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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

it's our kind of music
December 13, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Yeah.  Sorta missed my target this week - aimed for Sunday but barely hit Wednesday.  O well.  It's a busy time of year, and work and headspace and family and insert your favorite excuse here.  But now we're here and it's time for another Episode, another ROUTES-cast and another quality review. 

Damn. Of all the stuff I had to leave off my year-end favorites list, no regrets have been more persistent than Jeffrey Martin's One Go Around (Fluff & Gravy, Oct 13).  When I was building the list, I thought I had to choose between Martin and Anna Tivel's equally shattering Small Believer (Fluff & Gravy, Sep 29).  I've mentioned how the Portland songwriters are frequent road companions, and how their respective records compliment one another so perfectly.  Fact is, I haven't stopped listening to either, so I gotta write about One Go Around by way of apology.  To shake the ghosts. 
I don't know a lot / But I think we only get one go around 
As with Tivel's work, very little on Jeffrey Martin's collection rises beyond a rustle.  Electric guitars are favored over acoustic, but backed sparingly by piano, percussion and little else.  Martin delivers his wisdom in a voice not unlike early Nathaniel Rateliff, a gruff, tired instrument not looking to impress with its prowess but just hoping to connect.  A perfect vehicle for telling stories across a small table, tales of men hoping against hope or pushing wearily against the dark.  From "Poor Man": I'm not a bad man / I'm a poor man sinking.  Martin's narrator, an asphalt man just like his daddy, breaks his back during the day only to shoulder the burden of counting dimes and sleepless nights as his home provides little stability. 

Like Noah Gunderson or David Ramirez, Jeffrey Martin's songs can prove ethereal and even fleeting, though they're caked through with the grime and the dirt of our daily labors.  It's loosely a poetry of the working man, though shot through with stunning turns of phrase.
You used to make me go to church / Every Sunday in the evening / Say that god was for men like me / Who swore they didn't need him / And now all this sin I don't believe in / Is heavy on my back
There's a melancholy romanticism here as well, on pieces like the lovely "Surprise, AZ" or "Thrift Store Dress", featuring Anna Tivel on violin.   It emerges in the chord changes and the sticky melodies that underly Martin's songs.  On the latter, he is the weary touring bard, playing songs for strangers in towns that aren't ours.  His focus is maintained by the companionship of a touring partner, At night you sing to parts of me that I haven't ever seen.  Like so many other troubadours, Martin is conflicted by the wandering life, drawn to the song of stability and a house that can't be moved

One Go Around works as well in the folk music vernacular, offering songs in the key of struggle and stories that sing to the heart.  Both "What We're Marching Toward" and "Hand on a Gun" are protest pieces, and the striking "Billy Burroughs" turns the story of William S Burroughs and his dead lover into a chilling folk ballad with the refrain, Baby sit still and close your eyes / It's only the price of a good time

I still hold that Jeffrey Martin provides the perfect chaser to the music of Anna Tivel.  And retrospect will always humble me with my ever changing sentiments about this music I love.  One Go Around is the writer's third release, finding Martin adding new dimension and depth to his stunning work.  It has undoubtedly earned a spot among my favorites for the year, a stirring collection that delivers moment after moment of remarkable poetry. 
He grew up in a house in the valley / With a daddy who was one long cigarette

Also on this Episode, we continue to paint the town red 'n green with the most original and overlooked holiday music of the season.  Even as 2017 trips and stumbles towards the darkened finish line, we are drawn forward by the promise of bright new music in the form of Caleb Caudle and Jim White.  John Moreland shines alongside Shovels & Rope on the version of "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain" that you've been looking for ever since Willie stole the tune from Roy Acuff.  And on the near horizon we are drawn by strains from Marie/Lepanto, featuring a dream duo of Will Johnson and Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster.  Amen and amen. 

- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Baby It's Cold Outside" single  (Concord, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Overtime" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Mustangs" Soul Mining  (Ellenburg, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "No Time For Crying" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- Wood Brothers, "River Takes the Town" One Drop of Truth  (Honey Jar, 18)
- Tom Waits, "Little Rain" Bone Machine  (UMG, 92)
- Will Hoge, "Thoughts & Prayers" single  (Edlo, 17)
- Jim White, "Silver Threads" Waffles Triangles & Jesus  (Loose, 18)  D
- Kristina Murray, "How Tall the Glass" single  (Murray, 17)
- Joel Patterson, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar  (Bloodshot, 17)  D
^ Jeffrey Martin, "Surprise, AZ"  One Go Around  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Just Say It Now" Letters Never Read  (Blue Hen, 17)
- Robert Ellis & Courtney Hartman, "Old Time River Man" Dear John  (Refuge Fndtn, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "McDowell Road" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Shovels & Rope, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (w/John Moreland)" Busted Jukebox Vol. 2  (New West, 17)  D
- Parker McCollum, "South of the City Lights" Probably Wrong  (McCollum, 17)
- Minus 5, "Your Christmas Whiskey" Dear December  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Marie/Lepanto, "Inverness" Tenkiller  (Big Legal Mess, 18)  D
- Margo Price, "Heart of America" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Tornado Warning" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Hellbound Glory, "Six Strings Away" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Steve Earle, "NYC" El Corazon  (Warner, 97)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" Acoustic Christmas  (Amazon, 17)
- Caleb Caudle, "Open Arms" Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)  D
- Langhorne Slim, "Never Break" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Left Arm Tan, "Mistress Freedom" single  (LAT, 17)  D
- Emmylou Harris, "May This Be Love" Wrecking Ball  (Nonesuch, 95)
- Alela Diane, "Emigre" Cusp  (Diane, 18)  D
- JD Wilkes, "Walk Between the Raindrops" Fire Dream  (Big Legal Mess, 18)  D
- Ags Connolly, "I Hope You're Unhappy" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 16)

You've made it this far through my ramblings.  You deserve a warm, smooth ROUTES-cast for your troubles.  As always, so much good stuff here, and a guy who does his best to communicate his passion for music that matters.  Thanks for listening.  Thanks for sharing.  Thanks for your patience. 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
December 3, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

From artists and labels and promoters to just plain ol' listeners, I'm humbled and real grateful to all who responded to last week's favorites list. Comments came in all flavors, many reminding me of all the great stuff that wasn't included - believe me, I know about all that; I lost sleep over several things I had to leave off.  It all added up to the busiest month on record here at the home office in Northern Colorado. I'll leave last week's Episode up to enjoy for the remainder of 2017, even as we turn our attention to the year to come.  Because that's how we do.

