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Saturday, August 27, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
August 20, 2016
Scott Foley
Our souls are a little older / But you can't tell we learned a thing / If there's twelve that god invited, we're thirteen / We're the last one to know it's over / And the first one to have to beg / We're the dog that crawled for miles on broken legs / We're the dregs
Justin Wells was a quarter of Kentucky's Fifth On the Floor, sharing vocals and songwriting duties with bandmates over the space of a handful of increasingly good releases.  Even with that abiding appreciation, Wells' debut solo record lands as an unanticipated achievement.  The cover of Dawn In the Distance features a beaten suitcase on a weathered wood floor next to a door - no indication if that luggage is coming or going.  Wells himself has commented that the road takes something away from folks who love to be at home.  On the flip side of the coin, people who thrive on the road leave something behind upon returning home.  This fragile balance shadows several of these new songs, stories of home and experience wisely and soulfully told.

As the title might suggest, "Going Down Grinnin'" rambles along good-naturedly with enough twang 'n bang to tangle your neckbeard:  I'll pass a paved road and wherever it goes / Give me a destination that nobody knows / I'll go poor and I'll go young / By the battered beat of a beat down drum.  Gospel harmonies float above chugging percussion and rubbery reverb guitar lines.  It's Wells' own "seize the day" proclamation, custom built for a dusty backroads bounce along potholes and ruts.

But Wells' songs tend to dive deeper than that, bubbling with thoughts and sentiments that are revelatory at times.  While maintaining a positive musical vibe, "Highway Less Taken" harbors a darker take on life between the ditches.  I guess it never made much sense on paper / Ever quarter you make is gone before it sees a dimeIf it was god's intention to make me better / I'd have some more to give than words that rhyme.  With the rest of Dawn In the Distance, it's impeccably produced and arranged, as steeped in dark country as anything from Fifth On the Floor, but with a full-hearted Memphis soul that was lacking from Wells' earlier stuff.

The bulk of Dawn came together in the wake of the dissolution of Wells' band, a challenging crossroads that found him touring with Matt Woods and continuing to put pen to paper like nothing had changed.  "Can't Break My Heart" permits another glimpse into Justin Wells' great potential as a country music writer.  With indelible pedal steel and a voice that's pure gravel, Wells vows to tilt against the windmills of reason and expectation.  You can take my guns / Take my pen away / But I've got a heart a little stronger than it was yesterday.

The quote that introduces this Episode is pulled from a piece that has largely defined and haunted my music week.  "The Dogs" is Dawn In the Distance's masterpiece, a cri de coeur that might tear a jagged hole in the pantheon of road songs.  I retreat somewhere and cover my wounds / And pray to god that the checkout's noon / If there's any luck left it'll be halfway clean.  It's a song that rivals White Buffalo at his most passionate, that satisfies a finicky pop ear as fully as Reckless Kelly, and carves apart the heart as fiercely as John Moreland.  Most importantly, it epitomizes the kind of heart-on-sleeve spirit that drives Justin Wells.  The man can sing about the valor of his working class family one moment, then cast a jaded eye at his own life choices as a struggling songwriter the next.  Give Dawn In the Distance a listen, then tell me that it doesn't drag you under its spell for at least the next week or two.

- Tallest Man on Earth, "Time of the Blue"  
single  (Merge, 2016)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Rivers"  single  (Merge, 2016)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "What It Means" American Band  (ATO, 2016)
- Massy Ferguson, "Dogbone" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Proper, 16)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Chevrolet" Beck In Black  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
- Sara Rachele & the Skintights, "Ain't No Train" Motel Fire  (Angrygal, 16)  D
- Devil Makes Three, "Come On Up To My House" Redemption & Ruin  (New West, 16)
- Bad Livers, "How Dark My Shadows Grown" Delusions of Banjer  (Quarterstick, 92)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Dirt Road" Electric Pinecones  (Kudzu, 16)  D
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "The Dirt, the Bells & I" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "I'm Not the Devil" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)
- Kelsey Waldon, "False King" I've Got a Way  (Monkey's Eyebrow, 16)
- Uncle Tupelo, "No Sense In Lovin" Anodyne  (Sire, 93)
- Joe Purdy, "Cursin' Air" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Reckless Kelly, "Who's Gonna Be Your Baby Now" Sunset Motel  (No Big Deal, 16)
- Tony Joe White, "Hard To Handle" Tony Joe  (Warner, 70)
- Todd Snider, "Funky Tomato" Eastside Bulldog  (Aimless, 16)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" Honest Life  (Mama Bird, 16)  D
^ Justin Wells, "The Dogs" Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)  D
- Amanda Shires, "Harmless" My Piece of Land  (Shires, 16)
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Past My Prime" Shouted Written Down & Quoted  (Big Blue Zoo, 16)  D
- Kasey Chambers, "Guilty As Sin" Wayward Angel  (EMI, 04)
- Paper Bird, "To the Light" Paper Bird  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  C
- Big Shoals, "Only God Knows" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Lydia Loveless, "More Than Ever" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Coal Men, "Depreciate" Pushed To the Side  (Vaskaleedez, 16)
- Katy Goodman & Greta Morgan, "Bastards of the Young" Take It It's Yours  (Polyvinyl, 16)  D
- Evening Bell, "Tail Light" Dying Stars  (Evening Bell, 16)  D

And that's right.  Starting this Episode I'm dragging R&B into the 21st Century by making available a Spotify playlist for most of the songs above.  While you'll be lacking my pithy asides and sagelike insight, you'll at least have the music.  Next thing you know, they'll put a man on the moon ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 13, 2016
Scott Foley

Concerts.  Live music.  Secret:  I sorta hate 'em.  Or perhaps it's just that I resent them.  It's been several years since I attended a show.  I trace this back to my years as a concert promoter, setting up shows big and small, unplugged coffee houses and festivals.  Even then, I would love putting together the season's calendar.  It would all be downhill from there.  I'd introduce the artist, then find a quiet room and settle up.  I'd go back on stage after intermission to introduce the act, then leave to clean up the place.  There were few if any artists who were real jerks to me.  Richard Buckner and  his drummer/girlfriend disappeared shortly before showtime because I didn't provide them with enough beer and they figured there had to be a supermarket closeby ...  Most were just in the zone, doing their job to entertain.  The only people who struck me as truly, genuinely nice people were Robin & Linda Williams.  They played songs by request for my kids during sound check, and seemed really grateful for the work.

These days, I know radio djs who build their show around concert news.  Look who's coming to town!  Here's a song from them!!  Support live music!!!  I'll do this on rare occasion, but my broadcasts are 99.8% dictated by my own skewed musical vision, rather than beating someone else's drum.  If I've decided to play something, then I find out they'll be touring through, I might make a mention of it, just to have something to say.  I'll do the concert calendar thing when an artist takes the stage and encourages fans to listen to my show or read my blog.  Gotta be a two way street, right?

Not that I begrudge fans of live music.  But to me, it's all about the crush.  It's about loud places and drunk people and no place to park.  It's about rude people who talk rather than listen, and about rabid, well-meaning fans who sing along with every word.  Now that I think about it, the last show I attended was Steve Earle with Alison Moorer.  It was a pretty good concert, all-in-all.  Steve brought along a drum machine and I wondered how long it would be before Alison was ex number 8.  People at the bar talked and carried on as though there were no show.  It smelled like beer and weed.  Damn I'm getting old ...

No R&B broadcast this week, as the station has (ironically) chosen to air sounds from a local music festival.  Hence, no playlist.  Next week, we'll be back chasing our elusive muse with new stuff from Artists You Oughta Know like Justin Wells, Chad Remnant, Molly Parden and more.

Not to mention Courtney Marie Andrews.  She stares out from the cover of her third record, Honest Life, framed by a fringe of bangs and Joni-straight hair, maybe fresh off a walk along the streets of 1970s Laurel Canyon.  There's a bit of that fabled folk-rock spirit in Andrews' voice and in her songs, though she's most recently from Washington state, having just finished some work as a guitarist with Damien Jurado.  Songs on Honest Life are the product of a long-ish germination, developed during a period when Andrews had settled into a workaday job in out-of-the-way Washington - you can find sweet acoustic videos for some of the album's songs online from a couple years ago.  She calls it a coming of age collection, and several of the songs seem to be written to a younger sister (or a more naive self).  From "Irene":  You are a magnet Irene / Sometimes good people draw troublesome things.  It's a song that can't help but remind me of Joni Mitchell's "Carey".  There are few artists to whom female singers are as frequently compared, and even fewer who actually live up to the compliment.  While she's coming from a different place musically, Andrews earns the honor.  Her voice swoops and dodges on "Irene", Gain some confidence Irene / When you speak let your voice ring out.  Like a handful of the songs on Honest Life, it's a song built as much on piano as guitar, bridging the span between singer-songwriter folk and contemporary americana.  "Rookie Dreaming" occupies a similar musical territory, an unhurried shuffle in defense of a young life in the making.  I was too broke, too shallow to dive deep / Too busy carrying the weight of everything.  Even in her youth, Andrews is too wise to make Grant Statements about the lessons she's learned, offering instead an unfinished self-portrait of a woman perched at the brink of experience.  Like Samantha Crain, she can do pretty and she can do strong, as well as vulnerable and gritty.  "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" is one of the record's more country leaning cuts, boasting one of Andrews' most confidently scathing deliveries:  The jukebox is playing a sad country song for all the ugly Americans / Now I feel like one of them / Dancing alone, broken by the freedom.  It's a bitter but beautiful piece, with pedal steel providing a fitting honky-tonk setting.  What makes Andrews different than your average broken heart is that she's as bitter about her -ex as she is about her own desperate choices.   I can't believe I got all dressed up / Put on this dress that you love / Only for you to go and pretend like all those years meant nothing.  That pedal steel and self-deprecation carry into "Table For One".  It's a road song about a life lived among strangers:  Cause I'm a little bit lonely / A little bit stoned / And I'm ready to go home / You don't want to be like me.  Courtney Marie Andrews' Honest Life marks another quality release from the proudly independent Mama Bird label out of Portland.  As I've mentioned previously, you certainly can't judge a release by its label.  Nevertheless, it's a smart choice to pay attention to purveyors of genuinely original stuff like this.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
August 6, 2016
Scott Foley

