spirit Family Reunion, Eilen Jewell, Dalton Domino and Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster.  But I'd happily accept any musical surprises too.

- Karen Jonas, "It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry" Lucky Revisited  (Yellow Brick, 19)  D
- Bad Livers, "Death Trip" Blood and Mood  (Sugar Hill, 06)
^ Will Bennett & the Tells, "All Your Favorite Songs" All Your Favorite Songs  (Jewel Box, 19)
- Them Coulee Boys, "Midnight Manifestos" Die Happy  (TCB, Aug 23)
- Chance McCoy, "Jitterbug Bayou" Wander Wide  (McCoy, Sep 20)
- Paul Cauthen, "Holy Ghost Fire" Room 41  (Lightning Rod, Sep 6)
- Ana Egge, "Hurt a Little" Is It the Kiss  (StorySound, Sep 6)
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "25 & Wastin' Time" Fried Chicken & Evil Women  (La Honda, Sep 13)  D
- Clem Snide, "Fill Me With Your Light" End of Love  (Snideco, 12)
- Jason Hawk Harris, "I'm Afraid" Love & the Dark  (Bloodshot, Aug 23)
- Charley Crockett, "The Valley" The Valley  (Son of Davy, Sep 20)  D
- Darrin Bradbury, "Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs" Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs  (Anti, Sep 20)  D
- Catherine Irwin, "Sugar Cubes & Glue" Pine Mountain Sessions Vol. 1 & 2  (OK, 19)  D
- Pine Hill Haints, "Say Something Say Anything" Ghost Dance  (K Records, 07)
- Highwomen, "Crowded Table" Highwomen  (Elektra, Sep 6)
- Will Johnson, "Solitary Slip" Wire Mountain  (Keeled Scales, Sep 27)
- Jeff Tweedy, "Family Ghost" WARMER  (dBpm, 19)  D
- Tom Brosseau, "Cradle Your Device" Grass Punks  (Burnside, 13)
- Chuck Cleaver, "Flowers & the Devil" Send Aid  (Shake It, 19)
- Rod Picott, "Folds of Your Dress" Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil  (Welding Rod, 19)
- Joe Pug, "Stranger I've Been" Flood in Color  (Nation of Heat, 19)
- Carrie Rodriguez, "I Made a Lover's Prayer" Love and Circumstance  (Ninth St Opus, 12)
- Have Gun Will Travel, "Tidal Wave" Strange Chemistry  (Heckabad, 19)
- Allah-las, "In the Air" LAHS  (Mexican Summer, Oct 11)  D
- Replacements, "Talent Show (Matt Wallace Mix)" Dead Man's Pop  (Warner, Sep 27)  D
- Mountain Goats, "Going to Georgia" Zopilote Machine  (3 Beads of Sweat, 07)
- Jordan Moser, "Road to Trouble (feat. Molly Tuttle)" Long Night  (Keeled Scales, 19)
- Erisy Watt, "Ellwood" Paints in the Sky  (Watt, 19)
- Dori Freeman, "That's How I Feel" Every Single Star  (Freeman, Sep 27)  D
- Lori McKenna, "Stealing Kisses" Return to Bittertown  (CN, 19)  D

These days, just about every week begins with me thinking it'll be a quiet time for new release announcements.  By the time I piece the Episode together, however, It becomes a matter of which among the two dozen or so additions I'll showcase here.  Which pretty much means you'll have to click on A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster to see the list in all its glory.  Taylor Hollingsworth has played a part in acts like Dexateens and Dead Fingers and Conor Oberst's Mystic Valley Band.  This week he announced his first true solo effort since 2011, Tap Dancin Daddy due on August 2.  Later in August, Aaron Lee Tasjan will be sharing Karma for Cheap: Reincarnated, a stripped out and fully re-recorded take on last year's full-length.  Come September, we'll be enjoying Live at the Ryman from Old Crow Medicine ShowCale Tyson issued an EP back at the start of 2019.  September 20 marks the release of another EP, this one the first since he's moved to Los Angeles.  Also on that Friday Charley Crockett will be presenting The Valley, and the larger world will meet Darrin Bradbury via his first project for ANTI-, Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs.  Looking towards October, Clifton Forge, VA's Alexa Rose is planning her debut, Medicine For Living, and Angel Olsen will counter with All Mirrors on the Jagjaguwar label.  The Allah-Las have decided upon October 11 as the birthday for their next full-length, LAHS.  And now, your weekly ROUTES-cast: