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Sunday, November 18, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 18, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Last year we launched a new R&B tradition.  As we whittle down our own year-end favorites lists, we turn to artists who have helped define 2018 and ask what's been on their respective turntables over the past twelve months.

About twenty years ago, Iowa City's Kelly Pardekooper surfaced with a lo-fi record called 30-Weight.   In October, he observed the anniversary with a new collection appropriately titled 50-Weight.  The underappreciated Midwest roots-rock writer recommends a healthy haul of albums, a couple of which are actually in the running for my own favorites list.  Pardekooper praises Kevin Gordon's Tilt & Shine, Neko Case's Hell-on, Cat Power's Wanderer, and Pistol Annies' Interstate Gospel.  And while it was released before the beginning of the year, he couldn't help but celebrate the long-awaited return of Jason Lytle's Grandaddy as the proverbial bow on top of his pile, for last year's Last Place.

One of the reasons I love asking artists for their own favorites is that they'll often introduce me to stuff I've not yet heard.  Cue Adam Faucett, whose fiercely beautiful It Took the Shape of a Bird was issued by Last Chance Records this Summer.  Faucett starts close enough to home, wisely praising Austin Lucas' Immortal Americans CD.  Here's where the new names start for me.  Oklahoma's post-rock outfit Ester Drang unleashed an EP called The Appearances just a couple weeks ago.  Faucett actually served as producer for Return, by Arkansas poet and songwriter William Blackart.  And he sent a last-minute email to add Alienated by The Funs to his list. founding father John Howie Jr's Not Tonight received some R&B bloglove in September.  I love it when artists add their own quick thoughts to back up their picks.  Here are Howie's reflections on five faves:
Gene Clark, Sings For You  (Omnivore) - "I'm not really a fan of singular superlatives, but Gene Clark is one of my favorite songwriters, no two ways about it. The Byrds are def in my top 5 bands, and Gene's solo career eclipses that of the other members, unless you count Gram. Great to have some 'new' stuff from him. A killer album."
Loretta Lynn, Wouldn't It Be Great (Legacy) - "I can only hope that if I'm still making albums - or if I'm still alive! - at 86, I can do something one-tenth as good as this. Her voice sounds great, the songs are great, sympathetic production, just a killer album."
No Love, Choke On It (Sorry State) - "Kick-ass, amazing NC punk rock. If you like that kinda stuff, you'll love this album. I even bought a t-shirt."
Sierra Ferrell, Washington by the Sea single - "I don't know much about her, I guess she lives in Nashville. I've purchased all of the stuff she has on Bandcamp. This is my favorite, but all of her songs are superb. Great, classic honky tonk/country-based, she has her own style. Love it."
Hillbillies in Hell, Vol. 5 (Omni) - "This whole series is fantastic. Back in the late 90s, when the Two Dollar Pistols played in Atlanta, a collector friend of mine who lived there used to give me these insane tapes full of wacky, rare honky tonk and country, and a lot of that stuff is on these LPs. Songs about dyin', cheatin', prayin', drinkin', all the essentials. Great, great stuff." 

We'll close out this week's generous offerings by paying a visit to William Matheny.  2018 found the former Southeast Engine contributor sharing an April album of live tracks and outtakes called Moon Over Kenova.  More recently, he released a stellar single featuring his cover of Centro-Matic's "Flashes and Cables" and an original, "Christian Name".  Here's hoping we'll see another full-length from Matheny in 2019!  He also chose to put pen to paper and record some of his own thoughts about his favorites from the past several months:

John R Miller & the Engine Lights, Trouble You Follow (Emperor) - "I might be biased because John plays bass in my band, but I don't think I am. From the stage, I usually introduce John as 'the best songwriter in whatever room he happens to be standing in' and that's not hyperbole. John's released quite a few albums with The Fox Hunt and Prison Book Club (I was something of an auxiliary member in the latter) and he already has one solo record under his belt, but The Trouble You Follow feels like something of a grand arrival. I can't recommend it enough."
Courtney Marie Andrews, May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird) - "Her voice is such an incredible instrument and her songs about a life of touring, the thorny nature of relationships and class injustice in America have been a real source of comfort and resolve for me this year."
Daniel Romano, Modern Pressure (New West) - "I don't pay much attention to release dates and as a result, I'll occasionally get into things a couple years after the fact. This album actually come out in 2017, but I didn't hear it until our drummer, Clint Sutton, started touring with us full time in February. I can't get enough of this record. It's addictive."
Adam Remnant, Sourwood (Anyway) - "My old Southeast Engine bandmate released his full length solo debut this year and predictably, it's amazing. Adam's has been huge inspiration for me as a vocalist, songwriter and bandleader. I learned a ton from him during our time together."
Connie Converse, How Sad How Lovely (Squirrel Thing) - "Another one that came out a few years ago, but I'm taking the deep dive now. This just absolutely blew me away. It's a really tragic and interesting story, but I try not to fetishize that kind of thing and just focus on the music. Connie Converse was a true master. Sort of like Bob Dylan did about a decade later, she seemed to have internalized all of American popular music, mastered the form and found a way to push it forward. No one was doing anything remotely close to this at the time."
Spoiler, Matheny and I also have a couple common records in our year-end favorites.  That's it for this Episode.  I've got a couple more artists who are reportedly still polishing up their picks, and I'll make some space for those in the days and weeks to come.  As mentioned a couple weeks ago, I'll be covering my own favorite songs for 2018 on November 26.  My favorite records for the year will happen on or about December 10.  You attendance is requested.  And feel free to share your own favorites list(s), either through the Comment option below, or by emailing me at

I've allowed myself a week without a formal review here.  Which doesn't mean my fingers haven't been itchy to share a blast of good ol' fashioned rockandroll from Baltimore's Western Star.  Their second full-length, Any Way How (Saustex) is cut through with a brand of flirty swagger you'll rarely find in our kind of music.  Also, I've been aware of Chuck Westmoreland's Long Winter Rodeo (Black & Gold) since it was released back in June, but it's been one of those records I've stupidly never pulled the trigger on. I haven't done a "stuff Scott whiffed on" Episode for this year, but if I did ...  Now that it's on our playlists, I can start bubbling over about the Oregon's writer's uncommon ear for a lyric and his pure and decent approach to slightly left-of-here  Between you and me, I've made sure each of these is on my longlist for year-end favorites.

- Elvis Costello & the Impostors, "Suspect My Tears" Look Now (Concord, 18)
- Brown Bird, "Needy Generator" Devil Dancing (Brown Bird, 09)
- Becky Warren, "Sunshine State" Undesirable (Warren, 18)
- Doug Paisley, "Mr Wrong" Starter Home (No Quarter, 18)
- Ryan Adams, "Kiss Before I Go" Jacksonville City Nights (UMG, 05)
- Shonna Tucker, "For You" Dreams of Mine EP (Tucker, 18)  D
- Deer Tick, "Strange Awful Feeling" Mayonnaise (Partisan, 19)
- Timber, "Burying Ground" The Family (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Chuck Westmoreland, "Mama Be Eternal" Long Winter Rodeo (Black & Gold, 18)  D
- Carson McHone, "Drugs" Carousel (Nine Mile, 18)
- Ryley Walker, "Grace is Gone" Lillywhite Sessions (Dead Oceans, 18)
- State Champions, "When I Come Through" Send Flowers (Sophomore Lounge, 18)
- I Can Lick Any SOB, "Hillbilly Drummer Girl" This One's For the Fellows (Blue Disguise, 04)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Way She Looked At You" single (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Suit in the Back" QCNH (Lightning Rod, 19)  D
^ Western Star, "Coast to Coaster" Any Way How (Saustex, 18)
- Foxwarren, "Everything Apart" Foxwarren (Anti, 18)  D
- Jeff Tweedy, "Let's Go Rain" Warm (dBpm, 18)
- Delines, "Eddie and Polly" The Imperial (El Cortez, 19)  D
- Robert Ellis, "Fucking Crazy" Texas Piano Man (New West, 19)  D
- Mercury Rev, "Sermon (feat. Margo Price)" Bobby Gentry's the Delta Sweete Revisited (Partisan, 19)  D
- Honeycutters, "All I Got" When Bitter Met Sweet (Honeycutters, 12)
- Nick Dittmeier & Sawdusters, "City of God" All Damn Day (Eastwood, 18)
- Kelly Pardekooper, "Baby" 50-Weight (Pardekooper, 18)
- Greensky Bluegrass, "All For Money" All For Money (Blue Zoo, 19)  D
- Great Dying, "Tennessee Song" Bloody Noses & Roses (Dial Back Sound, 18)
- Flesh Eaters, "My Life to Live" I Used to Be Pretty (Yep Roc, 19)
- Halden Wofford & High Beams, "30 Pack" Hard Core Broken Heart (Wofford, 18)  D
- Avett Brothers, "Roses & Sacrifice" single (Republic, 18)  D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Don't Ride That Horse" Big Iron World (Nettwerk, 06)

We've added a generous amount of new stuff this week (marked with a "D" above), including an unexpected EP from Shonna Tucker.  And an unexpected single from Sarah Shook & the Disarmers.  I'm beyond thrilled that Willy Vlautin and the Delines have given us a street date for their next volley (Jan 11), now that Amy Boone is up and about again.  The first couple months of the coming year are looking great, with new stuff as well from Robert Ellis.  Finally, I'm very curious about Mercury Rev's forthcoming project, reinterpreting the songs of Bobby Gentry with some help from vocalists Margo Price, Beth Orton, Lucinda Williams and more.  Here it is, your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Monday, November 12, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 11, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I'm regularly disappointed by my own writing.  Question is, why write about something when others have written more satisfyingly about the same thing.  I flop around in hopes of establishing my own voice, then I read something from another writer who makes my stuff look like the back of a cereal box.  There are some real quality writers out there, and you could do worse than click down the list of sites to your right, filed under A Good Place to Start.  All that to say that the Noisey site has published a great piece profiling MC Taylor and Hiss Golden Messenger on the occasion of the release of Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children.

After years of alphabetizing nearly everything I was ever sent by labels, artists and promoters, I recently jettisoned almost 2000 CDs.  I'm not a collector, no longer entirely hooked by the material side of what we do.  That said, Devotion is an imminently satisfying package, a slipcased 4-CD/LP set with some fine original art (Sam Smith) and liner notes (Amanda Petrusich, John Mulvey), defining a distinctly important period in the development of Hiss Golden Messenger.

More recently, Taylor and his collaborators have delivered a trio of superb records that stand together as a statement:  Lateness of Dancers (14), Heart Like a Levee (16) and Hallelujah Anyhow (17).  Almost everything on the new box set has previously been heard, though the tracks are remastered.  The bulk of the impact comes from hearing these earlier cuts alongside one another, and hearing them with HGM's current output fresh in our ears.

Remember too that MC Taylor was initially part of a California outfit called Court & Spark.  Upon their dissolution, he recorded Country Hai East Cotton as Hiss Golden Messenger in 2009.  His young family fell into dire financial straits soon after, which prompted the first album in this box, 2010's Bad Debt.  Taylor famously set his songs to cassette tape from the family's North Carolina kitchen table, his toddler son asleep in the next room.  It's a lo-fi/no-fi project, with acoustic guitar and vocals punctuated by squeaking chairs, tape hiss and unidentified bumps.  But the genesis of HGM already exists, especially in words and themes that would echo throughout Taylor's work going forward:  O little light / No, I'm not afraid to die / But look at what I've got / I'd like to stay just a little while.  The session's intimacy reaches beyond the setting, as the writer lays bare his hopes and fears, doubts and confessions.  The pastoral folk of "O Little Light", "Straw Man Red Sun River Gold" and "Super Blue (Two Days Clean)" remains endearing, even a welcome reprieve from the relative studio perfection of later work.  Owing to a limited release and a label fire, Bad Debt never made it far from home, and half of the songs would be re-recorded on subsequent records.

On the surface, 2012's Poor Moon is a different beast, following Taylor out from the kitchen and into the studio with friends like Nathan Bowles, Hans Chew and Scott Hirsch.  Flesh and feathers are added to songs we heard in their rawest form on Bad Debt, such as "Call Him Daylight" and "Jesus Shot Me in the Head".  The previously introspective "Super Blue" has become a driving shuffle with keys, electric guitars and drums, Taylor delivering a commanding vocal.  Folk roots are never far from the surface, especially on the CD's beautiful instrumentals, and the open studio door allows in the sounds of owls, crickets, thunder.  Having relocated from one coast to the other, Hiss Golden Messenger sought to absorb and reflect the vernacular as heard in the word, the soil, the faith of the South:  I think love is in the living / Rook, crow, little sparrow, and under all the land / Oh what is love / What is love / I am.  Of Poor Moon's unheard tracks, "Westering" and "Blue Country Mystic" cast their spell with horns, keys and full sail soul.  With its keening pedal steel, fiddle and a loose acoustic arrangement, "A Working Man Can't Make It No Way" is as country as Taylor gets, evoking the spirit of Merle Haggard.

2013's Haw presents Hiss Golden Messenger, fully formed, adding the valuable voices of William Tyler and Brad and Phil Cook to the musical mix. Where Poor Moon seemed almost celebratory, Taylor calls its successor "autumnal" and "a set of dusty little prayers", expressing questions and achieving a comfortable peace with doubt: Say whatever prayer you want / In whatever darkness you end up in / To Jehovah or Yahoway or Red Rose Nantahala / O lord let me be happy.  Pieces like "Devotion" and "Sweet As John Hurt" mine deeper from blues, country and gospel more than they do folk music.  Certain of the songs add studio treatments, strings and even experiment a bit, but never sacrificing the vulnerability that characterized those earliest sessions.  Standout tracks include "I've Got a Name For the Newborn Child" and "Red Rose Nantahala", both of which speak to the smoothness of MC Taylor's vocals, perfectly compromised with a touch of rasp.

Virgo Fool is the wildcard of this deck, a restless gathering of odds 'n sods from throughout this early period. There are some covers of tunes originally by Michael Hurley and Ronnie Lane, as well as an unexpectedly admirable take on Led Zeppelin's "Black Country Woman" that features some strong gospel elements and box-of-rocks percussion.  "Lion/Lamb" recalls Iron & Wine:  It's hard to be free / We all search for new shackles / Yes we take them happily.  "Rock Holy" hearkens to Hiss Golden Messenger records that would be released in years to come, with more aggressive fuzz guitar and keys, horns and backing vocals verging on funky.  If there is a revelation on Virgo Fool it is "Issa", a haunting psychedelic blues outtake from Haw that features the box set's only flute solo:  What do you do with your heart of stone / And your hat full of rain / What do you do with your jaded eyes / That cannot mark a thing.

Which all makes one wonder where the first step in the next chapter of Hiss Golden Messenger might lead us.  The Noisey piece mentions that we should expect a new studio project this Spring: My records kind of unfurl like chapters of a really long book. My reinventions from record to record, they're still re-combinations of the things that I know communicate my emotions the best. I guess what I'm saying is, it's unlikely that I'm gonna make a dance record. Not because I don't like that music, but because I need to be using a language that feels absolutely genuine to me. (Folks who appreciate quality music writing will also want to check out a recent profile published by The Atlantic) From those earliest tentative dinner table sessions to last year's more groove-oriented CD, Taylor's familiar language and the integrity of his vision have proven the constant.  A student and then a teacher of folklore, Taylor proves the malleability of his medium.  As a lyricist, he embraces the value of traditional Bible stories and questions, though he does not call himself a Christian.  Weaving the imminently familiar rhythms and the seasons of the natural world, of Rivers and Spirits and Children, Hiss Golden Messenger has generated a mythology all of his own. What shall be / Shall be enough.

- Lucinda Williams, "Metal Firecracker" Car Wheels On a Gravel Road  (Mercury, 98)
- William Tyler, "Fail Safe" Goes West  (Merge, 19)  D
- Dirty River Boys, "Western Star" Mesa Starlight  (DRB, 18)
- Michigan Rattlers, "Didn't You Know" Evergreen  (Rattlers, 18)
- AA Bondy, "American Hearts" American Hearts  (Fat Possum, 07)
- Lauren Morrow, "I Don't Think About You At All" Lauren Morrow  (Morrow, 18)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Flying Over Water (live)" Live From the Ryman  (Southeastern, 18)
- John R Miller, "How It Feels In the Light" Trouble You Follow  (Emperor, 18)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Late For Church" Ganstabilly  (Ruth St, 98)
- State Champions, "If You Don't Show Me" Send Flowers  (Sophomore Lounge, 18)  D
- Timber, "Shuttlecock" Family  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)  D
- Pistol Annies, "Commisary" Interstate Gospel  (Sony, 18)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Mother Mountain (feat. Oliver Wood)" Southern Ground Sessions  (3 Legged, 18)
- Low Anthem, "Yellowed by the Sun" What the Crow Brings  (Low Anthem, 07)
- Western Star, "Paper Leather & Lead"  Any Way How  (Saustex, 18)  D
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Take Another Shot" Every Way But Easy  (KEG, 18)
- Carter Sampson, "Peaches" Lucky  (Horton, 18)
- Steel Woods, "Rock That Says My Name" Old News  (Woods, 19)
- Nathan Bowles, "Ruby / In Kind I" Plainly Mistaken  (Paradise of Bachelors, 18)
- Deer Tick, "White City" Mayonnaise  (Partisan, 18)
- Rhett Miller, "Permanent Damage" Messenger  (ATO, 18)
- Hayes Carll, "None 'ya" What It Is  (Dualtone, 19)  D
- Mavis Staples, "No Time For Tryin'" Live in London  (Anti, 19)  D
^ Hiss Golden Messenger, "I've Got a Name For the Newborn Child" Haw Remastered  (Merge, 18)
- One Eleven Heavy, "Crosses" Everything's Better  (Kith & Kin, 18)
- Rosanne Cash, "Only Thing Worth Fighting For" She Remembers Everything  (Blue Note, 18)
- Will Oldham, "Ohio River Boat Song" Songs of Love and Horror  (Drag City, 18)
- Fruit Bats, "Getting In a Van Again" single  (Merge, 18)  D
- GospelbeacH, "Runnin' Blind (Winter Version)" Another Winter Alive  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)
- Anna Tivel, "Fenceline" The Question  (Fluff & Gravy, 19)

This busy busy week we add new stuff to our mix from familiar friends like William Tyler and Hayes Carll.  Will Stewart continues an already successful 2018 with a new project under the Timber moniker.  And we throw some true grit into the proceedings with some help from State Champion and Deer Tick, dropping an electric Pogues cover. Western Star.  Next week, we'll take a tentative dip into our year-end traditions, asking favorite R&B artists about their own favorites from the last twelve months (or so). 

Monday, November 05, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 4, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Last Episode I mentioned that I'd share some dates for our upcoming year-end ROUTES-casts.  After staring down the calendar for a couple minutes, I've emerged with these:

Favorite Songs:  November 26
Favorite Records:  December 10
Christmas Show:  December 23

Please plan your lives accordingly.  I'll let you know that my in my first pass through the year's releases I pared things down to just 52 contendahs.  Always feel free to share your own year-end favorites, either by comment below or by email to  Partake in the joy that is the holiday season at Routes & Branches {ding dong}.

I've kept no secret that my taste in music vastly overflows the boundaries we've established here at R&B hq.  I could (and have (and still might again)) shared lists of favorite roots-free records.  As a young and opinionated music snob aficionado, my collection ran the gamut from Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden to Kate Bush and Skinny Puppy.  Metal and hard rock were regular staples of Little Scott's audio diet, and while my attention has shifted a bit I continue to value the edge and the aggression that propel that harder stuff.

From the edgy environs of Cleveland, Mississippi, Will Griffith brings that edge in spades for Bloody Noses & Roses, his debut under the Great Dying moniker (Dial Back Sound, Nov 16).  Originally built by Bruce Watson (Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess), Dial Back Sound is the Water Valley project of Drive-by Trucker Matt Patton and engineer/producer Bronson Tew. Per their website: "As a production team, Patton & Tew referenced everything from from Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley to Dead Moon and the Stooges to give the songs the feel of a broken spirit or a set of bloody knuckles".

Will Griffith served time in harder rock environs before deciding to try his hand at this roots music thing.  That's not especially unusual, since so many artists from our kind of music cut their teeth on punk or rock.  The difference can be how much of the harder stuff they bring forward in their roots mix.  Bloody Noses introduces us to the Great Dying with "Nobody Arrives", an ominous stunner that lurches from acapella to acoustic strumming to a dark cloud of drums, guitars and backing vocals.  The track aptly sets the tone for the record, placing Griffith in a vortex of sound and fury: All I've loved and all I've lost / Was half a life at twice the cost.

From there, the Great Dying's debut keeps the listener on edge with whiplash juxtapositions from one song to the next, a burst of electric aggression followed by a lo-fi acoustic field recording.  No matter the setting, the pervading spirit is one of dread and self-doubt.  "Cellar Below" is a barely controlled cacophony, a jangling rockabilly exorcism with demonic voices and violently scratching guitars: I don't think you oughta go out tonight.  The next moment, "Catchin' Hell" is a beautifully raw country cut, strummy acoustics joined by pretty pedal steel and the record's most tuneful vocal.  Griffith doesn't have much of an online presence, but the few live tracks I've found speak well to his skill as an unconventional singer.

Quiet doesn't always equal peace on Bloody Noses.  "Magnolia" floats in on birdsong and pedal steel, though the song is fraught with longing and doubt: Tell me Magnolia / Is this evil or beautiful / I can see you're still an angel / And I'm always a fool.  See also "Beer by the Bed", another deceptively hushed setting that might recall a young and troubled Steve Earle.  These moments can be musically gorgeous, perfectly unadorned and emotionally immediate.

But all that unsettled beauty is routinely troubled by the buzzsaw of pieces like "Get You a Gun" and the aptly named "100 mph".  These moments of take-no-prisoners aggression are rare in our kind of music, even on the fringes of, and the adrenaline is dangerously infectious:  You're so damn sweet for posting my bail / ... If I'm gonna get drunk / I'm gonna get drunk with you.  "Tennessee Song" corrals the Great Dying's fervor in service of a terrific country punk burner a'la Jason & the Scorchers at their most incendiary.

Are we witness to the birth of a new genre here?  Has the Great Dying inaugurated a strain of roots metal?  Naw.  Even tunes like "Junkiesque Skull" will likely strike fans of pure metal as country (even as they'll be too hard for most americana ears).  But the dark into which we're immersed is not the Halloween costume horror of a lot of gothic roots.  And while we're privy to several moments of bad living and poor judgement on Bloody Noses & Roses, there's an element of Griffith's angst that runs deeper than that.  Fans of Scott H. Biram will find something to like here, as will folks who recall some of Hank 3's early efforts.  With Matt Patton and Bronson Tew, Will Griffith has created an antidote to some of our kind of music's easy listening tendencies.  It might be more accurate to liken the Great Dying to the Gun Club's late Jeffrey Lee Pierce, or even David Eugene Edwards, artists whose dark night of the soul lingers well beyond the weekend. 

- John Moreland, "Gospel" In the Throes  (FTNWSNGS, 13)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Black Country Woman" Virgo Fool  (Merge, 18)
- Rosanne Cash, "Eight Gods of Harlem" She Remembers Everything  (Blue Note, 18)
- Pollies, "Love's To Fault" Transmissions  (TiAM, 18)
- Neilson Hubbard, "That Was Then" Cumberland Island  (Proper, 18)
- Goshen Electric Co., "Ring the Bell" single  (Secretly Canadian, 18)
- Drew Beskin, "Midnight Avenue Edge" Nostalgia Porn  (Laser Brains, 18)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Trophies of Youth" Every Way But Easy  (KEG, 18)  D
- Carson McHone, "Maybe They're Just Really Good Friends" Carousel  (Nine Mile, 18)
- ZZ Top, "Enjoy and Get It On" Tejas  (Warner, 76)
- Nick Dittmeier & Sawdusters, "All Damn Day" All Damn Day  (Eastwood, 18)
- Kelly Pardekooper, "Long Goodbye" 50-Weight  (Pardekooper, 18)
- Bottle Rockets, "Way Down South" Bit Logic  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Marshall Chapman, "Somewhere South of Macon" Me I'm Feelin' Free  (Chapman, 77)
- JP Harris, "Jimmy's Dead and Gone" Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Hillstomp, "Goddamn Heart" Monster Receiver  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Larry & His Flask, "Dearly Departed" This Remedy  (Xtra Mile, 18)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Hoboes are My Heroes" Agridustrial  (Muddy Roots, 10)
- Shannen Moser, "Trouble" I'll Sing  (Lame-O, 18)
- Laura Gibson, "Slow Joke Grin" Goners  (Barsuk, 18)
- Doug Paisley, "Shadows" Starter Home  (No Quarter, 18)
- Gregory Alan Isakov, "Wings in All Black" Evening Machines  (Dualtone, 18)
- Alela Diane, "Oh! My Mama" Pirate's Gospel: Bonus Edition  (Diane, 18)
- Edward David Anderson, "Dog Days" Chasing Butterflies  (EDA, 18)
- Jerry David Decicca, "I Watched You Pray" Burning Daylight  (Super Secret, 18)
- Sarah Borges & Broken Singles, "I Can't Change It" Love's Middle Name  (Blue Corn, 18)
- Philippe Bronchtein, "Joy of Repetition" Me & the Moon  (Bronchtein, 18)
- Andrew Bird, "Bloodless" single  (Loma Vista, 18)  D
- Pope Paul & the Illegals, "Dial Back Boogie" Dial Back Boogie  (Bouyear, 17)
^ Great Dying, "Catchin' Hell" Bloody Noses & Roses  (Dial Back, 18)  D

A new EP from Kent Eugene Goolsby for this week's Episode.  We dig a little further into a worthy Kelly Pardekooper effort.  Andrew Bird releases a pointed single for this crucial election week.  And Doug Paisley has issued another quiet stunner.  Plus, we've included twice as many ZZ Top numbers this year than ever before!  It's all free on your doorstep if you got The Spotify. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 28, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of leaf mulch

We're fast approaching that time when we begin to rake together our favorites lists for the year, generated through a magical mix of intuition, guilt and twenty-sided dice.  I'll select dates for the sharing of our favorite songs and albums in next week's Episode (watch this space).  For today, we'll have to settle for five standouts from the past couple weeks, in order of appearance:

Will Hoge, My American Dream  (Edlo, Oct 5)
JP Harris, Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing  (Free Dirt, Oct 5)
Larry & His Flask, This Remedy  (Xtra Mile, Oct 12)
Becky Warren, Undesirable  (Warren, Oct 19)
Jamie Lin Wilson, Jumping Over Rocks  (JLW, Oct 26)

There.  Even as we're efforting our year-end lists, we're looking forward to adding stuff into the mix from Daniel Romano and Ryley Walker.  We'll lovingly pore over deluxe reissues from Hiss Golden Messenger and Songs: Ohia.  And there will be records from a solo Rhett Miller and a decidedly jolly Old 97s.  All that and Jeff Tweedy and Timber and Rosanne Cash ...

On Thursday, July 12th, an auspicious message appeared on Hillstomp's Facebook page:  The next album has pedal steel and fiddle on it.  Followed a bit later in the comments:  and bass pedal synth ... Moog Taurus if I remember correctly.  Not necessarily an unusual proclamation for most bands, but for Henry Hill Kammerer and John Johnson (infamous for digging through the dumps and backwoods of American music) it announced a new direction.  Hillstomp has earned their stripes on the strength of a raucous live act, nearly two decades of leaving it all on stage.  While Monster Receiver incorporates some new sonic strategies, it's far from the Mumford-ication of Portland's favorite hill country punk duo.

Never in a hurry to commit to vinyl, this is only Hillstomp's sixth collection, and their first since 2014's Portland, Ore.  Early projects brought us indelible originals such as "Don't Come Down", "NE Portland, 3am", and the trademark "Cardiac Arrest in D".  Much of their oeuvre, however, has consisted of familiar hill country blues, chopped in a blender and shot through a firehose.  Aside from their updated run through "Cluck Old Hen" (yeah, my life would've been fine without another take on that one), Monster Receiver drops more of the duo's own songs.

But yeah, it's still Hillstomp, still a DIY affair lashed together with electric tape and barbed wire.  "Snake Eagle Blues" is mired in muddy vocals, primitive percussion and manic slide guitar.  "Goddamn Heart" features Kammerer on banjo, along with something that sounds like a didgeridoo, plugged in and fuzzed out, and some truly wicked harmonica from I Can Lick Any SoB's Dave Lipkind.  Both find the duo in their swampy element.  Hillstomp has always been more about the groove than the song, masters of conjuring a mood as opposed to telling a story.

When lyrics happen to stray beyond a chanted phrase or two, the band is still in service of the hammer rather than the pen.  "Hagler" establishes that repeated guitar line before sweeping the listener up into a full scale sonic garage assault:  I got a girl and she hits so hard / Like Marvin Hagler drunk in a bar ... / She's gonna win, but I'm gonna fight again. "Pale White Rider" is a Halloween appropriate tale, a bluesy haunt punctuated by rattling chains and some of Receiver's most ambitious vocals:  I help lost souls to find the light.  Kammerer's banjo is featured on some of my favorite cuts, from the folky "I'll Be Around" to the fiery Southern gospel of "Way Home".

So what is it that sets Hillstomp's new project apart from the rest of their work to date?  With producer Josh Shepski and mixer John Askew, the duo satisfy the needs of loyal 'Stompers, dotting the rattling I's and crossing all the T's that have built them into a stageworthy sure thing.  Curiously, it's the quiet.  Monster Receiver offers a couple tracks that find Kammerer and Johnson stepping back from the edge for a spell.  The gothic gospel of "Angels" floats in a cloud of tentative electric slide guitar, echoing off the church walls (or alley walls):  Well I believe in angels you can see ... / Just like you and me they're walking down the street.  Most notably is "Dayton Ohio", a tender song Kammerer has written for his parents featuring Anna Tivel's fiddle and some pedal steel courtesy of Erik Clampitt.  It speaks to Hillstomp's reputation when a tune like this passes for daring, though it certainly stretches the band in a novel way.

The good people at Fluff & Gravy Records call Hillstomp "folk music in its purest form", and I would agree that the duo dwells in that satisfying space where the purity of folk mingles with the DiY ethic of workingclass punk.  Even opening the door a crack to new sounds and contributors. nobody will mistake Monster Receiver for anything but what it is.  Like cheap old favorite trucker hat set to music.

- Mark Erelli w/Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Lori McKenna, Anais Mitchell & Josh Ritter, "By Degrees"  single  (Erelli, 18)  D
- Rosanne Cash, "Eight Gods of Harlem" She Remembers Everything  (Blue Note, 18)
- Rhett Miller, "I Used to Write in Notebooks" The Messenger  (ATO, 18)
- Carson McHone, "Gentle" Carousel  (Nine Mile, 18)  D
- Kevin Welch, "Blue Lonesome" Dust Devil  (Dead Reckoning, 18)  D
- Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Hard to Get High" Hard Times & White Lines  (Morgan, 18)
- Ruston Kelly, "Son of a Highway Daughter" Dying Star  (Rounder, 18)
- GospelbeacH, "Down South" Another Winter Alive  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)  D
- Long Ryders, "10-5-60" Native Sons  (Prima, 84)
- Town Mountain, "North of Cheyenne" New Freedom Blues  (Tone Tree, 18)  D
- Carter Sampson, "Ten Penny Nail" Lucky  (Horton, 18)  D
- Daniel Romano, "All the Reaching Trims" Finally Free  (New West, 18)
- Ryley Walker, "Diggin' a Ditch" Lillywhite Sessions  (Dead Oceans, 18)  D
- Langhorne Slim, "Boots Boy" Be Set Free  (Kemado, 09)
- Jessica Pratt, "This Time Around" Quiet Signs  (Kemado, 19)  D
- Becky Warren, "Highway Lights" Undesirable  (Warren, 18)
- Nick Dittmeier & Sawdusters, "Two Faded Carnations" All Damn Day  (Eastwood, 18)
- Mike Stinson, "Late Great Golden State" Jack of All Heartache  (Boronda, 02)
- Dillon Carmichael, "It's Simple" Hell On An Angel  (Riser House, 18)
- Kelly Pardekooper, "Bloody Gasoline" 50 Weight  (Pardekooper, 18)  D
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "Oklahoma Stars (feat. Evan Felker)" Jumping Over Rocks  (JWL, 18)
- White Buffalo, "Love Song #2" Prepare For Black & Blue  (White Buffalo, 10)
- Doug Paisley, "Starter Home" Starter Home  (No Quarter, 18)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Panbowl" Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (High Top Mt, 14)
- Pistol Annies, "Masterpiece" Interstate Gospel  (Sony, 18)
- Steve Gunn, "New Moon" Unseen In Between  (Matador, 19)  D
- Anna Tivel, "Fenceline" The Question  (Fluff & Gravy, 19)  D
- Michigan Rattlers, "Late Night Cigarette Talks" Evergreen  (Rattlers, 18)
^ Hillstomp, "Dayton Ohio" Monster Receiver  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "We All Get Lonely" Life is Good on the Open Road  (Banjodad, 18)

Good new noise this Episode from indie folkers Steve Gunn and Jessica Pratt.  We also begin our journey through projects from Carson McHone and Carter Sampson.  Ryley Walker offers his second record of 2018 with a collection of unreleased Dave Matthews covers (?!).  We're also thinking Pistol Annies may be among the strongest mainstream country records of the year ... 

Monday, October 22, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 21, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of gourds

As a librarian, I serve my fair share of people experiencing homelessness.  I accept it as one of the perks of my job, to welcome them and to touch base with them in passing.  If you ask them who they are and what they do, not a one would start with the homeless thing.  Like you and me, these are people with childhoods and with interests and demons, some with careers and all with dreams.  There's one who curates a website of his remarkable paintings, and another who boasts an encyclopedic knowledge of children's lit.  One spends his mornings watching retro hip hop videos in the Computer Lab, pushing back his chair and mouthing along to the good parts.  Another hangs with her homeless friends by day, retreating to her comfortable home as the evening cools.

Every artist courts their muse.  Whether for inspiration, for direction or just for an extra shot of confidence.  Becky Warren finds hers in the least-of-these.  Her 2016 solo debut, the semi-autobiographical War Surplus told stories of an Iraq War vet and his wife, coping with and crumbling under the weight of his post-battle trauma.  For her follow-up, Undesirable, she sat with fellow Nashville residents selling a regular newspaper focused on the stories of the homeless.  The songwriter tells how she entered into the conversations expecting to hear about health problems and substance abuse, but came away with notebooks full of hope and heart.

Those stories shine brilliantly on Warren's sophomore CD, shot through with humor and heartbreak, told with great pathos and yearning.  The opener, "We're All We Got" is an Alejandro Escovedo-worthy rocker, featuring the trademark vocal stamp of Indigo Girls' Amy Ray.  The tune ably establishes the spirit of the album:  We're all we got / Just a bunch of half-empties / A couple last shots.  The odds aren't tipped in the favor of the struggling forgotten, but there's an element of pride, optimism and identity that remains.

I'll stop down and say right here that Becky Warren may already be among the best writers of her generation.  Lyrically, she drops rich lines like the one that portrays her characters Rolling around the city all day like loose change, and enforces her words with a solid musical buzz.  Like the opener, "Highway Lights" is tough and tuneful, a guitar based rocker delivered in a voice that's immediately credible:  Underneath the overpass / Counting dimes and nickels in jelly jars / Waiting on the evening rush / Ten thousand heartaches in ten thousand cars.  These are people we know, or at least folks that we pass everyday on our way from here to there.  Warren's portrayal is compassionate without being patronizing:  Now I'm old / Older than I ever thought I'd be / Sleeping 'neath the auto parts store marquee.

While War Surplus was among my favorites for the year, there is an increased confidence and identity in Undesirable.  Warren is a tough rocking horse like Sarah Shook on "You're Always Drunk" or "Nobody Wants to Rock n Roll No More", tracks that keep the CD from sinking too far into sincerity.  Both boast some gritty electric guitar, and pedal steel shines through whenever appropriate.  "Carmen" creates another diversion, a good-natured piece featuring a farting bass, playful toy instruments and some retro arcade noises.  Even here, her music is focused and her message is consistent:  I'm gonna find a little blue house / We'll peel potatoes on a couch someone left on the curb.

Undesirable is at its best on songs like "Drake Motel" and "Half-Hearted Angel".  Becky Warren is not a rising star, timidly testing her voice.  She is a fully established artist awaiting the attention of the roots music masses.  She didn't quite spring out of thin air, having served as the frontperson on a couple releases with The Great Unknowns.  But with her first two albums she presents herself as among our most deserving writers.  Like Mary Gauthier, her stories emerge direct from the trouble and clutter of our daily lives.  Like Eliza Gilkyson, she spreads her poetic wings to soar beyond it all:  Some girls wear welcome signs / Free as blown dandelions / I don't shine like that anymore / Instead I burn neon / If there's a barstool to lean on.

- Margo Price, "Most Likely You Go Your Way" single  (Spotify, 18)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "1968"  Diamonds & Gasoline  (Onward, 11)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Pretty Flowers" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Larry & His Flask, "Hoping Again" This Remedy  (Xtra Mile, 18)
- Alela Diane, "Blackberry (feat. Mariee Sioux)" Pirate's Gospel: Bonus Edition  (Diane, 18)  D
- Will Hoge, "My American Dream" My American Dream  (Edlo, 18)
- John Hiatt, "One Stiff Breeze" Eclipse Sessions  (New West, 18)
- Blackberry Smoke, "You Got Lucky (feat. Amanda Shires)" Southern Ground Sessions  (3 Legged, 18)  D
- Colter Wall, "Tying Knots in the Devil's Tail" Songs of the Plains  (Young Mary's, 18)
- Amanda Shires, "Detroit or Buffalo" Carrying Lightning  (Silver Knife, 11)
- Drew Beskin, "Heavenly Sway" Nostalgia Porn  (Laser Brains, 18)  D
- Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, "Glassjaw Boxer" Glassjaw Boxer  (Fat Sam, 07)
- Gregory Alan Isakov, "Bullet Holes" Evening Machines  (Dualtone, 18)
- Glorietta, "I Know" Glorietta  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Steel Woods, "Old News" Old News  (Woods Music, 18)  D
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Laid Low" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "Eyes For You" Jumping Over Rocks  (JLW, 18)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "24 Frames (live)" Live From the Ryman  (Southeastern, 18)
- Phosphorescent, "These Rocks" C'est la Vie  (Dead Oceans, 18)
^ Becky Warren, "Half-Hearted Angel" Undesirable  (Warren, 18)
- Tim Barry, "5 Twenty 5" Manchester  (Chunksaah, 11)
- Hillstomp, "Goddamn Heart" Monster Receiver  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Adam's House Cat, "Long Time Ago" Town Burned Down  (ATO, 18)
- Lucero, "Cover Me" Among the Ghosts  (Liberty + Lament, 18)
- Eric Bachmann, "Dead and Gone" No Recover  (Merge, 18)
- Edward David Anderson, "Ballad of Lemuel Penn" Chasing Butterflies  (EDA, 18)  D
- Will Oldham, "Glory Goes" Songs of Love & Horror  (Drag City, 18)  D
- Cody Jinks, "Stranger" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- Michigan Rattlers, "Just Good Night" Evergreen  (Rattlers, 18)  D
- Neilson Hubbard, "Don't Make Me Walk Through This World On My Own" Cumberland Island  (Proper, 18)

This Episode introduces promising new projects from Southern rockers Steel Woods.  Will Oldham sets aside his Bonnie "Prince" Billy persona for a stripped back take on his oeuvre.  We give into the "Heavenly Sway" with former District Attorneys frontguy Drew Beskin.  And Michigan Rattlers offer a tuneful strain of Midwestern roots rock on their full-length debut.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 14, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Stop me if you've heard this one before:  A young and fiery punk band matures, gradually adapting a more roots-oriented groove.  Lessons are learned.  Beards ensue.

It's almost the Genesis for our kind of music, the prevailing creation mythos.  Born just to the east of the Cascade Range in Bend, Oregon, Larry & His Flask were launched from that same primordial ooze.  The past fifteen years have seen the band change and morph from pure punk to what they call post-americana, from a couple brothers and their friends to a sprawling collective and back to an economical five-piece.  Call it the Roots Music Theory of Evolution.  The survival of the fittest.

Not counting an excellent, overlooked Endtimes recorded with Tom Vandenavond, it's been half a decade since Larry & His Flask issued a proper full-length record.  It's a hiatus that saw members alternately retreating to the Tropics, taking on side projects, working on families and considering the band's role in their lives (and vice versa).  Reckon / Repent / Rebirth.

Here at R&B, we've been monitoring the work of LaHF at least since 2011's All That We Know.  Through 2012's Hobo's Lament ep and 2013's By the Lamplight, the band earned their stripes as tireless and dedicated road dogs, a reckless and energetic act that left their crowded stages spattered with bodily fluids and their fans wanting more.  There was a time when listening to one of their albums could prove exhausting for the sheer energy and drive that leaped from the speakers.  With time, the scratching and clawing that garnered them their following began to wear away at their lives behind the scenes.

To our benefit, however, the Bat-signal for Larry & His Flask has been shone into the skies.  The members have assembled, acoustic instruments at hand ready once again to conquer the stages of America and the world.  As long as they can get home to the wife and kids before too long.  It's not just the individual members of the Flask that have changed, you see.  This Remedy  (Xtra Mile) has channeled that legendary energy in rewarding new musical directions, resulting in the outfit's most multifaceted and praiseworthy product to date.

More than most bands of their ilk (think Squirrel Nut Zippers, Legendary Shack Shakers, Trampled by Turtles), the Flask have always been a punk band that just happens to play with acoustic instruments.  They've also proven fearless in their eclecticism, granting space in their manic mix for elements of jazz, 'grass and folk.  On This Remedy, those diverse parts are given more room to unspool, leading to a clearer and less muddied musical statement.

Good news is that the collection still sounds very much like Larry & His Flask.  Diehard fans will thrill to that familiar fire-fueled sound on songs like "Dearly Departed", "You Won't" and "Atonement".  There's still a focus on mortality, on boldly staring down death:  And in your wake, dearly departed / Broken bottles, battered and bloody, broken-hearted / Do you feel better now? Just look at what you started.  "Atonement" is bright with those blatting brass that have always added to the party.  But even in the midst of the noise and fury, you might catch glimpse of positivity, light, warmth.

Those new qualities shine through in the band's embrace of a degree of melody and brightness, in a greater focus on songcraft.  There's always been a strong sense of theatricality in the Flask's stage presence, and especially in Ian Cook's vocal performance.  "Never All the Times" is perhaps the singer's strongest moment, a piano-based number that also showcases the quintet's underappreciated harmonies.  Cook also shines on "Doin' Fine", a road-vs-home reflection that bounces along like a fractured rag:  Peace and quiet take some getting used to / Was always moving forth and back, never could keep track.

The surprises on This Remedy come from the pieces that depart the furthest from the act's proven formula.  While eclecticism has always been part of the Larry & His Flask® brand, listeners might still not be prepared for "Hoping Again", which boasts a real live guitar solo.  It's as close to country as you're bound to get, reining in all that energy and aggression for a more measured, introspective number:  If there's a maker above they'll be happy to know / That I did my best in the big show.  "The Place That It Belongs" introduces bits of bluegrass, and you'll even hear touches of Latin rhythms and guitars on "Behind the Curtain".

This Remedy ain't the group's desperate grasp for the golden ladder of fame 'n fortune.  Even with its unexpected bits, it's still very much a Larry record.  But tunes like the title track and "Ellipsis" remind listeners of the band's skill as musicians and showmen.  "This Remedy" gallops on heavenly harmonies, mandolin and banjo playing for the angels:  I will find the bridge to this melody called love, the final minute of the song fades to an otherworldly overheard whisper.  Offering the best of old and new Flask, "Ellipsis" is my personal favorite, a driving anthem crossed with a grammar lesson.  Both give lead to melody without compromise, boasting singalong moments that will fuel live shows for years.  This is the welcome rebirth of an underground roots music legend:  So bid farewell to the ones you knew / Like a drunk old sinner born anew / And say hello to the sweeping winds of change ...

- Ryan Culwell, "Can You Hear Me" Last American  (Culwell, 18)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Nitty Gritty" Bootlegger's Choice  (Kudzu, 18)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Wooden Ships (feat. David Crosby)" single  (Southeastern, 18)  D
- Adam Hood, "Real Small Town" Somewhere in Between  (Soundly, 18)
- My Darling Clementine, "Two Lane Texaco" Still Testifying  (Continental Song City, 17)
- Lauren Morrow, "Mess Around" Lauren Morrow  (Morrow, 18)
- Will Courtney, "Crazy Love" Crazy Love  (Super Secret, 18)
- Whitey Morgan & 78s, "Just Got Paid" Hard Times & White Lines  (Morgan, 18)
- Kevin Welch, "Millionaire" Dead Reckoning Years  (Dead Reckoning, 18)  D
- One Eleven Heavy, "Old Hope Chest" Everything's Better  (Kith & Kin, 18)
- Pistol Annies, "Stop Drop & Roll One" Interstate Gospel  (Sony, 18)
- Flesh Eaters, "Cinderella" I Used to Be Pretty  (Yep Roc, 19)  D
^ Larry & His Flask, "Atonement" This Remedy  (Xtra Mile, 18)
- Grady Spencer & the Work, "Things To Do" Sleep  (Spencer, 13)
- Dirty River Boys, "I'll Be There" Mesa Starlight  (DRB, 18)
- Sarah Borges & Broken Singles, "Let Me Try It" Love's Middle Name  (Blue Corn, 18)
- John Howie Jr, "Happy" Not Tonight  (Suah, 18)
- Bottle Rockets, "Lo-Fi" Bit Logic  (Bloodshot, 18)
- John R Miller, "Lights of the City" Trouble You Follow  (Emperor, 18)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Fury and Fire" The Crossing  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Deer Tick, "Hey! Yeah!" Mayonnaise  (Partisan, 19)  D
- GospebeacH, "Freeway To the Canyon" Another Winter Alive  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)  D
- Colter Wall, "Wild Dogs" Songs of the Plains  (Young Mary's, 18)
- Anna St Louis, "Mean Love" If Only There Was a River  (Woodsist, 18)
- Philipe Bronchtein, "Mountain Cadence" Me & the Moon  (Bronchtein, 18)
- Rosanne Cash, "Not Many Miles to Go" She Remembers Everything  (Blue Note, 18)
- Adam Faucett, "Ancient Chord" It Took the Shape of a Bird  (Last Chance, 18)
- Kristin Murray, "Tell Me" Southern Ambrosia  (Loud Magnolia, 18)
- Ben Pirani, "Not One More Tear" How Do I Talk To My Brother  (Colemine, 18)
- Brent Best, "Robert Cole" Your Dog Champ  (Best, 16)

With this Episode we catch our first glimpse into releases for the first couple weeks of 2019. We share an unexpected stand-alone single featuring Jason Isbell's Newport Folk collaboration with David Crosby.  There is a spoonful of yummy Mayonnaise on behalf of Deer Tick.  And we offer the opening salvo from the return of the Flesh Eaters, featuring Dave Alvin and John Doe.

Monday, October 08, 2018

photo by Will Byington
featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 7, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I harbor political opinions as much as the next guy, though I've never seen R&B as the best place to disseminate them.  I'm not trying to hide anything.  You shouldn't turn to the Nation for your music news any more than you should look to your favorite music blog (ie, R&B) for your socio-political bearings.  Between you and me, if I were to oversimplify my political stance, however, it might distill to respect, communication and decency.  Bumper stickers should be issued.

While I'm at it, I'll remind folks that I'm not a fan of "protest" music, per se.  Most of it is overly time-bound, and it tends to serve lyrics at the expense of music.  On the other hand, I do want the music I share to be relevant, however you choose to define that.  About a year ago I tacked Lee Bains III & Glory Fires' Youth Detention atop my favorites list for 2017, a record that is largely political opinion pieces set to music.  But it's relevant, as it is a pure and natural extension of our immediate cultural milieu.  I would place Will Hoge's new My American Dream collection atop that same high shelf.

A couple months ago, a Rolling Stone interview with Eric Church set the country genre's mainstream audience ablaze when the superstar hinted at a more reasoned approach to dealing with the NRA.  Will Hoge won't be wooing any of that crowd back into the fold with his new collection, one which points fingers and names names.  It's true that he's earned a reputation as a bard of the working class (the small town thing), but Hoge has been no stranger to crossing lines of controversy (see esp. 2004's America EP or 2012's Modern American Protest Music).

There are demons haunting the opening cut, "Gilded Walls".  Beneath the steady stomp sirens wail, thunder rolls and otherworldly growls push back against the thick gale of guitar feedback.  The storm heralds the arrival of what is as angry a record as we're bound to hear this year.  Will Hoge shouts his lyrics, recognizing that sometimes it's just good for the soul to incite rather than to invite.  Sometimes we just need a good, cleansing primal scream.

Hoge's first volley was launched about a year ago with the caustic "Thoughts & Prayers", a deceptively acoustic onslaught that takes to task public figures who respond to mass shootings with little more than warm feelings:  As long as you can keep your re-election bills paid / You're just a whore to the guild that's called the NRA.

My American Dream is a relatively brief eight tracks, pairing a couple formerly released numbers with a handful of new cuts.  "Still a Southern Man" first hit the shelves as a self-standing single in 2015, appearing later as a highlight of Hoge's standout Solo & Live.  Like Lee Bains III, he struggles to embrace his identity while damning the legacy of abuse that plagues the South:  I'm looking away now Dixie / Cause I've seen all I can stand / But I'm still a Southern man.  It's a song and a sentiment that could destroy the careers of most country artists who refuse to step into the fray.  But it seems Hoge has long abandoned any fear of offending the masses.

With the release of last year's Anchors CD, Will Hoge spoke of a crisis of soul searching that led to the sessions.  While recent records had inched him nearer to mainstream success, he sought a more personal grounding for continuing his work.  That rekindling was reportedly inspired in part from watching his kids banging around making their own music in the garage.  With this collection, the writer gives full rein to a thread of conscience that has always run through his career.  There is almost a punk ethos to songs like "Stupid Kids", featuring guitars played with fists and machine gun lyrics as much spat as sung.  It's the album's most positive a call-to-arms:  Turn your music up / Make your own damn songs / You'll know you got it right when all the old white men don't sing along ... Keep doing what you're doing / Keep being stupid kids.

As you might have figured, anger is the pervading sentiment of My American Dream, an unfiltered frustration delivered through powerful vocals and rage-fueled guitars.  Hoge even channels his inner Elvis Costello on "Oh Mr Barnum":  The ringmaster is gone / It's just a clown down here all alone / Oh Mr Barnum won't you please take your circus back home.  Recorded with his touring band, the CD is also sonically solid, far more rock than roll, with any sense of country twang left at the studio door.  Blast "Nikki's a Republican Now" next time you want to clear the honky-tonk.

While Will Hoge presents more problems than solutions, he's not making a case for dismissing the systems upon which our country was built.  The record's packaging includes a copy of the US Constitution.  And while so much rage and fury can risk becoming impersonal, Hoge's American Dream is very much a product of his identity as a father and as a Southern man.  It's not just the most important, personal album of Will Hoge's career.  It might just be the very record we all need to hear this year.  I'm sure at some level he still wants to preach to a larger congregation, but something tells me he'll continue making this music and afflicting the comfortable until the walls come down.

- Elliott BROOD, "Valley Town" Mountain Meadows  (Six Shooter, 08)
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Church Clothes" Poor Until Payday  (Family Owned, 18)
- JP Harris, "Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing" Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Bottle Rockets, "Bit Logic" Bit Logic  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Cover Me Up (live)" Live From the Ryman  (Southeastern, 18)
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "Run" Jumping Over Rocks  (JLW, 18)
- New Mexican, "Sold it Back" Take It On Our Shoulders  (Hoffman, 18)
- Phosphorescent, "Around the Horn" C'est la Vie  (Dead Oceans, 18)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Whole Lotta Things 2018 BC" Bootleggers Choice  (Kudzu, 18)  D
- One Eleven Heavy, "Valley Bottom Fever" Everything's Better  (Kith & Kin, 18)  D
- Hillstomp, "Angels" Monster Receiver  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Ural Thomas & the Pain, "Slow Down" The Right Time  (Tender Loving Empire, 18)  D
^ Will Hoge, "Still a Southern Man" My American Dream  (Edlo, 18)
- Uncle Tupelo, "Fifteen Keys" Anodyne  (Reprise, 93)
- Band of Heathens, "Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong" Message From the People Revisited  (BoH, 18)
- Pistol Annies, "Got My Name Changed Back" Interstate Gospel  (Sony, 18)
- Adam's House Cat, "Town Burned Down" Town Burned Down  (ATO, 18)
- Nathan Bowles, "Elk River Blues" Plainly Mistaken  (Paradise of Bachelors, 18)
- Philippe Bronchtein, "Home Again" Me & the Moon  (Bronchtein, 18)
- Grace Potter, "I'd Rather Go Blind" Muscle Shoals: Small Town Big Sound  (
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Heart & Mind" single  (Fat Possum, 18)
- Hayes Carll, "Beaumont" Trouble in Mind  (UMG, 07)
- Larry & His Flask, "Three Manhattans" This Remedy  (Xtra Mile, 18)
- Daniel Romano, "Empty Husk" Finally Free  (New West, 18)  D
- William Matheny, "Christian Name" single  (Misra, 18)
- Neilson Hubbard, "Cumberland Island" Cumberland Island  (Proper, 18)
- Laura Gibson, "Domestication" Goners  (Barsuk, 18)
- Marissa Nadler, "Said Goodbye to That Car" For My Crimes  (Sacred Bones, 18)
- Gillian Welch, "Wayside/Back in Time" Soul Journey  (Acony, 03)

This Episode finds us continuing to embrace Jamie Lin Wilson's star-making turn - one of the year's strongest country statements to date.  We explore One Eleven Heavy, an outfit which brings together Wooden Wand's James Toth with members of Royal Trux and Hiss Golden Messenger.  We also discover Ural Thomas & the Pain, one of those classic soul artists who have spent a career in relative obscurity, despite having shared a stage with James Brown, Merry Clayton and Otis Redding.  And we celebrate the quiet, alluring poetry of Marissa Nadler.