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Monday, June 10, 2019

by Hanly Banks Callahan

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 9, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

You might not think to connect the two:  The lo- or no-fi, sometimes experimental noise of early Smog, and the pastoral, bare bones stuff of Bill Callahan.  At some point they do meet, most fully on 2005's A River Ain't Too Much To Love, following which the Austin artist saw fit to discard the Smog moniker and continue under his birth name, to continue his sonic evolution to its natural conclusion.  After 2013's Dream River, Callahan retreated into domesticity, embracing a new identity as a husband and a father.  It's not uncommon that an artist takes a couple years to find their way back out, perhaps struggling a little to recover their writerly traction after so long off the road.  Bill Callahan has emerged from his familial hiatus by writing a real-life record, a double-LP collection named Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest (Drag City, June 14).

The twenty songs on his new record still sound like Bill Callahan, from his trademark laconic delivery to his only-the-essentials arrangements.  His wry lyrical observations and poetic asides remain keen, though these days they're directed primarily towards life on the homefront.  And it sounds like he didn't stray far from his living room to record. He begins "Shepherd's Welcome" with a drawled greeting:  Well it's been such a long time / Why don't you come on in.  It's been quite awhile since Callahan played with noise, jamming sounds and found instruments into his sonic space.  But he steps ever further back from those days, surrounding himself with a select few instruments and fitting them into shorter songs, some of them seeming fragments or ideas.  Nevertheless, Shepherd never comes across as lazy or unfinished.  Tracks flow gracefully from one to the next, and the album is best consumed as a whole rather than in pieces.

Bill Callahan's baritone might be shocking to the uninitiated, a croon like that of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner or David Berman from the Silver Jews.  He's not ungraceful, however, capable of bending notes and singing around the beat as in"Angela", a jazz-inflected number that features drops of keyboard, plucked bass and a tease of brushed percussion.  He is a writer fascinated by the sounds of words and phrases:  Angela / Like motel curtains we never really met.  Few of these pieces are constrained by verse-chorus-verse patterns, as Callahan stretches and slows and stops, repeating lines and making adjustments midsong as in "Ballad of the Hulk".  Tinny click drums contrast with Brian Beattie's fluid bass as the singer likens himself to Bruce Banner: Oh I try to be a good person / I wonder if it's annoying / Or worth pursuing / And pursuing / Down highways / At the risk of the road.

I've read that Callahan's lyrics appear first, poems which he then sets to music.  Because settings can be sparse and largely acoustic, he's considered a folk artist though even in his more pastoral pieces there's nothing especially trad or backward looking.  He addresses the process of rediscovering his voice on "Writing", one of the cuts featuring subtle swaths of pedal steel.  It feels good to be writing again, Callahan sings.  Clear water flows from my pen.  The song closes with the sound of wind chimes.  "747" is one of Shepherd's fuller arrangements, a lovely if unconventional account of a soul being delivered into the world:  I woke up on a 747 / Flying through some stock footage of heaven.

Rooted in the hard realities of home, there are recurring references to marriage and to the birth of Bass, his boy.  This house is full of life, the singer reflects on "Son of the Sea". And life is change.  One country-leaning song is titled "Watch Me Get Married".  "What Comes After Certainty" follows the betrothed home after the honeymoon, through the kitchen door and toward domestic bliss:  I never thought I'd make it this far / Little old house, recent model car / And I got the woman of my dreams.  Callahan evokes Willie Nelson on one of the CD's humorous asides:  I signed Willie's guitar when he wasn't looking.

Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest relaxes comfortably over four sides, neither overlong nor indulgent.  It's music that lands easy on the ears, but maintains an unexpected edge and a cutting sense of humor. Bill Callahan has always been gracious and deeply thoughtful, a practitioner of both the zen koan and the pastoral psalm.  Life on the homefront has given him time away from the road, granting him space to reset his agenda, to accustom his ears to the new surroundings.  He mythologizes his own origin story in "Young Icarus":  From a hill behind a gas station in Scranton / I could see the old ways stitching out in their graves / And I thought but didn't say / Woman ain't it glorious.  Glorious indeed.

- John Moreland, "You Don't Care Enough For Me to Cry" Spotify Sessions  (Spotify, 16)
- River Arkansas, "Gone in the Morning" Any Kind of Weather  (31 May, 19)  D
- Chris Stalcup & the Grange, "Better With You" Long Way Home EP  (Stalcup, 19)
- TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, "Devil's Point" Arguably OK  (Mama Bird, 19)
- Sarah Shook & the Devil, "Follow You Home" Seven  (Shook, 13)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "16-20" Out of Sight  (Paradise of Bachelors, 19)
^ Bill Callahan, "Call Me Anything" Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest  (Drag City, Jun 14)
- Whitney, "Giving Up" Forever Turned Around  (Secretly Canadian, Aug 30)  D
- Okkervil River, "Get Big" Black Sheep Boy  (Jagjaguwar, 05)
- Jesse Malin, "Room 13" Sunset Kids  (Wicked Cool, Aug 30)  D
- Hollis Brown, "Stubborn Man" Ozone Park  (Mascot, 19)
- Grady Spencer & the Work, "With Me" Celebrate  (Spencer, 19)
- Fruit Bats, "Bottom of It" Gold Past Life  (Merge, Jun 21)
- Wailin' Jennys, "Some Good Thing" Firecracker  (Jennys, 06)
- Chris Staples, "River in Reverse" Holy Moly  (Barsuk, Jun 28)
- Fernando Viciconte, "Hey Darlene" Traitors Table  (Fluff & Gravy, Jun 21)
- Larry & His Flask, "Long Way to Go" Everything Besides  (Extra Mile, Jul 19)  D
- Scott H Biram & Jesse Dayton, "Single Again" single  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Shane Smith & the Saints, "Whirlwind" Hail Mary  (Geronimo West, Jun 28)
- Buddy & Julie Miller, "Till the Stardust Comes Apart" Breakdown on 20th Ave. South  (New West, Jun 21)
- Ian Noe, "Junk Town" Between the Country  (National Treasury, 19)
- Jeffrey Foucault, "Americans in Corduroys" Ghost Repeater  (Signature Sounds, 14)
- LeeRoy Stagger, "Great Unraveling" Me and the Mountain  (High Romance, 19)
- Frankie Lee, "Only She Knows" Stillwater  (Frankie Lee, 19)
- Calexico w/Iron & Wine, "Midnight Sun" Years to Burn  (Sub Pop, Jun 14)
- Courtney Hartman, "Won't Be Satisfied" Ready Reckoner  (Reckoner, Jun 14)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Save a Little Heartache" Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)  (Fantasy, Jun 14)
- Lee Moses, "I'm Sad About It" How Much Longer Must I Wait  (Future Days, 19)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Over Alameda" Saint of Lost Causes  (New West, 19)
- Emmylou Harris, "Hickory Wind" Blue Kentucky Girl  (Warner, 79)

Night 'n day.  Rain 'n shine.  Sickness 'n health.  We're adding new stuff just about all the time to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster, our diabolically attractive roots music release calendar.  This week we shared info about an August collaboration between Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama.  Larry & His Flask set July 19 as the debut of their odds 'n sods record, Everything Besides.  Smooth Hound Smith is planning Dog in a Manger for later this Summer, and Howlin' Moons frontwoman Angela Perley calls her forthcoming CD 4:30, named after the time she typically heads to bed (I'm assuming this is 4:30 am, rather than pm ...).  Finally, Whitney's 2016 Light Upon the Lake left me eager for a follow-up, which we'll finally be seeing in late August, Forever Turned Around.  You'll hear more on this week's ROUTES-cast:

Monday, June 03, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 2, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

On a recent Facebook post, Fernando Viciconte faces the camera, Green Card in hand:  Got my Green Card today! Next step will be becoming a U.S. Citizen so I can help vote Trump out of office!  Born in Argentina, Viciconte followed his family to the Los Angeles area as a very small child, living undocumented until age 12.  He relocated to Portland as a young man, where he earned a reputation behind an eclectic and uncompromising strain of rock.

I first came across Fernando back in 1997 when I was purchasing music for a bookstore in Oregon.  Hoping to add some local music to our collection, I pulled in his Widows record, a dark and challenging roots-oriented collection I begged customers to purchase until it appeared on the store's bestseller list.  Subsequent years found him exploring the range of his artistry, incorporating elements of Latin, rock, psychedelia and blues, never especially catching fire beyond his Northwest base, but eventually earning a 2016 induction into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

 While comparisons could be made to Alejandro Escovedo, Adam Faucett or Scott McCaughey, Fernando's sound is his own, a guitar-driven rock hybrid that never gives ground to trends, never takes the easy road to our ears.  Medical challenges have slowed his output in recent years, his last project being 2015's excellent collaboration with Peter Buck, Leave the Radio On.  Viciconte has always been a collaborator, surrounding himself regularly with other Rose City denizens like Paul Brainard, Mike Coykendall, Scott McCaughey and Lewi Longmire, Another steady presence throughout his work has been Luther Russell, a fellow overlooked treasure (you'll want to track down his Medium Cool release from back in February; Russell calls it a rough rock & roll album roughly about rock & roll).

Viciconte reports how he and Russell were originally drawn together around their mutual appreciation for the Sir Douglas Quintet, doo-wop and Richie Valens.  The two met recently at Russell's four-track Mirage Garage studio to pound out Traitors Table (Fluff & Gravy, June 21) in just under a week, an exception for Fernando, who is known to take his time assembling records.  The resulting 10 songs still bear the imprint of Fernando, but mark the artist's most immediate, unadulterated shot of rock to date.

Traitors Table is also a very personal project, coaxing together aspects of Viciconte's own immigrant story as a dreamer and a concerned bystander with something to say about the state of our dis-union.  He writes:  The world was bleeding.  Profusely.  And it looked as though this well-meaning country was about to dodge a hollow-point bullet aimed for our collective soul.  Then we didn't.  Rather than composing a diatribe or airing a laundry list of his grievances, Fernando created his new record to be a tableau of sorts, an SOS lifting the voices of all parties onto the airwaves.  It's a project that shows compassion to those trapped in the immigration wars as well as those looking for a way out of the cycle of poverty.  Traitors Table points fingers only where it's merited.

The parameters are established on the CD's drum-heavy opener, "Division Lines".  Throughout Traitors Table, songs are attributed to both Viciconte and Russell, with the pair responsible for all the record's noise.  Tribal percussion powers the song, generating an immediate aggression:  A cockfight amongst the pawns / Unity viewed as a crime.  Fernando spits the lyrics of "No Deal", another heavier cut that portrays a nation engaged in battle:  The lying empty word / Now the fate of the earth is sealed / The armies are gathering / Serving a wicked king / So kneel.  Both contributors are capable of generating fireworks with their guitars, and they stir up an unholy storm of noise and conflict on several songs.

 On each of his records, Fernando creates room for a couple tracks that come from a more melodic place.  "The Company" is a piano pop cut, warning younger generations against complacency and cynicism.  He asks, Do you blame your parents for the mess they've made / For the debt that's not yet been paid / Enslaved to the Company / Is it time to break free.  While some songs hail from other perspectives, the songwriter tells his own story on "I Don't Know".  It's one of the year's most worthy songs, with retro programmed drums, rubberband bass and heart stirring guitar.  Viciconte sings movingly about a search for identity, a need for deeper belonging:  I couldn't speak the language / So I started to sing / Guess I needed the attention / All the love that it brings / I don't know who I am.

While his earliest releases favored more of a roots vibe, those tendencies have receded until they appear just as shades of Fernando's overall musical message.  Echoes of twang surface primarily on "Hey Darlene", portraying a couple desperate for change who cast their lot with what they see as a lesser evil.  Chiming Byrds-like guitars hold court: Hey Darlene / Have you seen the places where the rich people go / The ones in the know / I can't wait / Til we fill our plate.  It's a perspective that pulls back the covers on the writers' compassion, avoiding the all-too-common black 'n white blame game.  Which isn't to say that peace and understanding are the prevailing forces on Traitors Table.  There is a punk spirit throughout, tempered with a strain of pop psychedelia especially on the biting "Longest Wait", where Viciconte channels his inner Paul Westerberg.

Traitors Table takes admirable care to represent a myriad of voices from the fray, even ones that come across as fringe.  What makes this Fernando's most resonant record, however, is that it's ultimately driven by the artist's own story, the boy from Argentina growing up in America without an invitation to the table.  The album closes with "Turned Away", an acoustic strummer that slips without warning into angry mayhem:  They say that every dog will have his day / Now they're chasing you away / As if you were a stray / Turned away for now.  It's a sobering reflection from one of the year's strongest releases, a collection that reminds us that Fernando Viciconte belongs alongside Alejandro Escovedo as among our most eloquent spokespersons for encouraging a long memory, keeping mindful of both our diverse origins and our collective fate.


Every month we hazard a glance over our shoulders at what's been brought to the table over the past couple weeks.  We call it:


Caroline Spence, Mint Condition  (Rounder, May 3)
Massy Ferguson, Great Divides  (MF, May 17)
Justin Townes Earle, Saint of Lost Causes  (New West, May 24)
TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, Arguably OK  (Mama Bird, May 24)
Ian Noe, Between the Country  (National Treasury, May 31)

It's what resonated most during the month of May, shared in order of appearance.  For a fuller account of what happened, what's happening and what's gonna happen, you'll want to check out A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Here's our weekly playlist, the songs for which can be streamed by connecting with us on Spotify.

- Nick Lowe, "Raincoat in the River" Love Starvation/Trombone EP  (Yep Roc, 19)
- Black Pumas, "Colors" Black Pumas  (ATO, Jun 21)
- Alabama Shakes, "This Feeling" Sound & Color  (ATO, 15)
- Scott H Biram & Jesse Dayton, "Monkey David Wine" single  (Bloodshot, 19)  D
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Smoke Keeps Rising" Shake and Bake  (Alive Naturalsound, 19)
- Lucette, "California" Deluxe Hotel Room  (Rock Creek, 19)
- Reckless Kelly, "Ragged as the Road (live)" Bulletproof Live  (No Big Deal, Jun 21)
- Dalton Domino, "All I Need" Songs From the Exile  (Lightning Rod, Aug 23)  D
- Pete Krebs, "Purple Heart of Texas" Western Electric  (Cavity Search, 97)
- Chris Stalcup & the Grange, "Long Way Home" Long Way Home EP  (Stalcup, 19)  D
- Jade Jackson, "Secret" Wilderness  (Anti, Jun 28)
- Penny & Sparrow, "Don't Wanna Be Without Ya" Finch  (Love You, Aug 2)  D
- AA Bondy, "#Lost Hills" Enderness  (Fat Possum, 19)
- Robyn Hitchcock, "I Pray When I'm Drunk" Robyn Hitchcock  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Caamp, "No Sleep" By and By  (Mom + Pop, Jul 26)  D
- Mavis Staples, "Brothers & Sisters" We Get By  (Anti, 19)
- Shane Smith & the Saints, "Parliament Smoke" Hail Mary  (Geronimo West, Jun 28)
- Twain, "Hank & Georgia" Rare Feeling  (Keeled Scales, 17)
- Have Gun Will Travel, "Against the Grain" Strange Chemistry  (Mile Wide, Jul 12)  D
- Bill Callahan, "747" Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest  (Drag City, Jun 14)
- Faye Webster, "Right Side of My Neck" Atlanta Millionaires Club  (Secretly Canadian, 19)
- Pernice Brothers, "Crestfallen" Overcome by Happiness  (Sub Pop, 98)
- Joseph Huber, "When the Waters Were One" Moondog  (Huber, Jul 12)  D
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Oh Captain" Out of Sight  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jun 7)
- Josh Nolan, "Honeysuckle (Hold On)" Kind Heart to Follow  (Shaker Steps, 19)
- Handsome Family, "Weightless Again" Through the Trees  (Carrot Top, 98)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Low Road (live)" Live at the Grey Eagle  (Organic, 19)
- Grady Spencer & the Work, "Celebrate" Celebrate  (Spencer, Jun 7)
- Native Harrow, "Can't Go On Like This" Happier Now  (Native Harrow, 19)
- Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, "Better Things" I Learned the Hard Way  (Daptone, 10)

Some weeks are diamonds, some not so much.  With regards to new addition to our Release Calendar, the past several days were generous, including announcements from Dalton Domino, Dori Freeman and proto-soul guy Jeb Loy Nichols.  Country rockers I See Hawks in LA are raising funds for the June release of a collaboration with Brit folk duo Good Intentions, and Joe Pug promises a July 19 date for his return to the fray, Flood in Color.  The Busiest Man in Roots Music, Rod Picott has released a couple albums, some poetry, a short story collection and screenplay over the past three years.  Now he sets his sights for the most intimate recording I've made - expect a July 19 release for Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil.  Jesse Malin has tapped good friend Lucinda Williams to produce Sunset Kids, due at the close of August, and we're officially looking forward to Have Gun Will Travel's latest, Strange Chemistry.  Here's this week's ROUTES-cast:

Monday, May 27, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 26, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Nominees were recently unveiled for 2019's Honors & Awards.  While I do pay some attention to what happens down at the American Music Association, I'm ultimately following my own thing.  And I'll do my own awards at year's end.  Because we're all about looking over the horizon on R&B, the recognition about which I'm most curious is their Emerging Act of the Year.  Short answer: Yola, 'nuff said.  Anyhow, I'd wager quite a bit that next year's list will include Ian Noe, who is set to release his debut full length, Between the Country next week.

Noe is the most recent artist to emerge from Kentucky, a state gushing with hot and cold running roots performers.  Says the softspoken Noe, "What I was trying to do was write songs that sounded like where I was living."  It's my sense that the Kentucky Tourism Board won't be borrowing any of his songs for their next campaign (though he might hear from the producers of True Detective's upcoming season).  Most of the stories of Between the Country could've come from yellowed newspapers, accounts of trainwrecks and murder sprees of yore. Owing at least in part to producer Dave Cobb, the settings for Noe's work presents these scenarios in a setting that links the sounds of the past and present.

Ian Noe is an admitted disciple of John Prine, a status which earned him the opening spot on the songwriting legend's upcoming European tour.  While he is his own artist, you'll hear Prine's influence on songs like "Irene (Ravin' Bomb)": Irene pulled in at midnight / Lit on smoke and beer / Proudly crawled / To the porch and called / Your favorite child is here.  It's a prodigal daughter story, couched in an arrangement that recalls a certain era of folk music.  Noe's voice is a genuine throwback as well, treated with a bit of an echo throughout the record.

Stories of the past are very present on Between the Country, drawn in stark detail on "Barbara's Song".  Boasting a memorable guitar line from producer Cobb, Noe revisits a 1904 trainwreck, a bridge collapse precipitated by heavy rains.  The singer describes a surrealistic tableau from within the train cars: From the corner of my eye / I saw an angel disguised / As a man with a violin / And he sang us a song / That didn't last very long / So we asked him to sing it again.  Cobb surrounds him with retro reminders of folk gone by, but Noe is never pretending.  You'll hear early Dylan and a young Townes Van Zandt, but you might also catch echos of Jason Molina or Colter Wall in his delivery.

While he's being embraced by the country purist crowd, Ian Noe occupies that shadowy space where Appalachian music carries a deep folk influence, musically and thematically.  Noe's Kentucky is a rough place where desperate people in dire straits make questionable choices.  "Letter to Madeline" is delivered by a holed-up outlaw surrounded by a hundred gunsBeside the buckshot door I stood still / Wondering how the hell the bastards found me in those hills / And clinging to a letter that I wish I'd mailed.  Like most of producer Dave Cobb's projects, the space on Noe's songs is tastefully filled by a small gathering of capable players.  Especially welcome is singer Savannah Conley, whose backing vocals float through the songs like an avenging angel.

I've only driven through Eastern Kentucky, never even stepping out of the car for as much as a gas refill.  But my sense is that Noe's homeland is a place between time, where old habits are ingrained alongside contemporary issues.  Songs like "Junk Town" emerge from this space, portraying generations of residents who yearn for a new circumstance:  Glory glory / We are awaiting / That sweet someday / When we leave our troubles / And are taken / So far away.  It's a beautiful and evocative chorus worthy of Townes himself, reaching for glory with feet firmly planted in the muck of everyday realities.  Those dreamers appear as well in "If Today Doesn't Do Me In", folks speaking of the awaiting spotlight despite being caged by dead end circumstance:  I can't help but wonder what's left / From every road that dead ends / To those bitter old men / Passing time on the old courthouse steps.   Ian Noe most directly addresses stuff on today's doorstep on "Meth Head", a frank portrait of junkie-as-zombie: That desperate fuckin' meth head ...

Much has already been said about a curious episode, recorded online for posterity, where actor and Aquaman Jason Momoa discovers Noe in a bar and invites him to a Vancouver hotel room.  The songwriter seems awkward and out of place beside the larger-than-life actor, until he sings.  Without Cobb's added echo, with eyes closed and unruly hair curtaining his face, Ian Noe proves himself more than worthy of Momoa's adoration (especially nice is his "Last Stampede", not on this current CD).  On songs like the title track and "Loving You", a couple of Between the Country's most unassuming cuts, that shy but inspired artist peeks through most immediately.  While Ian Noe emerges from Kentucky behind celebrated names like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, there is a hope that he will never stray from that awkward young man engulfed by the lights and hubbub of the Vancouver suite.

- Drams, "Truth Lies Low" Jubilee Dive  (New West, 06)
- Yawpers, "Earn Your Heaven" Human Question  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Josh Nolan, "Lady Luck" Kind Heart to Follow  (Shaker Steps, 19)
- Fernando Viciconte, "Longest Wait" Traitors Table  (Fluff & Gravy, Jun 21)
- Esther Rose, "Only Loving You" You Made It This Far  (Father/Daughter, Aug 23)
- Spirit Family Reunion, "One Way Ticket" Ride Free  (SFR, Aug 9)  D
- TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, "Alone" Arguably OK  (Mama Bird, 19)
- Michaela Anne, "One Love Song" single  (Yep Roc, 19)  D
- Kevin Gordon, "Joe Light" O Come Look at the Burning  (Crowville, 05)
- LeeRoy Stagger, "Broken Generation" Me and the Mountain  (High Romance, 19)  D
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)" Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)  (Fantasy, Jun 14)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Irene (live)" Live at the Grey Eagle  (Organic, 19)
- Massy Ferguson, "Rerun" Great Divides  (MF, 19)
- Shane Smith & the Saints, "Oklahoma City" Hail Mary  (Geronimo West, Jun 28)  D
- Band of Horses, "Throw My Mess" Why Are You OK  (BoH, 16)
- Lee Moses, "Bad Girl" How Much Longer Must I Wait  (Future Days, 19)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Talking to Myself" Saint of Lost Causes  (New West, 19)
- Frankie Lee, "One Wild Bird" Stillwater  (Frankie Lee, 19)
- Bill Callahan, "Writing" Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest  (Drag City, Jun 14)  D
- Grady Spencer & the Work, "Living Lies" Celebrate  (Spencer, Jun 7)  D
- John R Miller, "Service Engine" Service Engine  (789875 Records, 18)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Three Ravens" Out of Sight  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jun 7)
- Native Harrow, "Something You Have" Happier Now  (Native Harrow, 19)  D
- Johnathan Rice, "Below the Deck" Long Game  (Mano Walker, 19)
- Matthew Ryan, "And It's Such a Drag (2019 version)" Need to Know Vinyl Sessions  (Need to Know, 19)
- Desure, "Kick Rocks" Desure  (Tuxedo, 19)
- Lloyd Cole, "Violins" Guesswork  (Edel, Jul 26)  D
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Sweat Love to Shine" Shake and Bake  (Alive Naturalsound, May 31)
- Chance McCoy, "Lonesome Pines" single  (McCoy, 19)
- Kathleen Edwards, "Mint" Voyageur  (Concord, 12)

We've got about another month before the official mid-point of 2019.  Rest assured we'll take a moment to pull together a reminder of our favorite CDs of the past six months.  For this week, we've added new albums to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster from Shreveport's soulful Seratones.  Spirit Family Reunion announced their first full-length record in more than four years, Ride Free, due in August.  Joseph Huber's Moondog will likely land in July, around the same time as Matt Harlan's Best Beasts.  More immediately, here's your ROUTES-cast for the week:

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 19, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Portland’s Mama Bird Recording Co. is a boutique label, releasing only a handful of records every year.  But what a couple of years it’s been.  Haley Heynderickx, Courtney Marie Andrews.  Last month brought us Damien Jurado’s masterful In the Shape of a Storm.  Back in 2017, Mama Bird presented Wannabe, a quietly stirring solo debut from Taylor Kingman upon which I unceremoniously and gracelessly whiffed.  It’s a rough-hewn stack of songs set live to tape with Mike Coykendall and Jon Neufeld, songs that show Kingman to be a man who works wonder with words.  He had earned a reputation as a promising and unpredictable front-man for an outfit called the Hill Dogs before stepping aside to heal a vocal issue.  

Taylor Kingman's return to full-band mode comes with the release of Arguably OK, credited to TK & the Holy Know-Nothings.  The jacket of their album presents a Last Supper-like tableau, with a spent-looking Kingman ringed by his band of disciples.  The ragtag outfit features an assemblage of folks from Portland's roots community, current and former members of bands like Fruition, Shook Twins, Lewi Longmire Band and more.  They christen their sound "psychedelic dream boogie", a hyphenated sub-genre which apparently incorporates a loose congregation of country, folk, rock and blues.  The guiding light for the Arguably OK sessions was reportedly cast by Terry Allen's seminal 1979 record, Lubbock (On Everything).  

Fans of Kingman's earlier solo CD might not immediately recognize these sounds as products of the same musical imagination, much in the same manner as Nathaniel Rateliff's turn with his Night Sweats seemed a departure from his introspective solo work.  While they still showcase his strength as a lyricist, songs like "Desert Rose" are in service of the band's more expansive groove, largely driven by Jay Cobb Anderson's electric guitar work.  The Holy Know-Nothings are roadworn veterans, capable of loosening the reins without losing control of the wagon.  They slip comfortably into "Alone", adding their best estimation of a Jordanaires backing croon to the tune as it gradually catches fire: He had a big big heart / But that just kept him hospitalized.  

TK is the perfect singer to give voice to these pieces, his delivery breaking with despair or reaching out from desperation as merited.  "Emmanuel" rambles along haphazardly, an ode to the things that we lean on to cope with our days, from coffee and liquid courage to a touch of the stronger stuff.  "Good Stuff" picks up the pace with a goodhearted skiffle: That low lonesome sound / It's the only thing I've found / To pick me up just enough to write something down.  Kingman's songs are less confessional here than on Wannabe, naturally less introspective even as they can mine a similar vein for self-deprecation and a strong turn-of-phrase.  

The psychedelic element to their self-styled dream boogie appears most prominently on "Tunnel of a Dream", a trippy travelogue that floats in on an acrid cloud of bells and whistles and expands into Kingman's poetic tale: I sat down as the sun died down in a colorful fit of glory.  "Hard Times" shows the group at their most adventurous, darkening the Felice Brothers' sound with gritty, low-slung guitar.  

While Taylor Kingman shares the marquee on Arguably OK with his capable cohorts, he is largely the take-away as a singer and writer.  Like Deer Tick's John J McCauley, Kingman arrives with a recklessness and a charisma that raise the Holy Know-Nothings onto the pedestal as an act to watch.  Where songs like "Devil's Point" or "Lord Why'd Ya Make Me" might too easily dissolve into a teary-beer soundtrack at the hands of lesser artists, there's an undeniable difference here, an act that aims a bit higher: Some nights I might linger / When these eyes bloom with fingers / To trace the ink on the sweet skin of strangers / Safe from the pain of real loving / Safe from the stain of these hands.  

- Lucette, "Full Moon Town" Deluxe Hotel Room (Rock Creek, 19)
- Indianola, "Mid Century Modern" Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye  (Indianola, 19)
- Black Keys, "Go" Let's Rock  (Nonesuch, Jun 28)
- Pearl Charles, "Sweet Sunshine Wine" single  (Kanine, 19)  D
- Joe Henry, "Odetta" Reverie  (Anti, 11)
- Chris Staples, "Holy Moly" Holy Moly  (Barsuk, Jun 28)
- Woody Guthrie w/Jeff Tweedy, "I Don't Like the Way This World's a-Treatin' Me" single  (Omnivore, 19)  D
^ TK & Holy Know-Nothings, "Emmanuel" Arguably OK  (Mama Bird, May 24)
- Lewi Longmire, "Allegheny County" If I Live to Be 100  (Longmire, 04)
- Taylor Kingman, "Wannabe" Wannabe  (Mama Bird, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "House Fire" Country Squire  (Hickman Holler, Aug 2)  D
- Michael Fracasso, "Mother Nature's Traveling Show" Big Top  (Lucky Hound, Jun 14)
- Chris Whitley, "Scrapyard Lullaby" Dirt Floor  (Messenger, 98)
- Mavis Staples, "We Get By" We Get By  (Anti, May 24)
- Matthew Ryan, "On Our Death Day" Need to Know Vinyl Sessions  (Need to Know, 19)  D
- Hollis Brown, "She Don't Love Me Now" Ozone Park  (Mascot, Jun 7)
- Massy Ferguson, "Can't Remember" Great Divides  (MF, 19)
- Purple Mountains, "All My Happiness is Gone" Purple Mountains  (Drag City, Jul 12)  D
- Caroline Spence, "Angels or Los Angeles" Mint Condition  (Rounder, 19)
- EB the Younger, "Monterey" To Each His Own  (Bella Union, 19)
- Kasey Chambers, "Better Be Home Soon" The Captain: Deluxe Edition  (EMI Aust, 19)
- Josh Nolan, "Angels With Dirty Faces" Kind Heart to Follow  (Shaker Steps, 19)  D
- Damhnait Doyle, "So Clean" Liquor Store Flowers  (Doyle, 19)
- Daniel Norgren, "Day That's Just Begun" Wooh Dang  (Superpuma, 19)
- Esther Rose, "Don't Blame it On the Moon" You Made it This Far  (Father/Daughter, Aug 23)
- Lone Justice, "Wheels" Shelter  (Geffen, 86)
- Courtney Hartman, "Belfry" Ready Reckoner  (Soundly, Jun 14)
- Jamestown Revival, "Who Hung the Moon" San Isabel  (Jamestown, Jun 14)
- Erin Durant, "Islands" Islands  (Keeled Scales, Jun 21)
- Josh Ritter, "Blazing Highway Home" Fever Breaks  (Pytheas, 19)

This week we're especially pleased to declare David Berman's return to recorded music, his first project since he closed the door upon Silver Jews several years ago.  You'll find him beneath the Purple Mountains moniker.  We're also pretty pretty pleased to add the August 2 release date to A Routes & Branches Guide to Feeding Your Monster for Tyler Childers' Country Squire.  David Wax Museum announced something new, as did Shane Smith & the Saints.  Reckless Kelly, Karen Jonas, Gary Nicholson, Grady Spencer & the Work, Josh Nolan.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 12, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of edge

At the community radio station for which I once worked, I would ask new volunteers to identify their 'edge'.  Even if you were building a program on folk or easy listening or Grateful Dead (gods forbid), you needed to find your edge, that departure that set you apart from all other shows of that type.  This strategy seldom worked, and volunteer after volunteer arrived at the studios with their box of Tim O'Brien or Richard Thompson records.  It was just as important to locate their 'pocket', a magical medium that defines your program.

Edge and pocket - I pepper my reviews liberally with those words, recognizing that they apply just as aptly to the music that resonates with me.  See, for instance, Massy Ferguson from the Seattle area.  Fronted by singer-bassist Ethan Anderson and singer-guitarist Adam Monda, they've been honing their edge for more than a decade, shooting out sparks like 2010's Hard Water, Victory & Ruins from 2013 and 2016's excellent Run It Right Into the Wall.  Their new CD, Great Divides is slotted for release this week, following the band as they continue to redefine their pocket.

While we are fond of the term "", it doesn't carry much meaning these days.  Folks tend to apply it to any roots-flavored music that features electric instrumentation.  But there was a time when this was not the case, when outfits like Ringenberg & the Scorchers, Uncle Tupelo, Bottle Rockets or Old 97s firmly defined the genre.  Massy Ferguson's earlier releases held tighter to these party lines, betraying more twang 'n jangle, employing more pedal steel and coming across like a close relative of Son Volt on songs like "Long Time No See" or "Hard Way" (with Zoe Muth).  But with Run It Right Into the Wall, the band sought a leaner, harder vibe that sounded more like Athens, GA than Nashville.  Anderson's focus seemed to sharpen, with stronger writing and a more confident commitment to their edge on "Gallipoli" or "Firewater".

That process of re-entrenchment realizes its promise on Great Divides.  Throughout their run, Massy Ferguson have stayed true to the heart of their sound, built firmly on Anderson's vocals and Monda's fiery guitars.  "Maybe the Gods" simply sounds more contemporary, more relevant to today's music and less beholden to a retro target.  Ethan Anderson is a worthy vocalist, his energy and commitment challenging the track's pounding percussion for supremacy, complimented by Seattle's indie-soul diva Adra Boo.  Adam Monda's guitars are both primal and melodic on "They Want That Sound", the record's most driving track.

Massy Ferguson stride into new territory with "Momma's in the Backseat", an evocative story song featuring Anderson's spoken verses: Made it back home, and Mom was waiting up / Always waiting up, light on, book in hand / Smoking from a pack of Merits / I told her about the fight / But what I wanted to do was wrap myself in that old Star Wars blanket, go to sleep in my bed / But I didn't say that at the time.  "Drop An Atom Bomb On Me" takes a turn towards more melodic pop with prominent keys and a sharp rhythmic hook.

Even in light of these somewhat updated elements, much of the band's appeal remains in their roots which spring from guitar-fueled rock with a certain 80s touch.  As drums kick "Can't Remember" into gear, Massy Ferguson sounds like few other contemporary acts.  This doesn't mean they deserve to be filed as a tribute band, but rather recognized as one of the few talents who have successfully preserved the lineage of that tradition while reinterpreting it in service of an updated sound.  The guitars echo and reverb throughout an album highlight "Rerun", atop a subtle bed of synth a'la Sons of Bill.  Massy Ferguson have toured widely in the past decade, though it's baffling how a sound that impresses critics and pleases audiences has avoided more widespread attention.  Great Divides deserves to bridge that popular gap, and makes some substantial strides that might merit Anderson and Moda greater coverage.  It's a terrific sounding collection that stays true to their pocket while assuring an alt.edge that sets the stage for subsequent projects.

- Felice Brothers, "Jack Reminiscing" Undress  (Yep Roc, 19)
- Craig Finn, "Implications" I Need a New War  (Partisan, 19)
- Devil Makes Three, "Old Number Seven (live)" Live at Red Rocks  (Kahn, 19)
- Ryan Culwell, "Never Gonna Cry" Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
- Buddy & Julie Miller, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" Breakdown on 20th Ave. South  (New West, Jun 21)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Saint of Lost Causes" Saint of Lost Causes  (New West, May 24)
- Erika Wennerstrom, "I'll Be Here in the Morning" Tribute to Townes Van Zandt  (Partisan, 19)
- Chris Staples, "Everybody Said" Holy Moly  (Barsuk, Jun 28)  D
- Johnathan Rice, "Millions of Miles (feat. Courtney Marie Andrews)" Long Game  (Mano Walker, May 10)
- Kevin Morby, "Oh My God" Oh My God  (Dead Oceans, 19)
- TK & Holy Know-Nothings, "Hard Times" Arguably OK  (Mama Bird, May 24)
- Freakwater, "Great Potential" Dancing Under Water  (Thrill Jockey, 91)
- Jimbo Mathus, "Incinerator" Incinerator  (Big Legal Mess, 19)
- Indianola, "How Did I Get So Rock 'n Roll" Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye  (Indianola, 19)  D
^ Massy Ferguson, "Maybe the Gods" Great Dividers  (MF, May 17)  D
- Reckless Kelly, "You Don't Have to Stay Forever (live)" Bulletproof Live  (No Big Deal, Jun 21)  D
- Shovels & Rope, "Good Old Days" By Blood  (Dualtone, 19)
- Samantha Fish, "Louisiana Rain" Runaway  (Ruf, 11)
- Three Timers, "Babe I've Got to Go" Sounds of San Antone  (Shotgun House, 19)
- Joe Kaplow, "Dust Rattler" Time Spent in Between  (Kaplow, 19)
- Bohannons, "Hungover Hills" Bloodroot  (Cornelius Chapel, 19)
- Duke & the King, "One More American Song" Duke & the King  (Silva Oak, 11)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "The Waltz" Shake & Bake  (Alive Naturalsound, May 31)
- Fernando Viciconte, "I Don't Know" Traitors Table  (Fluff & Gravy, Jun 21)  D
- AA Bondy, "Diamond Skull" Enderness  (Fat Possum, 19)
- Caleb Caudle, "How'd You Learn (feat. Lydia Loveless)" Paint Another Layer On My Heart  (TiAM, 14)
- Kacy & Clayton, "Carrying On" Carrying On  (New West, Oct 4)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Goodbye Dear Friend" single  (CMA, 19)  D
- Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, "Nobody's Perfect" Beautiful Lie  (Motel Time, Jun 21)  D
- Sam Doores + Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds, "This Morning I Was Born Again" Holy Cross Blues  (Dollartone, 13)

Like a good and stinky compost bin, we are constantly adding to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Instead of grass clippings and banana peels or expired vegetables, this week we added stuff from Secretly Canadian's newest signee Faye Webster.  Looks like former Blue Rodeo rider Jim Cuddy will release a solo CD next month, and Reckless Kelly's got a live record in the works.  Jeff Tweedy released a limited edition companion piece to his first official solo album, WARM, on Record Store Day.  It won't be so limited come July 12, since WARMER gets its wide release this Summer.  And speaking of Tweedy, he's produced the forthcoming October CD from Kacy & Clayton.  Hear all about it on your weekly ROUTES-cast, here:

Monday, May 06, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 5, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Caroline Spence launched the opening volley for her new Mint Condition record back in January, unleashing a single that set high expectations for what was to come.  You could make a good case that the anticipation for the Nashville writer's third album actually began a couple years ago, with the release of 2017's near-perfect Spades & Roses.  No need for hyperbole here - song after song, each a memorable gem from the caustic "Softball" to Spence's vulnerable masterpiece, "Southern Accident".  In addition to earning some coveted R&B airtime, the CD apparently caught Rounder Records' attention, as they're issuing Mint Condition.

All of which seems to be part of Caroline Spence's current trajectory.  To celebrate, she's apparently just doing more of what landed her here in the first place.  That is, delivering solid country-folk songs that quietly but confidently leave a listener ready for another round.  That first two-song single introduced us to "Long Haul" and the record's title track.  Both are imminently listenable, tuneful and timeless pieces that make an immediate impression.  Spence commits her nose to the proverbial grindstone on "Long Haul", declaring her intention to do what it takes to achieve a degree of Music City success: I crossed my T's and dotted my I's / And sold my soul to the 1-4-5.  Like Amanda Anne Platt or Lori McKenna, Spence shows a masterful ear for the poetry of the everyday, never overreaching or adding undue sparkle and shine to her verse.  Emmylou Harris christens "Mint Condition" with her backing vocals, a tender acoustic lovesong for the ages: Our bodies they age, wrinkle and tire / That feeling of comfort overtakes desire / I might have to learn to live here alone / But I'll love you through ash or through stone.

These are the two magnetic poles of Mint Condition, the thoughtful ballad and the upbeat roots rocker, both of which are flawlessly executed.  Spence's love songs skillfully sidestep the usual fare on songs like "Sit Here and Love Me".  The ballad's narrator acknowledges her own shadows, the clouds which might shroud her mood, but reassures her partner that they need not feel obligated to fix anything: I'm still someone you know / Please recognize my shadow / This is the same place from where I love you deeply.  Songs are shot through with such refreshing honesty and deeply felt sentiment.

It's also evident that Caroline Spence has achieved new degrees of confidence as a vocalist since 2015's debut, Somehow.  She's comfortable in her pocket on the spirited "Who's Gonna Make My Mistakes", applying enough twang 'n break without resorting to Nashville caricature.  And try the gorgeously downcast "Wait on the Wine" for an expressive delivery that rivals Patty Griffin in its dips and turns.  While she proved a capable vocalist on those earlier cuts, here she's as worthy a singer as a songwriter, capable of infusing each piece with the appropriate emotion and gravitas.

My own ear is perennially on the lookout for melody, my radar searching for the rare ability to pair tunefulness with expert turn-of-phrase.  I've found few more fulfilling songs this year than "What You Don't Know", boasting a propulsive rhythm and hook that will carve a home in your ears for days.  The Mint Condition sessions are produced and largely played by multi-instrumentalist Dan Knobler, ably backed by vocalists like Erin Rae, Ashley Ray and the superb Becky Warren, all giving the album a complete and full sound.  Overall, it's the sort of project that may find Caroline Spence mentioned in the same breath as Ashley McBryde or Lori McKenna, among the town's most valued writers.

- Field Medic, "henna tattoo" Fade Into the Dawn  (Run for Cover, 19)
- Vic Chesnutt, "Concord Country Jubilee" At the Cut  (Constellation, 09)
- Yawpers, "Where the Winter Ends" Human Question  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Lucette, "Deluxe Hotel Room" Deluxe Hotel Room  (Rock Creek, May 17)
^ Caroline Spence, "What You Don't Know" Mint Condition  (Rounder, 19)
- Felice Brothers, "Holy Weight Champ" Undress  (Yep Roc, 19)
- Jade Jackson, "Bottle It Up" Wilderness  (Anti, Jun 28)  D
- Sam Outlaw, "Shake a Heartache" Hat Acts  (Black Hills, 19)  D
- Delta Spirit, "Trashcan" Ode to Sunshine  (Rounder, 08)
- Frankie Lee, "In the Blue" Stillwater  (Frankie Lee, May 24)
- Drunken Prayer, "It Happens All the Time" Cordelia Elsewhere  (Deer Lodge, 19)
- Fruit Bats, "Gold Past Life" Gold Past Life  (Merge, Jun 21)
- Margo Price, "Hands of Time" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Chuck Mead, "Big Bear in the Sky" Close to Home  (Plowboy, Jun 28)  D
- Lukas Nelson & PotR, "Bad Case" Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)  (Fantasy, Jun 14)  D
- Calexico w/Iron & Wine, "Midnight Sun" Years to Burn  (Sub Pop, Jun 14)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "All I Can Keep Is Now" I Love You It's a Fever Dream  (Rivers/Birds, 19)
- Big Thief, "Century" UFOF  (4AD, 19)
- Brad Armstrong, "Bottle Flies" I Got No Place Remembers Me  (Cornelius Chapel, 19)
- Erin Enderlin, "Broken" Chapter One: Tonight I Don't Give a Damn  (Enderlin, 19)  D
- Anderson East, "Sorry You're Sick (live)" Alive in Tennessee  (Low Country, 19)
- Kris Kristofferson, "Gettin' By High and Strange" Border Lord  (Sony, 72)
- Damhnait Doyle, "Liquor Store Flowers" Liquor Store Flowers  (Doyle, 19)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Let's Take Us a Night Ride" Fireproof House of Sunshine  (Free Dirt, Jun 21)  D
- Ian Noe, "Letter to Madeline" Between the Country  (National Treasury, May 31)
- Bonnie Prince Billy, "Easy Does It" Lie Down in the Light  (Drag City, 08)
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Be Here to Love Me" Tribute to Townes Van Zandt  (Partisan, 19)  D
- Donovan Woods, "I Ain't Ever Loved No One (feat.Tenille Townes)" Other Way  (Meant Well, 19)  D
- Anna Tivel, "Two Strangers" The Question  (Fluff & Gravy, 19)
- Karen Dalton, "When a Man Loves a Woman" In My Own Time  (Light in the Attic, 71)

This week brought news of forthcoming projects from Violent Femmes, whose 1983 debut still sounds new and perfectly dangerous.  One time dB and longtime producer Chris Stamey set the table for a jazz-inspired double record featuring vocals from Caitlin Cary, Don Dixon, Nnenna Freelon and more.  We added new release dates for Jade Jackson's sophomore CD, as well as the next offering from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.  Finally, we received news of Bill Callahan's first album since 2013.  Let's celebrate with this week's ROUTES-cast:

Monday, April 29, 2019

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

My year is defined by lists and release dates.  Fridays are a working holiday for me, and I look forward to the last week of the month, just so I can do this:

Shovels & Rope, By Blood  (Dualtone)
Damien Jurado, In the Shape of a Storm  (Mama Bird)
Anna Tivel, The Question  (Fluff & Gravy)
Yawpers, Human Question  (Bloodshot)
Kevin Morby, Oh My God  (Dead Oceans)

It's a funny list, really, covering territory from our familiar americana/ friends Shovels & Rope and Yawpers to a beautiful and challenging Kevin Morby concept record that didn't truly impact me until ... well, yesterday morning.  This is all in order of appearance.

If everything goes as planned, May will bring a bounty of new stuff, from Caroline Spence's Mint Condition (from which we've already heard several songs) to a new, retooled Felice Brothers.  We'll hurrah the return of AA Bondy, and welcome new projects from Justin Townes Earle and Left Lane Cruiser.  More extensive R&B reviews are likely for Massy Ferguson, Ian Noe and the Portland supergroup TK & the Holy Know-Nothings.  Daddy loves his work.

Last March, Kacey Musgraves issued her 4th record, Golden Hour.  It was heralded with great praise from some pretty unlikely reviewers, folks for whom roots music was unfamiliar territory.  Of course, as months passed, the project was deservedly nominated for all sorts of Grammys and CMAs and iHearts and such.  And no review or recognition failed to note that with all its synths and beatz, Golden Hour really didn't sound too much like a country album.

Back up a couple years earlier, when Lucette humbly issued her debut full length, Black is the Color.  For those who heard it, this was roots music, checking most of the familiar boxes to qualify as folk and/or country.  Partly because the session was produced by Dave Cobb (on his way to becoming ubiquitous uber-producer de jour), there were also some contemporary production elements to songs like "Bobby Reid".  The video for that tune featured JD Wilkes as a fire-and-brimstone preacher, and Sturgill Simpson as a guy in a black vest whom Lucette whacks with a rock.