In addition to our end-of-year lists, this time of year also opens the door to all sorts of holiday music.  And there is typically so very much of the stuff, and so much that you don't really need to listen to.  I see it as my role to serve as the snowblower to power through all the Sias and the Gwen Stefanis and all the rehashed Pentatonixes to unearth some of these buried treasures that might delight folks who enjoy what we do here at R&B.  Even if you've soured on seasonal stuff, be patient and you just might see that there's just some pretty good music here.

Let's start with some SINGLES, perfect for folks for whom a little Christmas goes a long way.  We'll certainly give extra bonus points for anyone who writes their own holiday songs, and Boo Ray has done just that, releasing "All Strung Out Like Christmas", a duet with Elizabeth Cook that Rolling Stone heralds as, "a tribute to the timeless tradition of getting drunk and getting it on".  Ah, Christmas.  Raul Malo and his Mavericks have wrapped up a pair of tunes for us, one original and their spirited take on Ronnie Spector's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".    The original, "Christmas Time is (Coming 'Round Again)" is a pleasantly manic romper held together by some fine piano and a stocking full of jingle bells.  Malo delivers with a sly wink and the lyric, "Christmas time is coming 'round again / If you don't believe at least pretend".  Once Vince Guaraldi set the indelible right hand piano line of "Linus & Lucy" in motion, a flurry of fascinating covers have followed (personal favorites include Bela Fleck, Los Straitjackets and Love Tractor).  Add to this Christmas list a faithful albeit slightly futuristic new take by Steelism, managing nods to both Buddy Emmons and Robert Fripp.  Finally, Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats offer remarkably restrained versions of what are surely among my least favorite recurring Christmas songs, "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "Santa Baby".  I know for a fact that there is an extra toasty room in hell reserved for people who sexualize Christmas with talk of chimneys, north poles and trimming the tree.  That said, Rateliff does something almost revolutionary in reversing the voice in both of these chestnuts.  While "Baby It's Cold" has increasingly earned the reputation as being real creepy, there's something charming in the uncredited woman telling Rateliff, "Your hair looks swell" or Rateliff complaining, "My mother will start to worry".  And on "Santa Baby", "Slip a sable under the tree for me / I've been an awful good girl".  To my knowledge, Michael Buble is the only male to attempt this song, but he proved cowardly in changing the lyrics to "Santa buddy".  Rateliff's laid back crooning wouldn't sound all too bad on a full album of this stuff.

More impressive are the artists who come a'caroling with an EP or a full LP's worth of ORIGINAL holiday faire.  Last year about this time, I was waxing all nostalgic under the influence of Matt Pond PA's exquisite Winter Lives full length.  Instead of "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty", the New York trio celebrates the season with "Sunset at the Gas Pump" and "Whoa".  By way of follow-up, this year Matt Pond brings us More Winter Lives, an EP featuring a couple remixes and a couple new things.  Rather than Christmas, you might call it "seasonal" or "winter music", instrospective chamber folk perfect for a fireside listen or a leisurely drive through the snowy trees (they're out there somewhere).  In a similar vein, Tony Dekker and Great Lake Swimmers offer They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore, an EP equally divided between originals and trads.  There is such a welcome warmth to this stuff, from the lush strings and the vocals confiding sweet secrets.

I'll insert a paragraph break here, since the final original from the Minus 5 is another thing entirely.  As Scott McCaughey and co. have proven over countless albums, EPs and singles, absolutely nothing is sacred (save maybe baseball).  In light of McCaughey's recent stroke, it must be acknowledged what an eclectic treasure he is to our kind of music.  Contrary to the hushed and reverent nature of the former collections, the originals on Dear December are perfect for moments of frivolity, misbehavior and ill advised indulgence.  God bless 'em, there's nothing reverent about "New Christmas Hymn":  I'm offering this Christmas hymn / Not for any ghost or Tiny Tim / For both the naughty and the nice / We're all skating on the same thin ice.  Other highlights include the Spector-esque "Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp Gulp" and "Your Christmas Whiskey", a tipsy ode that was originally featured in Yep Roc's 2007 Oh Santa! sampler.  Like just about everything else McCaughey touches, there's a distinct garage-y sensibility to all the proceedings, and it's all shot through with a glossy ribbon of timeless pop.  Guest appearances by M Ward, Colin Meloy, Chuck Prophet, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and more make this the year's only holiday party you won't want to miss.

By far the best way to soundtrack your holiday is with a various artists COMPILATION, a collection guaranteed to hit the target at least now and then.  I'll include an honorable mention here for Red House Records' Christmas on the Lam and Other Songs from the Season, which actually saw light last winter.  This one features contributions from label friends like Charlie Parr, Wailin' Jennys and the Pines, who provide a cottony taste of Gordon Lightfoot's splendid "Song For a Winter's Night".  The friendly folk at Amazon continue to add worthy new stuff to their Christmas playlists, aptly named Christmas Soul, Indie for the Holidays and Acoustic Christmas.  The generous soul selections include stuff ranging from Robert Finley and JC Brooks to soul-ish stocking stuffers from Texas Gentlemen and Nicole Atkins (providing the only soulful rendition of "O Holy Night" you're ever going to hear).  New additions to the indie list include Best Coast, Kevin Morby and Jessica Lea Mayfield's funereal reading of Loretta Lynn's "To Heck With Old Santa Claus".  Amazon introduces their Acoustic playlist advising listeners to "stay chill no matter where you're celebrating".  Will do, Amazon.  2017 contributions to this list include Lori McKenna, Courtney Marie Andrews, and White Buffalo, whose melodic "Christmas Eve" might be my favorite original holiday song of the year.

Nevertheless, I will reserve this final spot for our trusty friends at Bloodshot Records, whose 13 Days of Xmas answers the abiding question, "What would it sound like if Bloodshot released a Christmas record?" Well, it sounds like long established label artists like Jon Langford, Devil in a Woodpile and Murder by Death hitting the nog and pressing RECORD.  Guitarist James Elkington does Christmas Brit-folk style, prompting NPR to remind us that "Christmas carols needn't always be cheery and bright".  That'd make a suitable tagline for 13 Days, with Kelly Hogan's Blue Note-ready "Blue Snowfall" and the Yawpers' perfectly bleak "Christmas in Oblivion".  But wait!  Ha Ha Tonka counter the trend with a lovely "The List", and All Our Exes Live in Texas apply their beautiful voices to Paul Kelly's Australian-themed "How to Make Gravy".  But yeah, Zach Schmidt can't help but drown in his drink, "I'm Drunk Again This Christmas".  And while it's not necessarily the stuff to play during Grandma and Grandpa's visit, I've found Bloodshot's collection just the thing to keep my tired soul company during the long drives home from work in the early dark.

More ho ho ho in the works before we turn off the Christmas machine.  We're also speeding towards our promised December 31 favorite songs program.

- Left Arm Tan, "Best I Never Had" single  (LAT, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Surprise, AZ"  One Go Around  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Twenty-Two Years" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Parker McCollum, "Misunderstood" Probably Wrong  (McCollum, 17)
- Lee Ann Womack, "Sunday" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Rod Picott, "All the Broken Parts" Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail  (Welding Rod, 14)
^ Yawpers, "Christmas in Oblivion" 13 Days of Xmas  (Bloodshot, 17)  D
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Big Boat" Death & the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Midnight Train to Memphis" From A Room: Vol. 2  (Mercury, 17)
- Ruby Boots, "Don't Talk About It" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Drew Kennedy, "Jackson" At Home in the Big Lonesome  (Atlas Aurora, 17)
- Scott Miller, "Epic Love" Ladies Auxiliary  (FAY, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "Fireworks" Ruins  (Columbia, 18)
- Jeffrey Foucault, "Battle Hymn (of the College Dropout Farmhand)" Miles From the Lightning  (Rock River, 01)
- Cody Jinks, "Last Call For the Blues" Less Wise (Modified 2017)  (Jinks, 17)
- Kristina Murray, "How Tall the Glass" single  (Murray, 17)  D
- Jason & the Scorchers, "Harvest Moon" Midnight Roads & Stages Seen  (Mammoth, 98)
- Wilco, "When You Find Trouble" AM (Special Edition)  (Sire, 17)
- Diamond Rugs, "Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant" Diamond Rugs  (Partisan, 12)
^ Minus 5, "See You in December" Dear December  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
- Jim James, "World is Falling Down" Tribute to 2  (ATO, 17)
- Calexico, "Voices in the Fields" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Angel Olsen, "Tougher Than the Rest" Phases  (Jagjaguwar, 17)  D
- Robert Ellis & Courtney Hartman, "Gentle on My Mind" Dear John  (Refuge Fndtn for the Arts, 17)  D
- Light Wires, "Belly of the Beast" Light Wires  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Kim Richey, "Get Together (w/Mando Saenz)" single  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
- Blaze Foley, "Clay Pigeons" Live at the Austin Outhouse  (Lost Art, 99)
- Will Hoge, "Thoughts & Prayers" single  (Edlo, 17)  D
- Mary Gauthier, "War After the War" Rifles & Rosary Beads  (In the Black, 18)
^ Nicole Atkins, "O Holy Night" Christmas Soul  (Amazon, 17)  D

Sunday, November 26, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 26, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

As we warned, with this Episode we commit to our 30 favorite roots music records for the past 12 months. Once again, the lions lay with the lambs, the sure things mingle with the surprises, and I'm left with the vague feeling that I've forgotten something back at the office.

For this take of my year-end favorites, I've chosen to quote myself, to draw from my published reviews for each of the records rather than to reinvent the wheel and find different words to express the same thing. Where a published review doesn't exist, I did write something new.  Next week we'll return to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming, which will likely include a dash of holiday faire.  Most importantly, we begin consideration for our favorites list for 2018.


30. JD McPherson, Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, Oct 6)
"Watching that short Amoeba piece, JD McPherson reveals an impressive knowledge, and depth of appreciation for stuff that came before. The truest confirmation of this is found on these more contemporary tracks, where the band applies what they've borrowed to create a new product that is more than the sum of its parts. While it's still fun to play 'name that influence' with Undivided Heart, the accolades belong fully to McPherson and his band."

29. Jason Eady, Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, Apr 21)
The Fort Worth writer has never sounded so personal and immediate. By paring back his  new songs to basic arrangements, Eady allows the grain and grit to show. "Why I Left Atlanta", "Barabbas" and "Waiting To Shine" stand among his strongest work to date.

28. Deer Tick, Deer Tick Vol. 1 & 2  (Partisan, Sept 15)
I bundle this pair of releases because both sides of Deer Tick are essential. The fact that their sloppy, electric songs demonstrate such as appeal only makes the heart and soul of their acoustic tracks more remarkable. McCauley has never sounded better, from the beginning of Volume 1 to the close of Volume 2.

27. Jeremy Pinnell, Ties of Blood & Affection  (Sofaburn, Aug 11)
"This is his lane, Pinnell's modus operandi. He lays out a thick and satisfying country groove and tops it with lyrics not typically found rebounding off the timbers and tables of your average roadside establishment. 'I Don't Believe' launches like a classic country trucking song punctuated with pedal steel and relentless shuffle. Then he launches into the chorus: I don't believe in a long black train / Or a lake of fire / Or a 40 day rain / But I believe we can all be free / And I know that if something's wrong / Then it's gotta be me".

26. Colter Wall, Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, May 12)
"The Voice. A syrupy baritone drawl, something you might hear from a long-forgotten Delta bluesman, or perhaps from a hard living 1970s outlaw who defeated the odds to survive middle age. But not something you'd expect to exit the lungs of a 21 year-old Canadian who's still working on his first full beard. Thanks to smokes and who knows what else, Colter Wall's voice is a thing of rough beauty, perfectly hewn for the harrowing tales he tells on this self-titled record."

25. Robyn Ludwick, This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, May 5)
I tend to reject lists that group artists simply because of their gender - for instance, the best records released by women. Writers like Ludwick are worthy to be compared to other writers, regardless of their sex. Melodically, these songs burrow through your ears and into your spirit. Lyrically, their frank embrace of the darker side of life equals most other Texas writers for heart-on-sleeve truth telling.

24. Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling  (New West, Feb 24)
"Far and away the feel good record of the year, even as Rhett & co don't shy away from the fleeting bout with conscience. Not that they dwell overlong on matters of mortality, but the accompanying lyrics sheet will confirm that Miller remains one of the smartest writers of his generation, even in the midst of a seemingly brainless burner."

23. Parker McCollum, Probably Wrong  (McCollum, Nov 10)
"The stories are hard hitting and personal. The music is remarkably tight and more wide ranging that almost any other record this year. 'Lonesome Ten Miles' is infectious roots rock, while 'Things Are Looking Up' is straight country (with a great extended instrumental outtro). Get your 'grass from 'Blue Eyed Sally', or bathe in the red dirt country of 'Memphis Rain'. Probably Wrong is one -top musical shopping."

22. Texas Gentlemen, TX Jelly  (New West, Sep 15)
"It takes great talent to make a record that sounds like this much of a lovely mess. My hope for Texas Gentlemen is that the grooves get deeper, the rhythmic u-turns weirder, and the in-jokes less appropriate. The playing on TX Jelly isn't sloppy in the least. Rather, it's the production that colors so satisfyingly outside the lines, like a mutant strain of garage country-soul."

21. Lee Ann Womack, Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, Oct 27)
"Like Shelby Lynne or Miranda Lambert, she is fearless and discerning when employing her super powers. 'All the Trouble' stands as the darkest, most swampy thing she's ever recorded. Her vocal runs can be both sexy and sinister, borrowing both from the angels of gospel and the devils of the blues."

20. Anna Tivel, Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, Sep 29)
"These are glimpses into small lives on a trajectory towards redemption or ruin (we're rarely told which). On 'Ordinary Dance': And oh, oh my god, I wanted to do something great. Small Believer is a collection of short stories, gleaned from the constant buzz and murmur that surrounds us. The heartbreaking 'Blue World' begins with the picture of the quiet planet, sharp-focusing on the damp uncovered earth and the fallen bird. A soul escapes from the bounds of our daily details, taking flight like a sigh."

19. Ron Pope, Work  (Brooklyn Basement, Aug 18)
Once this year is done, once I've picked my way through Pope's August release, I'll go back and discover what I've mostly missed to this point. Work is one of those albums I noticed because the guy on the cover looks like I like my music to sound. I stayed because of the great writing, from the spirited, full-band arrangements to the touching, acoustic stuff like "Stick Around".

18. Son Volt, Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, Feb 17)
"Where 2013's Honky Tonk was said to be inspired by the Bakersfield sound, Jay Farrar's follow-up reportedly looks to the Delta blues for a spark. Fact is, 'Back Against the Wall' sounds like classic Farrar, and 'Lost Souls' is a touch more garage-y than we're used to from the deliberate artist ... The loud 'n messy on both fully available tracks is a nice sign of life, and the brief 'Souls' is harder and heavier than anything we've heard from Son Volt in years."

17. Ronnie Fauss, Last of the True  (Normaltown, Oct 27)
From 2012's I Am the Man You Know I'm Not thru '14's Built to Break and up to Fauss' offering for this year, the Dallas area writer has unleashed quite the 1-2-3 roundhouse. With his understated humor and his workmanlike way with a lyric, he simply continues to improve his craft. And since the earliest EPs, he's also proven to be one of the best pure interpreters of other writers' songs.

16. Margo Price, All American Made  (Third Man, Oct 20)
Margo Price's debut record burst onto the scene last year, reclaiming the sounds of classic country and soul and buzzing with promise. While Price's quickly released follow-up continues to showcase her blossoming confidence as a writer, All American Made plows little new ground. That said, songs like the title track and "Heart of America" are eloquent and personal glimpses into stories of the heartland.

15. Joseph Huber, Suffering Stage  (Huber, Apr 21)
"Like Springsteen or Jackson Browne or Mellencamp, Joseph Huber can warn of a storm on the horizon while focusing on the particulars of one small life. Running at just over seven minutes, 'The Suffering Stage' is a patient masterpiece, handing out resonant line after resonant line as a hushed fiddle swells into an anthemic full band and the singer holds court with an expert lyric flow. 'One more day ... oh, just one more day, Lord, here on the suffering stage'. Best case scenario holds that the storm will come and the rains will nourish the fields. The families will empty onto the sheltered front porch, and at least for one moment the tentative bonds that hold us together might seem just a bit stronger."

14. Cory Branan, Adios  (Bloodshot, Apr 7)
After four albums peppered with promise, it's as though Branan finally decided to buckle down and explore what it might sound like to explore his potential. The results nudge Branan from the crowded realm of capable americana singer-songwriters towards the rarefied air of classic writer. While some pieces resemble Todd Snider's more focused moments, others exceed the genre entirely with a sound better estimating Harry Nilsson.

13. David Ramirez, We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, Sep 8)
Even with the tagline "the very best of americana, and roots music", some of this stuff overflows our cozy boundaries. Ramirez has always been a thoughtful, understated singer-songwriter, but his current project deliberately challenges his own reputation. It's not just the synths and the state-of-the-art production, it's the overall spirit of the thing.

12. Nikki Lane, Highway Queen  (New West, Feb 10)
"The title track of Lane's 2014 starmaking All or Nothin' is a sure thing stomper that straddles the wide divide between trad and contemporary. A classic country story is propelled by a synthy pulse, Lane's Tanya Tucker drawl is applied to the kind of rural roots rap that the mainstream country kids like these days."

11. Tyler Childers, Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, Aug 4)
"Like Parker Millsap or John Fullbright from a couple states to the left, Tyler Childers delivers his stories in fully realized, soulful voice, equally conversant in the more trad folk and more contemporary alt. vernacular. 'I Swear (to God)' is a loose and good-natured ramble, one of several cuts ornamented by Stuart Duncan's bluegrass fiddle. It paints a vivid, Prine-esque portrait of the artist as a young roustabout, 'Working on a building out of hand hewn brimstone". 'Whitehouse Road' holds the signpost for the harder edge of things, boasting boldly of long evenings of questionable choices and general abandon. In this guise, Childers brings to mind a young Steve Earle."

10. Will Hoge, Anchors  (Edlo, Aug 11)
"This ain't your grampa's nostalgia. We acknowledge the people and the places of the past, but we also recognize 'the reckoning', the inheritances and hand-me-down legacies that haunt us. From the 'grand charade' a couple plays for their kids and their friends to the clunker of a family truck that might be coaxed back on the road with a little new paint. It's a nostalgia that makes room for both the charm and the curse. Will Hoge isn't damning the hand he's been dealt. He's just taking a more adult perspective."

9.  Justin Townes Earle, Kids in the Street  (New West, May 26)
"Jump to track 5, the title cut, which opens with a delicately picked acoustic and a childhood memory. This ain't the way it was back in 1993 / Now those weren't better days / But they still meant something to me / When we was kids out in the streets. It's the sort of beautiful picture of days passed that most of us can sketch from memory, the streets, the shade, the long afternoons (even if those bygones were from '93). The guitar is joined by a sepia toned slide and a simple bass line for an evocative and melancholy effect. And while some of the songs rock and some swing and several drip with soul, Kids in the Street spends the majority of its time directing our gaze to the rearview mirror."

8.  Ryan Adams, Prisoner  (PaxAm, Feb 17)
"Too much ink has been shed about how Prisoner is a breakup record, and not enough has been said about what a brilliant singer-songwriter record it is, or about the guitar pop that pervades this thing. I've watched several of Adams' live appearances on various late night shows, and he seems to be in such a pocket."

7.  Matthew Ryan, Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, May 12)
"These last two releases have seen Matthew Ryan gathering a crew of conspirators, players who encouraged him to embrace 'all that punk and noisy folk with a gigantic heart'. That appeal is nearest the surface on songs like 'Close Your Eyes' and 'Battle Born', tunes that bring to mind Paul Westerberg's edgy folk. The latter invokes heroes like Chrissie Hynde and Lou Reed, artists who raged against disillusionment and complacency, screaming hope in the land of the lost. But both songs show Ryan at his most public, making music with sharp hooks and a beat to bounce to, guitars wrestling drums for top booking."

6.  Turnpike Troubadours, Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, Oct 20)
"'Old Time Feeling (Like Before)' might be Long Way's musical high point, offering both an imminently singable chorus and a really sweet pedal steel line. Well I'm the same old me you know / Fucking up the status quo / Trouble all the way up to my neck. Perhaps you don't turn to bands like Turnpike Troubadours in search of answers to life's bigger questions. But where Isbell mines for meaning and Stapleton explores the country music archives, and while Sturgill pushes the boundaries, this band simply offers a good time well played."

5.  Jason Isbell, Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, Jun 16)
Hard to believe I haven't written a single word about this one since its release a half year ago. There's not an artist who better serves as the standard bearer for our kind of music, both the introverted, reflective americana and the hearty, aggressive It's also notable that Isbell has chosen to headline his new record with the encompassing moniker The Nashville Sound. Even with his relative acceptance by elements of the mainstream crowd, he is far from a household name. It says more about the man's intent than about his reach.

4.  Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Cornelius Chapel, Oct 20)
"We owe Cornelius Chapel Records and the band a debt of gratitude for finishing Don't Go Baby, and for releasing it almost exactly a year after Chris Porter's death. These are simply good songs, played by a band dedicated to assuring his final work is heard and appreciated. They take what could've ended at a roadside cross in 2016 and create a living, breathing document, a testament to a man's abundant talent and an honorable cap to his too-short life."

3.  Will Johnson, Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, Mar 24)
"The songs of Will Johnson's new album epitomize everything I want Routes & Branches to sound like. They're beautiful, crunchy, evocative, enigmatic. For years he has explored his louder, mightier tendencies with Centro-Matic and his more esoteric, introverted ideas with South San Gabriel. Johnson has collaborated with artists from Jason Molina to David Bazan. He has been a Monster of Folk and has joined Jay Farrar, Anders Parker and Jim James in the shadow of Woody Guthrie for New Multitudes. With his first solo project since drawing the curtain on Centro-matic, Will Johnson seems ready to gather all those musical forces under one roof."

2.  John Moreland, Big Bad Luv  (4AD, May 5)
"No doubt John Moreland is looking to capitalize on the attention he earned with Tulsa Heat, and the recent success of peers like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell might bring a larger audience to his doorstep. And, hey it certainly doesn't hurt that Miranda Lambert can't stop talking about the guy. But admidst the opportunity, and despite the changes and the new choices, he remains a genuine, strikingly eloquent artist. He is drawn by a truly personal muse, and sings with a depth of feeling like few others."

1.  Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, Jun 30)
"Nobody has generated more of a buzz 'n racket this year than Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. Youth Detention is punk. And, like the best punk, the double-CD gives us reason to rage while also issuing a rally cry and reminding listeners of what matters in the midst of a social shitstorm. Youth Detention is a truly remarkable document, like a shoebox jammed full with a jumble of memories, impressions, frustrations and identities."

And as we hurtle towards the New Year, god bless us, every one. And, at the risk of repurposing another Dickens quote: I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach." We could do worse than to open ourselves to music in the same spirit of welcome and discovery.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 19, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I'm not keeping track, but I think we break a minor record here, playing a full four (4) singles with no discernible connection to an album project.  And, as the attention span of music listeners dwindles, folks are more single-centric than ever.  For my part, I'm still a definite album guy.  In other news, I'm pretty old.

When Parker McCollum began to set his new songs to tape, the 25 year-old decided to meet the youngsters where they live.  Back in July, he issued four songs as Probably Wrong: Session One, followed by Session Two in September.  Now he's finished two more songs, releasing a proper ten-song Probably Wrong LP as god intended.  No real harm in trying new things.  It's what McCollum does on his new collection, making ear-friendly music whose production owes as much to pop as it does to country.

Let's face facts. There's nothing new about a breakup album, and McCollum's probably not the first country type to tell you how hard life can be on the road.  But you're probably wrong if you think Probably Wrong sounds like every other breakup CD out there.  With producer Lloyd Maines, McCollum has built a record that sounds beautiful and captivating from the edge of one headphone to the far reaches of the other.

While King of Everything Maines participated on Parker McCollum's debut, 2015's promising Limestone Kid, songs like "Learn to Fly" or "Memphis Rain" are more energized and brighter than anything on that first collection.  From the singer's soulful vocal delivery to the perfectly polished full band arrangements, Probably Wrong more than realizes the promise of those earlier songs.

With "Lucy" and "Meet You in the Middle", Limestone Kid introduced listeners to an unexpectedly skilled songwriter.  While Probably Wrong is a more eclectic collection, the spirit and the fire behind the project make this a different animal entirely.  "Memphis Rain" blazes behind a propulsive beat and sizzling electric guitar, finding resolution in a free range solo.  "Learn to Fly" bounces like a lost song from Robert Earl Keen's Gringo's Honeymoon, adding pedal steel and keys to the mix.  Add these cuts and "The Truth" to your road trip playlist at your earliest opportunity.

But let's not forget that McCollum has written some real sad songs about hard times and how long distances make the heart grow restless.  On the anthemic ballad "I Can't Breathe", he repeats, I'm on the road missing home / Missing the road while I'm home ...  Trust is at a low point, even as the singer recognizes that the stage is where he belongs.  From "Misunderstood": Late night train back to Austin / Couple cars, cocaine and the interstate / Most every night this is what it's like / You don't answer, I keep calling just to stay awake ...

