Thursday, October 22, 2020
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Thursday, October 08, 2020
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
I'll venture out on a limb and proclaim to anyone listening that, all things considered, 2020 has been a fine year for new records. Even with the delays and the distractions, each month manages to satisfy with enough music that matters that I am often challenged to select just five favorites at we stumble from one month to the next. This is especially true as I scamper to give each release a fair listen. So, leaves beginning to crunch under our feet, we march boldly into Pumpkin Days. In order of appearance, here are the handful of records that made the strongest impression over the past thirty days:
WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT SEPTEMBER?!!
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Thursday, September 17, 2020
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
September 13, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
I can't wait until Waylon Payne's book hits the shelves. No, to my knowledge he doesn't have a book deal, though you can trip across bits of his writing here and there, and he claims to have spent the first several days of pandemic lockdown tearing through pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling. And jeez, what a story.
I wasn't the only fan of his 2004 recording debut, The Drifter, a quality collection that came after he had already begun to establish a reputation for himself, once drugs had begun to sink their teeth into his psyche. Waylon Payne was born into the industry, the son of Sammi Smith, who sung Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" to the top of the country charts. The son of Jody Payne, longtime guitarist for Willie Nelson. Godson to Waylon Jennings himself. What should've been the opening volley in a lucrative career instead led to sixteen years in the shadows up that upbringing, and in the grips of addiction.
But sixteen years after The Drifter, Waylon Payne has returned from this often dark night to share the tale on Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me. He began to tell the story several months ago, releasing one Act every couple weeks, each a fistful of songs that spoke to his family life, his troubled young adulthood, the crucible of addiction, and his fortune to have been able to find eventual redemption. Sure, it's the prodigal story, but it also happens to be tremendous music from a gifted songwriter who has lived a lifetime of great song material.
"Sins of the Father" introduces the album on a powerful note, a guitar (Jedd Hughes) and harmonica (Mickey Raphael) driven number reflecting on Payne's experience with his own father. The sins of the father / It's time for me to lay 'em down and let them go, he sings, fully recognizing the role his father's choices played in his own path, the demons he inherited. The tune begins with the spirited voice of a young boy, the son of his best friend to whom Payne has credited much of his recovery: I saw my best friend change from a guy into a dad. He lays his father to rest in "What a High Horse", helping set the tone for a collection that pulls no punches even while demonstrating a certain compassion or forgiveness: Talk about needing a miracle / Talk about needing a saving grace.
Payne's big-heartedness and humility distinguish Blue Eyes from similar records that might be more focused on blame and victimization. The songwriter reserves the harshest treatment for himself, the most dangerous person I know. Payne cowrote the scorching "All the Trouble" with Adam Wright and Lee Ann Womack (she included it on an excellent 2017 project). Urgent strings and wild guitar conspire to create an atmosphere of dark tension. He sings from the depths of his despair: I need a happy ending / Somebody write me one / If there's a prince that's waiting / Somebody send him on. Payne pushes his Rodney Crowell-like voice to its limits on the acoustic "Dangerous Criminal". You're always just one push away, Payne sings, recognizing how his illness pushed away his friends and family: Hey boy / Why are you always alone.
Blue Eyes is produced by country vets Frank Liddell and Eric Masse, a team responsible for Miranda Lambert's 2016 Weight Of These Wings. Like that double CD, their work with Waylon Payne strips back much of the artifice of contemporary country in order to focus on the songwriting. String arrangements are deployed for emotional effect, though they can also serve to anchor the sessions in the sounds of a certain era of country production - thinking Bobbie Gentry, Dusty Springfield or even Kris Kristofferson. While there are driving moments, the collection is more often defined by Payne's more introspective ballads, confessionals which highlight the beautiful grain in the singer's delivery. "Shiver" is an aptly-named stunner: It's 4 in the morning, I'm naked / Standing above a sinning town / Wanting now nothing more than just to hold you / And to gently lay you down. Few singers or writers can communicate such realness, such genuine gravitas in a song, a quality that Payne demonstrates throughout his sophomore album. Watch as I burn / And watch as you shiver / One heart will live / One now must wither. Devastating.
Even more difficult than carrying an honest portrayal of the hell of addiction is exercising taste and restraint when speaking to redemption and recovery. Waylon Payne incorporates strains of gospel on pieces like "Back From the Grave" or the hymnlike "Precious Thing". The songwriter never suggests that the great storm is over, however, as he admits that sobriety and temptation are a daily battle even years after his last fix. Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me is not necessarily a new story, though Payne is such a phenomenal and a discerning storyteller that I continue to hold out hope for a memoir. Until such time, this long-awaited sophomore offering serves as a gorgeous reintroduction to an important artist who will hopefully remain on the scene for years to come.
