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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 20, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Was a time I would keep up better with Canadian music releases.  Under the tutelage of a handful of quality bloggers, I would discover gems of the North Country like Roger Dean Young & Tin Cup, whose 2011 Threshold record is impossible to track down (but don't give up, if only for one of my favorite songs of all time, "Keremeos").  As blogs do, each ceased operation and my pipeline to Canadiana gradually dried up.

During that time of my Great Canuck Exploration, I came across the Sumner Brothers.  Practically unknown south of the 49th Parallel, Brian and Bob Sumner and their associates set fire to some of the further reaches of roots music.  After five releases alongside his brother, Bob Sumner has emerged with a solo CD, Sings Wasted Love Songs (Jan 25).

While the Sumner Bros. are capable of a racket at any given time, one of my favorite weapons in their arsenal is Bob Sumner's tremendous way with a ballad.  By way of introducing the new collection, he confesses he's a junkie for sad songs and stories.  Melancholy runs like tears (or two-dollar beers on tap) throughout Wasted Love, a deep despair that comes easiest to hopeless romantics with a voice like Sumner's. From "Riverbed": I dreamt it was the wings of a thousand golden doves / Tripped me from my feet / Lay me at the doorstep of your heart.

Like "Riverbed", much of Sumner's new project is characterized by space.  Big sky arrangements shine with pedal steel (Chris Gestrian and Matt Kelly) and cinematic strings are set aloft by prolific violin eclectic Jesse Zubot.  Sumner's voice rarely soars, but can convey heartbreak and longing as well as any, with the soul of a solo Nathaniel Rateliff and the frankness of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner (or maybe a more animated Brett Sparks of Handsome Family).

"New York City" lives on the lovely side of bleak: When the nighttime falls on this empty home / I'll be sitting in the kitchen all alone / Picture of you in a bar / And the message you left on my machine / Said babe this city don't hold a flame to you.  It's a gorgeous arrangement, acoustic and electric, folk and country, intimacy and distance.

Those guitars, shared between Etienne Tremblay and Paul Rigby (seen recently all over Neko Case's phenomenal Hell-on) largely establish the mood for Wasted Love Songs.  Often downcast and mournful, they can also erupt with sparks of desire, anger or frustration.  While Bob Sumner has staked his claim on sad songs and stories for this project, he's not a one-trick troubadour.  That electric buzz that can kick up on Sumner Brothers records engages on new tracks like "Comin' Around", a Byrds-esque dose of California country featuring some nice keys.  "My Old Friend" is the collection's heaviest cut: I don't believe in love / I don't believe in anything Sumner despairs.  Blunt force guitars are given free rein to spark and spit, and the singer's final sentiment: God damn it all / God damn it all.

Fact is, there are any number of higher-profile releases in my queue for possible review, several of them pretty fine.  But Sings Wasted Love Songs is simply a record that could too easily fall beneath the popular radar here in the U.S.  There's little if any outright irony here, still he approaches his craft with a wry candor that saves his work from sinking into maudlin self-parody.  Bob Sumner deserves a wider hearing, a writer of genuine pathos with a sharp ear for a good sad song.

- Steel Woods, "One Of These Days" Old News  (Woods, 19)
- Nikki Lane, "Coming Home To You" Walk of Shame  (Iamsound, 11)
- Andrew Combs, "Too Stoned To Cry (2019 Recut)"  Worried Man (Deluxe Edition)  (New West, 19)  D
- Ward Davis, "Good and Drunk" Asunder EP  (Davis, 18)
- Kelly Hogan, "Plant White Roses" I Like To Keep Myself In Pain  (Anti, 12)
^ Bob Sumner, "New York City" Wasted Love Songs  (Sumner, Jan 25)
- JS Ondara, "Torch Song" Tales of America  (Verve, Feb 15)
- Caleb Elliott, "Makes Me Wonder" Forever To Fade  (Single Lock, Mar 8)  D
- Steve Gunn, "Morning Is Mended" Unseen In Between  (Matador, 19)
- HC McEntire, "Houses of the Holy" single  (Merge, 19)  D
- Townes Van Zandt, "All I Need" Sky Blue  (Fat Possum, Mar 7)  D
- Byrds, "Bag Full of Money" Farther Along  (Sony, 71)
- Flatland Cavalry, "Honeywine" Homeland Insecurity  (Flatland, 19)
- Caroline Spence, "Long Haul" Mint Condition  (Rounder, May 3)  D
- Cass McCombs, "Great Pixley Train Robbery" Tip of the Sphere  (Anti, Feb 8)
- Son Volt, "Devil May Care" Union  (Transmit Sound, Mar 29)  D
- Deadstring Brothers, "Sacred Heart" Starving Winter Report  (Bloodshot, 06)
- Flesh Eaters, "She's Like Heroin To Me" I Used To Be Pretty  (Yep Roc, 19)
- Matthew Logan Vasquez, "Trailer Park" Light'n Up  (Dine Alone, Feb 22)  D
- Susto, "Homeboy" Ever Since I Lost My Mind  (Rounder, Feb 22)
- Shovels & Rope, "The Wire" By Blood  (Dualtone, Apr 12)  D
- Waco Brothers, "Harm's Way" To the Last Dead Cowboy  (Bloodshot, 95)
- Ben Dickey, "I Think It's All Different" Glimmer On the Outskirts  (SexHawkeBlack, Mar 8)  D
- Scott Hirsch, "Rose's Song" Lost Time Behind the Moon  (Scissor Tail, 18)
- Molly Tuttle, "Take the Journey" When You're Ready  (Compass, Apr 5)  D
- Leo Bud Welch, "I Come To Praise His Name" Angels In Heaven Done Sign My Name  (Easy Eye, Mar 8)  D
- Cale Tyson, "Red Blooded Fools (feat. Jackie Cohen)" narcissist  (Tyson, Feb 1)
- John Paul White, "Long Way Home" Hurting Kind  (Single Lock, Apr 12)  D
- Yola, "Faraway Look" Walk Through Fire  (Easy Eye, Feb 22)
- James McMurtry, "Soda and Salt" Walk Between the Raindrops  (Sugar Hill, 06)

These early days of 2019 continue to prove rich with the promise of new releases.  This week we were gifted news of a new Shovels & Rope project.  Strand of Oaks was coaxed back into the studio for his March 22 Eraserland, with some help from My Morning Jacket and Jason Isbell.  We have a promise, but not a date, from Jason Ringenberg, as well as a May release for Caroline Spence's first Rounder record.  And there's apparently blood remaining in the Townes Van Zandt stone, as the estate readies another posthumous project.

For the final release date of January, Friday the 25th, we'll welcome an excellent country debut from Joshua Ray Walker.  Smithsonian brings us the trio Lula Wiles, and William Tyler Goes West.  All this plus a solo CD from Bob Sumner (he of the Sumner Brothers) and the return of Amelia White.

Here's your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Monday, January 14, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 13, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I'm not worried.  I'm not especially afraid for the wellbeing of our kind of music.  Mainstream country can do what it does, but as long as we have bands like The Steel Woods, roots music is alive and well.

It's not that the quartet is committed to redefining much.  On the contrary, their new record places them securely in the lineage of Southern country rock.  Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, etc.  But Old News (Woods Music, Jan 18) should also be considered among today's most relevant traditionalists:  Chris Stapleton, Blackberry Smoke, Whitey Morgan.  Jason Cope (guitar) and Wes Bayliss (vocal) emerged onto the scene with guns blazing for 2016's Straw In the Wind, coming in the wake of Cope's decade of service behind Jamey Johnson.

A hard-touring act, the Steel Woods have earned a reputation as purveyors of heavy-osity, their dark and guitar-fueled oeuvre suitable for rattling the speakers and blasting aside the week's cares.  The strutting "All of These Years" checks those boxes, setting the stage for Old News' theme of waking up to the state of our dis-union:  God help us all in our search for truth / Nothing makes you old like holding onto youth / What keeps me young and long in the tooth / Is a lotta blood, a lotta sweat and a little bit of the blues. The song establishes an indelible boogie that resurfaces on "Blind Lover", bearing witness to Cope's fiery guitar chops.

Throughout most of Old News, however, the Steel Woods embody heaviness in a less overtly pyrotechnic fashion.  As on their debut, the new collection features the band's run through a Black Sabbath number.  Mired in foreboding and regret, there's hardly a heavier song than 1972's "Changes", effectively replicated here as a soulful Southern rock ballad.  Songs like "Rock That Says My Name" and "Without You" are heavy with reminders of mortality, another of The Steel Woods' recurring themes.  The former is narrated by a gravedigger whose calling serves to remind him of our shared destination:  Well I ain't afraid to die 'cause I know where I'll go / There I'll live forever on the streets made of gold / Til then I'll keep on working, you won't hear me complain / And every day I'll tip my hat to the rock that says my name.

The album jacket for Old News bears a drawing of the Statue of Liberty, torch raised aloft while a tear falls from her eye.  The record's title track stands as a (very) early candidate for song of the year, a passionate plea for civility.  Bayliss delivers a stellar vocal over piano and swelling instrumentation:  The weight of that torch comes with blood that's been spilled / A book of blank pages waiting to be filled.  In the hands of lesser artists, "Old News" might've become a jingoistic "God Bless the USA" moment.  The Steel Woods deliver it just right, steeped in the Southern spirit of family, neighbor and nation.  It's one of the more somber moments on a CD that's deceptively tuneful from a band that operates from a tight musical pocket.  Bayliss is an appropriately gruff vocalist, but he's capable of moving melodicism on cuts like "Wherever You Are".

Just in case the album's originals aren't enough to help you triangulate The Steel Woods' sound, the band includes an "Obituaries" section - four covers of songs from late influences and friends.  From a furious "Whipping Post" to a tried and true take on Merle Haggard's "Are the Good Times Really Over", the covers are more focused on respect than reinvention.  The most eloquent of these is a suitably moving run through Tom Petty's "Southern Accents".  It's the perfect way to close a collection that roots The Steel Woods in tradition while allowing them to further define themselves as an outfit that matters to the future of our kind of music.


- Wooden Wand, "Winter in Kentucky" Briarwood  (Fire, 11)
- Blank Range, "Radio" In Unison  (Sturdy Girl, Feb 1)
- Vandoliers, "Cigarettes in the Rain" Forever  (Bloodshot, Feb 22)
- Hannah Harber & the Lionhearts, "Sorry Darlin'" Long Time Coming  (Harber, 19)  D
- Joshua Ray Walker, "Last Call" Wish You Were Here  (State Fair, Jan 25)
- Rob Baird, "Devil Woman Blues" After All  (Hard Luck, 19)
- Meat Puppets, "Nine Pins" Dusty Notes  (Megaforce, Mar 8)
- Adia Victoria, "Different Kind of Love" Silences  (Atlantic, Feb 22)
- Will Johnson, "Big Distortion" John Singer Sergeant: Music and Songs of John Dufilho  (Kirtland, 12)
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Hunter's Moon" QCNH  (Lightning Rod, Mar 1)
- Lee Fields & Expressions, "It Rains Love" It Rains Love  (Big Crown, Apr 5)  D
- Patty Griffin, "River" Patty Griffin  (PGM, Mar 8)  D
- Bob Sumner, "Riverbed" Wasted Love Songs  (Sumner, Jan 25)
- Be Good Tanyas, "In Spite of All the Damage" Chinatown  (Nettwerk, 03)
- Boo Ray, "Gone Back To Georgia" Tennessee Alabama Fireworks  (Boo Ray, Feb 15)
- Steve Earle, "Dublin Blues" GUY  (New West, Mar 29)  D
- Rosie Flores, "Mercy Fell Like Rain" A Simple Case of the Blues  (Flores, Feb 15)
- Two Tons of Steel, "Unglued" Vegas  (Palo Duro, 06)
- Long Ryders, "Greenville" Psychedelic Country Soul  (Omnivore, Feb 15)  D
- Ryan Bingham, "Jingle and Go" American Love Song  (Axster Bingham, Feb 15)
- Chatham County Line, "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" Sharing the Covers  (Yep Roc, Mar 8)  D
- Todd Snider, "Just Like Overnight" Cash Cabin Sessions Vol 3  (Aimless, Mar 15)  D
- Delines, "Let's Be Us Again" The Imperial  (Decor, 19)
- Steve Gunn, "Vagabond" Unseen In Between  (Matador, Jan 18)
- Anna Tivel, "The Question" The Question  (Fluff & Gravy, Apr 19)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Looking For a Place To Land" Single Mothers  (Vagrant, 14)
- Mercury Rev, "Okolona River Bottom Band (feat.Norah Jones)" Bobbie Gentry's Delta Sweete Revisited  (Partisan, Feb 8)
- Nick Waterhouse, "Song For Winners" Nick Waterhouse  (Innovative Leisure, Mar 8)  D
- SUSTO, "If I Was" Ever Since I Lost My Mind  (Rounder, Feb 22)
- Bill Callahan, "One Fine Morning" Apocalypse  (Drag City, 11)