I attended seminary for a year after my undergrad program.  That was enough to dissuade me from joining the ranks of the traditionally religious.  I love religious language, however:  sin and salvation, devotion and doubt, grace and baptism.  Unfortunately, the language has been co-opted, broken by religious literalists, estranged from its original poetry.

"I've got a bad, tortured soul" Cody Jinks sings by way of introduction.  I've been living for the past week with his fifth record, I'm Not the Devil, and I'll admit this is hardly a revelation.  The Fort Worth resident's 2015 release, Adobe Sessions, appeared at or near the top of the year end favorites lists of several genre bloggers.  Because of his stint as a heavy metal frontman, his beard and copious tattoos, it's easy to apply the "outlaw" stamp to Jinks' music, though I'd argue that his songs are wider ranging, more thoughtful and dwell on far fewer stereotypes.  More than on his earlier albums, Jinks turns a jaded eye towards a world of broken dreams, likening himself on "Vampires" to Holden Caufield's alientated "catcher in the rye".  Jinks assumes the role of a prophet, though he's not out to catch anyone's soul but his own.  Unlike the biblical prophets, he's much better at pointing out what's gone wrong than at heralding an easy solution.  On the stellar "Heavy Load", he warns "The train jumped track some time ago".  With a classic country baritone, Jinks and producer Joshua Thompson build a smart and satisfyingly full sound, with trad fiddle and steel driven hard by a heavy electric band.  The record's title cut takes a hushed, acoustic approach to a personal song of repentance:  "I'm not the devil you think that I am / There ain't no excuse, I'm just a man / I slipped and I fell and got out of hand /  But I'm not the devil you think that I am".  One of the collection's simpler moments, it's arguably among the best country songs of the year.  There are respites to Jinks' dark prophecy, most specifically in the hell-bent-for-asphalt "Chase That Song".  Even here, the driving honky tonk rocker is more of a litany of personal faults and warnings from "a son of a son of an SOB" than a carefree ramble between the white lines.  If there's any salvation on I'm Not the Devil, it might lie in the Saturday Night / Sunday Morning dichotomy that's been inspiring country music since back when it was just called "music".  "Church At Gaylor Creek" harkens to simpler memories of Jinks' childhood, times of church, faith and family.  Even then, the singer warns, "That church was a long time ago / I'm talking distance and years / I'm not certain that I could even get there from here".  Another highlight, "Give All You Can", grants us a hint of hope.  An eloquent, yearning piano ballad, it reveals Jinks as a far more honest and deeply feeling soul than your average cartoon outlaw:  "The dark places I go ain't just on the road / Between the lines, between the pews it's the same".  The chorus relies on a line that he repeats like a mantra:  "You give all you can / Give all you can / When you give all you can, give some more".  With a transcendent, anthemic gospel outtro, it could be the altar call that provides a fleeting balm for the singer's tortured soul.  Cody Jinks is just starting a late Summer, early Fall tour with Whitey Morgan, another worldly, worthy artist on the cusp of the contemporary outlaw movement.  There's a good chance that rowdy crowds will celebrate the arrival of the bearded songwriters with a communion of whiskey and weed.  For those converted by Jinks' music, the morning after could offer a generous amount of food for reflection.

