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Sunday, May 14, 2017

photo cowtown chad

a home for the americana diaspora
May 13, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

How to put it.  Let's see.  It's just that knowledge of words and how to use them.  How to see words as more than just a means to an end, or just another piece of the song.  It's this;
Fat man sitting on a little stool / Takes the money from my hand while his eyes take a walk all over you / Hands me the ticket, smiles and whispers good luck /  Cuddle up angel, cuddle up my little dove / We'll ride down, baby, into this tunnel of love ...
No, you're right.  John Moreland didn't write that.  But Moreland knows some good words, and he knows how to stack them so that they make a great racket when they fall.

He conjures that magic on his new record, Big Bad Luv, though something has changed since 2015's High on Tulsa Heat.  John Moreland is in love.  Or luv.  And like good love does, it's made him see himself differently.  I'm still staring at the sky like at the start / With all these heavy anchors on my heart / But they don't suit me like before.  "It Don't Suit Me" is direct, melodic, criminally catchy, maybe the year's best single.  Heck, there's even a jangly tambourine.  Like much of Moreland's new stuff, it's buoyed by the fullest, most deliberate arrangement of his career.

If we didn't know better, we'd be concerned.  Especially since 2013's breakout In the Throes, Moreland has come across as a sympathetic figure, a downcast fellow who can communicate our brokenness more eloquently than any artist of his generation.  We wanted the best for him, even as those heartbreaking lyrics indulged our melancholy.  So what are we to make of this:  I've found a love that shines into my core / And I don't need to prove myself no more ... ?

There's a lot of this taking personal stock on Big Bad Luv, glances over the shoulder at what's come before.  There are no apologies, and Moreland's hardly admitting any fault.  But things have changed.  The record applies traditionally religious language and imagery to address this personal crucible and challenge, walking out of the darkness or at least having someone with whom to face it.  In churches learning how to hate yourself / Ain't grace a wretched old thing ... With frequent piano, steel and even the occasional handclaps, there's almost a gospel spirit to the songs.

We felt for Moreland, that sad bastard.  In a recent interview, he acknowledged that some of this music was written to counter that reputation, to shake it loose or at least to provide an alternative.  It's a thread that shines throughout Luv:
Come on young savior, don't let your fever go to waste
I never meant to be / Your woe-is-me emergency
Don't let me be that devil that I sang
But what if I'm just a bastard / Laying low inside your radio 
If we don't bleed / It don't feel like a song 

After writing reviews of those two previous albums, I've learned I'm unable to talk about my appreciation of Moreland without quoting him ...  And once again, no appreciation of this new work would be complete without celebrating that lyrical genius.  But whereas much of his earlier work conveyed such an interior, self-critical message, you might find a more open, otherly-directed spirit to some of these tunes.  It's still not an entirely upbeat, feelgood collection, and Moreland's still too young to call an end to his search.

Complimenting these more full arrangements, there's also a newfound simplicity and directness to songs like "Amen So Be It".  There's the use of repetition here and there, and a recognition that a song with fewer words can prove just as meaningful and abiding.  Once again, Moreland has chosen to self-produce, though Tchad Blake contributed to the mixing process.  Folks like Shovels & Rope and Dawes contribute backing vocals, while Lucero's Rick Steff proves his piano lines can speak volumes.  And here's hoping that frequent sideman John Calvin Abney earns some new attention for his valuable and wide ranging work.  Not everything on Big Bad Luv is packed to the edges.  But the range of sound and emotion simply serve to make more acoustic, reflective moments like "Latchkey Kid" or "No Glory In Regret" shine brighter and strike deeper.

Could you help me wash these years off of my face.

No doubt John Moreland is looking to capitalize on the attention he earned with Tulsa Heat, and the recent success of peers like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell might bring a larger audience to his doorstep.  And, hey it certainly doesn't hurt that Miranda Lambert can't stop talking about the guy.  But amidst the opportunity, and despite the changes and the new choices, he remains a genuine, strikingly eloquent artist. He is drawn by a truly personal muse, and sings with a depth of feeling like few others.  So when "Sallisaw Blue" or "Lies I Chose To Believe" show up on late night tv, or when "It Don't Suit Me" bounces from your stereo speaker, there's no need to worry.  John Moreland's in love.  Just take your place in the reception line.  Bless our busted hearts.

Also here, Ryan Adams makes public nearly 20 tunes that didn't quite make the cut for his Prisoner album (but they're good enough for us).  Lydia Loveless reveals that she is a Belieber.  And please welcome Matthew Ryan to our fledgling list of year-end favorites!  All this, plus this week's weekly ROUTES-cast awaits below.  Are you sure you still have time for dinner ... ?

- Felice Brothers, "Love Me Tenderly" Felice Brothers  (Team Love, 08)
- Joan Shelley, "If the Storms Never Came" Joan Shelley  (No Quarter, 17)
- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, "I'm Always on a Mountain When I Fall" Best Troubador  (Drag City, 17)  D
- House and Land, "Wandering Boy" House and Land  (Thrill Jockey, 17)  D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "I Want You (live)" 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde (OCMS, 17)
- North Mississippi Allstars, "61 Highway" Prayer for Peace  (Songs of the South, 17)
- Buddy Miller, "Woke Up This Morning" I'll Take You There: An All-Star Celebration  (Blackbird, 17)
- John Calvin Abney, "Dallas City Lights" Better Luck  (Bullet in the Chamber, 14)
^ John Moreland, "Amen So Be It" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Playground/Battlefield" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Everything I Have is Broken" Crooked River Burning  (Rockwood Music, 14)
- Chris Stapleton, "Either Way" Songs From A Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, 17)
- My Morning Jacket, "Easy Morning Rebel" It Still Moves  (ATO, 03)
- Vandoliers, "Endless Summer" the Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Jade Jackson, "Aden" Gilded  (Anti, 17)
- Ryan Adams, "Please Help Me" Prisoner: the B-Sides  (PaxAm, 17)  D
- Dan Auerbach, "King of a One Horse Town" Waiting on a  Song  (Easy Eye, 17)
- Secret Sisters, "He's Fine" You Don't Own Me Anymore  (New West, 17)
- Pokey LaFarge, "Must Be a Reason" Manic Revelations  (Rounder, 17)
- Bap Kennedy, "Nothing Can Stand In the Way of Love" Restless Heart  (Last Chance, 17)
- Jake LaBotz, "Hobo On a Passenger Train" Sunnyside  (Hi-Style, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Sorry" Desire/Sorry  (Bloodshot, 17)  D
- Steelism, "Eno Nothing" Ism  (Intoxicating Sounds, 17)  D
- Eilen Jewell, "Dusty Boxcar Wall" Letters From Sinners & Strangers  (Signature Sounds, 07)
- Matthew Ryan, "Close Your Eyes" Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, 17)  D
- Margo Price, "Downpour" Cover Stories: 10 Years of the Story  (Looking Out, 17)  D
- Ryan Bingham, "Rainy Day Woman (live)" Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings  (Bluebird, 17)
- Arliss Nancy, "Vonnegut" Wild American Runners  (Gunner, 13)
- Mastersons, "Perfect" Transient Lullaby  (Red House, 17)  D
- Deslondes, "Hurricane Shakedown" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)

If ever there was a good time for another ROUTES-cast ...

... this would be it!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 6, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I began to look forward to Colter Wall’s debut full-length upon hearing his contribution to the soundtrack for last year’s Hell or High Water movie.  Poking around a bit further, I came across online praise from blocky wrestler Brock Lesnar and one-time celebrity Dog the Bounty Hunter, and found that Colter’s dad is Premier of the Saskatchewan province.  In a desperate attempt to rescue my first impression, I turned to his 2015 Imaginary Appalachia EP.  While the sound was quite a bit more primitive than the stuff I’d heard from the forthcoming record, the writing was there.  And so was the voice. 

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

Rasslers aside, the young man has also garnered high praise from Steve Earle, who called him “bar-none the best singer-songwriter I’ve seen in twenty years”.  Far as I know, that marks the strongest statement he’s made about another writer since a young Earle threatened to stand on Dylan’s coffee table to sing the praises of Townes Van Zandt.  Wall is an eloquent songsmith, earning his place in a celebrated line of folk and country legends like Hank and Cash and Prine and, yes, Townes (whose “Snake Mountain Blues” he tackles admirably here). 

“Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues” might just as well have come from the pen of TVZ.  Fingerpicked acoustic, unintrusive piano chording and pedal steel set the scene for a rambler’s mournful eulogy.  Such restraint can be ironically bold on the part of any artist, and show great trust in the magic of Wall’s simple delivery.   He doesn’t reinvent the vernacular or tell a story we’ve not heard before.  But like the best western movies and novels, he works refreshing wonders with familiar pieces.  It brings to mind a classic like Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”. 

“Thirteen Silver Dollars” is another quiet stunner, this one built on nothing more than an acoustic and the steady stomp of Wall's boot. Well I got my health / My John B Stetson / Got a bottle full of baby's bluebird wine / And I left my stash / Somewhere down in Preston / Along with thirteen silver dollars and my mind.   “Codeine Dream” strikes more of a Kristofferson vibe, a dark dead end ballad that's also starkly beautiful in its despair.  And in each of these tunes, Colter Wall's delivery strikes a chord that is true and resonant to the core.  Perhaps these aren't the kind of songs you can sing with a pretty voice ...

Wall has cited Arlo Guthrie as his inspiration for the relatively upbeat “Motorcycle”: Well I figure I'll buy me a motorcycle / Wrap her pretty little frame around a telephone pole / Ride her off the mountain like ol' Arlo / Figure I'll buy me a motorcycle.  Again, nothing fancy.  Nothing more or less than the kind of country-folk music that speaks of our days and our nightmares.  But herein lies Wall's promise.  His songs sound like they could've been delivered ages ago by Arlo himself.  

I believe I’ve stated previously on these pages that producer Dave Cobb wields a definite stamp on his projects.  To his immense credit, Cobb simply brings Colter Wall forward on these arrangements, freeing his voice from the muddy mess of his debut EP.  The resulting tracks are clean but refreshingly sparse, seemingly unconcerned with current trends and fashions.  The uncrowded environs leave Wall free to carve his way into your psyche.  Colter Wall is the indelible crease on a favorite pair of leather boots.  It is the dust on the dash of a trusted old pickup, and the sigh of a tired dog giving into gravity.  More directly, we’ve got an artist here who promises to make a difference in the world of folk and country music.  

