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Sunday, October 15, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
October 15, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

This marks the first week where we feature stuff that's planned for release on the other side of the New Year.  It's a sign that it's time for me to retreat to my burrow to work on my year-end favorites lists.  I've actually sifted out about 35 or 40 contenders, though some of these late-in-the-year releases are sorta messing with it all.  Lee Ann Womack.  Ronnie Fauss.  Turnpike Troubadours.  I'm talking to you.

Anna Tivel's Small Believer isn't an easy listen, but it's as beautiful an album as you're bound to hear this year.  It's the sort of beautiful that happens in an Edward Hopper tableau, born of light and space and story.  The Portland artist calls it, "a collection of patchwork stories drawn from conversations with strangers, on the road, in restaurants, and rest stops".

The sound is intimate, generated by a close group of friends, primarily Tivel and producer Austin Nevins.  Like Joe Henry's more recent projects, songs like "Illinois" paint with a light acoustic brush: Guitar, acoustic bass, keys, only the necessary percussion.  Anna Tivel delivers these narratives like she's confiding a secret, her voice a hybrid of Julien Baker and Suzanne Vega.

Light shines dimly through Small Believer, spitting from flickering basement bulbs, angling down alleyways or falling from newborn stars.  "Saturday Night" provides a soundtrack to that Hopper canvas.  Tivel's streets and stoic buildings are seemingly devoid of people, but allude to untold stories and abiding aloneness.  The chamber folk arrangement is full without crowding, hushed but never disappearing.

but sometimes still at night i dream, an empty bottle in the alleyway / on a night so clear a billion stars are born / and each one is a world i guess, of dust and flame and wishes cast / by lovers hoping love will last 'til morning     --  "Alleyway"

Perhaps the most striking moment on the record comes from "Dark Chandelier", a picture of a man crushed in the wake of losing his blue collar job after thirty-one years.  Tivel's delivery is calm and contained, even when the story calls for anger or outrage or personal connection.  The writer can betray a great sympathy for these souls, though the picture is one of a documentary angel floating above the scene, permitting tears but always from a distance.  Tommy lies drunk on his own front lawn / at three in the morning, his work shirt still on ...

Much of the beauty is in the details of songs like "All Along" or "Last Cigarette".  They are just ordinary moments in the lives of everyday people, but they convey a universe of meaning.  Like Julien Baker, Tivel's emphasis is on imagery and isolated episodes of revelation. Stories that speak volumes:  and Joe on the line, all the burns on his arms, and his girlfriend at home with a yellowing bruise.

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

- Turnpike Troubadours, "Pipe Bomb Dream" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Margo Price, "Cocaine Cowboy" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "Pray for Jungleland" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Langhorne Slim, "Zombie" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Americans, "Nevada" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "New Madrid" Last of the True  (normaltown, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Roll Julia" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Blank Range, "Crimson Moon" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Joe Ely, "Tennessee's Not the State I'm In" Joe Ely  (Geffen, 77)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Lithium" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "All I Know" Boy Crazy & Single(s)  (Bloodshot, 17)   D
- Anderson East, "All On My Mind" Encore  (Elektra, 18)  D
- Lee Ann Womack, "Sunday" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Captain Captain" Death & the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)  D
- Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, "Matter of Time" Soul of a Woman  (Dap-Tone, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Style (is a Losing Game)" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Wilco, "Passenger Side (Live at the Troubadour 11/16/96)" Being There (Deluxe Edition)  (Reprise, 17)  D
- Calexico, "End of the World With You" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)  D
- John Murry, "Defacing Sunday Bulletins" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Listen Up" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Sedan Delivery (live)" Rust Never Sleeps  (Reprise, 79)
- Will Hoge, "Anchors" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- White Buffalo, "Heart & Soul of the Night" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "Little Bit" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- Derek Hoke, "Little Devil" Bring the Flood  (Little Hollywood, 17)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "I've Been Failing (live)" Live at Red Rocks  (Concord, 17)  D
- Joe Fletcher, "Haint Blue Cadillac" You've Got the Wrong Man  (Wrong Reasons, 14)
- Becky Warren, "Full of Bourbon" War Surplus (Deluxe Edition)  (Warren, 17)  D
- Texas Gentlemen, "Bondurant Women" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Lost Out in the Darkness" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)

So here's how it works.  Just in case you've been unaware of what's going on here.  I slide one of these ROUTES-casts into just about every post, here at the bottom like a postscript.  It's basically a "podcast" with a limited lifespan.  I run it like I used to run my radio show, before radio broke me, replete with personal ramblings and asides about the music we play.  When I publish next week's Episode, I'll get rid of this one.  You'll need to create a Spotify account to listen (this can be free, or it can cost if you want all the bells 'n whistles).  Between you and me, I'm intending to look into other options for the 'cast; if you have any suggestions please email me  So click on the file below to disappear into a couple hours of music that matters.

... then come back next week.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 8, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Tom Petty is one of those artists who have a great effect on our kind of music, but who aren't necessarily formally embraced by the genre.  Thinking others like Springsteen, REM, John(ny Cougar) Mellencamp, etc.  I mention in this Episode that I've never played Petty on R&B, and I don't do it here either.  Which doesn't mean I'm not a fan.  Damn the Torpedoes was a very formative cassette in Young Scott's collection.  We observe his passing with a couple covers, in a week that heard countless roots artists demonstrating their reverence with live takes on their favorite Tom Petty track.

Here's a link to Patterson Hood's Petty piece from Bitter Southerner.

Also this Episode, we dig further into what's proving to be a promising Langhorne Slim project.  We debut a solid new set from Derek Hoke.  And it dawns on me that Deer Tick's ambitious new collection deserves some year-end attention.

Close readers of these pages will recognize my short fuse with regards to shallow appropriation of early rock and rockabilly culture.  There's a thin line between deeper authenticity and hollow imitation. I recall coming across JD McPherson's 2015 episode of Amoeba Records' What's In My Bag where the artist reveals an educated reverence for roots icons like Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and the Monks.  While his first two LPs presented fairly literal interpretations of this stuff, McPherson's new Undivided Heart & Soul finds him extending those revivalist tendencies in a more personal and creative direction.

I actually love Let the Good Times Roll (2015) and Signs & Signifiers (2010), and still consider "North Side Gal" one of the decade's most indelible singles.  McPherson reportedly abandoned a couple earlier approaches to a third record, until a visit with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme provided the inspiration for the album's direction.  Even then, McPherson was uncertain whether fans of his first CDs would follow him into the new sound.

Overall, the new sounds on Undivided Heart & Soul are still retro, but lean more towards the contemporary than the revivalist.  "Lucky Penny" might be the best Black Keys song you haven't heard.  Driven by stomping drums and dirty dirty guitar, it introduces a claustrophobic production, sounding a bit like the sessions were recorded in a high school locker room.  In all the best ways. Pieces like "Desperate Love" pay homage to 60s garage rock 'n soul, but with the same ratio of retro-to-contemporary as Jack White.

Obviously well schooled in the medium, McPherson and his band can hear the punk in Buddy Holly, appreciate the darkness of Link Wray, and the deep and dirty roots of the Cramps.  "Crying's Just a Thing You Do" is greasy and primitive, like "Wooly Bully" with a gutbucket blues guitar solo.  As a whole, the collection embraces the edgy and jarring, with contributions from McPherson's new East Nashville neighbor, Aaron Lee Tasjan, as well as his former Sooner friend, Parker Millsap.

"Hunting For Sugar", "Under the Spell of City Lights" and the title track speak in a more contemporary pop language, trading in tuneful hooks with at least one foot venturing beyond the garage door.  Especially on "Sugar", he shows himself to be a singer capable of a range of voices, from a gentle croon to a barbed howl.  Nicole Atkins contributes vocally to the record, a singer whose own new Goodnight Rhonda Lee swims these same waters.

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

- Anna Tivel, "Last Cigarette" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "First Cigarette" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan & Lilly Hiatt, "The Wall" single  (Mark of the Leopard, 17)  D
- Langhorne Slim, "Life is Confusing" Lost At Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Drive-by Truckers, "What It Means (Live)" Live at Newport Folk Fest  (ATO, 17)  D
- Joana Serrat, "Western Cold Wind" Dripping Springs  (Loose, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "The Fall" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Joe Henry, "River Floor" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Derek Hoke, "So Tired" Bring the Flood  (Little Hollywood, 17)  D
- Whitney Rose, "Trucker's Funeral" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Single Boy" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Girls Guns & Glory, "All the Way Up To Heaven" Good Luck  (Lonesome Day, 14)
- Hellbound Glory, "Sun Valley Blues #3" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Just Say It Now" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)
- Brent Cobb, "Ain't a Road Too Long" single  (Elektra, 17)  D
- Hang Rounders, "Burnt Bridges" Outta Beer Outta Here  (H'Rounders, 17)  C
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Way We See Heaven" Ties of Blood & Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Lucero, "Diamond State Heartbreak" Attic Tapes  (Liberty & Lament, 00)
- Deer Tick, "Hope is Big" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Hickory Wind" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Tim Barry, "O & Dp" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)
- Blitzen Trapper, "Wild & Reckless" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)
- Jeff Tweedy, "I Am Always In Love" Together At Last  (dBPM, 17)
- Mavericks, "There Goes My Heart" What a Crying Shame  (Geffen, 94)
- Juanita Stein, "Someone Else's Dime" America  (Hand Written, 17)
- Vetiver, "I Know No Pardon" To Find Me Gone  (Dicristina, 06)
- Reckless Kelly, "Time Bomb" Millican  (Rummy, 97)
- Jason Isbell, "Tupelo" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)