Elsewhere on this Episode, we debut at least a couple more of these Nashville singer-songwriters who have gotten around to releasing their own records.  Kelsey Waldon's 2014 record earned accolades from no less than Rolling Stone, who called her an artist to watch.  Ubiquitous producer Dave Cobb has produced a record for his brother Brent.  We  hear new high profile releases from Reckless Kelly and from Amanda Shires.  And we talk about Paste Magazine's admirable but flawed effort at the Best Alt.Country Albums Ever.

- Cody Jinks, "Mamma Song" Adobe Sessions  (Jinks, 15)
- John Prine w/Iris Dement, "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out" For Better or Worse  (Oh Boy, 16)
- Dale Watson, "Sit and Drink and Cry (live)" Live At the Big T Roadhouse  (Red House, 16)
- Parton, Ronstadt & Harris, "Wildflowers (Alt.Take 1986)" Complete Trio Collection  (Rhino, 16)
- Caitlyn Smith, "Tacoma" Starfire  (Skylark, 16)
- Buddy Miller, "My Love Will Follow You" Your Love and Other Lies  (Hightone, 95)
- Tim Easton, "Killing Time" American Fork  (Last Chance, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Laid Low" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- BJ Barham, "Unfortunate Kind" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Kelsey Waldon, "All By Myself" I've Got a Way  (Monkey's Eyebrow, 16)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Come As You Are" single  (Single Lock, 16)  D
- John Paul White, "What's So" Beulah  (Single Lock, 16)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Biloxi" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)
- Paper Bird, "Don't Want Half" Paper Bird  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  C
- Reckless Kelly, "How Can You  Love Him (You Don't Even Like Him)" Sunset Motel  (No Big Deal, 16)  D
- Brent Cobb, "Solving Problems" Shine On Rainy Day  (Elektra, 16)  D
- Amanda Shires, "When You're Gone" My Piece of Land  (Shires, 16)  D
- Handsome Family, "Back In My Day" Unseen  (Handsome, 16)
- Lori McKenna, "Bird & the Rifle" Bird & the Rifle  (McKenna, 16)
- Eric Ambel, "Here Come My Love" Lakeside  (Last Chance, 16)  D
- Lydia Loveless, "Same To You" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Luke Winslow-King, "I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always" I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Coal Men, "Depreciate" Pushed To the Side  (Vaskaleedez, 16)  D
- Whitey Morgan, "Hard Scratch Pride" Whitey Morgan & the 78s  (Bloodshot, 10)
^ Cody Jinks, "Give All You Can" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "What It Means" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Devil Makes Three, "Champagne and Reefer" Redemption & Ruin  (New West, 16)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 23, 2016
Scott Foley

Penning this post from way up above Jackson, Wyoming at a nearly empty ski resort.  Amazing where you'll end up with Expedia ...  Actually the picture this week is from the Oregon Coast.  Thanks to Andrea for covering my usual R'nB time this week.  For the unaware, KRFC (the station that airs my broadcasts) is presently raising funds to outfit their new state of the art studios and to cover move-in costs.  If you like your americana loud 'n clear, visit and pledge what you can.

Because of 9 hours in the car facing me, I'm going to forgo a review this week.  Next Saturday, I'll be bringing you new stuff from Amanda Shires, Butch Walker, Reckless Kelly and much more.

For this Episode, I presented some of my favorite americana, and roots music songs for the first half of 2016.  Songs range from the first show of the year to just last week, from indie folk to covers and country.  In no particular order, it's what the first half of the year sounded like on Routes & Branches.

What's worked for you so far this year?

- Matt Woods, "American Way" How To Survive  (Woods, 16)
- Big Shoals, "You Ain't Nothing Like the Girls Back Home" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Mount Moriah, "Baby Blue" How To Dance  (Merge, 16)
- Felice Brothers, "Triumph 73"  Life In the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Hard Working Americans, "Opening Statement" Rest In Chaos  (Melvin, 16)
- Sturgill Simpson, "In Bloom" Sailor's Guide To Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- Colvin & Earle, "Tell Moses" Colvin & Earle  (Fantasy, 16)
- Marlon Williams, "Hello Miss Lonesome" Marlon Williams  (Dead Oceans, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Ain't Who I Was" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)
-  BJ Barham, "American Tobacco Co" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Wake Up Ray" You Can't Go Back ...  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Left Arm Tan, "Blacktop Blues" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
- Trevor Sensor, "Texas Girls & Jesus Christ" Texas Girls & Jesus Christ  (Jagjaguwar, 16)
- Freakwater, "Velveteen Matador" Scheherazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Parker Millsap, "Morning Blues" Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Courtney Barnett, "New Speedway Boogie" Day of the Dead  (4ad, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Finches" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C
- John Doe, "My Darling Blue Skies" Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Harvest Thieves, "Bob Dylan's 78th Hangover" Rival  (Holy Mt  Sounds, 16)
- Matt Haeck, "Lucky Cigarette" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Whitney, "No Matter Where We Go" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- Frankie Lee, "High and Dry" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)
- Will Johnson, "Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue" Desperate Times  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Lucinda Williams, "Can't Close the Door On Love" Ghosts of Hwy 20  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Western Centuries, "Weight Of the World" Weight Of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Austin Lucas, "Pray For Rain" Between the Moon and the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Quiet Corners & Empty Places" Calling Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Caleb Caudle, "Piedmont Sky" Carolina Ghost  (This is American Music, 16)
- Margo Price, "Hands of Time" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
July 16, 2016
Scott Foley

Among the news sites, the music blogs, the social media and the literary related sites I visit while traipsing through the internet is a page that shows a view down the main street of the town where I grew up in Southern Oregon.  From this camera I can see a brick trash can I would sit on to watch the annual Memorial Day parade.  Just around the corner was the record store where I lay down most of my paycheck for LPs.  I can see the coffee shop planted right there that has grown into a successful West Coast chain, and the curious sign that arches over the street proclaiming "It's the Climate".  And if you were to climb the green wooded mountain behind this Main Street USA you would run into the house where I grew up on your way down the other side.

American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham grew up in Reidsville, North Carolina. He walks down its streets and sits on its porches in the video for the title cut to Rockingham, his debut solo record.  "I wrote these songs as a kind of road map to where I came from ... an album about time, home and place ... "  I've been on a long (long) road trip these past couple days, following endless straight roads through scrub brush and high grass.  Pulling into a small town, I'll gas up, grab some coffee, then take a couple minutes to get lost on rutted backstreets, catching the glance of a wide mouthed kid who knows nothing else as home.

I hear there's work in Richmond and some in New Orleans / But outside that Clark County line is a world I've never seen  ... The bottom doesn't look so bad when the bottom's all you know  -  "Water In the Well"

Barham reportedly wrote the bulk of Rockingham over a couple days on tour in France, in the wake of recent terrorist activity.  Perhaps your hometown comes into strongest focus when viewed from a distance.  A world away from a blood splattered night club, a young working man struggles to reconcile the American dream with his reality at "American Tobacco Company":  I sit here on the line and watch these big machines / Crush my hopes and dreams into Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes

We romanticize small town life, reducing the rural experience to Andy and Opie walking down a sepiatoned dirt road.  The realities of poverty, however, can necessitate some extreme or even criminal measures to assure survival.  On "O'Lover", "Things are going like I promised", driving the narrator to grab his father's revolver and take a trip to a nearby town and an appointment with destiny.

You can't call yourself a farmer just because you plant a seed / You must bargain with the dirt, your hands must blister they must bleed / Only then will you find beauty, not in the bloom, but in the weeds.  -  "O'Lover"
These are beautiful and sometimes brutal snapshots of rural reality, a lingering look at what happens when the cross country tourist leaves for the main roads and the crushing quiet returns.  But this is life in all its highs and lows, challenges and its small victories.  On the perfectly sparse "Unfortunate Kind", Ain't it funny how every now and then the unfortunate kind / Get lucky sometime?  Barham's glimpse behind the sun bleached curtain reveals domestic affairs, so revealing and intimate as to be uncomfortable.

Both "Reidsville" and "Road To Nowhere" appear in different arrangements on earlier American Aquarium albums.  I am not a godly man, my road's twisted and sinful / But to have you back I'd bow my head and sing a Southern Baptist hymnal / Hallelujah.  Like the new songs on Rockingham, these are dusty acoustic numbers, nothing louder than a dobro or lazily picked banjo. With his band, both were quiet and atmospheric, while in these solo settings that hush takes on a more intimate and personal tone.  When it comes my day to die, I want to look God in the eyes / And ask him why he gave up on this place 

I haven't been to Grants Pass since the day my mother's unexpected death almost 15 years ago. But when I need to center myself I can bring up that live webcam, recognizing that we spend our lives either trying to get back to that place we grew up or trying to escape it.
Never be ashamed of the fact that you are Southern / Those long vowels, oh, they're a beautiful thing  -  "Madeline"

A great week for debuts brings us the first glimpse into some monster Fall releases.  Great to hear from Carolyn Mark again, and the legendary John Prine proves he may still have something in the pump with another record of duets.  Looking forward to digging further into Tim Easton's first album for the Last Chance label.  And even after so many years nobody else sounds anything like the Handsome Family.  I'm going to wait by my mailbox for the Hiss Golden Messenger CD ...

- Paper Bird, "I Don't Mind" Paper Bird  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  C
- Big Shoals, "Happy For a While" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Dex Romweber, "Trouble of the World" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Otis Gibbs, "It Was a Train" Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth  (Wanamaker, 14)
- Levi Parham, "These American Blues" These American Blues  (Music Road, 16)
- Sean McConnell, "Ghost Town" Sean McConnell  (Rounder, 16)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Lumberlung" single  (Fauss, 16)
- Carolyn Mark, "In Another Time" Come! Back! Special!  (Roaring Girl, 16)  D
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Supermoon" Case/lang/Veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Whitney, "No Woman" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- Monsters of Folk, "Whole Lotta Losin'" Monsters of Folk  (Shangri-La, 09)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Biloxi" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)  D
- William Tyler, "Kingdom of Jones" Modern Country  (Merge, 16)
- Caleb Caudle, "Gotta Be" Carolina Ghost  (This is American Music, 16)
- Massy Ferguson, "Gallipoli" Run It Right Into the Wall  (MF, 16)
- Lydia Loveless, "Longer" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "I'm Not the Devil" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)  D
- Handsome Family, "Gold" Unseen  (Handsome, 16)  D
- Bill Eberle, "Matter & Time" Matter & Time  (Twin Lawn, 16)  D
- Jay Farrar, "Barstow" Sebastopol  (Acony, 01)
- Chatham County Line, "Rock in the River" Autumn  (Yep Roc, 16)  D
- Tim Easton, "Right Before Your Own Eyes" American Fork  (Last Chance, 16)
- John Prine, "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out" For Better or Worse  (Oh Boy, 16)  D
- BJ Barham, "Rockingham" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Lyle Lovett, "On a Saturday Night" My Baby Don't Tolerate  (Lost Hwy, 03)
- Ana Egge & the Sentimentals, "Take Off My Dress" Say That Now  (Grace, 16)
- Ana Egge, "There Won't Be Anymore" Bad Blood  (Ammal, 11)
- St Paul & the Broken Bones, "Flow With It" Sea of Noise  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Caitlyn Smith, "Before You Called Me Baby" Starfire  (Skylark, 16)  D
- Paul Cauthen, "Still Drivin'" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Life In the Dark" Life In the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)

Friday, July 15, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 9, 2016
Scott Foley

The appeal of music happens deep deep down below charts, social media or fashion.  How else can we explain the impact of just a couple lines of evocative lyric:  It's alright to feel okay (Mando Saenz);  Eight years old, running with a dime in my hand  (Springsteen).  There's no easy formula to the music that reaches us.  This is where we get the idea of "guilty pleasure" - I really shouldn't like this Hanson song ("Mmm Bop"), but god help me I do!  I head into every week hoping against hope that I'll trip across an artist, an album, a song that will make that rare trip on the expressway to my heart.  I page through countless widecast emails from promoters asking me to "push" or "give some love" to their very average projects (and each wants me to know what they've done with their weekend).  I make regular visits to blogs that hemorrhage superlatives in praise of a different record everyday.  And then it accidentally happens, and I decide that maybe it's not a waste of my time after all.  R&B is driven by an exceptionally personal musical vision, stuff that resonates for me but that I fully expect many listeners simply won't get.  My hope is that for every hundred people that dismiss me as "playing music that nobody's ever heard of" (maybe my new tagline?), there might be one person who feels like they've found a new musical home.

It's especially worthy when that connection happens with an under-the-radar band like Florida's Big Shoals trio, whose Hard Lessons landed this week.  I file them loosely alongside acts like Fire Mountain, Sons of Bill or certain strains from fellow Gainesville son Tom Petty  -  fully realized artists that follow the Jayhawks into the roots-pop realm.

This is where I insert my public service announcement reminding you that "pop" is never a bad word in my lexicon.  It means having the capacity to paint with primary musical colors and broad, tuneful strokes, as heard on tracks like Big Shoals' perfect summer rock-a-roller "Happy For a While".  Pounded piano meets riffy electric guitar in your favorite bar:  For 26 years I ain't got much to show / Maybe I been doin' it wrong ... I just wanna be happy for a while.  It's an apt name for the record, Hard Lessons, written on the line between young adulthood and just plain adulthood.  "Only Queen" alternates between weepy steel and a more beat happy chorus:  Been holdin' onto my youth / It's my last piece of gold.

I'm by no standards an audio wonk, but I love the sound of this album, full of thoughtful arrangements and a sound that balances clean separation amidst the clutter and racket of frequently buzzing guitars.  I fully expect "You Ain't Nothing Like the Girls Back Home" to earn a place on my list of the year's most engaging cuts.  Leading with a great guitar line, Lance Howell's vocal recalls a young Jason Isbell:  I wanna make a bad decision / I wanna make a mistake / I wanna take a chance on losin' / I'm tired of playin' it safe.  You'll hear Isbell as well on the sprawling "Losing Hand", which takes its sweet time to unfurl into the record's most ambitious and mature track.

Alas, man cannot subsist on sad bastard songs alone, and I would argue that Bad Decisions doesn't come across as any more of a downer than, say, American Aquarium's reflection on maturity, Wolves.  We find our narrator accepting his fate on "Only God Knows", and recognizing the difficulty of reconnecting with the past on "Way It Goes":  I know time will change you / Hell it's changing me too / Back then it used to move so slow.  Where 2014's Still Go On boasted a harder, more immediate sound, Big Shoals' sophomore collection makes some less obvious choices for a more satisfying effect.

Elsewhere on this Episode:  Matt Woods makes a mighty leap forward with the debut single from his pending How To Survive.  It comes to my attention that Robert Rex Walker Jr from I See Hawks in LA has released an album of covers.  And I really (really) miss the Scud Mountain Boys.

- Adia Victoria, "Lonely Avenue / Dead Eyes" Beyond the Bloodhounds  (Atlantic, 16)
- Band of Horses, "Throw My Mess" Why Are You OK  (Interscope, 16)
- Bottle Rockets, "Gravity Fails" Brooklyn Side  (Tag, 94)
- Massy Ferguson, "Makin' It" Run It Right Into the Wall  (MF, 16)
- Big Shoals, "You Ain't Noting Like the Girls Back Home" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Matt Woods, "American Way" How To Survive  (Woods, 16)  D
- Joe Purdy, "Maybe We'll All  Get Along Someday" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Rod Picott, "Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues" Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues  (Welding Rod, 01)
- BJ Barham, "American Tobacco Company" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Lucinda Williams, "If There's a Heaven" Ghosts of Hwy 20  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Let's Get Drunk and Get It On" Desperate Times  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Tapped Out In Tulsa" You Can't Go Back  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Scud Mt Boys, "Holy Ghost" Massachusetts  (Sub Pop, 96)
- Western Centuries, "Rock Salt" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Amy Blaschke, "Breaking the Blues" Breaking the Blues  (Bird on a Lyre, 16)
- Levi Parham, "Chemical Train" These American Blues  (Music Road, 16)
- Sean McConnell, "Ghost Town" Sean McConnell  (Rounder, 16)  D
- Paul Westerberg, "Lookin' Up In Heaven" Folker  (Vagrant, 04)
- Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, "L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" Shine a Light  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Headed South" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Chuck Ragan, "Flame In the Flood" Flame In the Flood  (Ten Four, 16)
- White Buffalo w/Audra Mae, "I Got You" Love & the Death of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
- Shovels & Rope, "I Know" Little Seeds  (NewWest, 16)
- Ana Egge & the Sentimentals, "Promises to Break" Say That Now  (Grace, 16)  D
- Robert Rex Walker Jr, "Counting My Lucky Stars" Fancy Free  (Walker, 16)  D
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Dark and Dirty Mile" Dark and Dirty Mile  (Proud Souls, 13)
- Porter, "Harder Stuff" This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
- Jason Isbell, "Travelling Alone" Southeastern  (12th St, 13)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
July 2, 2016
Scott Foley

Does this fall under "counting your chickens ..."?  Here are 20 records that are currently in the running for my favorites of the year, halfway through 2016, roughly in order of appearance.

Lucinda Williams, Ghosts of Highway 20
Margo Price, Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Caleb Caudle, Carolina Ghost
Richmond Fontaine, You Can't Go  Back
Freakwater, Scheherazade
Mount Moriah, How to Dance
Parker Millsap, Very Last Day
Left Arm Tan, Lorene
Austin Lucas, Between the Moon & the Midwest
Jayhawks, Paging Mr Proust
John Doe, Westerner
Sturgill Simpson, Sailor's Guide to Earth
Honeycutters, On the Ropes
Various Artists, Day of the Dead
Felice Brothers, Life in the Dark
Avett Brothers, True Sadness
Bonnie Bishop, Ain't Who I Was
Arliss Nancy, Greater Divides
Frankie Lee, American Dreamer
Matt Haeck, Late Bloomer

And here's what I'm most looking forward to hearing in the weeks 'n months to come:  Kelsey Waldon, Lydia Loveless, Two Cow Garage, Devil Makes Three, Tim Easton, Amanda Shires, Drive-by Truckers.


There was a time during college when I wisely chose to sell my beloved vinyl collection.  I didn't do this for rent, grocery or beer money, but so that I could invest in sweet sweet cassette tapes.  I believe I had to sell at least a dozen hard-won discs in order to afford the hiss and warble of one tape.  Who knew that there would come a time when these very faulty plastic time bombs would no longer be valuable, let alone playable.  Curiously enough, cassette tapes are recently experiencing a slight renaissance, to the point where there are cassette only labels, and bands like Massy Ferguson who choose to make their music available on cassette.

Seattle trio Massy Ferguson borrow their name (dropping a vowel for legal reasons) from a farm equipment manufacturer.  There are no songs about the dustbowl on their new album.  No indulgent twangfest.  Instead, picture a big ol' combine rumbling down the streets of Middle America, harvesting the souls of folk like me who yearn for heavy guitar, reckless drums and no bullshit roots rock.  Here's what they have to say about their 4th record, Run It Right Into the Wall:

We wanted to pay homage to other music we grew up with and were inspired by: the sounds of college rock of the 80s.  Think early REM, Husker Du, the Church, the Connells and a big dose of the Replacements ...

As a card carrying college student during the 80s (don't do the math), these are the quintessential sounds of my life, largely upon which my presently sprawling musical tastes were constructed.  Of course, much of this scaffolding was strengthened with the addition of earlier acts such as Bottle Rockets, Uncle Tupelo, Drive-by Truckers, etc.  It's at these hallowed crossroads that Massy Ferguson has erected their roadhouse.

Massy Ferguson wisely choose not to disguise these compass points, leaping into the album's opener, "Gallipoli", with guitars that alternately stab and chime and vocals that recall Jay Farrar perhaps as crossed with early REM.  An instantly familiar musical equation, it manages to avoid the common retro-for-retro-sake traps. And the unabashedly tuneful single, "Makin' It", embraces the Southern roots pop practiced by Bottle Rockets in their heyday.

In the wake of the departure of the band's keyboardist, Run It opts for an edgier, pared back approach that layers guitars for that retro-perfect production.  Pieces such as "Firewater" still feature keys, but as a deeper musical background rather than a primary color.   "Dogbone" unleashes a swampier sound with loping drums and Fogerty-worthy guitar before slipping into a major key chorus that affirms the trio's sure pop ear.

With its neon bright blue and pink packaging, Run It Right Into the Wall might've fit just fine alongside my other cassettes from Let's Active, Pylon, Hoodoo Gurus and Green On Red.  In my digital files, however, it earns its place snugly among classics from Son Volt, Supersuckers and Blue Mountain, maintaining that essential edge so crucial to the relevance of and roots rock.

New stuff this week from Dale Watson, offering a live Jerry Reed cover.  Ronnie Fauss gives the roots treatment to a Slobberbone classic, and we revisit Will Johnson's masterful take on a lesser known Old 97s cut.  That, and some brand new solo Dex Romweber.   And I didn't play Dave Alvin's "Fourth of July".

- Two Tons of Steel, "Crazy Heart" Unraveled  (Smith, 13)
- Darrell Scott, "Moonlight Midnight" Couchville Sessions  (Full Light, 16)
- Avett Brothers, "Mama I Don't Believe" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Surrender Under Protest" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Cross Canadian Ragweed, "The President Song (live)" Live and Loud at the Wormy Dog Saloon  (Smith, 01)
- Dale Watson, "Amos Moses (live)" Live at the Big T Roadhouse  (Red House, 16)  D
^ Massy Ferguson, "Santa Fe" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Massy Ferguson, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Orange Blossom Trail" Exodus of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Luke Bell, "Loretta" Luke Bell  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Rusty Truck, "Tangled In the Fence" Broken Promises  (Coda Terra, 03)
- Joe Purdy, "Kristine" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Matt Haeck, "Lucky Cigarette" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Lumberlung" single  (New West, 16)  D
- Big Shoals, "Only God Knows" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- BJ Barham, "Reidsville" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Whitney, "Golden Days" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- Eddie Hinton, "I Got the Feeling" Very Extremely Dangerous  (Capricorn, 97)
- Corb Lund, "Bible On the Dash" Cabin Fever  (New West, 12)
- Dex Romweber, "Trouble of the World" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Plunder" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Fruit Bats, "Humbug Mountain Song" Absolute Loser  (Easy Sound, 16)
- Will Johnson, "Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Rob Baird, "Horses" Wrong Side of the River  (Hard Luck, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Poor Man's Melody" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Factory Smoke" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C
- Israel Nash, "Drown" Barn Doors &  Concrete Floors  (Israel Nash, 11)