- Iron & Wine, "Sodom South Georgia" Our Endless Numbered Days  (Sub Pop, 04)
- Harmed Brothers, "Adopt a Highway" Harmed Brothers  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Sidelong" Sidelong  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "Crooked Old World" Love Versus  (True North, 17)
^ Colter Wall, "Transcendent Ramblin' Railroad Blues" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Steve Earle, "Goodbye" Train a Comin'  (Warner, 95)
- Steve Earle, "Lookin' For a Woman" So You Wannabe An Outlaw  (Warner, 17)  D
- Lillie Mae, "Honky Tonks & Taverns" Forever and Then Some  (Third Man, 17)
- John Moreland, "Sallisaw Blue" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- William Matheny, "Funny Papers" Strange Constellations  (Misra, 17)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Are You Behind the Shining Star" Wild Animals  (Banjodad, 14)
- Andrew Combs, "Rose Colored Blues" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)
- the Weeks, "Hands on the Radio" Easy  (Lightning Rod, 17)
- Blackfoot Gypsies, "Promise to Keep" To the Top  (Plowboy, 17)
- Bonnevilles, "You're Not Alone" Listen For the Tone  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Claw Machine Wizard" Claw Machine Wizard  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- M Ward, "Flaming Heart" End of Amnesia  (MWard, 01)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Graceland" single  (New West, 17)
- Los Straitjackets, "Cruel To Be Kind" What's So Funny About Peace Love & Los Straitjackets  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Matt Urmy, "I'm Gone" Out of the Ashes  (Red Light Library, 17)
- Mic Harrison & High Score, "Vanishing South" Vanishing South   (Mic, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Sons of the Wandering" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- Cory Branan, "Visiting Hours" Adios  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Whiskey Gentry, "Following You" Dead Ringer  (Pitch-a-Tent, 17)
- K Phillips, "Coalburner" Dirty Wonder  (Rock Ridge, 17)
- Jason Isbell, "Cumberland Gap" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Will Johnson, "Ruby Shameless" Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Second One to Know" From a Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, 17)
- Todd Adelman, "Not Sure What Scares Me More" Time Will Tell  (Adelman, 17)  C, D
- Charlie Worsham, "Take Me Drunk I'm Home" Beginning of Things  (Warner, 17)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
April 27, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Won't take long for you to realize this ain't your average Harmed Brothers record.  Unless what you expected was rumbling feedback and distortion.  Even when the instrumentation kicks in for "Greetings From Mardi Gras", you've got piano, a click track and a suffering violin.  God bless evolution.  It's what keeps a band alive, what prevents an act from shriveling into their own tribute band.  A full four minutes into "Greetings", a mumbly and introspective drone erupts momentarily into a full force squall, with fuzz guitars, pounding drum and Missed my turn in Tennessee / You woke up tired and angry / Your blood red eyes they spell it out / I packed my shit and I moved out ...

Harmed Brothers haven't gone all Kid A on us.  The sound is still based on their acoustic musicianship, but from singing to choices in arrangement, their self titled collection sets out to announce a new direction.  "Adopt a Highway" is a revelation, a song that refuses to settle into easy cliche.  Even lyrically, there are no cheap choices:  Go on hit the road / Hit it while it's worth while / Let it swallow you whole / Like you are an aspirin.  Guitars ring out an indelibly tuneful chime, more resonant of Athens, GA than Portland, OR.  It's a tune that both embraces and resents the dust we swallow during a life spent in motion.  Oh yeah we'll be broke but we'll never be broken.

I tend to distrust an artist who dusts off older material on a new release.  And some of the songs on Harmed Brothers are resurrected from earlier recordings.  It's justified, however, in a case when a band is taking such a deliberately new approach to its craft.  One of the record's more striking moments, "Cryin' Shame", is practically reborn from its strummy origins on the band's 2010 lo-fi debut.  This new recording owes as much to piano as to acoustic guitar, and strings contribute an emotional weight  and dimension to the beautifully sad piece:  Well cigarette machines / They empty up the dreams of plenty gone to waste / And the ashtray is overflowing with all the dreams that I threw away.

Strings, horns, atmospherics and recurring guitar squall all serve to lure the LP away from its acoustic trappings.  "Elvis the Lion" devotes much of its instrumental space to aggressive electric moments, made more striking for the hushed acoustic moments that are interspersed. On "Life In Progress", the distortion is barely contained:  I'm thinking about giving it up / Cause this dream don't reciprocate love.

But the Harmed Brothers are just as good at restrained and pretty.  "Don't Wanna Be Lonesome" is simply a moving and soulful shuffle, brought to church with a lovely horn arrangement.  Vocals are traded from song to song, very distinct one from the other but never distracting in their alternating perspective.

I've mentioned previously here that, if I belong anywhere in the world it might be Southern Oregon where I grew up.  I only mention this because the Harmed Brothers hail from various Beaver State locales, including beautiful little Cottage Grove.  Portland based Fluff & Gravy is releasing their new collection.  In previewing all this newborn music, I'm often in search of something that sounds like home.  Harmed Brothers is only occasionally happy, always genuine and consistently musically rewarding.  It's no Metal Machine Music, but rather a natural and inspired evolution that better recalls Dave Simonett's decision to step away from Trampled By Turtles' crowd pleasing turbo 'grass ravers for more more nuanced musical fields.  It's the sound of a band sparking a new fire, taking an unplanned turn off the beaten and familiar path.

Also this week, I'm not a rabid fan of live music on record though I've apparently peppered this Episode with the stuff.  Robert Earl Keen sounds more alive than he has in years on his Waylon take, and Old Crow Medicine Show absolutely tear into a Dylan cut.  And speaking of covers, Chris Stapleton takes ownership of a track previously made famous by Willie.

- Matt Woods, "Johnny Ray Dupree" Matt Woods Manifesto  (Woods, 11)
- Deslondes, "Muddy Water" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)
- Pokey LaFarge, "Riot In the Streets" Manic Revelations  (Rounder, 17)
- Jake LaBotz, "How I Wish She Was Mine" Sunnyside  (Hi-Style, 17)  D
- Matt Urmy, "Renaissance Rodeo" Out Of the Ashes  (Red Light Library, 17)  D
- Lillie Mae, "Loaner" Forever and Then Some  (Third Man, 17)
- Bonnevilles, "Machine Born To Think" Listen For the Tone  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)  D
- Shinyribs, "Trouble Trouble" I Got Your Medicine  (Mustard Lid, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "16-10" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- Left Arm Tan, "Wish" Jim  (LAT, 10)
- Robert Earl Keen, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way (live)" Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings  (Blackbird, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning" From a Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, 17)
- Angaleena Presley, "Motel Bible" Wrangled  (Mining Light, 17)
- Bruce Robison, "Paid My Dues (w/Jack Ingram)" Back Porch Band  (Motel Time, 17)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Obviously 5 Believers (live)" 50 Years of Blonde On Blonde  (OCMS, 17)
^ Harmed Brothers, "Cryin' Shame" Harmed Brothers  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Have Gun Will Travel, "Standing At the End of the World" Fiction Fact or Folktale  (This Is American Music, 13)
- Vandoliers, "Rolling Out" The Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Justin Townes Earle, "There Go a Fool" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Black Jesus" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Birthday Song" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)  D
- Sam Outlaw, "Two Broken Hearts" Tenderheart  (Six Shooter, 17)
- John Moreland, "Sallisaw Blue" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Right On You" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Old 97s, "Those Were the Days" Graveyard Whistling  (ATO, 17)
- Sadies, "God Bless the Infidels" Northern Passages  (Yep Roc, 17)
- John Doe, "Giant Step Backward" Keeper  (Yep Roc, 11)
- Steel Woods, "I'm Gonna Love You" Straw in the Wind  (Woods, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "You Are Not Alone (live, w/Jeff Tweedy)" I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration  (Blackbird, 17)  D
- Over the Rhine, "Show Me" Ohio  (Great Speckled Dog, 03)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

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

The story behind Matt Urmy's Out of the Ashes is one for the ages.  How a young songwriter struck up a friendship with Cowboy Jack Clement, and how that led to sessions at Clement's home studio, which caught fire and it was thought all was lost.  Then lo and behold the basic tapes were salvaged and the record became one of Cowboy Jack's final projects.  And you can find that almost anywhere online, told prettier than I can tell it here. But I wouldn't be caring much about Matt Urmy's story if it didn't lead to some really good music.

I've bemoaned at least a couple times here on R&B how legendary artists earn a pass for their late career music that probably wouldn't make it to vinyl if it were made by an unknown.  So the fact that Out of the Ashes bears the imprimatur of Mr Clement, and that John Prine adds his weathered voice to the mix is great.  But I wouldn't be paying attention if it weren't for Matt Urmy's way with a song and a lyric.

Call Matt Urmy a renaissance guy if you like, one of those multi-talented savants who arrives with a comet tail of fascinating day jobs, who has developed a career management software for artists, who has published poetry and been praised for all of the above.  Matter of fact (back to our story) Urmy had largely written off those music tapes when a call arrived a year later informing him that the stuff had been salvaged.  Even then, he was apparently so busy with his other work that it took him a spell to get back to Cowboy Jack's rebuilt place to see his music to completion.  And it's all about that music.

I read how Clement remarked that Urmy really couldn't sing, but that he likened the young man's writing to Kristofferson.  Like Sam Baker, Matt Urmy is more about the delivery than the tune, and Urmy's sense of rhythm and rhyme speak to his prowess as a poet.  Take "I'm Gone" for example.  The tune stars a wheezy accordion, in service of some wise stream-of-consciousness lyrics.  Cast a lasso into the song, and you'll draw back at least a line or two that any writer would be proud to call their own:  I go to the river late at night / And shoot my prayers like bottle rockets, straight at the lights.

Urmy's lyrics are wise a'la Prine, shot thru with barbed humor and a take on life that's decidedly left of center.  Songs like "Renaissance Rodeo" might yield just as much reward read as poetry:  So think about Emily Dickinson's style / She stayed at home / Wore that white dress all alone / And sewed every poem up in a little envelope / And kept them beneath her mattress / Just for the ghosts.

But it's true that the songs on Ashes do function just fine as songs.  Urmy has enlisted a masterful company of players to serve him, with names like Kenny Vaughan, Tom Pryor or vocalist Leticia Wolf on the guest list.  "Easy Train" and "Have You Seen the Time" are slower paced, gently thoughtful pieces with a sure sense of musicality.  The former is a lazy lope, trailing pedal steel in its wake a'la Mark Knopfler or JJ Cale.  Urmy's songs can so readily relax into a steady, satisfying pocket, as loose as a belt after Thanksgiving dinner.  He can slide between his croon and his patter, even within a song.  And no matter Clement's judgment, he's a fine vocalist whose tone settles somewhere between Dave Alvin or Tom Russell's folky delivery.  When you're waking up / Take it real real slow / Put your hands in the air / Bow your head down low, and say / Let it roll, just let it roll.

Which isn't to say that it's not supported by a great story.  Or that Cowboy Jack's production and John Prine's presence don't add weight to the record.  Because it is, and they do.  But imagine being handed an unlabeled file, then hearing the music sans story.  Matt Urmy is a unique artist, and we're lucky that Out of the Ashes was dusted off and finished if for no other reason than that it's simply great music.

Also on this Episode, we "Adopt a Highway" with the Harmed Brothers.  And we could certainly do worse than new records by Deslondes, Vandoliers and Chris Stapleton, no?  Plus, I believe there's one point in the 'cast when you can hear my wife talking upstairs.  Now that's Broadcast Excellence!

- White Buffalo, "Joe & Jolene" Shadows Greys & Evil Ways  (Unison, 13)
- Craig Finn, "Jester & June" We All Want the Same Things  (Partisan, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Playground/Battlefield" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- .357 String Band, "Long Put Down That Gospel" Fire & Hail  (357, 08)
- Bruce Robison, "Sweet Dreams" Back Porch Band  (Motel Time, 17)
- Lillie Mae, "Honky Tonks & Taverns" Forever and Then Some  (Third Man, 17)  D
- Andrew Combs, "Heart of Wonder" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)
- Jayhawks, "Angelyne" Rainy Day Music  (American, 03)
- Jeff Tweedy, "Laminated Cat" Together At Last  (dBPM, 17)  D
- Jade Jackson, "Good Time Gone" Gilded  (ATO, 17)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Rainy Day Women (live)" 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde  (OCMS, 17)  D
- Rodney Crowell, "East Houston Blues" Close Ties  (New West, 17)
- Magnolia Electric Co, "Don't This Look Like the Dark" Sojourner  (Secretly Canadian, 07)
- Weeks, "Bottle Rocket" Easy  (Lightning Rod, 17)
- Two Tons of Steel, "Shoulda Known Better" Gone  (Big Bellied, 17)
- Harmed Brothers, "Adopt a Highway" Harmed Brothers  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)  D
- Deslondes, "Muddy Water" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)  D
- Cory Branan, "Wall, MS" Adios  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Booga Chaka" Claw Machine Wizard  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Mic Harrison & High Score, "Indiana Drag Race" Vanishing South  (Mic, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Rolling Out" the Native  (State Fair, 17)  D
- Hackensaw Boys, "Parking Lot Song" Love What You Do  (Nettwerk, 05)
- Whiskey Gentry, "Seven Year Ache" Dead Ringer  (Pitch-a-Tent, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Broken Halos" From a Room: Vol 1  (Mercury, 17)  D
- Steel Woods, "Better in the Fall" Straw in the Wind  (Woods, 17)  D
- Justin Townes Earle, "Faded Valentine" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Los Straitjackets, "You Inspire Me" What's So Funny About Peace Love and Los Straitjackets  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Blackfoot Gypsies, "Potatoes & Whiskey" To the Top  (Plowboy, 17)
- Marty Stuart, "Time Don't Wait" Way Out West  (Superlatone, 17)
- Graham Parker, "Cheap Chipped Black Nails" Deepcut to Nowhere  (Razor & Tie, 01)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

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

I don't necessarily need feel good music to fulfill me.  Perhaps you've noticed?  Good music is good music, no matter if it is uplifting or downcast.  For his fourth solo release, Milwaukee's Joseph Huber chooses the latter perspective.  On a record that finds him focusing more on lyrical content, the songs read like tarot warnings or accounts of the last days.  The Suffering Stage is the platform on which our lives unspool, where dice are tossed and lives are lived in the balance.

Huber hails from the now defunct .357 String Band, the same outfit that yielded Jayke Orvis.  His first three solo releases traded in more folk or stringband sounds, populated with banjo and fiddle and Huber's reedy vocals, just this side of high lonesome.  Nothing on those earlier collections would pass as music for your Friday night rager, though it was occasionally upbeat and good natured stuff.  With Suffering Stage, Huber amps up the folk-based sound, creating a fuller and more resonant noise.  Fiddle and banjo haven't left the building, though they share the room with drums, pedal steel and electric guitar.

"Playground/Battlefield" introduces the updated approach, with shuffling drums, mandolin and fiddle.  Musically, it's the CD's most propulsive cut, with a hint of grass and two-step country.  But keep this in mind while you kick up your heels:  Did you hear the new law of the land? / Every man 'gainst every man. / They say a piece of cold steel in every hand / Will help it settle down ... You find the workingest folks in the torndownest place.  Nothing wrong with taking the liberty to invent those new words, and when you feel called to prophesy there's no reason you shouldn't lay it down thick.

The lyric sheet for Suffering Stage burns with this sort of warning.  "Sons of the Wandering" plays like a heartland rocker, a midtempo strummer boasting one of the album's strongest vocals. There's a flatness and a matter-of-factness to Joseph Huber's delivery, with just a touch of twang to turn up the edges.  A lively mandolin propels "Sons", joined by piano and those drums on a track that seems as timely as the front pages:  The more money in the race, the more the mask becomes the face, / And truth can't hold pace with thundering.

Suffering Stage isn't all about the suffering, just as the common man's existence can be sewn through with the occasional bright thread.  A sweetness and genuine gratitude guides "You Showed Me", and while the protagonist delivering "16-10" acknowledges his demons, there's a retro-country playfulness in lyrics like: I never surrender, but, honey, that was then / Now, I'm holding 16, and you're showing 10.  And while the words bear the weight of real thought and honest soul searching, Huber's tunes are consistently engaging.  The addition of these extra musical elements only serve to strengthen his message and to deepen the appeal.

The title cut and "Souls Without Maps" show great promise in the maturity of a Nebraska-like songwriter.  Both work in some striking poetic imagery:  Tall corn, gravel road, / Stained glass on the window, / Wrapped in the ragged soul of an old gentle hymn ...  Like Springsteen or Jackson Browne or Mellencamp, Joseph Huber can warn of a storm on the horizon while focusing on the particulars of one small life.  Running at just over seven minutes, "The Suffering Stage" is a patient masterpiece, handing out resonant line after resonant line as a hushed fiddle swells into an anthemic full band and the singer holds court with an expert lyric flow.  "One more day ... oh, just one more day, Lord, here on the suffering stage".  Best case scenario holds that the storm will come and the rains will nourish the fields.  The families will empty onto the sheltered front porch, and at least for one moment the tentative bonds that hold us together might seem just a bit stronger.  There's a real gravity to the music of Joseph Huber, a folksinger in the grips of an increasingly compelling musical vision.


the run-on

Have I mentioned before that I used to be on radio?  That I gave birth to Routes & Branches on terrestrial radio, then abandoned that after about a decade for the familiar environs of my basement?  One element of that charade that I miss is the illusion of immediacy and connection with my imagined listeners.  When I grow up, I'd like my site to serve as the proverbial public square for conversation about our kind of music.  At present, I carry on my ROUTES-casts and write my reviews as a bit of a one-way conversation.  While I do occasionally hear from artists and from labels and promoters and even from listener-readers, I like to know that I'm not simply laboring away in my basement for an audience of one:  Me.  So hey look there's a comment button down below, and you can email me at, but let me know what you think.  Give me a sense of what you're hearing out there, what's making a difference in your musical world.  If you're an artist, feel free to send me something to preview.  I can't promise that I'll give it a spin, but I do promise that I'll give it a listen.  To quote this week's track by The Weeks: Put your hands on the radio.

- Beat Farmers, "Gun Sale At the Church" Van Go  (Curb, 86)
- Two Tons of Steel, "Sweet White Van" Gone  (Big Bellied, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Still Rollin'"  Claw Machine Wizard  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Drunk and Lonesome (Again)" Liquored Up & Lacquered Down  (Orchard, 00)
- Jason Eady, "Waiting to Shine" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)
- Sunny Sweeney, "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight" Trophy  (Aunt Daddy, 17)
- Mic Harrison & High Score, "Salt Stained Road" Vanishing South  (Mic, 17)
- Ha Ha Tonka, "Arkansas" Heart-Shaped Mountain  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Sam Outlaw, "Bottomless Mimosas" Tenderheart  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Whiskey Gentry, "Looking for Trouble" Dead Ringer  (Pitch-a-Tent, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Ain't Living Long Like This (live)" Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings  (Blackbird, 17)  D
- American Aquarium, "Saturday Nights" Burn Flicker Die  (Barham, 12)
- Cory Branan, "I Only Know" Adios  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Charlie Worsham, "Call You Up" Beginning of Things  (Warner, 17)
- Hooten Hallers, "Garlic Dream" Hooten Hallers  (Big Muddy, 17)
- Weeks, "Hands on the Radio" Easy  (Lightning Rod, 17)  D
- North Mississippi Allstars, "You Got to Move" Prayer for Peace  (Songs of the South, 17)
- Andrew Combs, "Bourgeios King" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)
- Jade Jackson, "Finish Line" Gilded  (ATO, 17)
- Lucero, "Chain Link" Tennessee  (MadJack, 02)
- Cale Tyson, "Staying Kind" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)
- K Phillips, "Had Enough" Dirty Wonder  (Rock Ridge, 17)
- Colter Wall, "Motorcycle" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Pieta Brown, "How Soon (w/Mason Jennings)" Postcards  (Lustre, 17)
^ Joseph Huber, "You Showed Me" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)  D
- John Prine, "Way Down" Common Sense  (Atlantic, 75)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Have You Ever Seen Peaches" What in the Natural World  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Sera Cahoone, "Always Turn Around" From Where I Started  (Lady Muleskinner, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone" Love Versus  (True North, 17)
- Dolorean, "Heather Remind Me How This Ends" You Can't Win  (YepRoc, 07)

Saturday, April 08, 2017

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

Standing outside their tour van on the verge of departing for the road, Mic Harrison & the High Score resemble some scruffy fellows who have shown up to move your furniture.  That's the first good sign.  There's also the fact that Harrison launched his career as part of the short-lived but iconic outfit the V-Roys with Scott Miller, as well as serving with Superdrag.  After a stint as a solo guy, Harrison gathered musical forces with guitarist Robbie Trosper under the present moniker, releasing a slate of quality LPs to positive critical acclaim (though they'd still have no problem showing up for your couch without attracting the neighbors' attention).

The band's new release, Vanishing South, trades in a strain of that's more common on the stages of small town dives than on your favorite radio station or on the shelves of that great record store that doesn't really exist anymore.  Think Bottle Rockets.  Blue Mountain. Maybe some of the rootsier dBs?  A Mic Harrison & the High Score number is constructed from the guitar out, never more busy than necessary, but always smarter than you'd expect.

"Salt Stained Road" is an instant groover, fueled by a heavy stomp and an indelible guitar grind.  It's music that bears the dark brand of its Knoxville home, where punk roots run as deep as country.  The album opener strikes such an immediate and familiar chord, putting the ears at ease and welcoming home the heart that thrives on the sound.

"Woman" owes a debt to Knoxville's R&B heritage, from the cry in Trosper's guitar to lyric lines like, I'm addicted to your mercy / You make a better man come around.  The song is shot thru with a Southern Rock 'n Soul pedigree, elastic guitars that might've been recorded a lifetime ago and a solo that unspools like a classic.

"Never Be This Way Again" adds a dash of Brit rock a'la Nick Lowe, a quality that added greatly to the V-Roys' poppish appeal.  It's a song that also reminds us of Mic Harrison's versatility as a singer.  Here, he channels Bob Mould's most tuneful moments.  Pieces like "Home" or "Warm Winter Day" take a more gruff, line.

There's no escaping the voices and the places and the sounds of the region, nowhere more evident that on the titular cut, "Vanishing South":  I'm losing my place here / Every mile that goes by / Vanishing South, where did you go / Vanishing South, I hardly do know you know.  Where Patterson Hood surveys his homeland from its underbelly, and other writers might romanticize and embrace the South's plentiful stereotypes, Mic Harrison's tunes are written from a front porch perspective, taking in the comforts and the challenges of home, family, work and place.

Those looking to sidestep "thoughtful" in favor of "just plain fun" might want to lower the needle on "Indiana Drag Race", or the record's fiery instrumental, "Murder Surf".  Think a less self-parodying take on Southern Culture on the Skids or a multi-dimensional Los Straitjackets.  Mic Harrison & the High Score is composed of roadhouse veterans and longtime collaborators who know the pocket and how to use it.  On Vanishing South they explore another endangered territory, the lonely and windswept crossroads between, punk, R&B and journeyman pub rock.


the run-on

So, this week I tripped across a couple things that stuck in my mind for about the same reason.  First, an online something-or-other published a list of the "10 Lamest Americana Acts" that I won't honor with even a link.  Short answer: It's pure clickbait written by a guy with some pedigree who's mistaking taste for fact (an online epidemic at least partly responsible for endangering the tradition of musical discovery).  Next, a promoter and former broadcaster whose work I value and respect joked in passing about the preponderance of glowing reviews for americana records.  No harm necessarily done there, but together those comments sunk a bit of a nail into my thoughts, as a man who's been accused of having too many favorite records for one guy.  Fact is, I have just enough bandwidth to produce one broadcast and one original review per week (and sometimes even that's a challenge).  If I'm going to air my thoughts on one release per week, my time is better spent sharing a positive musical experience rather than ripping an artist whose stuff doesn't resonate with me.  Discerning listeners will recognize that there are many high and mid-profile americana projects that I choose not to represent on R&B.  I'll remind folks again that my job here is not to serve as an arbiter of what's "good" and what's "lame", but to share my musical vision by shining a light on sounds that resonate with me.  Sure, I can be plenty judgmental, and I never shy away from irreverence.  If I'm not vigilant about checking my email, that inbox will overflow with stuff about which I could write not entirely positive reviews.  But nah, that's not my job.  I picture myself walking over this towering mountain of stones with others who care about our kind of music.  When something catches my eye, I might call, "Hey, look at this one!"  But most of the mountain is composed of stuff that just looks like plain old rocks.  Others are at the foot of the pile, lovingly polishing their collection of gems - the same ones that they've been admiring for years and years.  For me, the joy lies neither in poring over those old favorites or in focusing on how average this or that stone is.  On Routes & Branches, it's about unearthing those brilliant gems and letting them shine.

There.  Now I'm done ...

- Ryan Adams, "Outbound Train" Prisoner  (PaxAm, 17)
- Charlie Worsham, "Call You Up" Beginning of Things  (Warner, 17)
- William Matheny, "Living Half To Death" Strange Constellations  (Misra, 17)
- Bruce Robison, "Sweet Dreams" & the Back Porch Band  (Motel Time, 17)  D
- Son Volt, "Cairo & Southern" Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 17)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Hope the High Road" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Flying Burrito Bros, "Do You Know How It Feels (To Be Lonesome)" Hot Burritos!  (Geffen, 00)
- Two Tons of Steel, "Shoulda Known Better" Gone  (Big Bellied, 17)  D
- Angaleena Presley, "Good Girl Down" Wrangled  (Mining Light, 17)
- Caroline Spence, "Southern Accident" Spades & Roses  (Tone Tree, 17)
- Sam Outlaw, "Two Broken Hearts" Tenderheart  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Leif Vollebekk, "Big Sky Country" Twin Solitude  (Secret City, 17)
- Will Johnson, "Predator" Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, 17)
- Hooten Halllers, "Further From Shore" Hooten Hallers  (Big Muddy, 17)
- Dan Auerbach, "Shine on Me" Waiting on a Song  (Easy Eye Sound, 17)  D
- Jimmy Lumpkin & the Revival, "Every Time I Leave" Home  (Skate Mt, 17)  D
- Carolina Chocolate Drops, "Trampled Rose" Genuine Negro Jig  (Nonesuch, 09)
- John Moreland, "It Don't Suit Me (Like Before)" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Joan Shelley, "Wild Indifference" Joan Shelley  (No Quarter, 17)
- Cory Branan, "Another Nightmare in America" Adios  (Bloodshot, 17)
^ Mic Harrison & High Score, "Vanishing South" Vanishing South  (Mic, 17)
- Rodney Crowell, "Storm Warning" Close Ties  (New West, 17)
- Secret Sisters, "Tennessee River Runs Low" You Don't Own Me Anymore  (New West, 17)  D
- Lindi Ortega, "Waiting 'Round to Die" Til the Goin' Get Gone  (Shadowbox, 17)
- Jason Boland, "Holy Relic Sale" Squelch  (Proud Souls, 15)
- Holly Macve, "Heartbreak Blues" Golden Eagle  (Bella Union, 17)
- Kasey Chambers, "Dragonfly" Dragonfly  (Essence, 17)
- Angel Olsen, "Who's Sorry Now" Resistance Radio  (Sony, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Claw Machine Wizard" Claw Machine Wizard  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)  D
- Otis Redding, "Mr Pitiful (live)" Live at the Whisky a Go Go  (Concord, 16)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
March 30, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

The basement becomes warmer every week on Routes & Branches, my multimedia bunker here in Northern Colorado.  Think of it as an extended Living Room Tour.  Other than no commercials, no weather and no appeals for your money, it's the biggest difference between radio and our ROUTES-cast.  I edit together the songs and the mic breaks, working so that my voice sounds just like it's coming from within a soup can.  What remains constant is our dedication to sharing all this good new music, from week to week building a case for why this music matters.

This week we mark about a quarter past 2017, so it's only appropriate that we celebrate by selecting our dozen favorite releases from the past couple months.  Mostly because there's not really any one record that I want to review right now ...  Rules are that we can only include stuff I've listened to in its entirety (as opposed to anything from which I've only heard a couple songs).  Also, you can't hold me to these premature declarations.  While I'm reasonably dedicated to records that resonate with me, I'm also subject to whims, hormones and moderate winds.  These are in order of appearance.

Band of Heathens, Duende  (BoH, 1/13)  --  A tuneful and earthy followup to 2013's folked out Sunday Morning Record.  Ably re-incorporates some of the band's earlier jam sounds without losing that record's more song-based tendency.  Establishes a solid groove without being indulgent or drifting into self parody.

Dead Man Winter, Furnace  (GNDWire, 1/27)  --  Give Dave Simonett credit for creating a project that sounds nothing like Trampled By Turtles Jr.  While his day band has been evolving in a worthy direction,  Furnace smolders atop its own very personal bed of regret, self-doubt and disappointment.  Not a recipe for an immediate joy-rush, but trust me that these songs are by no means downers.  More than anything, this record reveals a promising depth to Simonett's already impressive musical vision.

Ags Connolly, Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 2/3)  --  Oh, what an expressive voice he wields, as both a writer and a singer. It's a project that's delicious both because we recognize all the familiar pieces of classic honky tonk and ameripolitan country and because Ags seems to hail from such a sincere and genuine place.  No mere retro hack can achieve these depths.  It all goes down so smooth, even when it burns a little.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fulller  Died For Your Sins  (Yep Roc, 2/10)  --  As if the veteran San Francisco troubadour hasn't already earned his right to be on any such list.  Since Green on Red's legendary 1985 Gas Food Lodging to early solo success and his later career recognition with classics like 2012's Temple Beautiful, Prophet struck nothing but true notes.  Like his collaborator Alejandro Escovedo, his storytelling abilities are inseparable from his garage rock pedigree.  Sassy, smart and shot thru with pop genius.

Romantica, Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 2/10)  --  Give Ben Kyle's new music some time;  "Let the light shine through you". The record is essentially 7 years in the making, and few of its songs are in a hurry to make an impression.  Perhaps sometime during the third or fourth listen, you'll start to appreciate the soul that illuminates Kyle's new work, the soul that can be as prevalent as the pedal steel that keens across these hymns.  Oh, and there are also a couple barn burners.  Like Rhett Miller as crossed with Josh Ritter chasing a Van Morrison jag.

Nikki Lane, Highway Queen  (New West, 2/13)  --  I suppose one surprise at this quarter-year mark is the quantity of high-profile releases that also happen to be high-quality.  As of this writing, a full five of this blogger's dozen still dwell in the top ten of americana radio.  This speaks to the integrity that continues to drive the genre, as well as the sheer quality of artists like Nikki Lane.  Bottom line: there's nothing cheap about the thrills on her third full length CD.  At some point in their maturity an artist sounds less like they're trying hard to be something and begins sounding more like an artist simply making a statement.  Nikki Lane can do contemporary country.  She can do honky tonk and early rock, and she can work a ballad as confidently as she kicks out the proverbial jams.

Ryan Adams, Prisoner  (PaxAm, 2/17)  --  Perhaps it's time for me to retire my recurring lark about how much Adams' power-pop recalls David Coverdale and Whitesnake (perhaps it's past time ...)?  At heart, it's a tribute to what's become his best received album in years.  Not coincidentally, it's also his strongest collection in years.  Too much ink has been shed about how Prisoner is a breakup record, and not enough has been said about what a brilliant singer-songwriter record it is, or about the guitar pop that pervades this thing.  I've watched several of Adams' live appearances on various late night shows, and he seems to be in such a pocket.

Son Volt, Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 2/17)  --  Speaking of living firmly in the pocket, I don't know if Jay Farrar is capable of creating a surprising album.  My response to a new Son Volt record is simply gratitude.  On Notes, we give thanks for the loud guitars and for the fact that Farrar continues to be such a reliable frontman.  Here I would advise to stick around for some of the record's more overlooked, subdued cuts for a different sort of treat.  See: "Cairo and Southern" ...

Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling (ATO, 2/24)  --  Far and away the feel good record of the year, even as Rhett & co. don't shy away from the fleeting bout with conscience. Not that they dwell overlong matters of mortality, but the accompanying lyrics sheet will confirm that Miller remains one of the smartest writers of his generation, even in the midst of a seemingly brainless burner.

William Matheny, Strange Constellations  (Misra, 2/24)  --  This debut solo record from a former Southeast Engine-eer stands as one of the year's real pleasant surprises.  Matheny's stuff is good, smart roots rock, far more accomplished than you might expect from the keyboard guy.  "Living Half To Death" can hold its own alongside anything from Two Cow Garage or Hold Steady.  "Blood Moon Singer", too.  And probably "Teenage Bones" ...

Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude  (Secret City, 2/24)  --  Track down the recent session where Mr V takes on Joni Mitchell's iconic "Case of You".  It reinforced my appreciation of the original as well as confirming my suspicion of this guy's deep soul.  Also made me revisit Prince's own brilliant cover.  More than any other favorite here, I feel like I'm still barely touching the surface of these tunes (even as I can't seem to stop playing them).  It's too simple to say that they're quiet and sparse, and doesn't say enough to praise their restraint.  At times it strikes me like Theodore Roethke set to a live keys/bass/brushed drum outfit.  I'll get back to you on this one.  In the meantime, I'll just keep letting it spin.

Will Johnson, Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, 3/24)  --  It's the record I was praying Will Johnson would make.  Some songs allow him to explore his untapped skill as a TVZ-type troubadour, while others permit him to indulge in noisy Centro-matic squall.  Like the LP's cover, Hatteras Night is a whole lotta dark, shot through with a cold but abiding little light.  It's a short story (or maybe a cinema vignette) masquerading as an album.

I'm fully aware that today's list will be blown asunder like so much dust once we get our ears on full releases from John Moreland, Jason Eady, Colter Wall, Benjamin Booker and that Isbell fellow.

- Reckless Kelly, "American Blood" Bulletproof  (Yep Roc, 08)
- Benjamin Booker, "Witness" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Spoonful" Resistance Radio: Man in the High Castle  (Sony, 17)
- Houndmouth, "15 Years" Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
- Hooten Hallers, "Charla" Hooten Hallers  (Big Muddy, 17)  D
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "One More Thing" Front Porch Sessions  (Family Owned, 17)
- Whiskey & Co, "Thread the Needle" Ripped Together Torn Apart  (No Idea, 17)
^ Band of Heathens, "Keys To the Kingdom" Duende  (BoH, 17)
- Sunny Sweeney, "Better Bad Idea" Trophy  (Aunt Daddy, 17)
- Andrew Combs, "Rose Colored Blues" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)
- Jade Jackson, "Motorcycle" Gilded  (ATO, 17)
- Justin Peter Kinkel Schuster, "Headed South" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Cale Tyson, "Dark Dark" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)  D
- Molly Burch, "Loneliest Heart" Please Be Mine  (Burch, 17)
- Gold Star, "St Vincent dePaul's" Big Blue  (Autumn Tone, 17)
- J Tillman, "Steel on Steel" Vacilando Territory Blues  (Western Vinyl, 08)
- Craig Finn, "God in Chicago" We All Want the Same Things  (Partisan, 17)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Hope the High Road" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)  D
- K Phillips, "Coalburner" Dirty Wonder  (Rock Ridge, 17)
- Mic Harrison & High Score, "Salt Stained Road" Vanishing South  (Mic, 17)  D
- Lyle Lovett, "White Boy Lost In the Blues" Release Me  (Curb, 12)
- Colter Wall, "Codeine Dream" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Joan Shelley, "Where I'll Find You" Joan Shelley  (No Quarter, 17)  D
- Jason Eady, "Waiting to Shine" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)
- Marty Stuart, "Air Mail Special" Way Out West  (Superlatone, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "I Want It All" Love Versus  (True North, 17)  D
- Sam Outlaw, "Bottomless Mimosas" Tenderheart  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Samantha Crain, "Wise One" You Had Me At Goodbye  (Ramseur, 17)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Resurrection Blues" There's No Leaving Now  (Dead Oceans, 12)
- Sera Cahoone, "Dusty Lungs" From Where I Started  (Lady Muleskinner, 17)  D