... and since you asked, yes I do have Ten Favorite Tom Petty singles.  And yes I will put them in alphabetical order as follows:  "American Girl", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Even the Losers", "Here Comes My Girl", "Learning To Fly", "Refugee", "Southern Accents", "The Waiting" and "You Wreck Me".  Thanks for asking.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

it's our kind of music
October 1, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

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

It must be said that TX Jelly’s opener, “Habbie Doobie” is one of the year’s most sticky jams.  It’s essentially an instrumental, enhanced with some extraneous dialog and occasional moments of drunken group-sing.  I’m certain that the recording wasn’t preceded by a lot of rehearsal, that “Habbie Doobie” is simply a “lightning-in-a-half-empty-bottle” moment generated by a cohort of crack musicians who have worked alongside one another for several years.  Indeed, the core Gentlemen have played behind a remarkable diversity of artists, from Leon Bridges to Joe Ely and Kris Kristofferson.

The song sets the stage for what follows, a smattering of half-finished ideas, tossed off tunes and moments of fleeting brilliance that make TX Jelly a genuinely happy-making CD.  “Pain” is a joyful boogie that promises a whole lot of pain in your life.  The ensemble rarely plays it straight, so there are musical detours and curious choices in even the most standard song.  On “Pain”, it comes in the form of a little vocal vamp that is filtered through a watery production.  That psychedelic effect comes through most strongly on the lounge-y “Superstition”, which comes across like a Harry Nilsson LP riding a slightly wonky turntable:  Do you believe in things that go hump in the night / When you’re alone in Tennessee / And you haven’t realized yet.  The title track seems inspired by an effort to “get the drummer some”, laying down a heavy snare riff enhanced with a variety of noises, organic and otherwise. 

Texas Gentlemen are always good fun, but their debut isn’t simply a throwaway lark.  “Bondurant Women” holds its ground as the album’s most complete cut, a swampy, soulful throwback with some fine vocals and hooky percussion.  Vocals are generously shared throughout the collection, including a couple takes from Paul Cauthen on songs like “Gone”.  The band’s garage-a-licious run through “Shakin’ All Over” almost rivals the opener for its retro splendor. 

Apart from “Doobie”, the collection’s most startling revelation comes in the form of Tool, TX’s own Dan Dyer.  Dyer dabbles in acoustic and bass here and there, and assumes iconically laconic lead vocal duties on a pair of country weepers.  Foremost among these is the saaaad “Pretty Flowers”: These are not for you, my happy memories / These are not for you, my future plans.  Dyer half sings and half talks atop a dusty shuffle and an otherworldly choir of Jordanaires.  Think Charlie Rich, by way of Bobby Bare Jr. 

TX Jelly is not one single record.  It is a mixtape, harvesting the bounty of three, maybe four LPs you discovered at a sidestreet thrift store.  In a time where our kind of music is fighting for acknowledgement, doing all it can to be taken more seriously by more listeners, Texas Gentlemen offer us a moment of refreshing irresponsibility.  

- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single  (LAT, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Can't Stop Shakin'" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Hunting For Sugar" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Americans, "Hooky" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)
^ Texas Gentlemen, "Pretty Flowers" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Paul Cauthen, "Saddle" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Dori Freeman, "I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Big Leagues" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "Leaving the Barren Ground" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "John the Gun" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Blue World" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Fallen Leaves" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)  D
- Fernando Viciconte, "Drunkard's Lament" Widows  (Domingo, 17)  D
- Travis Meadows, "Pray For Jungleland" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Sunday Morning Papers" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Bash + Pop w/Nicole Atkins, "Too Late" single  (Fat Possum, 17)  D
- Eilen Jewell, "You Know My Love" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "Minstrel Boy" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Whitey Morgan, "Hard Scratch Pride" Whitey Morgan & the 78s  (Bloodshot, 10)
- David Ramirez, "Stone Age" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Jesse Joe's Cigarettes" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sweet Old World" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Water Street" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "It's a Shame" single  (Columbia, 17)  D
- Hang Rounders, "Wyoming" Outta Beer Outta Here  (H'Rounders, 17)  C, D
- Dan Dyer, "Cowboys in Nashville" Feast of Light  (Dyer, 17)  D
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Shit Got Dark" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)  D
- Bottle Rockets, "Better Than Broken" Zoysia  (Bloodshot, 06)
- J Roddy Walston, "Bad Habits" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)
- Romantica, "Lonely Star" Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 17)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

home for the americana diaspora
September 24, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

What's good?

Reckless Kelly?  Will Hoge?  How 'bout Left Arm Tan?!  I'll be honest here.  There's not another artist or band making better tuneful red dirt country at this point.  The Fort Worth guys' announcement that they'll be releasing a series of singles over the next several months lands like an eagerly awaited package on my musical doorstep.  I ripped it right open and set it to repeat on my way to work this morning.  With its steady chugging rhythms, its perfect "Seven Bridges Road" harmonies and its call to seize the day, "El Camino" is just what I need to head into the Fall months.  What's next guys?

Think I seriously considered reviewing at least a dozen records this week, from Elliott BROOD's uncommonly satisfying Ghost Gardens to David Ramirez's bold and unexpected new collection.  I tried my hand at the beautiful reunion of Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, and even gave some thought to Ron Pope's unjustly overlooked August release, Work.  But I won't commit to a piece if I don't have anything to add to the conversation.  It's not enough to simply call it "good", or even to resort to hollow praise (a'la "he's the real deal").  While these are some worthy albums, stuff that might even compete for a spot on my year end favorites list, it took me awhile this week to settle on a project with which I felt some traction as a writer.

Back when I did artist interviews for radio, I would often ask what my guest was listening to in the lushly appointed tour vehicle.  The response could prove less satisfying if the artist's tastes were more pedestrian, or if they just played NPR on repeat.  In the best case, the answer could be revelatory, permitting a glimpse  behind the creative curtain.  MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger recently posted a Spotify playlist featuring stuff that is "honest and deep in a way that we need right now," from Lonnie Mack to Mance Lipscomb, Emmylou Harris and Bettye Lavette.  Amen and amen.

Every week here on R&B, I assemble my own take on "what we need right now".  Lately, I couldn't imagine pulling together such a hymnal without Hiss Golden Messenger's Hallelujah Anyhow.  It's been a remarkable run for MC Taylor & co., from 2014's elegiac Lateness of Dancers to last year's Heart Like a Levee, and now this soul-filled, rainbow riddled hallelujah.  Reaching back to the early HGM records, the progression has been uniquely rewarding, evolving from a more internal and contemplative vibe to more open and expressive one.

Hallelujah also changes vantage somewhat from previous CDs.  Where Lateness and Levee dwelt on concerns of house and home and relationship, these new songs are focused more on our interface with the larger world.  It's not the "political" record some are calling it, but songs like "Jenny of the Roses" certainly acknowledge the darkening skies:  I've never been / Afraid of the darkness. / It's just a different kind of light.  Even in the shadow of that dark, bright horns and choruses and gospel blessed piano insure that this is the most consistently upbeat music in Hiss Golden Messenger's catalog.

"Domino (Time Will Tell)" rides on a Stones-y guitar riff, a hearty roots rocker driven by many of the same folks who contributed generously to the last couple HGM offerings.  Taylor has explained that the song loosely addresses the ironies of the touring experience, as well as being a musical homage to occasional muse Van Morrison.  Old SGs and cigarette smoke / Wouldn't trade it for nothing / In this whole wild world.  Featuring brothers Brad and Phil Cook, guitarman Josh Kaufman, and background vocals from Tift Merritt and John Paul White, the collection's full band arrangements can be infectiously soulful.

Even when MC Taylor's more pastoral threads are showing, the band's sound is stirring.  "John the Gun" is a full scale reworking of a piece on the Vestapol disc of extras from the Levee sessions.  A carefree walking guitar line meets up with the full band, working into a jazzy groove replete with noodling sax.  The heartfelt "Gulfport You've Been On My Mind" forces a degree of fuzz into the electric guitar, and cruises to a close on an amplified harmonica.

Taylor can weave a poetically satisfying lyrical line when you least expect it.  That said, the tunes on Hallelujah tend to be more about the catching the wave rather than spinning a story.  If there is a theme throughout the record it might be in the hesitantly hopeful "When the Wall Comes Down":  It's a beautiful world but painful, child / ... But while I'm here / I'm gonna sing just like a songbird.

In all honesty, I'll admit that I've listened to Taylor's ridiculously rich playlist this week almost as much as I've listened to Hallelujah Anyhow.  Perhaps the highest praise I could offer these new originals would be to plant them in the midst of these other inspirations.  Link Wray could segue into "Domino (Time Will Tell)", Los Lobos would be followed by "Jaw", and it only makes sense that Van Morrison might give way to "When the Wall Comes Down".  It all fits.  It all matters.  Give me a fiddle and a flattop guitar / Give me the gospel of the jukebox ...

^  Hiss Golden Messenger, "Gulfport You've Been On My Mind" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Someday We're All Gonna Die" Work  (Brooklyn Basement, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Whitehouse Road" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Tim Barry, "Running Never Tamed Me" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)
- Willie Watson, "Leavin' Blues" Folksinger Vol. 2  (Acony, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "If All I Was Was Black" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)  D
- Kacy & Clayton, "A Certain Kind of Memory" Siren's Song  (New West, 17)
- The Americans, "Right Stuff" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Gone" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Chase Fifty-Six, "Mary Jane" Alatoona Rising  (DirtLeg, 10)
- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single  (LAT, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "Till the Sun Comes Up Again" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "All Kinds of People" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- William the Conqueror, "In My Dreams" Proud Disturber of the Peace  (Loose, 17)
- Deer Tick, "SMF" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)
- Arliss Nancy, "Front Seat" Simple Machines  (AN, 13)  C
- Hellbound Glory, "Empty Bottles" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Jarrod Dickenson, "Take It From Me" Ready the Horses  (Decca, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "Wildflower Blues" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "About a Bruise" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Joe Henry, "Believer" Thrum  (Edel, 17)  D
- Flat Duo Jets, "Pink Gardenia" Wild Wild Love  (Daniel 13, 17)  D
- White Buffalo, "Robbery" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Bermuda Triangle, "Rosey" single  (BT, 17)  D
- Lee Ann Womack, "Hollywood" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Langhorne Slim, "Old Things" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)  D
- Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Offa My Hands" Sorry is Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Blackland Farmer" Welder  (Thirty-one Tigers, 10)
- Charlie Parr, "Sometimes I'm Alright" Dog  (Red House, 17)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 17, 2017
Scott Foley, perennially tardy purveyor of dust

I don't know that my own father ever offered me any fatherly advice.  He has lived an exemplary life, though he never ever sat me down and steered me straight.  Sure, there was the time he took away the TV Guide I was reading and quietly insisted I study my Biology instead.  And he drop-kicked a McDonalds hamburger after I complained that it featured the wrong condiments ...  As a father who will never pass up the opportunity to dispense fatherly advice like a Pez dispenser on overload, I wonder how my kids will process their childhood.  Mine was idyllic - sheltered but blessedly so.  I grew up knowing the world extended beyond the tree shaded boundaries of our space, but in no hurry to explore those hinterlands.

Seems punk-in-recovery Tim Barry is taking stock of his own choices as a father on his eighth solo project, High on 95.  Never one to waste unnecessary time applying studio polish to his work, Barry's new collection is direct, sincere and satisfying.

Barry offers on "Slow Down":  There comes a time to stay home and watch the rain.  This mid-life inventory necessarily involves an assessment of our own misspent youth, as well as a take on the state-of-the-world.  As we raise our own kids, we can't help but compare their opportunities and challenges with our own.  While Barry spends more than his share of time crisscrossing the country, the theme of home carries throughout these new songs.  "Little Eden" is a moving acoustic reflection: Little Eden / I find myself in the same chair on the same porch time and time again. / I'm a true believer that we are all friends / And all that falls, we can rebuild again.  "Back Home" enhances his rough hewn guitar with violin from Barry's sister Caitlin Hunt.  It's a tune that acknowledges both the comfort of the familiar and the inescapable reality of restlessness.

Much of High on 95 takes this bare-bones approach to arrangement, recognizing that there is great power and even catharsis in Tim Barry's gruff vocal and workmanlike acoustic strings.  Songs like "O & Dp" opt for more of a front porch jam sound, adding handclaps, dobro and acoustic bass.  The loose folk number also reveals the writer's ability to take himself less seriously:  I do a lot of walking and thinking / It never really makes much sense. / If you're wanting to talk / You'll have to wait until I'm done thinking.  "Gumshoe Andy" is one of the record's fullest sounding numbers, featuring some rewarding dobro behind Barry's strumming.  Even with some studio company, the appeal can be traced back to the simple elements of voice and story.

The collection's title track adds electric guitar and keys for an anthemic spirit, a fight song:  The older I get, the less I need / The less I keep, the less I leave.  It's a glimpse of what might be possible were Barry interested in expanding his sound a bit.  But that extra noise would add little to "Running Never Tamed Me", the record's musical and emotional high point:  I run when I am angry / Drink when I get sad / Running never tamed me, lord / And drinking turned out bad.  Even if Barry's children might be too young yet to absorb the life learned messages imparted by their father, it seems pretty certain that his girls are foremost in his mind as he imparts this wisdom.

Throughout High on 95, Barry demonstrates the ability to maintain an earnest hope while being perennially honest about the gathering gloom.  He has become a sort of ringleader for his fans, eschewing big band studio trickery for a straightforward live-to-tape approach, honoring listeners through a dedication to purity and truth.  

- Blank Range, "Opening Band" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- J Roddy Walston, "Numbers" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Son Volt, "Looking at the World Through a Windshield" Retrospective: 1995-2000  (Warner, 05)
- The Americans, "Nevada" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)  D
- David Ramirez, "Good Heart" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Dead Man Winter, "Careful I Think It's Loaded" Careful It's Loaded  (GNDWire, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Ain't It Just Like a Cowboy" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Giant Sand, "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" Ballad of a Thin Line Man  (Fire, 86)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "When the Wall Comes Down" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Deer Tick, "Card House" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)
- Margo Price, "A Little Pain" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Housefire" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Branding Iron" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Yawpers, "Linen For the Orphan" Boy in a Well  (Bloodshot, 17)  C
- Whitney Rose, "Better To My Baby" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sidewalks of the City" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)
- David Rawlings, "Good God a Woman" Poor David's Almanack  (Acony, 17)
- White Buffalo, "The Observatory" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Suzanne Santo, "Blood on Your Knees" Ruby Red  (Soozanto, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Crying's Just a Thing You Do" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Lee Ann Womack, "All the Trouble" The Lonely the Lonesome and the Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Picture of a Man" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Consider Me" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "The Last" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Tim Barry, "High on 95" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)  D
- Blitzen Trapper, "Rebel" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)  D
- Dori Freeman, "If I Could Make You My Own" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)  D
- Meat Purveyors, "Rose Colored Glasses" Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse  (Bloodshot, 06)
- Langhorne Slim, "Zombie" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)  D

So with the keys to the wagon and a full tank of pride / Sipping battery acid and gin / Smoking pre-rolled Virginias to cover the grass / Up in knots that I tied myself in  - William the Conqueror

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

it's our kind of music
September 5, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Sadly, AMPM Minimart has already coined the phrase "too much good stuff" - otherwise I definitely would've jumped on that one.  September marks one of the most generous months, and the Industry's last concerted gasp for releasing new music.  Over the next 30 days, we'll be graced with new stuff from Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, Tim Barry, Hiss Golden Messenger, J Roddy Walston and so much more.  Like I always say, Too Much Good Stuff.

Thank you, Lilly Hiatt, for turning up your guitars on your new Trinity Lane CD.  Let's face it, it's practically impossible for a person of average awareness to not think about John Hiatt upon hearing daughter Lilly's songs.  It's the same for Justin Townes and Steve, for Lukas and Willie, etc.  It's not necessarily that Lilly Hiatt's music really sounds anything like her father's, but we're always keeping our ears open for the inheritance.  What is it that the younger generation is carrying forward from their forebears?

In Lilly Hiatt's case, it seems to be about the capacity to write great songs with just the right amount of personality and left-of-center humor.  Plus, there's that guitar.  It punches through nearly every song, either driving it forward or interrupting with a rude blast of colorful electricity.  Though Hiatt's songs haven't shaken loose the roots influence, that edge and attitude might bring to mind Lydia Loveless' more recent stuff (or even the confessional 90s rock of Liz Phair).

Songs like "All Kinds of People" demonstrate Hiatt's twang-friendly voice pushed to its natural limits. A great recurring guitar line recalls Ryan Adams: Spend a lot of time loving all kinds of people / But all kinds of people won't care for your heart .  Elsewhere, she sings of Eyes big as whole notes, with so much to say.   Much of Trinity Lane focuses on collecting the still sharp pieces of a shattered relationship.  On "The Night David Bowie Died", the singer has some choice words about her ex-, but never reaches a point of simply damning him. It's as though the song has caught Hiatt in the midst of taking stock rather than slaying demons.  Nevertheless, there seems to be a certain catharsis in her vocal and a release in the whirling psych pop bridge.

Hiatt's americana roots are more prominent in "Trinity Lane", a bar band rocker featuring a pounding piano and producer Michael Trent's unhinged electric solo:  I get bored so I wanna get drunk / I know how that goes. The title track addresses some of the chemical demons of her past, ghosts and angels that surface throughout the record.  Producer Trent and his Shovels & Rope partner Cary Ann Hearst provide some soulful vocals on "Everything I Had" - I spent all those nights feeling so guilty / For letting you near the ugliest parts of me.  There's an interesting and tentative balance happening on Trinity Lane, alternating between deeply felt absences and a burgeoning sense of identity.

On "Records" there is some hint at redemption, or at least comfort: I'll take lonely if it means free.  The music that matters to us provides solace and strength, an abiding presence that neither judges nor proves faithless.  It's among the CD's more redeeming moments, songs that push boundaries and favor the rock and pop elements in Hiatt's repertoire to shine through her roots.

Fact is, I'm sure many of these second-gen artists are less than thrilled with the mention of their parents in just about any review.  Lilly Hiatt's Trinity Lane absolutely succeeds on the strength of its own obvious merits - the bright energy, the sharp edge and the revelatory smarts.  It's a collection that finds her stretching in new sonic directions, accessing a fearlessness and self-definition that will assure her relevance for future work.  It's the rare album where a good amount of inner reflection reveals itself not in quiet, but rather in some worthy commotion and soul cleansing racket.

- Middle Brother, "Blue Eyes" Middle Brother  (Partisan, 11)
- Deer Tick, "Jumpstarting" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)
- Dan Auerbach, "Stand By My Girl" Waiting On a Song  (Nonesuch, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Curse of the Cajun Queen" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Domino (Time Will Tell)" Hallelujah Anyway  (Merge, 17)  D
- Iron & Wine, "About a Bruise" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
^ Lilly Hiatt, "Records" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Road to America" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Dark Chandelier" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)j
- Mount Moriah, "Swannanoa" Miracle Temple  (Merge, 13)
- Will Hoge, "This Ain't An Original Sin" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Habbie Doobie" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Moot Davis, "What's the Matter With Me" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)
- Great Peacock, "Making Ghosts" Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)j
- Joseph Childress, "Virginia Bound" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- David Wax Museum, "Your Mother the Ghost" Electric Artifacts  (Mark of the Leopard, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "Dig a Little Hole" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Into My Arms" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Saginaw Paper Mill" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Dancing Days" Work  (Brooklyn Basement, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Jesse Joe's Cigarettes" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)  D
- My Politic, "Bored Young Ghost" 12 Kinds of Lost  (My Politic, 17)  D
- Wynntown Marshals, "Low Country Comedown" After All These Years  (WM, 17)
- Whiskey Shivers, "No Pity in the Rose City" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Kacy & Clayton, "White Butte Country" Siren's Song  (New West, 17)  D
- William the Conqueror, "Pedestals" Proud Disturber of the Peace  (Loose, 17)
- John Murry, "Wrong Man" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Meadow" Sorry is Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Clem Snide, "Messiah Complex Blues" Your Favorite Music  (snideco, 00)
- Delines, "Gold Dreaming" Scenic Sessions  (El Cortez, 15)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
August 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Let's talk about Noise.  Thick guitars battling against heavy drums, a buzz that reaches from edge to edge, with all the spaces colored in.  I want my music to make noise, to push against the quiet until there's nowhere to go but deeper into the static.  New records by William the Conqueror and Blank Range have arrived just in time to chase away the hush.

William the Conqueror hail from Cornwall in England, though you'd be forgiven for triangulating their origin somewhere between Memphis, Texas and Nashville.  Frontman Ruarri Joseph shrugged off the income and security of a major label offer to embrace the fickle muse of garage chemistry alongside drummer Harry Harding and bassist Naomi Holmes.  Their full-length debut, Proud Disturber of the Peace, exhibits the kind of loud and loose roots amalgam that you've always wished Kings of Leon or Black Keys made.

There is a Yardbirds inspired rattle to "Did You Wrong", an edgy guitar bite just this side of punk and a timeless blues vocal delivery.  "In My Dreams" extends that blues vibe in a darker and more sinister direction, like the Sadies with a rock in their shoe.  The groove grows and unspools, becoming more anthemic and more insistent with every verse.  While Joseph's solo projects bore the stamp of a contemporary folk singer-songwriter, Proud Disturber tips the balance towards a tuneful and confident garage rock.

There is a lovely blitz of guitars on "Tend to the Thorns", finding WtC at their most melodic.  It's a blues-inspired rock that wouldn't sound out of place on a Heartless Bastards release.  What sets the band apart is their ability to cool the flames to an appealing smolder on pieces like "Pedestals", giving lead to their country and folk influences:  Some would say I'm beginning to crack / Playing no regrets on twisted frets / With the sun down on my crooked back.  It stands as Joseph's most accomplished lyrical moment.

Like William the Conqueror, Blank Range preceded the release of their debut full-length with a series of shorter projects.  Whereas WtC borrowed from the blues palette to complete their sound, Blank Range look to 70s country-rock and Southwestern hues (I'd use the phrase "cosmic country" if it hadn't become a bit of a cartoon cliche).  Marooned With the Treasure finds Brad Cook in the producer's chair, fostering a cohesive spirit from an album that's about as eclectic as Proud Disturber.

The organ and vocal of "Opening Band" might bring to mind THE Band, a rusty and soulful bit of drawling roots rock with an immediately familiar appeal.  Vocal duties are shared between a couple members, contributing to the overall variety - one of the voices recalls Deer Tick's John J McCauley after a throat lozenge ...  "Ember in the Ash" is a stoney, lo-fi campfire number, with pedal steel and keys playing the part of crickets and cicadas.  It's one of a handful of tracks shrouded by a touch of psychedelic haze, a'la Futurebirds.

Quieter pieces like "The Season" or "Crimson Moon" provide a tasteful change of pace, slowing the tempo to a simmer for a subtly impressionistic effect.  At the opposite point of the compass, Marooned finds its highlight in the driving, My Morning Jacket-esque "Seemed Like Word Got Around".  Heavy guitars and thumping drums propel the song, building to a satisfying but too-short guitar rave.

In doing a bit of research for this piece, I came across an unexpected video of Blank Range performing "I'd Rather Go Blind".  While they don't achieve Etta James levels (or even Beyonce levels), the moment does demonstrate the outfit's musical cohesiveness, as well as the uncredited soul that burbles beneath their debut.

Butwaittheresmore.  An epic Episode also drops a new gem from Turnpike Troubadours (who currently sit at the #9 spot on iTunes' advance orders chart, rubbing shoulders with bedazzled names like Taylor Swift, P!nk and Demi Lovato).  Ron Pope's excellent new record boasts some impressive writing, as well as one of my recent favorite acoustic ballads.  Also, great to receive the news of Ronnie Fauss' pending collection.  Our first look into the record is a really satisfying midwest rocker featuring Ben Kweller.

- Drive-by Truckers, "Primer Coat (live)"  This Weekend's the Night  (ATO, 15)
- Yawpers, "Mon Nom"  Boy in a Well  (Bloodshot, 16)  C
- Dead Man Winter, "Travels With Charley" Careful It's Loaded  (GNDWire, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Bondurant Women" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Bohannons, "Heart Go West" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Lucifer & the Fallen Angels" Tell the Devil ...  (Bordello, 17)
- Shovels & Rope, "Shank Hill St" O' Be Joyful  (Dualtone, 13)
- David Ramirez, "Stone Age" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Illinois" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)  D
- Charlie Parr, "LowDown" Dog  (Red House, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Branding Iron" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "The Fall" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Brokedown Luck" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Bobby Bare Jr, "Things I Didn't Say" From the End of Your Leash  (Bloodshot, 04)
^ Blank Range, "Seemed Like Word Got Around" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Lukas Nelson, "Just Outside of Austin" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Concord, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Stick Around" Work  (Brooklyn Basement, 17)  D
- Tyler Childers, "Tattoos" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "Footsteps" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Arizona" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Alex Williams, "More Than Survival" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Saginaw Paper Mill" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)  D
- Lucinda Williams, "Six Blocks Away" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)  D
- Paul Thorn, "Heart With 4 Wheel Drive (live)" Hammer & Nail Live  (Perpetual Obscurity, 17)  D
- J Roddy Walston, "You Know Me Better" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)  D
^ William the Conqueror, "Tend to the Thorns" Proud Disturber of the Peace  (Loose, 17)  D
- Smog, "Cold Blooded Times" Knock Knock  (Drag City, 99)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "The Housefire" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)  D
- Iron & Wine, "Bitter Truth" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Patty Griffin, "Ohio" American Kid  (New West, 13)