The stories are hard hitting and personal.  The music is remarkably tight and more wide ranging than almost any other record this year.  "Lonesome Ten Miles" is infectious roots rock, while "Things Are Looking Up" is straight country (with a great extended instrumental outtro).  Get your 'grass from "Blue Eyed Sally", or bathe in the red dirt country of "Memphis Rain".  Probably Wrong is one-stop musical shopping.

While there has been some conversation about the CD's sound and production, I would draw a line between what's calculated and disingenuous and McCollum's smart and carefully considered approach.  Sure, we frequently want music that bears the fingerprints of the people who made it, that still flows with the blood that brought it into being.  Parker McCollum makes music that's human, sings with a deeply soulful voice, and cares about lyrics and communicating from his heart.  Polished or not, you can't get much more human than that.

- Michael Murphey, "Geronimo's Cadillac" Geronimo's Cadillac  (A&M, 72)
- Chris Stapleton, "Up to No Good Livin'" From A Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Tryin' to Untangle My Mind" From A Room: Vol. 2  (Mercury, 17)
- Cody Jinks, "Somewhere in the Middle (alt.take)" Less Wise (modified 2017)  (Jinks, 17)
- Anderson East, "King for a Day" Encore  (Elektra, 18)
- First Aid Kit, "Postcard" Ruins  (Columbia, 18)
- I'm With Her, "See You Around" See You Around  (Rounder, 18)  D
- Buddy & Julie Miller, "River's Gonna Run" Buddy & Julie Miller  (Hightone, 01)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Perilous Night" single  (ATO, 17)
- Wilco, "Dynamite My Soul" Being There (deluxe edition)  (Reprise, 17)
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Go On and Leave Me" Don't Go Baby ...  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
^ Parker McCollum, "I Can't Breathe" Probably Wrong  (McCollum, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Billy Burroughs" One Go Around  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Mapache, "Chico River" Mapache  (Spiritual Pajamas, 17)
- Flat Duo Jets, "My Life My Love" Wild Wild Love  (Daniel 13, 17)
- Ryan Bingham, "Dylan's Hard Rain" Roadhouse Sun  (Lost Hwy, 09)
- Derek Hoke, "Destination Unknown" Bring the Flood  (Little Hollywood, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "Ain't No Doubt About It" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- Wood Brothers, "River Takes the Town" One Drop of Truth  (Honey Jar, 18)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Oklahoma Stars" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Leif Vollebekk, "Tallahassee" single  (Secret City, 17)
- Fernando Viciconte, "9ft Wall" Widows (reissue)  (Domingo, 17)
- Bermuda Triangle, "Rosey" single  (Bermuda, 17)
- Otis Gibbs, "Darker Side of Me" Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth  (Wanamaker, 14)
- Anna Tivel, "Small Believer" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Work" Work  (Brooklyn Basement, 17)
- Tommy Emmanuel, "Borderline (w/Amanda Shires)" Accomplice One  (CGP Sounds, 18)  D
- Frazey Ford, "When We Get By" single  (Arts & Crafts, 17)
- Scott H Biram, "Just Another River" Bad Ingredients  (Bloodshot, 11)
- Maria McKee, "Life is Sweet" Life is Sweet  (Geffen, 96)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

it's our kind of music
November 12, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Every year I manage to generate a list of my favorite songs of the year.  This year that'll happen by December 31.  While every year brings its assortment of really good songs, it's so rare that any of them will achieve the status of the classics that define periods of our respective lives.  It makes me genuinely sad that I will never ever hear songs like "So. Central Rain" or "Love Will Tear Us Apart" or "Here Comes Your Man" for the first time.  Which is why I tend to react to songs like these with melancholy or despair and great longing.  Looking back on my favorite songs from past years  -  Justin Wells' "The Dogs", "Sagres" by Tallest Man on Earth, Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula", etc  -  I remain fond of 'em all, but ...  I suppose time will tell.

It's simply not possible to hear Chris Porter's new record outside the shadow of his passing last October at the age of 36.  Earlier reviews have plumbed lyrics for heartfelt final messages, or have sought to make Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You a Grand Final Statement, wrapping up Porter's perspective on life, the universe and everything.  Others hazard the guess that this new project would've vaulted Chris Porter into the roots music stratosphere, had he lived to reap those rewards.  Fact is, Don't Go was incomplete at the time of his death. We have little idea how it might have sounded were he able to see it through.  Fortunately, a team of friends and admirers completed the CD in his honor.  As with his previous solo album, Will Johnson serves as producer for the new stuff  Once again, the Mastersons back him up, and this time he's also joined by John Calvin Abney and Shonna Tucker.

So let's throw out the might-have-beens and the what-ifs, and let's simply admit that Chris Porter's final work confirmed what we already knew.  From Back Row Baptists across Some Dark Holler, through the Pollies and into 2015's This Red Mountain, he was on quite a trajectory with regards to the promise of his music.

Whereas Red Mountain was more of a singer-songwriter record, dealing with Porter's move from Alabama to Austin, Don't Go often paints with a hammer, coming across as a full band project. "East December", "Stoned in Traffic" and "Shit Got Dark" hit hardest.  Porter sounds more like a bandleader than a guy with a guitar.  Hence the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes.  This migration to a fuller, more complete sound largely defines the new work.

"Bittersweet Creek" and "Your Hometown" occupy a middle-ground, heartland roots rockers with a more personal appeal.  Every hometown's got a broken-hearted bitter old man that gave up boxing / Took a job at the strip mine digging up bars / Knocked her up and moved back home.  There's more of a roughness to Porter's voice on these new songs, a weariness and cynicism that find expression in a jagged edge. In releasing the reins a bit, he comes across as a looser, more confident artist.

There is a vulnerable beauty to "Go On and Leave Me":  Go on and leave me / I'm only bringing you down / I hope you find a spot where the lights are hot / And draw a crowd.  While the synths burbling beneath it all are unexpected at first, they eventually take their place as part of the noise, building to a  hail of growling guitars and drums.  That desperation also surfaces on "Don't Hang Up Virginia", my favorite track on the collection since I heard it months ago.  Don't hang up Virginia / I swear this time I'll hang around / Long enough to meet your Mom / Help her take her Christmas decorations down.

We owe Cornelius Chapel Records and the band a debt of gratitude for finishing Don't Go Baby, and for releasing it almost exactly a year after Chris Porter's death.  These are simply good songs, played by a band dedicated to assuring his final work is heard and appreciated.  They take what could've ended at a roadside cross in 2016 and create a living, breathing, document, a testament to a man's abundant talent and an honorable cap to his too-short life.

He was 6-feet-5 and weighed maybe 150 pounds.  He was all arms and legs, and when he drank his face went bright red; he was a cartoon character, and I mean that as the highest compliment.  It was impossible for him to talk and not use his hands ... long arms flailing, wrists and hands twirling and exclaiming and providing physical punctuation for whatever story he was telling.  -  Jon Dee Graham, Bitter Southerner 

- Robert Earl Keen, "Corpus Christi Bay" Bigger Piece of Sky  (Koch, 93)
- Cody Jinks, "Whisky Bent & Hell Bound" Less Wise: Modified Reissue  (Jinks, 17)  D
- Drew Kennedy, "Open Road" At Home in the Big Lonesome  (Atlas Aurora, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Feathered Indians" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Bright Lights" Letters Never Read  (Blue Hen, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Bloodhound Rock" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Eilen Jewell, "You Know My Love" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Parker McCollum, "Memphis Rain" Probably Wrong  (McCollum, 17)
- Margo Price, "Pay Gap" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- Becky Warren, "Full of Bourbon" War Surplus (reissue)  (Warren, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Something To Hold On To" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Perilous Night" single  (ATO, 17)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Early Spring Till (live)" Live at Red Rocks  (Concord, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Worried" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Trading Paint" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Falling Out of Love With You" Boy Crazy & Single(s)  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Thrift Store Dress" One Go Round  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Eliza Jane" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Sonny Smith, "Pictures of You" Rod For Your Love  (Easy Eye, 18)  D
- Deep Dark Woods, "Teardrops Fell" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Light Wires, "Heavy With Distance" Invisible Hand  (Sofaburn, 17)  D
- Scott Miller, "Ten Miles Down the Nine Mile Road" Ladies Auxiliary  (FAY, 17)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "Best I Never Had" single  (LAT, 17)  D
- Jaime Wyatt, "Wasco" Felony Blues  (Forty Below, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "10,000 Horses" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "Build a Bridge" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- HC McEntire, "A Lamb a Dove" Lionheart  (Merge, 18)  D
- Mary Gauthier, "Bullet Holes in the Sky" Rifles & Rosary Beads  (In the Black, 18)  D
- Travis Meadows, "Pray for Jungleland" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

home for the americana diaspora
November 5, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

So last week I mentioned that we'd be removing the wraps from this year's favorite albums list on or about November 26.  Let's reserve December 31 for my favorite songs of the year.  In between we'll throw some Christmas at you, and maybe an Episode devoted to stuff we've whiffed on during 2017 (though I don't know that there's much).

Apparently, I harbor quite a few pet peeves.  Foremost among my collection is the common practice of giving an artist a "pass" simply for who they used to be.  It genuinely baffles me how, like our muscles and joints and ligaments, human creativity can sometimes become flaccid and underperforming with age.  How is it that someone can show such tremendous talent as a younger adult, then cruise into their middle age and beyond on nothing but fond memories?  On R&B, I'd like to think that an artist has to earn their part in our playlist with every new release.  In large part, this explains why I haven't played a new Willie Nelson record in years.  Or Neil Young.

It also leads us to our take on Lee Ann Womack's ninth release, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone.  It's so seldom that a performer not only stays relevant, but reaches for new levels of artistry at this point in her career.  I think she started appearing on certain americana radars around the time of 2005's There's More Where That Came From.  2014's The Way I'm Livin' cemented that transition from country pop hitmaker to neo-trad roots singer-songwriter, garnering Womack nominations for both the Americana Music Association's Album of the Year and the Grammy for Best Country Album.  With seven cowrites and a newfound commitment to exploring the soul of country music, her new collection resets all expectations.

Fact is, Lee Ann Womack has always proven herself an exceptional judge of writers, pairing with names like Stapleton, Chris Knight and Brent Cobb prior to their popular recognition.  Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone finds her working with Waylon Payne, Cobb and Adam Wright on a truly eclectic range of material, from the trad country weeper "End of the End of the World" to her haunting mastery of "Long Black Veil" and the dirty Texas soul of "All the Trouble".

That latter track sets the stage for the sturdy thread of soul that weaves through the record.  It also serves to remind us of Womack's uncommon grace as a vocalist.  Like Shelby Lynne or Miranda Lambert, she is fearless and discerning when employing her super powers.  "All the Trouble" stands as the darkest, most swampy thing she's ever recorded.  Her vocal runs can be both sexy and sinister, borrowing both from the angels of gospel and the devils of the blues.

Womack fairly transforms one of my favorite cuts from last year, Brent Cobb and Andrew Combs' "Shine On Rainy Day".  It's song that both writers have recorded, but neither mines the levels of soul and sweetness of this version.  It's also one of several pieces that plugs in a somewhat fuzzy electric guitar to compliment the deliberately swampy/lush production (both courtesy of guitarist/producer and husband Frank Liddell).  Where "All the Trouble" threatened a stormy forecast, most of Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone opts for a mood of overcast melancholy.

See "Hollywood" as an example.  A subdued and forlorn track in the tradition of Bobby Gentry or Dusty Springfield, it portrays the flickering flame of an expired relationship.  Both parties go through the motions, never especially acknowledging the hollowness of the "I love you's" and "Good nights".  With literal doo-wop backing vocals and sentimental strings, it's a retro weeper.  See also, "Sunday", another Womack cowrite that feeds the soul with its grooves and another stellar vocal.

While Womack's new collection sounds as current as Stapleton or Sturgill, the artist has always made a point of bearing a torch for tradition.  In addition to "Long Black Veil", you'll find her tearing through George Jones' fiery "Take the Devil Out of Me" and slinking through Harlan Howard's "He Called Me Baby".  The latter is a five-minute class in delivering a vocal, alternately cooing like a young Patsy Cline and belting like Candi Staton.  A number of weeks ago, I devoted similar praise to Nicole Atkins' retro-tastic Goodnight Rhonda Lee.  But where that record was a bit more self-conscious in its embrace of early rock and trad country, Lee Ann Womack comes across as more genuine and less campy in her satisfying tribute.  It's the difference between approximating the tradition, serving it, or incorporating the tradition in your wider wheelhouse.

- Hellbound Glory, "Empty Bottles" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Tom Vandenavond, "Brick by Brick" You Oughta Know These By Now  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 17)
- White Buffalo, "Heart and Soul of the Night" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Sad Days and Lonely Nights" Death and the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Scarecrow in the Garden" From A Room Vol. 2  (Mercury, 17)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Trying Hard Not to Know" Live at Red Rocks  (Concord, 17)
- Pontiac Brothers, "Straight and Narrow" Doll Hut/Fiesta en la bibioteca  (Frontier, 85)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Soul Mine" Soul Mine  (Ellenburg, 17)  D
- Ronnie Fauss, "New Madrid" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Drew Kennedy, "Sing This Town to Sleep" At Home in the Big Lonesome  (Atlas Aurora, 17)  D
- Hayes Carll, "Magnolia Wind" single  (Next Waltz, 17)  D
- Steve Earle, "Loretta" Townes  (New West, 09)
- Ruby Boots, "It's So Cruel" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Anderson East, "King for a Day" Encore  (Elektra, 18)
- Mapache, "Chico River" Mapache  (Spiritual Pajamas, 17)
- Jim James, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" Tribute to 2  (ATO, 17)  D
- Langhorne Slim, "Zombie" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Americans, "Stowaway" I'll Be Yours  (Incandescent, 17)
- Blitzen Trapper, "Stolen Hearts" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Don't Hang Up Virginia" Don't Go Baby ...  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Nick Dittmeier & Sawdusters, "Ever Since You Left Town" Midwestern Heart/Southern Blues  (Dittmeier, 16)
- Joe Henry, "Hungry" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Sad Blue Eyes" One Go Round  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, "Call on God" Soul of a Woman  (Daptone, 17)
- Elliott BROOD, "Gentle Temper" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Bloodhounds, "Indian Highway" Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 14)
- Deer Tick, "Cocktail" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Jaw" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Wilco, "Myrna Lee" AM (Special Edition)  (Reprise, 17)
- Wilco, "Sunken Treasure (live on KCRW 11/13/96)"  Being There (Deluxe Edition)  (Reprise, 17)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Give Evan Felker four or five minutes and he'll sing you a story.  Give his band, Turnpike Troubadours a couple hours and they'll rock an audience harder than almost any other country act.  Their new collection, Long Way From Your Heart, is the sound of a tight, road-honed outfit taking that energy and professionalism into the studio for a watermark record.  

Long Way arrives in the wake of a trio of releases that began with promise (2010's Diamonds & Gasoline, 2012's Goodbye Normal Street) and found realization with 2015's self-titled CD.  Most remarkably, Evan Felker has woven throughout these songs the stories of people and places that surface from one album to another.  Like the young family walking through the smoke of the opener, "Housefire", finding an ironic freedom in the loss.

Turnpike Troubadours' songs are constructed from sturdy levels of sound, and the listener is never far from the sharp hook of a melodic moment.  Fiddle shines in the fore of nearly every song.  In the absence of fiddle there's harmonica or there's the nourishing buzz of electric guitar, or the band's newly increased commitment to pedal steel.  "Pipe Bomb Dream" and "Something To Hold On To" are steady red dirt powerhouses, while "Winding Stair Mountain Blues" arrives with a tinge of 'grass like a harder hitting Trampled By Turtles.

"Tornado Warning" might bring to mind Robert Earl Keen, while edgier moments honor the tradition of James McMurtry.  And Felker brings in cowriters like Jamie Lin Wilson, Kev Russell, Jonny Burke and John Fullbright for good measure.  But the Troubadours' most effective magic lies in their identity as a collective.  Both "Oklahoma Stars" and "Sunday Morning Paper" show more patience and maturity than anything on the band's previous releases.  The latter begins as a fingerpicked folker, before it unspools into a honky tonk revival, a heartfelt tribute to an unnamed musical hero.

"Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" may be Long Way's musical high point, offering both an imminently singable chorus and a really sweet pedal steel line.  Well I'm the same old me you know / Fucking up the status quo / Trouble all the way up to my neck.  Perhaps you don't turn to bands like Turnpike Troubadours in search of answers to life's bigger questions.  But where Isbell mines for meaning and Stapleton explores the country music archives, and while Sturgill pushes the boundaries, this band simply offers a good time well played.

Also this week, we learn that "Mapache" means "raccoon" in Spanish.  And that the California country-folk duo is exploring new strains of mellow on their full length debut.  It dawns on us that Ronnie Fauss just gets stronger as a writer, and that there is righteousness in the rough punk blues of a man with the middle name Porkchop.  And let's say that we'll plan our year-end favorite albums list for debut on the week of November 26.  'Kay?

- JD McPherson, "Crying's Just a Thing That You Do" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Flat Duo Jets, "Please Please Baby" Wild Wild Love  (Daniel 13, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "Pontiac" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Mapache, "Broken Down Cadillac" Mapache  (Spiritual Pajamas, 17)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single  (LAT, 17)
- Mary Gauthier, "Drag Queens in Limousines" Drag Queens in Limousines  (In the Black, 99)
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Bittersweet Creek" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Lee Ann Womack, "Bottom of the Barrel" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
^ Turnpike Troubadours, "Winding Stair Mountain Blues" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Jerry Jeff Walker, "Jaded Lover" Ridin' High  (UMG, 75)
- Margo Price w/Willie Nelson, "Learning to Lose" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- 23 String Band, "Long Hot Summer Day" Catch 23  (23SB, 11)
- Langhorne Slim, "House of My Soul (You Light the Rooms)" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Leif Vollebekk, "Tallahassee" single  (Secret City, 17)  D
- Wilco, "Should've Been in Love" AM  (Reprise, 17)
- Calexico, "End of the World With You" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Fallen Leaves" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Twenty-Two Years" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Pine Valley Cosmonauts, "Horses" Executioner's Last Songs Vols. 2 + 3  (Bloodshot, 03)
- Becca Mancari, "Summertime Mama" Good Woman  (Tone Tree, 17)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Trouble Is" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Be Righteous" Death & the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Joana Serrat, "Come Closer" Dripping Springs  (Loose, 17)
- Joe Henry, "Blood of the Forgotten Song" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Will I Ever Reach Laredo" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "Postcard" Ruins  (Columbia, 18)
- Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Fine and Mellow" My Dearest Darkest Neighbor  (TiAM, 13)
- Becky Warren, "Fort Sam Boys" War Surplus  (Warren, 17)
- Tim Barry, "High on 95" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)
- Jack Rose & Black Twig Pickers, "Some Happy Day" Jack Rose & Black Twig Pickers  (VHF, 09)