Crazy week for new stuff, with forthcoming records added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster from folks like Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lee Fields and a deluxe reissue of Andrew Combs' debut.  Ryan Adams promises three (3) new albums in 2019, with the first, Big Colors, slated for April 19.  Josh Ritter's next project will be produced by Jason Isbell, and supported by his 400 Unit.  Almost exactly a decade after he paid an album length tribute to Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle salutes another friend with Guy on March 29.  Patty Griffin promises a self-titled collection come March, her first original studio stuff since 2015.

With our next Big Release Date scheduled for the Friday the 18th, we're eagerly awaiting a gob of new stuff from Greensky Bluegrass, Steel Woods, Steve Gunn, Flatland Cavalry, Liz Brasher and the reformed Flesh Eaters, featuring folks like John Doe, Dave Alvin and Steve Berlin.  It's the first absurdly generous release date of 2019, and we're confident it's our kind of music.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 6, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Willy Vlautin had fronted Richmond Fontaine for years when he was inspired to write some songs for a voice other than his own.  Those songs, delivered by Amy Boone, wouldn’t have sounded right coming from Vlautin himself.  Colfax by The Delines wouldn’t have been as marvelous a record without her – it landed just below Sturgill Simpson for my favorite album of 2014.  With much of the follow-up completed, Boone was seriously sidelined after being struck by a car, and she faced years of recovery.  It only made sense to put the project on hold until she was ready to return.   The one-time Damnations singer is simply that crucial to the sound of The Delines. 

Let’s be honest, Willy Vlautin is no slouch.  His hard luck slices of life perfectly compliment Boone’s delivery.  With Richmond Fontaine and as a fiction writer, there is hardly a voice I trust more in our kind of music.  But The Delines aren’t just Richmond Fontaine fronted by a woman, it’s a whole new chapter in Vlautin’s work, just as The Imperial (El Cortez, Jan 11) is a different, more ambitious beast than Colfax (or their limited release Scenic Sessions from 2015).  The band’s debut was almost an experiment, a happy accident that brought together the perfect pieces to carry out Vlautin’s musical dream. 

The individual elements that make up The Delines’ “late night country-soul” are much the same, including the solid rhythm section of Sean Oldham and Freddy Trujillo.  Just add keys and horns and stir.  Let sit until most of us are deep in our dreams, when only the lonely and the haunted remain awake.  Where The Imperial differs is in its grander, more cinematic arrangements, courtesy in large part of keyboard player Cory Gray. 

 “Holly the Hustle” and “Eddie and Polly” are classic Willy Vlautin stories, his characters bleak and bleary-eyed, beaten down by a lifetime of bad choices and plans gone awry.  “Cheer Up Charley” brings slide guitar to the mix alongside horns and choral backing vocals for the album’s fullest arrangement.  Boone encourages her friend to climb from the wreckage towards a new start:  You ain’t always been this big a mess / Sitting outside Slim’s daytime drinking / Feeling sorry for yourself

There’s no dodging the jazz and soul influences throughout The Imperial.  The record’s final cut posits Boone’s smoky delivery alongside Gray’s keys as the narrator keeps a long and lonely night vigil, awaiting signs of the coming day:  I know the night will end soon / I just get so weary waiting on the blue.  It’s the most haunted track on a CD shadowed with ghosts.  Often those spirits are the remains of expired relationships.  “He Don’t Burn For Me” is a soulful simmer, with a touch of gospel in the backing vocal and a yearning trumpet solo:  It’s like living in a broken down sigh

On these new sessions, The Delines are more confident in their direction and their identity.  Sometimes this means permitting songs to unfurl in their own good time.  Elsewhere, the solidified confidence means taking chances and working new angles.  The beautiful “Let’s Be Us Again” is a Solomon Burke-like country-soul gem that finds Boone begging her beau to resurrect a relationship that’s been snuffed.  The band typically opts for a lighter touch, though the title song swells with strings and added layers for an effective touch of drama.  This strain of country-soul is hard to come by nowadays, even in the midst of a newfound appreciation of artists like Bobbie Gentry and Charlie Rich.  Though both Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone have dabbled in the stuff over the years, The Imperial creates a space for both to indulge their fantasies, to give rein to talents in service of a sweet melancholy that nourishes the soul.  


Now that we're wading through the spent confetti of a new year, let's remind everyone what happens here at R&B HQ on a weekly basis.  What you'll find (just about every Sunday (or Monday)) is a record review like this one, a piece that focuses more on something you might want to pull onto your music radar, as opposed to rating the CD on a scale from good to bad.  It just doesn't make sense to spend so much valuable time telling folks what NOT to listen to.  I'll also include a ROUTES-cast for the week, a Spotify playlist which features precisely thirty songs "from the frontiers of our kind of music".  Since Routes & Branches is dedicated to the spirit of music discovery, most of the playlist is devoted to new or forthcoming stuff.  We'll tend to leave about five ROUTES-casts up at a time on Spotify, removing them one-by-one in order to make room for more.  My name is Scott Foley, and you can reach me at  

- Joshua Ray Walker, "Canyon" Wish You Were Here  (State Fair, Jan 25)
- Charlie Crockett, "Travelin' Blues" Lil GL's Blue Bonanza  (Son of Davy, 18)
- Steel Woods, "All of These Years" Old News  (Woods, Feb 18)
- Damnations, "Unholy Train" Live Set  (Damnations, 97)
- Lonesome Shack, "Past the Ditch" Desert Dreams  (Alive Naturalsound, 19)
- Ward Davis, "Time To Move On" Asunder  (Davis, 18)
- Shovels & Rope, "Daily Routine" Predecessors (Dualtone, 18)
- Our Native Daughters, "Black Myself" Songs of Our Native Daughters  (Smithsonian, Feb 22)  D
- Jason Hawk Harris, "Phantom Limb" Formaldehyde Tobacco & Tulips  (Free Man, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Troublemaker" Forever  (Bloodshot, Feb 22)
- Josh Morningstar, "Jerry Lee" The Plea  (Young Mary, 18)
- Flesh Eaters, "Black Temptation" I Used To Be Pretty  (Yep Roc, Jan 18)
- Timber, "As a Kill" The Family  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Josh Ritter, "Joy To You Baby" Beast In Its Tracks  (Pytheas, 13)
- Michael Chapman, "After All This Time" True North  (Paradise of Bachelors, Feb 8)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "South First Blvd" Mockingbird  (Mike, 15)
- Flatland Cavalry, "Come Back Down" Homeland Insecurity  (Flatland, Jan 18)
- Arlo McKinley & Lonesome Sound, "Waiting For Wild Horses" Arlo McKinley & Lonesome Sound  (McKinley, 14)
- Lula Wiles, "Love Gone Wrong" What Will We Do  (Smithsonian, Jan 25)  D
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Courage For the Road" All For Money  (Big Blue Zoo, Jan 18)
- M Lockwood Porter, "Rosetta Stone" single  (Black Mesa, 18)
- Cactus Blossoms, "Please Don't Call Me Crazy" Easy Way  (Walkie Talkie, Mar 1)
^ Delines, "Holly the Hustle"  The Imperial  (El Cortez, Jan 11)
- Murray A Lightburn, "Belleville Blues" Hear Me Out  (Dangerbird, Feb 22)  D
- Sean McConnell, "Secondhand Smoke" Secondhand Smoke  (Big Picnic, Feb 8)
- Jamestown Revival, "Goodnight Hollywood" single  (Jamestown, 18)  D
- Matt Hillyer, "Devil That You Know" Texas Cotton (TX Cotton, 18)  D
- Edward David Anderson, "Chasing Butterflies" Chasing Butterflies  (EDA, 18)
- GospelbeacH, "Change of Heart" Another Winter Alive  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)
- M Ward Vic Chesnutt & Howe Gelb, "Way It Goes" Por Vide: Tribute To the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo  (Bloodshot, 04)

As always, it's good to tell a trusted friend about what you've discovered here at Routes & Branches.  Share the site on the social media platform of your choice, and give our ROUTES-casts a spin during your next book club, wedding or long night alone.

Monday, December 31, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 30, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I find it curious when a blogger features separate year-end lists for favorite albums and favorite EPs.  Why not evaluate the music on its own merits?  Should an EP be regarded differently because it features 6 or 7 songs instead of 9 or 10?  On the other hand, if an artist is a handful of songs short of what passes for a full LP, why not just buckle down and write some more?  No matter, it's just the way music is shared these days.  And good stuff ... is good stuff.

This Episode, let's focus on a couple of EPs from the past several weeks.  Each is an eagerly awaited musical missive from an artist who's poised to take the next big step.

Shonna Tucker, Dreams of Mine  (Tucker, Nov 9)  Tucker served as bassist for the Drive-by Truckers for about a decade.  After her departure, she convened Eye Candy, featuring former Trucker John Neff, releasing A Tell All in 2013.  While she contributed a handful of songs to the band's records, I've never gotten the sense that Tucker was especially comfortable in her skin as a frontwoman.  In the ensuing years, she has contributed to projects by the late Chris Porter and John Calvin Abney, as well as touring behind Pegi Young.  The photo which adorns the jacket of her quietly released Dreams of Mine depicts a modestly adorned recording space, replete with a wee dog in its bed.  Tucker reportedly set these five originals to tape in one afternoon, joined in studio by the legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldham, whom she has known since she was friends with his daughter as an Alabama youngster.  While her work with Eye Candy added a dash of full band pop 'n soul to the Truckers' Southern rock thing, Dreams strips it all down to celebrate Tucker's writing and her classic country-soul vocals.  Despite our familiarity with her resume, these songs come as somewhat of a revelation, restrained but confident.  "For You" is a sweet waltz, with layered backing vocals and Oldham's perennially tasteful keys.  There's a touch of a younger Alison Krauss on "Come and Be With Me", and "Supper and Water and Me" would've landed on my year-end favorites if it had arrived earlier.  She even coaxes a rare backing vocal from Spooner on "The One I Do Not Know".  Dreams of Mine is raw and imperfect, but beautifully so.  Time will tell if Tucker follows up with a full-length in the year to come, but this session is more than enough to encourage me to hope for more.

Ward Davis, Asunder  (Davis, Nov 23)  From Nashville by way of Arkansas, Davis has earned his keep writing for Cody Jinks, Trace Adkins and that Willie Nelson fellow - You can find a nice piano take on "I'm Not the Devil", which he cowrote with Jinks.  In 2015, he issued his raw debut full length,15 Years in a 10 Year Town.  As he readies a promised follow-up, we have Asunder, which he introduces thusly:  I wrote some songs while I was going through some shit. Also listened to a lot of Tom Petty.  Need we know more?  As these four tunes reveal, Davis shares more than just a manager with fellow bearded neo-trads Whitey Morgan and Jinks.  On the confessional "Live a Lie", he is a powerfully genuine voice as a country singer and a writer, weighing the consequences of bringing his relationship to an end: Even though I know you're better off gone / Then why am I still losin' my mind.  Davis is a pianist, which adds a twist to a couple of these tunes, especially the sober "Good and Drunk" (which opens with the classic lyric, Drove myself to the lawyer today / Picked up a pen and signed my wife away).  On an EP dedicated to severing ties, the cover of Tom Petty's "Time To Move On" fits snugly.  Ward Davis has promised a 2019 full-length, which could bring him a share of the crowd already focused on more established artists like Morgan and Jinks.

Kent Eugene Goolsby, Every Way But Easy  (KEG, Nov 2)  At R&B HQ, we've been watching and sharing Goolsby's music for years.  You'll want to track down his stuff with the Only Sons, especially their tremendous 2011 release, American Stranger.  Since those days, Goolsby has shared studio and stage with fellow Murfreesboro area resident Joey Kneiser of Glossary.  Relocated to the Nashville area, Goolsby tags this four-song EP as a suitable companion to Stranger.  While his solo work has flirted with a variety of muses, Every Way is an impressively solid contemporary country rock collection.  Shot through with a sharp electric guitar, "Take Another Shot" is a polished gem with just enough grit.  Goolsby is a fine vocalist, an immediately appealing singer whose delivery is grounded in a slight rasp and a power unusual among independent artists.  "The Feeling" employs programmed beatz and a melodic guitar hook big enough to fill a stadium.  "Trophies of Youth" and "Victory Lap" will appeal to fans of Will Hoge's small town heartland roots.  The latter is an especially worthy lyric, encouraging a young woman to leave a town that's become too small:  Of all the love you've won / I wish that you'd come back for mine / But the only thing you're turning 'round is my old ball cap.  Like these other artists, Goolsby is a writer boasting more talent and than his audience might suggest, his generous gift just waiting to be discovered.

- Foxwarren, "Your Small Town" Foxwarren  (Anti, 18)
- Lily & Madeleine, "Just Do It" Canterbury Girls  (New West, Feb 22)
- Shinyribs, "Last Month of the Year" Kringle Tingle  (Mustard Lid, 18)
- Drunken Prayer, "Evangeline (feat. Janet Beveridge Bean)" single  (Drunken Prayer, 14)
- Yola, "Faraway Look" Walk Through Fire  (Easy Eye, Feb 22)
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Suit In the Back" QCNH  (Lightning Rod, Mar 1)
- Jeff Tweedy, "Red Brick" WARM  (dBpm, 18)
- Carson McHone, "Don't You Think I Feel It Too" single  (Next Waltz, 18)
- Shane Smith & the Saints, "Mountain Girl" single  (Geronimo West, 18)
- Yarn, "One Man's Trash" Lucky 13 Vol. 1  (Yarn, 18)
- JS Ondara, "Lebanon" Tales of America  (Verve, Feb 15)
- Liz Brasher, "Blood of the Lamb" Painted Image  (Fat Possum, Jan 18)
- Rob Baird, "Burning Blue" After All  (Hard Luck, Jan 11)
- Shannon McNally, "Tennessee Blues" Geronimo  (Capitol, 05)
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Like Reflections" All For Money  (Big Blue Zoo, Jan 18)
- Scott Hirsch, "Nothing But Time" Lost Time Behind the Moon  (Scissor Tail, 18)
- Deer Tick, "Run of the Mill" Mayonnaise  (Partisan, Feb 1)
- Bob Sumner, "Riverbed" Wasted Love Songs  (Sumner, Jan 25)  D
- Josh Morningstar, "Damn These Birds" The Plea  (Young Mary, 18)  D
- Dillon Carmichael, "Hard On a Hangover" Hell On An Angel  (Riser House, 18)
- Harmed Brothers, "Bottle to Bottle" A Lovely Conversation  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
^ Ward Davis, "Good and Drunk" Asunder  (Davis, 18)  D
- Joshua Ray Walker, "Working Girl" Wish You Were Here  (State Fair, Jan 25)  D
- Joseph Huber, "Hello Milwaukee" Tongues of Fire  (Huber, 12)
- Tom Russell, "October In the Railroad Earth" October In the Railroad Earth  (Frontera, Mar 15)  D
- Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Dust of Saturday" Pull the Brake  (Lower 40, 06)
^ Shonna Tucker, "For You" Dreams of Mine EP  (Tucker, 18)
- Shovels & Rope, "Splintered Fence" Predecessors  (Dualtone, 18)  D
^ Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Take Another Shot" Every Way But Easy EP  (KEG, 18)
- Only Sons, "Cutting Corners" American Stranger  (Only Sons, 11)

Like a diner surveying the remains of a holiday feast in horror, I enter 2019 beyond sated, fully engorged with year-end lists.  And I don't know that I'm really too eager to sup on the leftovers anytime soon.  Here's where my foodie metaphor breaks down ...  Hope rings eternal, new music awaits, and I'm hungry.  Something something kitchen. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 23, 2018  (so this is Christmas)
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

A few weeks ago we shared some thought on Hiss Golden Messenger's essential box set, Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children.  While MC Taylor serves as the voice and face of the project, longtime partner Scott Hirsch is all over the multi-disc collection.  Hirsch's collaboration with Taylor began even before their Court & Spark band, before the duo decamped from California to settle in North Carolina.  As engineer, producer, writer and multi-instrumentalist, he played a key role in defining the parameters that became HGM.  Hirsch released Blue Rider Songs in 2016, a solo record that flirted with Court & Spark's psychedelic roots textures.  Now, in the bleak winter months when new music can be hard to come by, Scott Hirsch has returned to California, and has issued his second solo album, Lost Time Behind the Moon (Scissor Tail).

Lost Time is an intricate gem, an easygoing collection where everything is in its place and nothing is overstated.  While there is a free rein California country spirit to the songs, Hirsch incorporates more of the soul and textures that have driven HGM of late.  "When You Were Old (El Dorado)" makes the case perfectly, with keys and horns, heavenly backing vocals and liquid guitar.  With many of these songs, Hirsch sings of moving on, hearkening back and coming home:  We're on our way to gold.  More than anything on that first solo CD, its appeal is direct and immediate.

Scott Hirsch works alongside a humming band of accompanists, plugging in with coproducer and instrumentalist Mike Coykendall and Wilco percussionist Mikael Jorgensen, imminently tasteful guitarist William Tyler and vocalists Lauren Barth and Jade Hendrix.  "Nothing But Time" counts in with a programmed drum, but lazily unfolds into a JJ Cale-inspired shuffle:  Just how dark are your blues.  The wah-wah electric guitar bubbles to the surface of the steady groove, adding a touch of psychedelia to the mix.  I'm going back to California Hirsch sings on a bass-driven "No No", Where the grass grows so high.  One of the record's more sonically adventurous cuts, it suggests Steely Dan's more laid back moments, the false ending introducing a bit of guitar and organ vamping.

A pair of lovely instrumentals showcase Hirsch's understated ability as a guitarist, with "Pair of Nines" even letting in a bit of the world with windchimes and birdsong wafting between the strings.  This seemingly analog approach to Hirsch's musical soundscapes lends quieter pieces a pastoral spirit.

By and large, Lost Time Behind the Moon pays musical homage to what's sometimes called California cosmic country, haunted by the essence of Grateful Dead and Gram Parsons.  Pedal steel gleams across "Rose's Song":  A storm rolled in on the night we met / Hatful of rain.  Mike Coykendall's harmonica on "Long Lost Time" invokes Neil Young.  And sweet backing vocal flourishes like those from Barth and Hendrix haven't been heard since Delaney & Bonnie.  It's an album that begs to be enjoyed on vinyl, a collection that reminds us that Scott Hirsch's talents, too often in service of larger acts, truly merit this long-delayed showcase.

Another week, another slew of new tunes from what's shaping up to be a musically rich and rewarding 2019.

- JS Ondara, "American Dream" Tales of America  (Verve, 19)
- Yarn, "American Dream Dying" Lucky 13 Vol. 1  (Yarn, 18)
- Rosie Flores, "Love Don't Love Nobody" Simple Case of the Blues  (Flores, 19)
- Meat Puppets, "Warranty" Dusty Notes  (Megaforce, 19)  D
- Flaco Jimenez, "Carmelita (feat. Dwight Yoakam)" Partners  (Reprise, 92)
- Blank Range, "Change Your Look" In Unison  (Sturdy Girl, 19)
- Boo Ray, "Don't Look Back" Tennessee Alabama Fireworks  (Boo, 19)
- Flatland Calvary, "Come Back Down" Homeland Insecurity  (Flatland, 19)  D
- Liz Brasher, "Love Feasts" Painted Image  (Fat Possum, 19)
- Robert Ellis, "Passive Aggressive" Texas Piano Man  (New West, 19)
- Cass McCombs, "Estrella" Tip of the Sphere  (Anti, 19)
- Cale Tyson, "Not Healthy Anymore" narcissist  (Tyson, 19)  D
^ Scott Hirsch, "When You Were Old (El Dorado)" Lost Time Behind the Moon  (Scissor Tail, 18)  D
- William Tyler, "Call Me When I'm Breathing Again (feat. Hand Habits)" Goes West  (Paradise of Bachelors, 19)
- Golden Gunn, "From a Lincoln Continental" Golden Gunn  (Three Lobed, 13)
- Vandoliers, "Troublemaker" Forever  (Bloodshot, 19)  D
- Shonna Tucker, "Supper and Water and Me" Dreams of Mine EP  (Tucker, 18)
- Rob Baird, "Give Me Back My Love" After All  (Hard Luck, 19)  D
- State Champion, "My Over My Under" Send Flowers  (Sophomore Lounge, 18)
- Glorietta, "Stranger's Bed" Mas Glorietta  (Glorietta, 18)  D
- Mercury Rev, "Big Boss Man (feat. Hope Sandoval)" Bobbie Gentry's Delta Sweete Revisited  (Partisan, 19)
- Drunken Prayer, "Selfishness in Man" Cardelia Elsewhere  (Deer Lodge, 19)  D
- Sean McConnell, "Here We Go" Secondhand Smoke  (Big Picnic, 19)
- Shane Smith & the Saints, "Hurricane" single  (Geronimo West, 19)  D
- Lonesome Shack, "Past the Ditch" Desert Dreams  (Alive Naturalsound, 19)  D
- SUSTO, "Homeboy" Ever Since I Lost My Mind  (Rounder, 19)  D
- Avett Brothers, "Trouble Letting Go" single  (Republic, 18)  D
- Charles Wesley Godwin, "Coal Country" Seneca  (Godwin, 19)  D
- M Lockwood Porter, "Stumbling Toward the Dawn" single  (Black Mesa, 18)  D
- Flat Duo Jets, "I'll Have a Merry Christmas Without You" single  (Norton, 94)

S'pose it wouldn't hurt if I squeezed in just one more indulgent list here before the year's end.  With everyone else talking about 2018, here are the releases I'm most looking forward to in the coming weeks of 2019:

Delines, Imperial  (Decor, Jan 11)
Steel Woods, Old News  (Woods, Jan 18)
Blank Range, In Unison  (Sturdy Girl, Feb 1)
Mercury Rev, Bobbie Gentry's the Delta Sweete Revisited  (Partisan, Feb 8)
Charles Wesley Godwin, Seneca  (Godwin, Feb 15)
Ryan Bingham, American Love Song  (Axster Bingham, Feb 15)
Vandoliers, Forever  (Bloodshot, Feb 22)
Over the Rhine, Love & Revelation  (Great Speckled Dog, Mar 15)
Son Volt, Union  (Transmit Sound, Mar 29)
Anna Tivel, The Question  (Fluff & Gravy, Apr 19)

... and that's just the tip of that 'berg.  You can enjoy staring at everything else that's on its way by clicking on A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster to the right there.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 16, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

So much Christmas.  So many jingle.  This year Routes & Branches shoehorns a full thirty holiday-themed songs into your stocking, most new to 2018 and all suitable for playing throughout your Christmas week(s).  It's the only way we've ever been especially good at the Santa thing, especially seeing as our three kids (now each a variation on grown) all gave up on the Man With the Bag before they turned seven.  I believe I held on tight until I was thirty, least as far as my parents were concerned.

This year brings us freshly wrapped, brightly bowed new stuff from folks like Phoebe Bridgers, Left Arm Tan and Wade Bowen.  Shinyribs drops a last-second full-length gift idea, and the legendary garage rocker Mitch Ryder covers both the Sonics and Stevie Wonder for the children's holiday delight.  Because Christmas is all about tradition, we reach into the far dusty corners of the basement to regift reverent carols from El Vez and Lightnin' Hopkins, and good god it's all our kind of music!

We wanted you to open this generous and heartfelt gift a little early this year, just in case you needed to return it.  Also, dropping the thing as originally planned on Christmas Eve wouldn't give you a whole lot of time to let it spin on repeat.  Not sure what we'll plan for our ROUTES-cast on the 24th, but good new stuff keeps getting released as we careen towards the New Year, so perhaps we'll just let loose another Episode bursting with those forthcoming gems.

- Mavericks, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" Hey! Merry Christmas!  (Mono Mundo, 18)
- Left Arm Tan, "Run Run Rudolph" single  (LAT, 18)
- Los Straitjackets, "Christmas in Las Vegas" Complete Christmas Songbook  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Mitch Ryder, "Santa Claus" Christmas (Take a Ride)  (Goldenlane, 18)
- Amy Helm w/Wood Brothers, "Christmas Must Be Tonight" single  (Spotify, 18)
- Valerie June, "Winter Wonderland" An Americana Christmas  (New West, 14)
- Old 97s, "I Believe in Santa Claus" I Love the Holidays  (ATO, 18)
- McCrary Sisters, "Go Tell It On the Mountain" single  (Rounder, 18)
- Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Mardi Gras for Christmas"  single  (Southern Broadcasting, 18)
- Lightnin' Hopkins, "Santa" Essential Recordings  (Purple Pyramid, 00)
- Shinyribs, "Santa Comes to Atlanta" Kringle Tingle  (Mustard Lid, 18)
- Otis Gibbs, "Color Wheel" Once I Dreamed of Christmas  (Wanamaker, 03/18)
- Staves, "Home Alone Too" single  (Warner, 18)
- Minus 5, "Christmas in Antarctica" single  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Joel Paterson, "Jingle Bells" Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar  (Bloodshot, 17)
- El Vez, "Santa Claus is Sometimes Brown" Merry MeX-mas  (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 94)
- Jim James, "Oh My Christmas Tree" single  (Spotify, 18)
- Molly Parden, "In Tennessee Time" Season's Greetings From Nashville  (Musician's Corner, 18)
- JD McPherson, "Every Single Christmas" SOCKS  (New West, 18)
- Whitehorse, "2000 Miles" A Whitehorse Winter Classic  (Six Shooter, 18)
- Lambchop, "The December-ish You" This (is what I wanted to tell you)  (Merge, 19)  D
- Leftover Salmon, "Six Feet of Snow" High Country  (LoS, 14)
- Rodney Crowell, "Christmas For the Blues" Christmas Everywhere  (New West, 18)
- Phoebe Bridgers, "Christmas Song" single  (Dead Oceans, 18)
- Carolyn Mark, "Song For the Girl With Two of Everything" It's a Team Mint Xmas Vol. 2  (Mint, 04)
- Dale Watson, "Santa and My Semi" Christmas Time in Texas  (Red River, 01)
- Wade Bowen, "Cold December"  single  (Bowen, 18)
- Lumineers, "Pretty Paper" single  (Dualtone, 18)
- Mitch Ryder, "Someday at Christmas" Christmas (Take a Ride)  (Goldenlane, 18)
- Aretha Franklin, "Silent Night (Solo Piano Version)" single  (Warner, 18)

Though it's been said many times many ways ... raise a glass of whatever to the great spirit of music discovery.  We direct a holiday card to all the artists who have sent fans our way.  We linger uncomfortably 'neath the mistletoe with the promoters and labels who value what we do here at R&B HQ, sending stuff our way to preview and to share.  We snuggle close together like two birds of a feather with other like-minded bloggers who include Routes & Branches among their links.  But most of all, we stare in wonder at the vast winter night sky with you, the listener and music lover who make a point to visit us on a regular basis, you who have told a trusted friend about your discovery, and all of you who share our passion for music that matters.  For you: This ROUTES-cast.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 9, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


This Episode, we stick an oversize red bow on the year with a look back at music that really really mattered in 2018.  Back when I was a kid, I would spend all my allowance on comic books and records.  Grants Pass, Oregon actually had a pretty good record store in those days called Rare Earth.  Young Scott didn't go there much, however, since it smelled like hippies.  Besides, I found everything I needed at Pay Less Drugstore, where I would flip eagerly through the LPs in search of a record cover that caught my eye.  They also sold 45s, carefully arrayed in weekly chart order.  Of course, things have changed, and while I will visit Denver's excellent Twist & Shout now & then, I find it really hard to justify paying $30 for a record.  I understand the market forces in play, and recognize the benefits of today's streaming and music distribution services.  But what I want for this Christmas is a Pay Less Drugstore with a record section right here in Longmont.  And I guess I've been pretty good mostly, I think.

I'd say that every year is a pretty good year for music.  Artists continue to make music that matters, and there's hardly a Friday that comes around without at least a couple worthy albums for our exploration here at R&B hq.  I increasingly see our humble web abode as a niche thing, a site that enjoys new music the old fashioned way.  We'll share the occasional self-standing single, but albums still matter to us.  An angel gets its wings when we can add a forthcoming release to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  And we continue to be driven by the Spirit of Music Discovery.