- Moondoggies, "Bogachiel Rain Blues" Don't Be a Stranger (Hardly Art, 16)
- Pete Krebs & Gossamer Wings, "Faraway, Blue" All My Friends Are Ghosts (Cavity Search, 20) D
- Elizabeth Cook, "Half Hanged Mary" Aftermath (Agent Love, 20)
- John Murry, "Holocaust" John Murry is Dead EP (Hibernian Sweatshop, 20)
- Bedouine, Waxahatchee & Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Thirteen" single (Spacebomb, 20) D
^ Waylon Payne, "Shiver" Blue Eyes the Harlot the Queer the Pusher & Me (Carnival, 20)
- Blitzen Trapper, "Hazy Morning" Holy Smokes Future Jokes (Yep Roc, Sep 25)
- Delta Spirit, "Can You Ever Forgive Me" What is There (New West, 20)
- Pylon, "Feast On My Heart (remastered)" Pylon Box (New West, Nov 6)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Lady Liberty" All the Misery Money Can Buy (GasPops, 20)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Lake Charles (feat. Shannon McNally)" Lake Charles (Ludwick, Sep 15) D
- Tennessee Jet, "Stray Dogs" The Country (TNJet, 20)
- Rev Horton Heat, "Sunrise Through the Power Lines" Whole New Life (Victory, 18)
- HC McEntire, "High Rise" Eno Axis (Merge, 20)
- Will Kimbrough, "My Right Wing Friend" Spring Break (Daphne, Oct 23)
- Sadler Vaden, "Best Days" single (Dirty Mag, 20) D
- Kathleen Edwards, "Feelings Fade" Total Freedom (Dualtone, 20)
- Shovels & Rope, "Wire (acoustic version)" By Blood: Deluxe Edition (Dualtone, 20)
- Matt Woods, "California Shakes" Mornings After EP (Lonely Ones, 20)
- Jeremy Ivey, "Things Could Get Much Worse" Waiting Out the Storm (Anti, Oct 9)
- TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, "Pickle" Pickled Heat EP (Mama Bird, 20)
- Gillian Welch, "Beautiful Boy" Boots No 2: Lost Songs Vol 2 (Acony, Sep 18) D
- Margo Price, "Letting Me Down (Downer Version)" single (Loma Vista, 20)
- Califone, "Needle In the Hay" single (Jealous Butcher, 20) D
- Band of Heathens, "Call Me Gilded" Stranger (BoH, Sep 25)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Happy For Us In the Down" Charismo (Free Dirt, 16)
- Brent Cowles, "Stumblin' Sober" It's Coals (2272881 Records, 20) D
- Lucero, "Time To Go Home" single (Liberty & Lament, 20) D
- Juanita Stein, "LOTF" Snapshot (Nude, Oct 23)
- The Staves, "Trying" single (Nonesuch, 20) D
Through the smoke, through the haze, through the blare of all >this<, we find solace in A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster. It's our frantically updated roots music release calendar. This week we added Lake Charles, the next release from Robyn Ludwick, landing this week wherever music matters. Having established a solid reputation for taking an obsessive amount of time to release each of her studio records, the pandemic has brought out the generosity in Gillian Welch. She'll be releasing her third collection of odds 'n outtakes on Friday, fittingly titled Boots No. 2: Lost Songs Vol. 2 (Acony). Jeff Tweedy has been keeping busy from home as well. Love Is the King will be a solo effort, expected on October 23 (dBpm). Finally, Pearl Charles' 2018 Sleepless Dreamer received some play here at R&B HQ. We've got our eyes on her follow-up. Magic Mirror (Kanine, Jan 15) is the first release we've added to our calendar for 2021 (which can't help but be a better year). But here's your weekly ROUTES-cast:
Wednesday, September 09, 2020
ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
September 6, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Nearly twenty years have come and gone since Pete Krebs' last studio recording, a session with Gossamer Wings called I Know It By Heart. In the meantime, the dedicated instrumentalist traveled through Europe to research disciples of the legendary gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. He's also faced down his own mortality, being dealt 50-50 odds of staving off a cancer diagnosis. Now, the trustworthy Cavity Search Records label has shared All My Friends Are Ghosts, a collection that pulls together Krebs' songs from the past twenty years, backed by Gossamer Wings, including members of Decemberists and Richmond Fontaine.
As with Jerry Joseph, you could pass a good afternoon or two developing an appreciation of Krebs' eclectic body of work, a catalog that rarely fits neatly beneath any one genre heading. His edges and his influences overflow categories, especially when regarded as a whole. Which makes All My Friends an appropriate way to slide back into public performance. The sessions are decidedly roots-oriented, but they are restless and eclectic within that basket, sure-footed yet governed by an off-the-cuff spirit.
Make a point of blasting "Faraway, Blue" from an open car window before the close of Summer. It's the perfect strain of jangle pop for a blue-sky afternoon, with bright guitars and pedal steel glinting off the windshield. "I'm Just Searching For You" and "Sound + Fury" ring with a similar breezy alt.country tinged accent, with electric guitars up front, and a melodic thread delivered effortlessly by Krebs' band. Krebs himself sings in a comfortable pocket, his slightly drawled delivery suggesting a hybrid of Elliott Smith and Lloyd Cole.
All My Friends boasts some lyrical eloquence as well. Krebs lays his heart bare on "My True Love Is a Beautiful Bird" with what strikes the listener as an apt admission: These past couple of years / Left me battered and bruised / And I need you more than I'll show. The simple folksong is starkly presented, a steady acoustic strum warmed by the heartbeat of a bass. A raw fiddle opens the sweet and rootsy "Brightest Stars". Like most of the tunes, it sounds as warm and immediate as though producer Jon Neufeld set the recordings to tape with the players arrayed around him. Leave your windows open to the threat of rain, Krebs advises. Leave your doors unlocked to charity and pain / It's hard enough to hold yourself / Still harder to be held sometimes.
The pervasive spirit throughout Pete Krebs' first collection in two decades is simplicity, shot through with joy and gratitude. The record's title track offers a touch of Bakersfield and a hint of early rock: All my friends are ghosts / They live in a bar across the road / And they're telling me everything will be alright / Now I'm free. "Blue Horizon" might serve as the album's most engaging moment, a conjunto arrangement haunted by the ghost of Doug Sahm and his Texas Tornados, replete with accordion and pedal steel.
The pieces populating All My Friends Are Ghosts aren't necessarily career-defining. It might not even prove the richest place to begin to make an acquaintance with Pete Krebs & co (for that, you might want to try Cavity Search's 2016 retrospective, Hey Pete Krebs!). Instead, the artist's first collection in nearly two decades is nothing less than a signpost, a reminder (or an introduction) to another Northwest music icon whose hard-earned stint in the spotlight is long overdue. Enjoy yourself. It would seem that Krebs is doing just that.
- Zephaniah Ohora, "Living Too Long" Listening To the Music (Last Roundup, 20)
- Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, "All the Good Times Are Past and Gone" All the Good Times (Acony, 20)
- Will Johnson, "Goodbye Absecon" El Capitan (Keeled Scales, 20)
- Bill Callahan, "Mackenzies" Gold Record (Drag City, 20)
- Wilco, "Summer Teeth (Slow Rhodes Version)" Summer Teeth Deluxe Edition (Rhino, Nov 6) D
- Angel Olsen, "(We Are All Mirrors)" Whole New Mess (Jagjaguwar, 20)
- Kevin Morby, "Campfire" Sundowner (Dead Oceans, Oct 16) D
- Cut Worms, "Every Once In a While" Nobody Lives Here Anymore (Jagjaguwar, Oct 9)
- Jerry David DeCicca, "Texas Toad" Unlikely Optimist & His Domestic Adventures (DeCicca, Oct 16)
- John Calvin Abney, "Shine Like a Friend" Familiar Ground (Black Mesa, Nov 20) D
- Becky Warren, "Me and These Jeans" Sick Season (Warren, Oct 23) D
- Nude Party, "Lonely Heather" Midnight Manor (New West, Oct 2)
- JD McPherson, "Head Over Heels" Let the Good Times Roll (Rounder, 15)
- Grant-Lee Phillips, "Leave a Light On" Lightning Show Us Your Stuff (Yep Roc, 20)
- Cordovas, "Rain On the Rail" Destiny Hotel (Anti, Oct 16)
- Molly Tuttle, "A Little Lost" ... but i'd rather be with you (Compass, 20)
- William Elliott Whitmore, "My Mind Can Be Cruel To Me" I'm With You (Bloodshot, Oct 16) D
- Cave Singers, "Distant Sures" No Witch (Jagjaguwar, 11)
- Justin Wells, "It'll All Work Out" United State (Singular, 20)
- Matt Woods, "Sunshine" Mornings After EP (Lonely Ones, 20)
- Bella White, "Not To Blame" Just Like Leaving (Bella White, Sep 25)
- Hayes Carll, "Arkansas Blues (Alone Together Sessions)" Alone Together Sessions (Dualtone, 20)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Flesh and Bone" All the Misery Money Can Buy (GasPops, Sep 11)
- Tennessee Jet, "Hands On You" The Country (TN Jet, 20)
- Arlo McKinley, "Bag of Pills" Die Midwestern (Oh Boy, 20)
- Elliott BROOD, "Bird Dog" Keeper (Six Shooter, Sep 18)
- Great Peacock, "Heavy Load" Forever Worse Better (Soundly, Oct 9)
- Jim White, "Sum Of What We've Been" Misfit's Jamboree (Fluff & Gravy, Oct 23) D
- Ruston Kelly, "Clean" Shape & Destroy (Rounder, 20)
- Fire Mountain, "Be Your Eyes" All Dies Down (This is American Music, 14)
Pull back the cover of A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster and you'll find a year's worth of roots music releases. This week, we added Sundowner, an October 16 full-length from Kevin Morby and Dead Oceans. The enigmatic Jim White has drifted onto Fluff & Gravy Records for his next offering. Expect Misfit's Jubilee wherever music matters on October 23. Wilco is planning a sprawling deluxe edition of their Summer Teeth classic via Rhino Records on November 6, and New West is gifting us with a box set celebrating the music of the underappreciated band Pylon that same day. Finally, one of our favorite singer-songwriters, John Calvin Abney is bringing us Familiar Ground come November 20 (Black Mesa). Your weekly ROUTES-cast: