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Sunday, August 20, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 20, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Ever have one of those weeks when the song you listen to on repeat is Fleetwood Mac's live "Silver Springs", and when you wait too long to do your ROUTES-cast and there is too much new stuff?  Me too.

Not complaining.  Just wanting to put it all together in a way that demonstrates more grace than the firehose-to-the-face method of delivery.  The idea is that you listen to our ROUTES-cast every week, and that you listen at least a couple times.  Ideally, you'll grow familiar with the new artists and the new albums and the new songs (though you'll not find "Silver Springs" below, which doesn't mean that it's not a crushingly haunting song (damn!!)).  This way, you won't necessarily be overwhelmed by new stuff from White Buffalo or Dead Man Winter or even JD McPherson.  F'rinstance.

I whiffed on Jeremy Pinnell's 2015 OH/KY release, and acknowledged that on my Stuff That Scott Whiffed On post late that year:  "Pinnell simply gets country music; he lives and breathes it, and he probably smells like it".  That's what I said.  And I apparently did learn my lesson, jumping on Pinnell's new Ties of Blood and Affection as soon as Sofaburn Records generously made it available to me.  It's a smart and heartfelt shot of pure and unpretentious country music.

And Pinnell should know.  He opened OH/KY with "The Way Country Sounds":  You lived the life I lived / You would know / The way Country sounds.  He pulls no punches on the song that introduces the collection,  "Ballad of 1892".  He sings, My baby gets high / Walkin' the line, barely hinting at the fact that she's on that line in support of labor unions.  It's a honky tonk lovesong about a relationship built on a mutual commitment to the working class.  Doesn't hurt that there's some quality electric guitar here, as well as a rough and ready vocal from Pinnell.

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 a 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.  The sound draws you in, then sets you up for a jarring shot for the bleachers.  This one's not about peace in the pews, but espouses the right life apart from church and congregation.  On "The Way We  See Heaven" Pinnell encourages us to recognize our family and friends as our salvation, rather than setting our sights on a ticket to the pearly gates.

Pinnell addresses politics of the domestic variety as well.  "Different Kind of Love" posits that heartfelt love runs deeper than flashy jewelry and superficial gestures:  She says she don't like diamonds / That's my kind of woman / These girls are hard to find / I guess you can say that I found mine / She takes good care of me / Like god split the sea / I seen her walk on the water / She makes it look so easy / It's a different kind of love ...  It's a sweet and sincere gesture, a genuine ode to a rare and lasting companionship.  On the loose and lazy "I'm Alright With This", the singer is at peace with his lot:  I got a good woman / She got the sweetest kiss / If life don't get better / I'm alright with this.  It's the kind of amazing grace that's rooted in riding the ruts of everyday life, taking for granted neither the hardships nor the blessings.

NoCo listeners should know that Jeremy Pinnell will be haunting the stage of Moe's Original BBQ at the close of this month.

- Sturgill Simpson, "Some Days" High Top Mountain  (High Top Mt, 13)
- Tyler Childers, "Feathered Indians" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Rebellious Sons" Tell the Devil ...  (Bordello, 17)
- David Rawlings, "Guitar Man" Poor David's Almanack  (Acony, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Silver Wings" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Moot Davis, "Here Comes the Destroyer" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)
- Billy Bragg, "Sleep of Reason" single  (Cooking Vinyl, 17)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Live Fast Love Hard Die Young" Cowboy Outfit  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Ian Felice, "In the Kingdom of Dreams" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Darkness Falls So Quiet" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Mark Olsen, "Dear Elisabeth" Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun  (Glitterhouse, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Time" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Wynntown Marshals, "End of the Golden Age" After All These Years  (WM, 17)
- Dead Man Winter, "Careful I Think It's Loaded" Careful It's Loaded  (GNDWire, 17)  D
- Blank Range, "Ember in the Ash" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- White Buffalo, "Avalon" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Juanita Stein, "Dark Horse" America  (Hand Written, 17)
- Austin Lucas, "Small Town Heart" Stay Reckless  (New West, 13)
- John Murry, "Under a Dark Moon" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- Ruby Force, "Church and State" Evolutionary War  (Force, 17)
- Suzanne Santo, "Ghost in My Bed" Ruby Red  (Soozanto, 17)
- Dead Rock West, "Boundless Fearless Love" More Love  (Omnivore, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Lucky Penny" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)  D
- Margo Price, "Weakness" Weakness EP  (Third Man, 17)
- Charlie Parr, "I Ain't Dead Yet" Dog  (Red House, 17)
^ Jeremy Pinnell, "Different Kind of Love" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- LeeAnn Womack, "All the Trouble" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)  D
- Joseph Childress, "Virginia Bound" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)  D
- Eilen Jewell, "It's Your Voodoo Working" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)  D
- Tim Barry, "Lost and Rootless" Lost and Rootless  (Chunksaah, 14)

Respect the ROUTES-cast:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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

Remind me not to look for other online reviews before I write my own.  Apparently, I'm not the first to write about Tyler Childers' Purgatory.  I drove thru Kentucky a couple weeks ago.  All I remember is thunderstorms, humidity, horses, lightning bugs and life-changing sea bass.  That, and alcohol.  But apparently Childers has spent his life in Eastern Kentucky.  His new CD sums up that misspent youth, gathering songs from throughout the last several years (some of which have been previously released).  The project arrives amidst a genuine hubbub, which is curious given the fact that he spent most of his touring years quite close to home.  I'm sure much of the buzz began with the news that fellow Bluegrass Stater Sturgill Simpson had chosen Childers' collection as his first production project (along with veteran producer David Ferguson).  The team admirably balances more restrained, traditional acoustic arrangements with a couple more adventurous moments.

Purgatory serves as a fine companion piece to Sturgill's own 2013 solo debut.  Both demonstrate an eclectic grasp on a range of roots sounds, from regional 'grass to hard country.  The two records are also deeply grounded in a real sense of place, showing glimpses of a grasp on Life the Universe and Everything (subjects Simpson has wholeheartedly embraced in his subsequent albums).

Like Parker Millsap or John Fullbright from a couple states to the left, Tyler Childers delivers his stories in a 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.

Tyler Childers' lyrical promise is demonstrated on pieces like the 'grassy "Born Again":  "Once I was and you were too / And we were both the word of truth / We built this world together / With a loud and mighty bang".  Like recent releases from Jason Eady or Colter Wall (which featured a guest pass from Childers), he works in familiar forms and themes, but instead of falling into the ruts and habits of contemporary country writers, Childers explores a more personal and poetic expression, establishing himself as one of our present day writers for whom words matter.  "Tattoos" is confident in its quiet, with sweet fiddle and waves of pedal steel:  "The past is fading / Over time / But it's still hanging on for life".

While Purgatory earns its stripes by demonstrating its ability in these pre-established arenas of folk, country and bluegrass, the album's two highwater moments demonstrate Childers' willingness to stare down those boundaries.  "Feathered Indians" is simply a great song, a piece Guy Clark would've been pleased to write (or Sturgill Simpson).  In its portrayal of relational bliss, it celebrates the latter frontiers on the writers' journey from troubled roustabout to settled guy.  It's also complimented by the collection's strongest lyric:  "Well my belt buckle makes impressions / On the inside of her thigh / There are little feathered Indians / Where we tussled through the night / If I'd known she was religious / Then I wouldn't have come stoned / To the house of such an angel / Too fucked up to get back home".   Musically, the CD's peak comes with "Universal Sound", a nod to the perennial hum that lies beneath, within and throughout all of Life.  My sense is that it's the song that most clearly bears Sturgill Simpson's fingerprint as a producer.  Like much of Simpson's Metamodern Sounds, it preaches a decidedly universal message, with just a hint of psychedelic philosophy.  While it's Purgatory's most obvious outlier, "Universal Sound" might offer a glimpse of Tyler Childers' next record.  But first he's probably got some more living to do, more stories to collect.


It's my sense that for just about any roots music album that's been released, there are about half a dozen blogs willing to heap praise upon it.  A CD or digital file will arrive, heralded by Mr Twang or Meat 'n Potatoes as the best thing ever.  I'll give almost anything a couple minutes, but it really is remarkable how much "pretty good" music there is in the world.

I don't want pretty good stuff for Routes & Branches.  While I play an absurd amount of new music, it's honestly just a fraction of what I'm given access to on a weekly basis.  That said, I love the process, from hearing of the pending arrival of a new record to the first single or two, then the promise inherent in the arrival of the full thing.

Alright.  I admit that it's an addiction.  It's a perpetual merry-go-round, a carousel with no exit except to leap from your horsey and trust you'll avoid anything sharp on the way down.  While each week is a struggle, I'm by no means ready to exit the ride (though I wouldn't mind if we slowed down a bit).  This week's playlist is one of the year's heaviest with regards to debuts (they're marked with a capital "D" in our playlists from week to week).  Big Ones by David Rawlings share space with lesser knowns like Jarrod Dickenson or Suzanne Santo (she was one-half of HoneyHoney).  And it's all good.  So hang on to your horsey and enjoy the ride.

 - Split Lip Rayfield, "Just Like a Gillian Welch Song" Should Have Seen It Coming  (Bloodshot, 04)
- David Rawlings, "Cumberland Gap" Poor David's Almanack  (Acony, 17)  D
-  Whiskey Shivers, "Southern Sisyphus" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "I Don't Believe" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Lie to Me" This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- Will Hoge, "Little Bit of Rust" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Had to Laugh" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Alex Williams, "Hellbent Hallelujah" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)
- Holly Macve, "No One Has the Answers" Golden Eagle  (Bella Union, 17)
- Possessed by Paul James, "There Will Be Nights" There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 13)
- Iron & Wine, "Thomas County Law" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Night David Bowie Died" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Blank Range, "Seemed Like Word Got Around" Marooned With Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Elliott BROOD, "Til the Sun Comes Up Again" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)  D
- Nicole Atkins, "Brokedown Luck" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Long Distance Tears" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- South San Gabriel, "Alabama Crusade" Dual Hawks  (Misra, 04)
^ Tyler Childers, "Universal Sound" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Throwin' Stones" Every Way But Easy  (KEG, 17)  D
- Jarrod Dickenson, "California" Ready the Horses  (Decca, 17)  D
- Margo Price, "Paper Cowboy" Weakness EP  (Third Man, 17(
- Mark Olsen, "Time of Love" Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun  (Glitterhouse, 17)  D
- Suzanne Santo, "Better Than That" Ruby Red  (Soozanto, 17)  D
- Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic, "East Virginia" Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic  (Rivers/Birds, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Can't Stop Shakin'" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)  D
- Slaid Cleaves, "Still Be Mine" Ghost On the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)
- BJ Barham, "Unfortunate Kind" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Wynntown Marshals, "Low Country Comedown" After All These Years  (Wynntown, 17)  D
- the Districts, "Rattling of the Heart" Popular Manipulations  (Fat Possum, 17)  D
- Calexico, "Sinner in the Sea" Algiers  (Anti, 12)

Friday, August 04, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
August 4, 2017 (way too late)
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Jeezus I'm late with this one!  No matter, just gives us more time to enjoy last Episode's robust playlist.  But now it's time to move forward with some new stuff for your previewing pleasure.  This includes the strongest song yet from Tyler Childers' Purgatory.  We're also beginning our romance with White Buffalo's forthcoming release, and reveling in Margo Price's surprise EP!  Plus, there's not much prettier this year than Tallest Man on Earth's sublime new EP with chamber folk outfit yMusic.

There's always been a backward glance to Nicole Atkins' music, a borrowing of sounds from years gone by.  From the early pop drama of her 2007 Neptune City Lights full-length debut through the heavier rock 'n soul of 2011's overlooked Mondo Amore and the "desert disco prog rock" that powered 2014's Slow Phaser.  Atkins' new Goodnight Rhonda Lee explores that tendency to its fullest, released on John Paul White and Ben Tanner's discerning Single Lock label and played largely live in studio with the band that backed up Leon Bridges on his memorable debut.  Story has it that Atkins was challenged by her producer to leave her indie rock elements on the back burner and to focus on the Muscle Shoals sounds that have always been lurking behind her music.  The resulting collection brings to mind names like Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield and even Jenny Lewis, offering a generous dose of noir psychedelia with moments of Spector-esque drama.

Atkins cowrote the opener, "A Little Crazy" with longtime friend Chris Isaak.  It immediately sets the stage with a "To Sir With Love" vibe, featuring a soaring vocal and a flicker-to-a-conflagration build that milks the melancholy for all it's worth.  Largely freed from the heavy production of her earlier records, the horns and strings of Rhonda Lee serve to untether Atkins' tremendous vocal talents.   "Brokedown Luck" is typical of most of these originals, opening with a cautious restraint before erupting into a sharp and soulful, shamelessly melancholy chorus.

The title track serenades Nicole Atkins' bad girl alter ego, the wayward woman responsible for all her bad choices and driving over life's potholes.  Despite dismissing her with a charming wave, Atkins treats Rhonda Lee with unexpected sympathy and fondness.  This sense of humor and self deprecation are found throughout the record, from the overwrought emotions to the sad sack persona.  But it's also a remarkably addictive collection, deep with hooks and a genuine sense of musical legacy.  Shelby Lynne has done this exceptionally well before (though with little or no levity), and Joan Osborne can pull it off with zero irony or self-consciousness.  But most other singers who attempt a retro vibe like "If I Could" risk ending up coming across as costumed clowns and wannabes.  What might've been Atkins' one-note punchline is instead a rich and diverse statement, a supremely cool tear through early rock, country-soul and Brill Building pop.

Nicole Atkins' skill is perhaps best appreciated on Rhonda Lee's less bombastic cuts.  "Darkness Falls So Quiet" is a slinky groover, punctuated with perfect horn accents and lazy strings.  The horns are muted and paired with saaaad pedal steel on "A Night of Serious Drinking", a torch ballad boasting the CD's most mature and nuanced vocal performance.  I'd advise listeners to track down live video takes of some of these numbers, captured during the nearly five-year journey that birthed this record.  What you'll catch here that might elude you on the album is twofold: That sense of humor and edgy charm that should land Nicole Atkins a big screen gig any moment now, as well as the realization that she executes this all without the use of modern studio sleight-of-hand.  Goodnight Rhonda Lee isn't just a momentary detour or a passing novelty.  With her fourth full-length project, Nicole Atkins has reached into the past for a fully satisfying and relevant pleasure.

- Kathleen Edwards, "Mint" Voyageur  (Concord, 12)
- Rod Melancon, "Mary Lou" Southern Gothic  (Blue Elan, 17)
- Bohannons, "Run the Road" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "House of the White Rose Bouquet" Tell the Devil ...  (Bordello, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Tattoo" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Charlie Parr, "Dog" Dog  (Red House, 17)
- Emmylou Harris, "Icy Blue Heart" Bluebird  (Warner, 88)
- Juanita Stein, "Someone Else's Dime" America  (Hand Written, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Sons of the Wandering" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- White Buffalo, "The Observatory" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Darlin' Angel Eyes" Rose of England  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Different Kind of Love" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Forget About Georgia" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Rounder, 17)
- Cross Canadian Ragweed, "Jimmie and Annie" Highway 377  (Smith, 99)
- Steel Woods, "Better in the Fall" Straw in the Wind  (Woods, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "Thomas County Law" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Sorry is Gone" Sorry is Gone  (ATO, 17)  D
- John Murry, "One Day (You'll Die)" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Twins" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetword, 17)
^ Nicole Atkins, "A Little Crazy" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)  D
- Jason Isbell, "Hope the High Road" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Avett Brothers, "Smoke in Our Lights" Carolina Jubilee  (Ramseur, 03)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Pain" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Is It Too Much" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Margo Price, "Weakness" Weakness EP  (Third Man, 17)  D
- House and Land, "Rich Old Jade" House and Land  (Thrill Jockey, 17)
- Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic, "There's No Leaving Now" Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic  (Rivers/Birds, 17)  D
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "You Are Not Needed Now" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Grant Lee Buffalo, "Bethlehem Steel" Copperopolis  (Slash, 96)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing in the Doorway" single  (Merge, 17)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

photo by Richard Markham
the very best of americana, and roots music
July 17, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Back in 2013, John Murry's Graceless Age found a place near the top of my year-end favorites list.  I wrote:  "Murry sings in a slurred baritone that resonates somewhere between the junkie hymns of Alejandro Escovedo and the American mythology of Springsteen."  More than any other album on that year's list, Graceless Age continues to haunt me.  Nearly five years later, "Penny Nails" and "Little Colored Balloons" still transport me like they were new.  This is an exceptionally rare thing when it comes to my relationship with music.

There's a brief promo for an in-the-works documentary about Murry that shares the title of his new record, Short History of Decay.  In the trailer, the writer returns from "exile" in Ireland to his Mississippi home, to explore the family history that connects him to William Faulkner.  Even with crashing waves, sprawling landscapes and haunting cityscapes, there's nothing more mesmerizing in this footage than John Murry himself.

Thanks to producer and Cowboy Junkie Michael Timmins, Murry's broken, wired, ramshackle, glorious spirit shines through the songs of Decay.  Whereas Graceless Age seemed a carefully, deliberately arranged mosaic of song, sound and spirit, new tunes like "Under a Darker Moon" and "Wrong Man" are barely held together, conveying the same reckless passion that seems to drive Murry's live sets.  The guitars buzz and shriek, piano enters tentatively, and Caitlin O'Riordan's backing vocals come across as a ghostly afterthought.

"Under a Darker Moon" is the record's most standard rocker, offering a steadily skittering beat and bass to cling to, as well as a surefooted melody.  With in-your-face guitar and a lack of definite resolution, it'll never be mistaken for radio bait.  But its urban late night street sounds bring to mind figures like Mark Lanegan and even Lou Reed at his most tuneful.  All I do is fix what I did the day before.

"Come Five & Twenty" is a prettier number, spectral lyrics brightened by a burbling organ and O'Riordan's subtly charming vocal.  Life is a gift / I don't recall taking  / I wear it till it fades.  With its delicate acoustic and midtempo percussion, it brings to mind Richard Buckner.  Matter of fact, I'd argue that Buckner's classic Devotion + Doubt is an apt comparison.  Despite the fact that it's generally a lighter, less intense set, both records employ silence and space to masterful effect.

More commonly, Decay plods along at a pallbearer's pace.  "One Day (You'll Die)" is a drowsy reflection that morphs unexpectedly into the 1959 instrumental "Sleep Walk".  It's one of a couple moments of relative levity that Murry forces into the thick dark.  "Wrong Man" is a Nick Cave-esque folk ballad no more substantial than smoke, with piano given a slight echo treatment and the sound of fingers sliding across frets as loud as anything else in the mix.  I'm the wrong man to ride shotgun / On your murder mile.

The songs on Decay aren’t entirely different than those on Murry’s effort of 5 years ago.  There is talk of mortality and meaning, lyrics couched in religious imagery, perhaps a pervasive lack of hope or trust.  He remains a smart and literate writer, drawn towards the sort of grand statements more common in philosophy and literature (the record’s title is borrowed from a book by Romanian nihilist philosopher Emil Cioran).  The dividing line between the two CDs comes down to the producer’s choices.  Michael Timmins has left more of the grain, the texture in Murry’s music, resulting initially in a more challenging listening experience.  But with repeated trips through Short History of Decay, the gradual familiarity carves a path towards a deeper appreciation of John Murry’s tortured art, and for the jumbled, raw setting that ultimately compliments his overall vision.  On “One Day (You’ll Die)”:  I’ll remain nothing more than a misquote in history’s back pages.  Bleak as it is, the music trades in genuine emotion.  

This week's Episode also brings new stuff from the Southern rock outfit Blank Range, as well as something decidedly fantastical from Ian Felice.  Also, Howling Bells' Juanita Stein launches her solo career, and Alex Williams is 4 real.

- James Elkington, "Wading the Vapors" Wintres Woma  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Nick Lowe, "Lovers Jamboree" Pinker and Prouder Than Previous  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Danny & Champions of the World, "Waiting For the Wheels to Come Off" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- Steelism w/Andrew Combs & Jessie Baylin, "Lonely Game" Ism  (Intoxicating Sounds, 17)
- Mastersons, "Don't Tell Me To Smile" Transient Lullaby  (New West, 17)
- Steve Earle, "News From Colorado" So You Wannabe An Outlaw  (Warner, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Texas Jesus" This Tall To Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Universal Sound" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Will Hoge, "This Ain't An Original Sin" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Matt Woods, "Fireflies" How to Survive  (Lonely Ones, 16)
- Whiskey Shivers, "Liquor Beer Wine & Ice" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Brand New Start" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Ballad of 1892" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Dead Volts, "Enough" Hate Ray  (Twang N Bang, 17)  D
- Alex Williams, "Little Too Stoned" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)  D
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Nail My Feet Down To the Southside of Town" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Blank Range, "Opening Band" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girl, 17)  D
- Yayhoos, "Bottle and a Bible" Fear Not the Obvious  (Bloodshot, 01)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Find Yourself" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Concord, 17)  D
- GospelbeacH, "Kathleen" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Heartless Bastards, "Swamp Song" Stairs and Elevators  (Fat Possum, 04)
- Juanita Stein, "Cold Comfort" America  (Hand Written, 17)  D
- Moot Davis, "Shot Down in Flames" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)  D
- Deer Tick, "Jumpstarting" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)
^ John Murry, "Under a Dark Moon" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)  D
- Ian Felice, "In the Kingdom of Dreams" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)  D
- Spirit Family Reunion, "Put the Backseat Down" No Separation  (SFR, 12)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Graceland" single  (New West, 17)
- Sam Baker, "Moses in the Reeds" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "I Do Believe I've Had Enough" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)

Monday, July 10, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
July 11, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I know it's hard sometimes / Putting up with these old wicked ways of mine / Oh woman, be strong  

When I heard it, it was as though I'd struck gold.  A vein of pure, molten gold.  Why was nobody talking about Will Hoge?!  A genuinely soulful cry that could break both hearts and glass.  The Man Who Killed Love landed in early 2006.  Subsequent albums have seen Hoge embrace a more country sound.  He was nominated for several awards for his part in writing the Eli Young Band's big 2011 smash "Even If It Breaks Your Heart".  A couple years later, Hoge's  "Stronger" served as the soundtrack for a Chevy truck commercial.

Point is, the Will Hoge who melted me with "Woman Be Strong" wasn't necessarily the same guy who serenaded those slo-mo shots of muddy trucks bounding carefree over the ruts.  Songs like "When I Get My Wings" or "Guitar or a Gun" have shown him as a truly strong writer, capable of dripping soul and making good noise.  And while I respect any one who can pass through the mainstream country gauntlet with their integrity intact, what I've wanted from Hoge was that soul and the good noise.

In the meantime, I continued to pay attention to his music.  I was drawn in by the intimate stories of rural America.  I was snagged by Hoge's voice, a rough and gritty instrument that would flirt occasionally with its breaking point.  By the release of 2015's Small Town Dreams, I was back in the fold.  The album showed him settled into that lane between mainstream country and americana, a writer with a real story to tell and a sure handle on his sound.

Which brings us to Will Hoge's new Anchors record.  It arrives in the wake of Hoge's own realization that it was time for him to rediscover the joy in writing and performing.  He took to the road sans band, with just his guitar and keyboard in the backseat, facing the audience each night as one guy with a battered suitcase of songs.  My sense is that both Will and I are very pleased with the outcome.

Anchors trades in stories of adulthood, songs about marriage and fatherhood and work.  The things in our lives which serve as our anchors both in the best and the most challenging ways.  The CD launches with "The Reckoning", a song that looks inheritance straight in the eyes.  It's a midtempo  strummer that swells to an angry bridge:  What kills me the most / Is knowing that you don't even want to change.  "This Ain't An Original Sin" addresses a common cure to the midlife malaise, guitars blazing and drums banging.  It's a self-deprecating albeit tuneful look at our dumb choices:  So we won't be the first ones trying out this medicine / They've been using it for years / All our parents all our peers and all our friends / This ain't an original sin.  Hoge even throws Adam and Eve in the mix, the original sinners whose weakness flows through our veins to this day.  Later in the sessions, he sums up our condition with a blunt lyric: I'm older than Jesus / But still dumber than hell / And I'm so tired of fighting this war with myself.

The record's most melodic, single-worthy moments come with bits like "Baby's Eyes" and "Little Bit of Rust".  The latter finds Hoge alongside Sheryl Crow in a moment that likens our relationship to a Chevy that's seen better days (but can still be fired up for the occasional night on the town).  "Baby's Eyes" is a deceptively bright splash of country-pop, the sort of major key gem that can be found on a Reckless Kelly record, or on mainstream country radio.  Both songs bounce along on durable hooks and immediately relevant arrangements.

But these more positive and hopeful sentiments are balanced by the distance and doubt of slower numbers like "Grand Charade" or the title track.  The former presents moments of disconnect in a relationship that have become the rule rather than the exception:  The truth is that we made a mistake / We ain't that happy couple on the wedding cake.  These are painful but painfully necessary admissions in almost any lasting relationship.  "Anchors" presents the record's most adventurous musical moments, including a stormy bridge that verges on psychedelia a'la Sturgill Simpson.  The sins of the father / Drag like anchors on the kid.  And the creeping "Cold Night in Santa Fe" leaves room for the collection's most soulful delivery.

This ain't your grampa's nostalgia.  We acknowledge and cherish 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.

Also this week, I give you Texas Gentlemen and "Habbie Doobie", counseling you to track down the video and to get yourself an armadillo.  And while you're at the armadillo store, pick up a copy of Danny & the Champions of the World's excellent new double CD.  And say hey to Charlie Parr, who loves his dog out loud.

- Wilco, "Dreamer in My Dreams" Being There  (Nonesuch, 96)
- Jeff Tweedy, "Ashes of American Flags" Together at Last  (dBPM, 17)
- Shakey Graves, "Pay the Road" And the Horse He Rode In On  (Dualtone, 17)  D
- Rod Melancon, "Dwayne and Me" Southern Gothic  (Blue Elan, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Bars Ain't Closin'" This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- John Moreland, "It Don't Suit Me (Like Before)" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Ruby Force, "Church and State" Evolutionary War  (Force, 17)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "By Eleven" Gravity  (Watermelon, 92)
- Charlie Parr, "Dog" Dog  (Red House, 17)  D
^ Will Hoge, "Reckoning" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Breaking It Down!" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Matthew Ryan, "Summer Never Ends" Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, 17)
- Scud Mountain Boys, "Do You Love the Sun" Do You Love the Sun  (Ashmont, 13)
- Whiskey Shivers, "Southern Sisyphus" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)  D
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Deslondes, "Muddy Water" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)
- Bohannons, "Dog Days" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing in the Doorway" single  (Merge, 17)   D
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Waiting For the Right Time" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)  D
- Banditos, "Fine Fine Day" Visionland  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Cale Tyson, "Railroad Blues" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Bluebonnet Highway" The Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Every Time You Leave" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Habbie Doobie" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)  D
- Waxahatchee, "8 Ball" Out in the Storm  (Merge, 17)
- Peter Case, "Brokedown Engine" Sings Like Hell  (Vanguard, 93)
- Slaid Cleaves, "Take Home Pay" Ghost On the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)
- Ags Connolly, "Slow Burner" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Drifting on a Summer's Night" single  (Six Shooter, 17)  D
- 16 Horsepower, "American Wheeze" Sackcloth & Ashes  (A&M, 96)

Saturday, July 01, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 30, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Debuts crowd our playlist this Episode, from unhinged moments with the Yawpers and Deer Tick to more measured contributions from Robyn Ludwick and David Ramirez.  Quiet and folky bits rub parts with more agitated sorts, and it's all good.  It's All Good.  And much of it this Episode happens to be both Good and Loud.  Rod Melancon digs a backyard hole to hell on one of two spoken word pieces.  The aptly named Ruby Force pays noisy tribute to Saint Vic Chesnutt.  And god bless the Bohannons for a lovingly disheveled album.

But 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 rallying 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.

Lee Bains III formed his Glory Fires upon leaving the Dexateens, whose howling Southern punk lives on in his current music.  But Bains has traveled far since those days, and has breathed in the dust of blues, folk, gospel and country which clogs the grooves of Youth Detention.  The blazing anger of "Good Old Boy" contrasts with the more melodic reflections of "I Heard God!" or the acoustic "Picture of a Man".  "Breaking it Down!" invokes a stained glass congregation, while "Nail My Feet Down To the Southside of Town" is an anthemic Southern rocker.  While such a diversity of noise could threaten to force the collection off the rails, the cumulative effect is similar to being in the midst of that murmuring, restless congregation.

There is interstitial noise, studio patter and field recording throughout the record, providing both distraction and continuity.  And as a reviewer who prefers to pepper his pieces with lyrics, Bains doesn't make it easy to grasp his words as they fly by.  That said, between the buzz and the bang, what I can grasp is often pure poetry.
There we sat / In fluorescent halos / The tiny flowering redemptions / Of sharecroppers and miners and slaves / Offering up to our class / Beneath the TV the flag and the cross / Our ridge-and-valley twangs and drawls / Birthmarks to be scrubbed away  
He approaches the mic with a lifetime of stuff to say, unleashing a firehose of words that rarely lend themselves to singalong moments.  But parsing this torrent can produce moments of tremendous feeling and heartfelt emotion.
I still believe, children, in some kind of warm, forgiving light / That bears us away from our worn-out bodies and this wartorn life / And, I don't know, but if anybody in this world just fades to black / I'd think it's the man that lives off picking on them that're being held back
Listen to Youth Detention the way I did.  Pocket the lyric sheet and simply lay awash in the energy and the static.  "Sweet Disorder" and "Whitewash" will reveal the pure melody beneath all that noise.  The children's playground chorus that abides throughout "Crooked Letter" provides an indelible rhythm and an innocence that grounds some of the record's anger.  But after a couple listens, as the songs begin to become familiar, take a look at the lyrics (you can also find them here).  This isn't the Dexateens.  Heck, it's stuff that you'll have trouble finding anywhere else on a decade's worth of R&B playlists.  Bains doesn't give us easy listening (and it certainly can't be real easy to sing).  But it's smart, passionate and often painful.

Bains roots much of Youth Detention in a specific place and time.  But these 17 songs drag the lessons of Alabama social justice into the light of our present civil war.  As we trip and stumble and rage into the July 4th holiday, we tell the stories that matter and raise our voices in support of what we're in danger of losing, pushing and pushing against the god damned creeping darkness.  Like Drive-by Truckers' iconic Southern Rock Opera, Lee Bains III has produced a classic double-CD of Southern sound that rocks hard, points fingers and satisfies profoundly.  Happy Independence Day!

- Blitzen Trapper, "Man Who Would Speak True" Destroyer of the Void  (Sub Pop, 10)
- Micah Schnabel, "Cincinnatti, Ohio" Your New Norman Rockwell  (Last Chance, 17)
- Rod Melancon, "Lights of Carencro" Southern Gothic  (Blue Elan, 17)  D
^ Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Nail My Feet Down to the Southside of Town" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)
- Bohannons, "Heart Go West" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Texas Jesus" This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, 17)  D
- Jason Isbell, "Something to Love" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Chris Canterbury, "Refinery Town" Refinery Town  (Backporch, 17)  D
- Sam Baker, "Feast of Saint Valentine" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "I Do Believe I've Had Enough" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Eden" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Jeff Tweedy, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" Together at Last  (dBPM, 17)
- Steph Cameron, "That's What Love Is" Daybreak Over Jackson Street  (Pheromone, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)  D
- Will Hoge, "Baby's Eyes" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Deer Tick, "It's a Whale" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)  D
- Ruby Force, "Ode to Vic Chesnutt" Evolutionary War  (Force, 17)  D
- Tyler Childers, "Whitehouse Road" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There ..."  Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There As Fast As I Can  (Bordello, 17)  D
- Colter Wall, "Kate McCannon" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Dan Auerbach, "Livin' in Sin" Waiting on a Song  (Nonesuch, 17)
- Angaleena Presley, "Dreams Don't Come True" Wrangled  (Mining Light, 17)
- James Elkington, "Sister of Mine" Wintres Woma  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)  D
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "You Are Not Needed Now" Wildflower Blues  (Cinquefoil, 17)  D
- David Ramirez, "Watching From a Distance" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Live Fast Love Hard Die Young" Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
- Yawpers, "Mon Dieu" Boy in a Well  (Bloodshot, 17)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff, "Laughing" In Memory of Loss  (Rounder, 10)
- Matthew Logan Vasquez, "Red Fish" Does What He Wants  (Dine Alone, 17)  D
- Delta Spirit, "California" Delta Spirit  (Rounder, 12)

Monday, June 19, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
June 19, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

What's so great about the first half of 2017?!!

To quote the early 80s British new wave band Talk Talk (which I don't do often enough), Baby life's what you make it / Celebrate it.  Even when we're having to try harder to avoid negativity and reasons for despair, great music surrounds us like angel wings.  Or like water wings.  Music can keep us afloat, can give us the energy to keep going or even to fight back.  Like god, it's there when you want it and when you need it.  Which makes me an evangelist, shining the light and showing the way to music that matters.  And if it works for you, it's yours.  Let it lift you up, let it drive you forward, let it embolden and comfort and calm you.  Or just ignore it because you don't like twangy stuff ...

But if you're part of our congregation, let's celebrate.  Let's open the hymnal of the first half of 2017 and bellow like wounded calves or sing like angels, ranting against all that worries and angers us or whooping foolishly about the fact that we're still here, against all odds.

Don't like to show my hand this early in the season, but here are my five favorite records to date, listed in order of appearance:

Ryan Adams, Prisoner  (PaxAm, Feb 17)
Will Johnson, Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, Mar 24)
John Moreland, Big Bad Luv  (4AD, May 5)
Matthew Ryan, Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, May 12)
Justin Townes Earle, Kids in the Street  (New West, May 26)

I've already posted reviews of these, so find those if you'd like a deeper glimpse into my feelings.  Now, here are fifteen others that have also caught my ear, listed again in order of appearance:

Band of Heathens, Duende  (New West, Jan 13)
Dead Man Winter, Furnace  (GNDWire, Jan 27)
Ags Connolly, Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, Feb 3)
Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins  (YepRoc, Feb 10)
Romantica, Shadowlands  (Last Chance, Feb 10)
Son Volt, Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, Feb 17)
Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude  (Secret City, Feb 24)
Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling  (ATO, Feb 24)
William Matheny, Strange Constellations  (Misra, Feb 24)
Mic Harrison & High Score, Vanishing South  (Mic, Mar 10)
Cory Branan, Adios  (Bloodshot, Apr 7)
Jason Eady, Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, Apr 21)
Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, May 5)
Colter Wall, Colter Wall  (Young Marys, May 12)
Joseph Huber, Suffering Stage  (Huber, Apr 21)

Next time you see a list like this from me will likely be towards the end of the year.  Please notice that there is a lot of room here for stuff I've just received like Jason Isbell or Amanda Anne Platt or Will Hoge.  And let's not overlook the fact that the table is set for Lee Bains III, Tyler Childers and Yawpers.  I when I kneel by my wee bed at night and say my prayers to the sky, I always ask for that new or lesser known artist to appear at my door to throw it all to the wild wind.  Amen.


If you're going to tell me all my faults
I'll tell you the ones I'm gonna keep  --  Bash + Pop

- Barrence Whitfield, "Whiskey Wagon" Barrence Whitfield & the Savages  (Mamou, 84)
- Vandoliers, "Rain Dance" The Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Bohannons, "Run the Roads" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)  D
- Bash & Pop, "Anybody Else" Anything Could Happen  (Fat Possum, 17)
- Banditos, "Strange Heart" Visionland  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Reckless Kelly, "Crazy Eddy's Last Hurrah" The Day  (Valley, 00)
- Steel Woods, "Wild and Blue" Straw in the Wind  (Woods, 17)
- Jason Isbell, "Tupelo" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Will Hoge, "Little Bit of Rust" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Chris Knight, "Miles to Memphis" Heart of Stone  (Drifter's Church, 08)
- GospelbeacH, "You're Already Home" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Ballad of 1892" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)  D
- Secret Sisters, "King Cotton" You Don't Own Me Anymore  (New West, 17)
- Micah Schnabel, "Cincinnati, Ohio" Your New Norman Rockwell  (Last Chance, 17)  D
- Avett Brothers, "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" Music From the American Epic Sessions  (Legacy, 17)
- House and Land, "False True Lover" House and Land  (Thrill Jockey, 17)
- Sam Baker, "Same Kind of Blue" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)  D
- David Ramirez, "Dancing and Vodka" Apologies  (Sweetworld, 12)
- Deslondes, "One of These Lonesome Mornings" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)
- Cale Tyson, "Easy" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)
- Margo Price, "Downpour" Cover Stories  (Looking Out, 17)
- Drew Holcomb, "Tip Of My Tongue" Treasure of the Broken Land  (Storm Weathered, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "Way Down in My Soul" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)  D
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Birthday Song" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Slaid Cleaves, "Already Gone" Ghost on the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Not Dark Yet" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Mahogany Dread" Lateness of Dancers  (Merge, 14)
- Benjamin Booker, "Truth is Heavy" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Whitewash" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)
- Waxahatchee, "Never Been Wrong" Out in the Storm  (Merge, 17)  D