Incidentally, all this was prior to Sturgill Simpson becoming Sturgill Simpson - the video was filmed before the release of his first solo outing.  But the Canadian songstress and he found some commonalities in their approach to music, keeping in touch and even touring together in the ensuing years.  Now firmly established as one of the foremost names in our kind of music, Simpson serves as producer for Lucette's follow-up, Deluxe Hotel Room (Rock Creek, May 17).

I mention Musgraves by way of noting that this new CD will take many by surprise, folks who might've expected Bobby Reid: the Return.  Or at least High Top Mountain: Pt II.  It's a different record than Golden Hour, and nobody who presses "play" will recognize Sturgill Simpson in the mix.  While Dave Cobb incorporated heavier guitars and dark atmospherics throughout Lucette's debut, Deluxe Hotel Room takes no special measures to sound like a roots record.  There are no banjos, no slide guitars, no fiddles.  Yet it's a remarkable turn of events for an artist who's fearlessly and deliberately bucking the trends in pursuit of her muse.

The LP's title track begins organically enough, a piano supporting Lucette's sad and sultry voice:  Traded in my body, thinking I could make my bed / In a deluxe hotel room, wishing I was home instead.  "Out of the Rain" begins with a digital click track and a squelchy bass, a whisper of keys.  It's almost a surprise when a good ol' fashioned analog saxophone takes a solo.  Most of the tunes on Deluxe Hotel Room are slower, airy pieces couched in electronics, synthesizers and digital devices that might have seemed more at home on a Lana del Rey record.  Like del Rey, Lucette sings like an angel, though her voice immediately betrays those roots elements.  It's the perfect vehicle to deliver these downcasat vignettes: When you're lonely as I am / You make up excuses to suffer.

"Full Moon Town" introduces a heavier, speaker-rattling bass and beat: There's a half-priced buzz to be had / And a speed trap stretch up ahead ...  "Angel" is the CD's brightest, most upbeat cut, focusing the electronics in a pop direction, like Nicole Atkins' recent early rock and girl group influences.  While Lucette's soaring vocals are typically treated with echo and reverb, she never sounds lazy or removed.  And while the trappings are atypical, thematically and structurally Lucette's songs are firmly in the roots realm.  Where Musgraves' recent work sounded like a California breeze, Deluxe Hotel Room brings to mind rain and sleepless nights and no place to go when the bars are closed.  I've been waiting on my mind / To come around and think for itself / I've been feeling so unkind / Mostly when it comes to myself  she sings on "Talk to Myself".

This is not to say that the record's a downer.  On the contrary, it's just wonderfully successful in establishing a mood.  "Fly to Heaven" is a gorgeous and soulful cut, with Brad Walker's sax taking a more prominent role.  Repeated listenings serve to reinforce the boldness of Lucette's songs and her undeniable vocal gifts, and the arrangements start to sound more suitable and even complimentary.  Moreover, what comes through most clearly is the r&b and soul influence throughout.

Especially in our kind of music, listeners seem to want their artists to occupy a static space, to conform to preset parameters.  Performers like Lucette who exceed those conservative boundaries are regarded as threats or offenses to the genre.  She and Simpson deserve praise, I would counter, for disrupting that stasis and for successfully challenging the fringes of roots music.  Deluxe Hotel Room will take Lucette into places she would never have seen had she replicated her previous collection.  However far she goes, she will owe it not to the synths and the production flourishes, but to her obvious abilities as a writer and a singer.

- Will Kimbrough, "When I Get to Memphis" I Like It Down Here  (Daphne, 19)
- Sarah Borges, "Cry One More Time (live)" Live Singles  (Suck a Bag, 10)
- Hollis Brown, "Bad Mistakes" Ozone Park  (Mascot, Jun 7)
- Luke Winslow-King, "Going to New Orleans" single  (Bloodshot, 19)  D
^ Lucette, "Talk to Myself" Deluxe Hotel Room  (Rock Creek, May 17)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Appalachian Nightmare" Saint of Lost Causes  (New West, May 24)
- Dylan LeBlanc, "Born Again" Renegade  (ATO, Jun 7)
- Bedouine, "Echo Park" Bird Songs of a Killjoy  (Spacebomb, May 31)
- Matthew Ryan, "Then She Threw Me Like a Hand Grenade" Boxers  (Ryan, 14)
- Anderson East, "If You Keep Leaving Me (live)" Alive in Tennessee  (Low Country, May 3)  D
- Massy Ferguson, "Maybe the Gods" Great Divides  (MF, May 17)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "After the Scene Dies" Big To-Do  (ATO, 10)
- Boxmasters, "I Wanna Go Where You Go" Speck  (Keentone, Jun 7)  D
- Jamestown Revival, "Round Prairie Road" San Isabel  (Jamestown, Jun 14)
- Black Keys, "Eagle Birds" Let's Rock  (Easy Eye, Jun 28)  D
- Three Timers, "Sunday Son" Sounds of San Antone  (Shotgun House, 19)
- TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, "Desert Rose" Arguably OK  (Mama Bird, May 24)
- Roadkill Ghost Choir, "Cassette Memory" False Youth Etcetera  (Freakout, 17)
- Joe Kaplow, "I Said I Was Going and I Went" Time Spent in Between  (Kaplow, 19)  D
- Kevin Morby, "Hail Mary" Oh My God  (Dead Oceans, 19)
- Craig Finn, "Bathtub in the Kitchen" I Need a New War  (Partisan, 19)
- AA Bondy, "Fentanyl Freddy" Enderness  (Fat Possum, May 10)
- Caroline Spence, "Who's Gonna Make Mistakes" Mint Condition  (Rounder, May 3)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Michael Was Hearty" Out of Sight  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jun 7)
- Johnathan Rice, "Long Game (feat. Courtney Marie Andrews)" Long Game  (Mano Walker, May 10)
- Daniel Norgren, "The Flow" Wooh Dang  (Superpuma, 19)
- Damien Jurado, "Hands on the Table" In the Shape of a Storm  (Mama Bird, 19)
- Chance McCoy, "No One Loves You (the Way That I Do)" single  (McCoy, 19)  D
- Blue Rodeo, "Hasn't Hit Me Yet" Five Days in July  (Warner, 93)
- Lee Moses, "Time and Place" Time and Place  (Essential Media, 02)

This week, A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster has been plumped with new listings from the Black Keys, Willie Nelson and a CD of duets by Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis.  Hackensaw Boys announced a new June EP, and that Bruce guy promised something as well.  One click on that link to your right may assure you an afternoon of aural pleasures.  Or you can just follow us on the Spotify, because here's your ROUTES-cast: