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Friday, December 02, 2016


ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the american diaspora
November 26, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I can't say why it seems to be more difficult for me to write about my favorite songs than about my favorite records for the year.  The last couple years I've sorta sidestepped songs in place of albums.  What with my extra time as 2016 shudders to a standstill, I seem to have collected a list of 25 quality cuts for your listening pleasure.  I believe I'll even order them for you.

FAVORITE SONGS of 2016


1. "Hands of Time" by Margo Price, from Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man, March 25) -- I'll quote myself here, from way back in the halcyon days of March: "Prediction: At year's end Price's "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" will sit at or near the top of dozens of favorites lists. For me, this album opener is the collection's true gem ... A vocal delivery for the ages, an arrangement that bundles countrypolitan, honky tonk and contemporary "cosmic country" into an origin story worthy of Loretta, Hag, Tanya or Sturgill.  All I wanna do / Is make a little cash / Cause I've worked all the bad jobs / Busted my ass. / I wanna buy back the farm / And bring my mama home some wine / Turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time."  After a nearly Stapleton-esque year, I'm guessing Mama should be able to afford some of the real good stuff.    

2. "The Dogs" by Justin Wells, from Dawn in the Distance  (August, August 5)  -- Wells' service with Fifth on the Floor only hinted at his fierce energy and deep talent.  "The Dogs" is one of the most unromantic road songs I've heard, painting such a bleak picture of a band's neverending tour that it might persuade young alt.country types to put down their guitar and get a job pulling espresso.  It's a nasty way of living sometime / My jar ain't holding a single dime / My glass is holding the last thing I want to do. / I'm gonna drink every dime I make tonight / I'll die just to get a room ...

3. "Baby Blue" by Mount Moriah, from How to Dance  (Merge, February 25)  --  Such an evocative sound conjured by electric guitar, droning organ and the yearning delivery of vocalist Heather McEntire.  It's a sound that both embraces and keeps its enigmatic lyrical distance.  I've woken up countless times this year with the refrain echoing in my head, Are you gonna let me win.  For a bonus treat, track down last October's "Calvander" single which also features a more raw "garage demo" of "Baby Blue".  Plus, it's the best video I've seen this year that features a guy peeing on a couch.

4. "Heartbeat Smile" by Alejandro Escovedo, from Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, October 28)  --  I'm sure I'll have time to rhapsodize about Escovedo's new record when I reveal my favorite albums of 2016.  This first single rivals 2008's "Always a Friend" for pure pop shock 'n awe.  From the "Bad Case of Loving You" guitar riff to the bubblegum girl group backing vox, it's a real highwater mark on a collection characterized by reminiscence, regret, absence and sharp guitars.  Escovedo is nothing short of a national treasure.

5. "Give All You Can" by Cody Jinks, from I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, August 12)  --  There are more upbeat songs on Jinks' 2016 record, and better singalongs, but this one might be the songwriter's most deeply introspective.  Singing about The dark places I go, and admitting, I got a bad tortured soul, in the end it's an uplifting country ballad that challenges the listener to push past that dark night.  With its barroom piano and soul stirring choral spirit, "Give All You Can" is the year's best Saturday night / Sunday morning moment.

6. "Ain't We Free" by Austin Lucas, from Between the Moon and the Midwest  (Last Chance, May 27)  --  I flitted between the ballad "Pray for Rain" and the opener, "Unbroken Hearts" before landing on this youthful romp as my representative from Lucas' stellar collection.  With some help from John Moreland, the song blasts a chorus that demands to be belted from car windows (trust me):  Ain't we free / Ain't we terrible and young / Just like the spark in the east / Turns into the sun.  A great guitar break and a hellbent tempo simply drive the spirit of abandon to 10 and beyond.  Even if you're more terrible than young ...

7. "Longer" by Lydia Loveless, from Real  (Bloodshot, August 19)  --  Is Lydia too mature to be playing guitar and eating cheesepuffs in her bedroom dressed only in her unmentionables?  Or is that part of her indelible charm?  On a record that continues to rage against expectations, "Longer" is a quintessential song of pining for love lost.  It's also an earworm with a remarkable growth rate, from the artist's telling drawl to guitars and keys that speak more to 90s pop than to contemporary roots.

8. "Wild Flower" by the Vandoliers, from Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, October 21)  --  Don't tell me that the Vandoliers is a good name for a band, or that Ameri-kinda strikes you as a particularly smart choice for a record title.  But I dare you to listen to the Dallas ensemble's debut without being charmed.  "Wild Flower" was my first delicious taste of their punk vocals, mariachi horns and jagged romantic streak.  One of the year's latest victories, it's one gorgeously sloppy piece of work that continues to delight.

9. "Can't Close the Door On Love" by Lucinda Williams, from Ghosts of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, February 5)  --  An uncharacteristically gentle, earnest ballad from an artist who's more at  home in the bluesy dumps.  With her lazy slur, Lucinda's vocal is simply sweet melancholy.  It's an understated gem that's stuck with me:  You're just a little rough around the edges / Tough as nail, made of stone / But that's exactly what I expected / 'Cause baby, you're one piece of work.  It's a bouquet, with some of the weeds still hangin' on like I like.

10. "Piedmont Sky" by Caleb Caudle, from Carolina Ghost  (This Is American Music, February 26)  --  Another album from which I could've tagged a number of cuts.  Caudle and co. generate an effortless sound, shot through with 70s country and soul.  Like much on Carolina Ghost, it's deceptively, masterfully simple from the lyric to the subtle arrangement and the repeated catch, A decade of hot and heavenly summers / Waitin' for an angel to call my number.

11. "Brake Dust" by Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, from Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, September 30)  --  So hushed and understated, you almost feel like an eavesdropper on this most intimate of JPKS's pieces.  Sunday morning / Chokin' on brake dust / Feelin' me rust / How will I know / When I am broken and I've had enough / Just take your sins and make them feel like love.  Nothing beyond a chiming piano and fingerpicked guitar, but the hymnlike tune resonates.

12. "Wake Up Ray" by Richmond Fontaine, from You Can't Go Back if There's Nothing to Go Back To  (El Cortez, March 18)  --  From the Portland band's apparent swansong, it's one of at least 4 songs on this list that are at least tangentially about birds.  "Wake Up Ray" is the sort of slice of real life scenario in which writer Willy Vlautin is a master.  It's just a story about a guy who buys his girlfriend a finch that she releases into the snow.  Nobody sounds like Richmond Fontaine, and this short vignette epitomizes the record's genius.  All I remember now is running through the snow / Looking for Little Joe.

13. "Finches" by Arliss Nancy, from Greater Divides  (Gunner, May 13)  --  Yeah, birds.  Sorta.  The Fort Collins alt.country force fits no fewer than 3 distinct movements in this brief 3 minute cut.  It's like a short, rootsy "November Rain" ...  In all honesty, "Finches" is another slice of life song, sneaking a glimpse into a relationship that's begun to fray at the edges.  And maybe we can meet them at the Hi-Dive around seven or eight; a beer and some whiskey for the shaking in your leg.  And if you ever get to thinking about home, that's when you'll see it's been here all along.

14. "Filthy and Fried" by Drive-by Truckers, from American Band  (ATO, September 30)  --  I'm tempted to call American Band the perfect album for its time.  That said, amidst all the collection's sociopolitical commentary, my favorite song is simply about how the ladies can be driven by the basest of desires just like us guys.  Not one of the songs that'll generate much dinner table debate ...  But sometimes all you want to hear is good 'n dirty alt.country with lots of drippy meat on the bones.  Bottles falling in a dumpster / And a stale smell rising through a sickening summer haze  / To the rhythm of a boot-heeled hipster cowgirl's clunky sashay of shame.  End of argument.

15. "American Tobacco Company" by BJ Barham, from Rockingham  (BJB, August 19)  --  With this week's release of their new live record, it's been a good year for BJ Barham's day band, American Aquarium.  A really fine, steady rocking stage act, their frontman's debut solo album pared back the proceedings for a personal reflection on small town, blue collar reality.  No tune spoke louder to me than this story of the dead end drudgery of a factory job.  Now I sit here on the line / And watch these big machines crush my hopes and dreams / Into Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes.

16. "Loveless Prayers" by Kent Eugene Goolsby, from Temper of the Times  (KEG, November 11)
17. "Biloxi" by Hiss Golden Messenger, from Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, October 7)
18. "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" by Courtney Marie Andrews, from Honest Life  (Mama Bird, August 19)
19. "Bob Dylan's 78th Hangover" by Harvest Thieves, from Rival  (Harvest Thieves, January 8)
20. "Blacktop Blues" by Left Arm Tan, from Lorene  (LAT, April 16)
21. "Solving Problems" by Brent Cobb, from Shine On Rainy Day  (Elektra, October 7)
22. "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces" by Jayhawks, from Paging Mr. Proust  (Sham, April 29)
23. "Opening Statement" by Hard Working Americans, from Rest in Chaos  (Melvin, May 13)
24. "Rock 'n Roll" by Girls Guns & Glory, from Love & Protest  (GGG, November 4)
25. "Lucky Cigarette" by Matt Haeck, from Late Bloomer  (Blaster, June 3)

We'll get our favorite records for the year on these pages in the next couple weeks, crisply appointed and ready for your cruel derision.  At present, they're arrayed alphabetically, but I'm starting to get a good sense of what belongs where with regards to personal preference.  While you can not presently enjoy these lists on your terrestrial radio, you can stream them merrily below.

Monday, November 21, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
November 19, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

It's a song from Tift Merritt's forthcoming Stitch of the World that's lodged in my mind this week.  "Love Soldiers On" is a resilient sigh of a song, not so much a rallying cry as a world weary acknowledgement that this sort of work never really ends:  "Lock it out and don't return its call / Swear you don't know its face at all / Throw it in the river, lose it in the storm / It'll show up in its bandages tomorrow at your door".  Amen and amen.

So, too early for holiday music?  Yeah.  How 'bout "winter music"?!!  Few bands do justice to the interior, cozy, lush sounds of the season like matt pond PA.  It's just the thing for this first (late) snowfall of Fall here in sunny CO.  Thinking Over the Rhine as the only challenge to that statement.  It's chamber roots pop, with a steady orientation towards melody and sentiment.

Curiously, I was initially drawn to Winter Lives by a banjo driven instrumental, "Sunset at the Gas Pump".  Turns out the record features a handful of these brief mood setting interludes with titles like "Candle and a Deck of Cards" or "Leggings in the Living Room".  Banjo, acoustics, textures and ambiance that I wouldn't mind hearing stretch past the minute mark.

Fact is, the best holiday music is also simply good music; no need to suspend taste or apologize for sentiment just this side of melancholy.  matt pond PA's previous winter record, the appropriately monikered Winter Songs, offered some prime covers:  Richard Thompson, Neil Young, even a languid take on Linsday Buckingham's iconic "Holiday Road".  Composed primarily of originals, Winter Lives presents a fuller, more satisfying musical meal.

"The Glow" is a charming, chiming strummer.  Sweet strings and acoustics are woven through with wild electric guitar arpeggios.  The ensemble offers a cornucopia of sound, a lushness that drives "Fotzepolitic", a gorgeous run through Cocteau Twins' 1990 record that leaves the listener awash in memories of another time, a'la "2000 Miles" or "I Believe In Father Christmas". From "In Winter":  "The cold will bring us close / All filled with firelight / It's not just any snow / It's only you tonight ... The trouble in the world won't find us here"

Plucked banjo and acoustic guitar swell to subtle strings on "Dirty Looks":  "Pouring whiskey on the fire / Give you pears and bee stings / Give me dirty looks / Give you knives and pinecones / You give me dirty looks".  It a brief but exceedingly warm pastoral moment among many.  That intimacy and closeness are driven by necessity, given both the weather and the physical desire.  "Whoa (Thirteen and Sledding With Kerry In Northern New Hampshire)"  pulls aside that heavy curtain:  "Shivers going straight down to my bones / The shakes are stretching all the way to my soul ... Now there's nothing but this length of frosted string".  It's one of the sweetest, most indelible hooks of the year; a warm, woven scarf of the acoustic and synthetic.  The tubular bells that briefly chime in melt my heart.  matt pond PA's Winter Lives fosters a rush of memories and urges, a generous feast for the senses.

Also on this week's playlist, a taste of mutant folk from Adrian + Meredith, and a twisted take on Appalachia from a  Pine Hill Haints record that nobody told me was out in July (wtf?!).  Also, Chuck Prophet is the coolest person in the room (next to Escovedo).  We close with a couple beautiful pieces from Leif Vollebekk and Michael Chapman.

Thanks for your kind words about my departure from your radio.  My wife is demanding I present her with a list of my podcast needs so that we can start getting our heads around stuff.  It won't be long before the playlist below is interrupted once again by my ramblings, mumbles and esoterica.  Until then, love soldiers on.

- Tift Merritt, "Love Soldiers On" Stitch of the World  (Yep Roc, 17)
- The Americans, "Gospel Roads" First Recordings EP  (632803 Records, 16)  D
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Memphis Rain" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Will Kimbrough, "I Don't Have a Gun" Godsend  (Waxy Silver, 03)
- Bonnie Whitmore, "Fuck With Sad Girls" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Starlet&Dog, 16)
- Adrian + Meredith, "Take a Boat" More Than a Little  (A+M, 16)  D
- Pine Hill Haints, "
- Delines, "He Told Her the City Was Killing Him" Colfax  (ElCortez, 14)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Suit of Lights" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Chuck Prophet, "Bad Year For Rock and Roll" Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
^  matt pond PA, "Whoa (Thirteen and Sledding With Kerry in Northern New Hampshire)" Winter Lives  (131 Records, 16)  D
- Harmed Brothers, "Bottle to Bottle" A Lovely Conversation  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Two Cow Garage, "Continental Distance" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)
- Joe Pug, "Sharpest Crown" Messenger  (Lightning Rod, 10)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Loveless Prayers" Temper of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Tami Neilson, "Only Tears" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)
- Girls Guns & Glory, "Reno, NV" Love & Protest  (GGG, 16)
- Jamestown Revival, "Company Man" Education of a Wandering Man  (Republic, 16)
- Sadies, "Riverview Fog" Northern Passages  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
- Steve Earle, "Hillbilly Highway (Live in Chicago 1986)" Guitar Town: 30th Anniversary  (MCA, 16)
- Band of Heathens, "Trouble Came Early" Duende  (BoH, 17)  D
- Colter Wall, "Sleeping On the Blacktop" Imaginary Appalachia  (Windrow, 15)
- David Dondero, "Take a Left Turn in Boise" w/Love - EP  (Total Treble, 16)  D
- Leif Vollebekk, "Elegy" Twin Solitude  (Secret City, 17)  D
- Michael Chapman, "That Time of Night" 50  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)  D



Saturday, November 12, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
November 12, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

You'll stumble across few better album launchers this year than "Rock 'n Roll" from Girls Guns & Glory's new Love & Protest record. Listen: "I'm a hunter, a collector of things / I keep holding on to bad memories".  Like all the best stuff, it's a simple song, a meeting of alt.country with rockabilly with rhythms that'll move you and a melody that might worm its way into your ear.  The Boston based band calls it "authentic American music", equally at home in a honky tonk or one of those fancy joints with a real stage, Ward Hayden and co. have outgrown their humble origins:  "Ready to rock 'n roll".

Regular followers of R&B aren't new to Girls Guns & Glory, the easygoing charm of their earlier records that played much closer to tradition.  Albums like '11's Sweet Nothings or '14's Good Luck opened up the throttle just a bit, just as last year's live tribute to Hank Williams brought it all home again.  The songs on Love & Protest continue to betray those early rock, rockabilly and country influences, but the band is no longer beholden to the tradition that spawned them. "Reno NV" or "Empty Bottles" give us a taste of Bakersfield, with six string guests Duke Levine and Buddy Cage casting just the right shade.  "Who Will Love You" powers that electric guitar with a more contemporary spark, given lead as the song unspools.  Even their unexpected cover of the Burritos' classic "Hot Burrito #1" is as much soul as it is country, just like Gram would have it.  But it's the heavenly voice of frontman Ward Hayden that boosts Love & Protest to special heights.  Sure, you'll hear Hank in Hayden's sweet melancholy breaks, but you'll also catch some of Yoakam's smoothness and even a touch of Sturgill's hurt.  

Set live to analog tape, Love & Protest doesn't necessarily sound as much like a new band as much as a favorite band re-energized.  Girls Guns & Glory are no longer a shadow of a lost time.  Hayden's songs like "Memories Don't Die" are contemporary gems, perfect for country radio if country radio knew what was good for it.  It's the reason we hold off on unleashing our year-end favorites lists until the dark days of December.

Speaking of which, welcome to that most wonderful time of the year when new releases dwindle down to a meager trickle.  We take our first glimpse into Tommy Stinson's rebirth of Bash & Pop, and a quality EP release by the Harmed Brothers from verdant Cottage Grove, Oregon!  We remember the late Belfast troubadour Bap Kennedy, and dig deeper into Tift Merritt's January release.  Please enjoy the Spotify playlist below.

- Vandoliers, "Bottom Dollar Boy"  Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Johnny Volume" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Bash & Pop, "On the Rocks" Anything Could Happen  (Fat Possum, 17)  D
- Nikki Lane, "Down To the Wire" Gone Gone Gone  (Iamsound, 11)
- Bap Kennedy, "I Should Have Said" Reckless Heart  (Last Chance, 16)
- Tift Merritt, "Love Soldiers On" Stitch of the World  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)
- JJ Cale, "One Step Ahead Of the Blues" Grasshopper  (Audigram, 82)
- Jamestown Revival, "Love Is a Burden" Education Of a Wandering Man  (Republic, 16)
- Tim Easton, "Burning Star" American Fork  (Last Chance, 16)
- Becky Warren, "San Antonio" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)
- Band of Heathens, "Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler" Highway Prayer: Tribute To Adam Carroll  (Eight30, 16)
- Adam Carroll, "Low In the Mountains" Far Away Blues  (Blue Corn, 05)
- Jonny Fritz, "Happy In Hindsight" Sweet Creep  (ATO, 16)
- Jack Grelle, "Heart's For Mine" Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down  (Big Muddy, 16)
^ Girls Guns & Glory, "Rock 'n Roll" Love & Protest  (GGG, 16)
- John Paul White, "Hate the Way You Love Me" Beulah  (Single Lock, 16)
- Margo Price, "Weekender" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Whiskey Myers, "Lightning Bugs & Rain" Mud  (Wiggy Thump, 16)
- Bonnie Whitmore, "Ain't Waitin' On Tomorrow" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Starlet & Dog, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Ever South" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Flat Five, "This Is Your Night" It's a World of Love and Hope  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Rod Picott, "Black T Shirt" Welding Burns  (Welding Rod, 11)
- Harmed Brothers, "Here Comes the Cadillac" A Lovely Conversation  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)  D



Saturday, November 05, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a brave? new! world 
November 5, 2016


Way back on my post for January 2, I eerily predicted that 2016 would see me backing out of several of my appointments in order to focus more time on this blog.  Or something.  Turns out I did more than that.  This week I stepped down from my weekly radio broadcast on KRFC.  This was driven by several factors, none of which I'll mention here.  I also mentioned so many months ago that I hoped to enter into podcasting once it was financially realistic.  Still waiting for that financially realistic part to happen ...

In the meantime, we're left with a review blog with some music attached.  Starting next Episode, I'll be more consistent with my Spotify playlists, lovingly assembling 25 songs as though I'm a real live dj.  We'll continue to focus on what's new (... and what matters to you!) in the world of blah blah blah.  I'll just be paying more money to deliver it to your digital doorstep.

I have messily mixed feelings about not sharing this stuff with you via radio.  As ever, terrestrial radio remains 98% potential (like this blog!).  I loved my broadcast moments, even while recognizing that I'm no Casey Kasem / Ryan Seacrest / Billy Bush.  Last time I stepped away from the mic I was driving from Oregon to Colorado, listening closely for a new radio home.  Now I'm back on the road (figuratively, since I've got no plans to leave our faire square state), scanning the proverbial horizon for a new place to plant my signal.  Like riding a bike, it's something I'm not especially built for ...  Unlike riding a bike, it's probably something I'll keep trying to get right until the end.

Still to come this year:  My year end favorites lists.  Certainly at least one holiday playlist.  And reviews aplenty!

As I've said before, watch this space ...


Scott


Friday, November 04, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
October 29, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

There was this line by Charlie Parker, 
Somewhat work remembering:
If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn
Chances are you'll never be reborn
                                                    -  David Dondero

I aired NRBQ and David Dondero today, a pair of artists rarely acknowledged in roots music circles.  Heck, I don't think I've ever played NRBQ on R&B, and I imagine Dondero's only seen the light of day maybe 3 or 4 times.  "Defying expectations" is one of the keys to the charter of Routes & Branches (note to self: create a charter), so I'd like to think we can justify fitting more than the obvious in our 120 minutes of weekly airtime.  I'd argue that often the best stuff hides between the lines.  This is why I advise that for best results, listen to the show every week, and listen loud.

Also this week, I've been toting around Jonny Fritz's new record for far too long without giving it a taste.  I'm not good at quirky, but given the fact that it arrives bearing the imprimatur of Jim James and the Goldsmith brothers from Dawes, I took the dive.  Jamestown Revival seem to have raised their game a notch, and I hadn't heard about K. Phillips until mere hours before the broadcast.  I think Bonnie Whitmore has made a strong statement by calling her new album Fuck With Sad Girls, not to mention by creating some really satisfying roots pop.  And I believe I've narrowed down my year end favorites list to a preliminary 25.  I shall stare at the list for the next couple weeks before sharing.

Had to know I'd be writing up Alejandro Escovedo's Burn Something Beautiful one of these weeks.  Whether with True Believers, Rank & File or as a solo veteran, no artist has more thoroughly and successfully explored the full range of musical expression possible in roots music.  He's also proven himself a worthy collaborator over the years, pairing with Stephen Bruton, Jon Dee Graham, John Cale, Chuck Prophet or Tony Visconti for worthy results.  Burn Something certainly rises to these lofty standards, a true pooling of talents with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, along with contributions from John Moen, Kurt Bloch, Corin Tucker, Kelly Hogan and Steve Berlin.  With guitars just this side of rude, and some of Escovedo's most relevant writing in years, it's nothing less than a rebirth.

At 65 years old, Alejandro Escovedo has earned the right to take a look back.  There's a vein of nostalgia to pieces like "Farewell To the Good Times" and the instantly endearing "Heartbeat Smile", but it's tempered by the immediacy and edge of the collection.  I'll mention that guitar again here, fiercely blazing on "Horizontal" or "Johnny Volume" and dominating the mix on the bluesy "I Don't Want To Play Guitar Anymore".  On the latter, Escovedo wonders aloud if he has anything left to say after such a career:  "When I was a young man / I made a lot of noise / Messed up every which way / Was all search and destroy ... Lately I can't stand the sound of my own voice".  It's a curious stance, given the urgent spark igniting the record.  "Luna de Miel" and "Shave the Cat" are pure energy and attitude, driven by a garage spirit that's powered Escovedo's music since the Nuns.

Alejandro Escovedo has never been beholden to melody or easy hooks.  His work has betrayed a consistent urban edge, appealing more with power and personality than earworms or pretty chords.  Burn Something explores the artist's more melodic skills without sacrificing that punk brutality.  "Sunday Morning Feeling" features chimes, and the backing vocals provided by Hogan and Tucker are a heavenly counterpart to Escovedo's familiar drawl.  "Heartbeat Smile" is one of my favorite songs of the year, as tuneful as 2008's "Always a Friend", perfectly balanced between loose guitars and those sweet pitch perfect vocals.  It's a bright spot on a record that seems to find Alejandro Escovedo pondering his relevance.  With friends like these supporting his masterful vision, it might not be quite time for him to put down that guitar.

- Luke Roberts, "Untitled Blues" Sunlit Cross  (Thrill Jockey, 16)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Great Confessor" Temper of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Call Me Sometime" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)
- Tim Easton w/Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Black Flag Blues" Highway Prayer: Tribute to Adam Carroll  (Eight30, 16)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Ready To Die" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Neko Case, "I Wish I Was the Moon" Blacklisted  (Bloodshot, 02)
- Jonny Fritz, "Fifteen Passenger Van" Sweet Creep  (ATO, 16)  D
- Jack Grelle, "Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down" Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down  (Big Muddy, 16)
- Jamestown Revival, "Company Man" Education Of a Wandering Man  (Republic, 16)  D
- Vandoliers, "Hank" Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, 16)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "Been On the Rocks" Innocent Road  (West Sound, 16)
- Robert Earl Keen, "Shades Of Gray (live)" Live Dinner Reunion  (Dualtone, 16)
- Emmylou Harris, "Boulder To Birmingham (live)" Life & Songs Of Emmylou Harris  (Blackbird, 16)  D
- NRBQ, "I Found a Love" Ludlow Garage 1970  (Sundazed, 06)
- Girls Guns & Glory, "Empty Bottles" Love and Protest  (GGG, 16)
- K. Phillips, "Hadrian" Dirty Love  (KPhillips, 16)  D
- M Lockwood Porter, "Charleston" How To Dream Again  (Black Mesa, 16)
- Esme Patterson, "Not Feeling Any Pain" Play Each Other's Songs  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Ryan Adams, "Amy (live)" Live After Deaf  (PaxAm, 12)
- Two Cow Garage, "This Little Light" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Ain't No Stranger" There Is a Bomb In Gilead  (Alive Naturalsound, 12)
^ Alejandro Escovedo, "Heartbeat Smile" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Bonnie Whitmore, "Fuck With Sad Girls" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Starlet & Dog, 16)
- Paul Cauthen, "Hanging Out On the Line" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- David Dondero, "Rothko Chapel" Simple Love  (Team Love, 07)
- Amanda Shires, "Pale Fire" My Piece Of Land  (BMG, 16)
- John Doe, "Heartless" Forever Hasn't Happened Yet  (YepRoc, 05)
- Fred Eaglesmith, "Pontiac" Lipstick Lies & Gasoline  (Razor & Tie, 97)

Saturday, October 29, 2016



ROUTES & BRANCHES  
a home for the americana diaspora
October 22, 2016
Scott Foley, Purveyor of Dust

Took my first pass through a favorites list for 2016, singling out just under 40 records worthy of consideration for my top 25.  While I'm far from "done" done, I seem to have had little problem with this exercise.  Have I missed something this year?  Compared with last year, I whiffed on almost nothing in 2016.  But wait, there's still some deep red blood on the horizon, with the pending release of new records from Ryan Adams, Kent Eugene Goolsby, Girls Guns & Glory, and even Bonnie Whitmore, any of which could mess with my preliminaries.  As my wife cautioned me when I told her I might already have my top 25:  "But it's only October?!!"

We begin this Episode bidding farewell to Chris Porter, a talented, hardworking guy who deserved better.  A great voice and a worthy writer, who knows what might've happened if there were more time?  Porter would certainly have garnered more play on R&B ...  And acts like the Vandoliers are one good reason why I wait until the last weeks of the year to assemble my favorites list.  Their Ameri-kinda is brash, loose and reckless.  With his shredded but steady delivery, frontman Joshua Fleming comes across like Deer Tick's John McCauley or Adam Stephens of Two Gallants.  Also, I've always argued that americana has little formally to do with America.  Luke Roberts lives in Kenya, where his Sunlit Cross was recorded with assistance from Kurt Vile and John Neff of Drive-by Truckers.

Til recently, Kent Goolsby has reminded me a bit of an updated Pokey LaFarge, dragging elements of early folk into a more contemporary setting.  He's tended to play acoustic (and play it well), and has demonstrated a ready sense of self-deprecating humor.  With the addition of a previously unused middle name (he's now Kent Eugene Goolsby), he almost sounds like a new man on Temper of the Times.  The vibe here is darker, more overcast, with Goolsby plugging in for the vast majority of songs.  And his vocal delivery seems to have adapted an unheard layer of gravity on songs like "The Stone".  Lyrically, Goolsby comes across as a seeker of wisdom and contentment:  "The stone / You leave unturned / It carries the most weight".  Many stones are flipped on Temper, with the artist playing the role of prophet or "The Great Confessor".  The record's most rambling, bluesy cut recalls Ray Lamontagne or Parker Millsap, with some satisfying guitar lines and a hint of gospel spirit.  "I'm dusting off a language / One that we once spoke so well / Back when we believed that words were sung / To save us from ourselves".  Propelled by a tripping percussive groove, "Wishing Well" adds Anna Leigh Goolsby's backing vocals for an air of foreboding.  Temper also features contributions from the suddenly ubiquitous Joey Kneiser on percussion and production.  With lean accompaniment and no-frills production, Goolsby and co. have curated an album that embraces both simplicity and depth.  "Loveless Prayers" is a stunner, a hymnlike gem with more sweet guitar and a moving vocal:  "Now all you send / Are loveless prayers / To a god that you fear is dead / But you ain't alone / The cosmos will cradle you / And I will listen to every single one of them / Your loveless prayers".  I've been happy to share Kent (Eugene) Goolsby's work with R&B listeners over the years, recognizing him as an artist worthy of our ears.  That said, Temper of the Times arrives as an impressive statement, changing the game for Goolsby and revealing a promising glimpse at the future of his growth.  Goolsby returns to the acoustic for "Some Crosses", allowing his muse to shine thru and his voice to be heard.  Sure, it's only October, but I might have a little room near the top of my 2016 list for this under-the-wire underdog.

Because some crosses
They have six strings
And I will help you carry yours
If you gave mine meaning


- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Your Hometown" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Porter, 16)
- Some Dark Holler, "Kerosene & Pills" Hollow Chest  (This is American Music, 12)
- Porter, "This Red Mountain" This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
- Brent Cobb, "Diggin' Holes" Shine On Rainy Day  (Elektra, 16)
- Vandoliers, "Wild Flower" Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, 16)  D
- Dan Layus, "Dangerous Things" Dangerous Things  (Plated, 16)
- Luke Roberts, "Silver Chain" Sunlit Cross  (Thrill Jockey, 16)  D
- Two Cow Garage, "Let the Boys Be Girls" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)
- Todd Farrell Jr, "Pawnshops" All Our Heroes Live In Vans  (TFJ, 13)
- Shovels & Rope, "Buffalo Nickel" Little Seeds  (New West, 16)
- Reckless Kelly, "Moment In the Sun" Sunset Motel  (No Big Deal, 16)
- Whiskey Myers, "On the River" Mud  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Mavis Staples, "Down In Mississippi" We'll Never Turn Back  (Anti, 07)
- Steve Earle, "Think It Over" Guitar Town (30th Anniversary Deluxe)  (MCA, 16)  D
- Caitlin Rose, "Sinful Wishing Well" Own Side Now  (Theory 8, 11)
- Blue Rodeo, "Superstar" 1000 Arms  (TeleSoul, 16)  D
- Luke Winslow-King, "Act Like You Love Me" I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Tami Neilson, "So Far Away" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "What I Don't Know" Swimmin' Pools Movie Stars  (Sugar Hill, 16)
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Miss September" Shouted Written Down & Quoted  (Big Blue Zoo, 16)
^ Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Some Crosses" Temper of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Dive Bar Sweetheart" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Sunday Morning Feeling" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Girls Guns & Glory, "Rock 'n Roll" Love and Protest  (GGG, 16)  D
- Jack Grelle, "Heart's For Mine" Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down  (Big Muddy, 16)  D
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Dirt, the Bells & I" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Phil Cook, "Old Hwy D" Old Hwy D  (Phil Cook, 16)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "Guns of Umpqua" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- JJ Grey & Mofro, "Brighter Days" Blackwater  (Alligator, 01)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
October 15, 2016
Scott Foley, Purveyor of Dust

Does punk music make sense everywhere?  Does it ring true driving down a Northern Colorado road on an uncommonly warm October dusk, heading into a massive, squashed orange moon?  Restless leaves rioting in the wake of speeding cars, patchy clouds a ridiculous cartoon pink.  I've always argued that punk is a spirit, woven through Alejandro Escovedo's stories of urban survival as much as Jack Rose's "american primitive" acoustic guitar.  Punk glints through Lydia Loveless' anxious lovesongs and you'll find it in the fingernail grit of garage-soul giant Barrence Whitfield.

Of course, sometimes punk comes in chunks, more deliberate musical gestures like Brand New Flag, the brand new record (long awaited, natch) from Two Cow Garage.  Like folk, punk is a peoples' music, a theoretic danger to the status quo and a liferaft for the huddled masses.

Songs like the funereal "I Promise" stare self-doubt and dark sentiment in the face.  But Schnabel forces his voice through the accusatory bellowing and the hellish cacaphony, "I promise I will never give up!"  Crucible and challenge are part and parcel for young people who are force fed politics and religion, kids who are lucky to trip through the gate of young adulthood with their integrity and their dreams intact.  From "A Lullaby of Sorts" (a lullaby of sorts):  "So go to sleep now / Don't you cry / We're all just doing our best not to die / So load your guns and say your prayers / Just kidding, there is no god".  It's a brutal pat on the back.

More than any other Two Cow record, writers Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney are direct about their socio-politics.  Brand New Flag is an important and unabashed product of its time.  No song (possibly no song this year) better epitomizes this focus than "Let the Boys Be Girls".  Actually released last year, it's a highwater mark for the group in terms of original music and relevant ideas.  Like the best punk songs, it will anger certain parents and serve some young people with a renewed strength of purpose:  "Cause we can listen to Slayer / Or we can get stoned / We can teach ourselves it's okay to be alone / We can start our own bands in our basements / We can break up citing creative differences / These are the things they never tell you".  The songs on the band's 7th record can simultaneously bemoan the state of our nation while positing glimpses of hope, or at least respites from the onslaught.

With their youth largely in the rearview mirror (but near enough that they don't come off as narcs or teachers with an Important Lesson to impart), Two Cow actually seem to be taking up the mantle as flagbearers and spokesmen, speaking from their own experience in hopes of reaching fellow fugitives from the battle.  Here's the title cut:  "I'm stitching up a brand new flag / From old newspapers and dirty rags / A nation of the lonely and broken / That still have something to prove / A place for everyone who's never fit in / Any single place they've ever been / So bring me your outcasts, your freaks / Your broken hearts and fools".  

It's been so long since 2CG issued their debut, '03's Please Turn the Gas Back On.  From production to writing to the addition of guitarist/writer Todd Farrell Jr, it's a different band with a different purpose. Flag is musically more diverse, with a cleaner sound courtesy, in part, of Joey Kneiser.  Micah Schnabel has morphed from a mere frontman to a poet and a unique voice among his peers.  As he acknowledges on "Beauty in the Futility":
When I was young I was too messed up to realize I wasn't very good / I was just so happy to be here so I sorta smiled and did the best I could /  Which was mostly poor imitations of my heroes / But now most of them are dead and gone / And I've finally found my voice

Finally, it came across my digi-desk while I was polishing this week's Episode that Chris Porter had been killed in an accident.  Whether a solo artist, a member of Some Dark Holler or Back Row Baptists, or with his new project, Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, Porter shone with a definite musical vision.  We'll make room for some of that stuff on next week's broadcast.

- Sturgill Simpson, "Some Days" High Top Mountain  (Thirty Tigers, 13)
- Justin Wells, "The Dogs" Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)
- Gillian Welch, "Dry Town (demo)" Boots No. 1: the Official Revival Bootleg  (Acony, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Beauty & the Buzz" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Jack Rose, "Soft Steel Piston" Dr Ragtime & His Pals  (Three Lobed, 16)  D
- Handsome Family, "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" Nothing Left to Lose: Tribute to Kris Kristofferson  (Incidental, 03)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Wishing Well" Temper Of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Call Me Sometime" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)  D
- Jon Snodgrass, "1-2-3-4 Won't Go Down to the Basement No More" Carpet Thief 7"  (Snodgrass, 16)  C
- John Calvin Abney, "Goodbye Temporarily" Far Cries & Close Calls  (Horton, 16)
- Honeycutters, "Blue Besides" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)
- Robert Earl Keen, "Feelin' Good Again (live)" Live Dinner Reunion  (Dualtone, 16)  D
- American Aquarium, "North Texas Women (live)" Live at Terminal West  (AA, 16)  D
- Lydia Loveless, "Real" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Whiskey Myers, "Lightning Bugs & Rain" Mud  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
- Turnpike Troubadors, "Every Girl" Diamonds & Gasoline  (Onward, 10)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "You're the One" Innocent Road  (West Sound, 16)
- Flat Five, "Buglight" It's a World of Love and Hope  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "John the Gun" Heart Like a Levee / Vestapol  (Merge, 16)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "12 Bar Blues" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Dan Layus (w/Secret Sisters), "Dangerous Things" Dangerous Things  (Plated, 16)
- Bobby Bare Jr, "Sad Smile (live)" Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)  (Bloodshot, 15)
- Tami Nielson, "So Far Away" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Little Heartache" How to Survive  (Last Chance, 16)
- Cory Branan, "Wayward & Down" The Hell You Say  (Chin Up, 02)j
- Barrence Whitfield & Savages, "Incarceration Casserole (live)" Audiotree Sessions  (Audiotree, 16)  D
^ Two Cow Garage, "This Little Light (edit)" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)  D