My hope is that your regular visits to Routes & Branches feel a little like my trips to Pay Less.  You never know what you'll find, but you can trust it'll be worth your $8.99.  From my side of the aisle, I trust that no matter the vehicle we'll continue to bring you the very best of americana, and roots music as long as it makes sense for us to do so.  So enjoy the following thirty records, carefully displayed for you in chart order.  Until next week when we're sold to Thrifty and the album section is replaced by pyramids of budget cola.

Where possible, I've quoted my own reviews. Where I haven't had the chance to publish a formal review, I've written something shiny new.

30. Jeff Tweedy, WARM  (dBpm, Nov 30)
Jason Isbell, a man who has wholly embraced the sort of Jeff Tweedy eschewed years ago, recently tweeted:  "I think we can now safely say that both Son Volt and Wilco have turned out to be better than Uncle Tupelo".  So would it work to see Jay Farrar and Tweedy side-by-side again?  Did it ever really work in the first place?  Who knows.  Between you and me, who cares?  Our musical lives are far richer for what's come our way over the past twenty-five years.

29. Cody Jinks, Lifers  (Rounder, Jul 27)
After an under-the-radar shot with 2016's I'm Not the Devil, the Denton songwriter takes a step into the spotlight with his highest profile project to date.  While there's a bit more shine to his first Rounder record, Jinks never strays far from the insurgent country that brought him to this point.  Jinks' motivation is simply to make more music that appeals to his dearly devoted fan base.  If that means he inches closer to country mainstream success, that'll work too.

28. Adam Remnant, Sourwood  (Anyway, Aug 17)
The spirit of Sourwood ranges from lush to fragile, from ambitious gestures to the sound of a man recording in his basement.  While Adam Remnant has surrounded himself with a capable cadre of accompanists, these are intensely personal statements.  It's not simply the continuation of his labors with Southeast Engine, but rather a wholesale reassessment of his musical expression

27. Adam Faucett, It Took the Shape of a Bird  (Last Chance, Aug 24)
His songs look deep into the dark of our lives, but also leave room for connection between the cracks … For my part, I neither pursue nor avoid dark content.  I tend to find myself drawn to what might be termed "Southern gothic" writing, contemporary heirs to Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, but more for their grace with language as opposed to their haunted themes.  My perspective is that if a writer is successful in fostering a certain mood, if they're trading in honest emotions I'm along for the ride. On his new CD, Adam Faucett speaks from this tradition, and it's hard to look away.

26. Chuck Westmoreland, Long Winter Rodeo  (Black & Gold, Jun 1)
Here stands the black sheep of this year's flock of fine records.  Don't know why I flipped past online mentions of this gem, but when I finally settled in for a good listen (weeks after its release) I couldn't tear my ears away.  Given a couple more weeks, there's a fair chance Long Winter Rodeo might've even climbed higher into my list.  The Portland writer is an uncommon lyricist, laying the stories of his characters out for all to hear in stark, loving detail.

25. John Calvin Abney, Coyote  (JCA, May 18)
Like recent stuff from Andrew Combs or Caleb Caudle, there's an impressive confidence to Coyote, as evidenced by a willingness to range across vast musical territories which serve as destinations and ruts for other artists.  During a time when John Calvin Abney is receiving some recognition for his work as a collaborator, reviewers would do well to check out the music he's making between the bars.

24. Becky Warren, Undesirable  (Warren, Oct 19)
Undesirable is at its best on songs like "Drake Motel" and "Half-Hearted Angel".  Becky Warren is not a rising star, timidly testing her voice.  She is a fully established artist awaiting the attention of the roots music masses.  She didn't quite spring out of thin air, having served as the frontperson on a couple releases with The Great Unknowns.  But with her first two albums she presents herself as among our most deserving writers.  Like Mary Gauthier, her stories emerge direct from the trouble and clutter of our daily lives.  Like Eliza Gilkyson, she spreads her poetic wings to soar beyond it all.

23. JP Harris, Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing  (Free Dirt, Oct 5)
Harris' third full-length record allows him to stretch as a singer and a writer beyond his arguably cartoonish origins.  It's as though he began the sessions with a checklist of country and western subgenres, ticking them each off as he finished one song and moved on to the next.  Whether it's honky-tonk, 70s country, outlaw or folk, Harris proves himself an able competitor, an imminently credible singer-songwriter.

22. Brent Cobb, Providence Canyon  (Elektra, May 11)
Providence Canyon is what I'm looking for from an established artist.  Brent Cobb has found his writerly voice, and simply trusts his instrument.  The new collection finds him getting better at what he's already good at, not stretching for the sake of novelty or losing traction in an effort to attract new ears.  It's one of the most authentic sounds in our kind of music, an artist who's digging in his heels for a long and rewarding career.

21. the Pollies, Transmissions  (This is American Music, Sep 28)
Just give it a couple listens and it'll sneak up on you. Give The Pollies' Transmissions a few turns, and you'll agree that they've been underestimated.  It's time for us to move The Pollies from the dusty shadows of americana into the light of day. The band's website reminds us that The Pollies have never fit too snugly into the usual "roots rock 'n soul" that we associate with their Muscle Shoals area homebase.  That said, over the space of two full-length records and a quality EP with the late Chris Porter, The Pollies have never sounded quite like this.  The Pollies have never so fully and confidently embraced the magic mix of garage pop and soul as heard on Big Star, or the radical free-range departures into noise a'la Wilco.

20. Parker Millsap, Other Arrangements  (Okrahoma, May 4)
Millsap's first couple releases only hinted at what hits us on Other Arrangements.  Elements that played a part in those early gestures are given full rein here, from blues influences to heavy electric guitar and even pop sheen.  The Oklahoma artist reportedly sought to let loose and have a little fun.  The songs here give listeners permission to do the same.

19. Andrew Bryant, Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, Mar 9)
Cosmos is bold in its soul mining and revelation.  Bryant sidesteps the troubled shadow of his forebear on "I Am Not My Father's Son", ticking off his conscious efforts to avoid the sins of the father.  The refrain "I am not my father's son" can be heard as both a declaration and a mantra, a reminder-to-self that things will be different.  As with Tenkiller, Cosmos features moments of great instrumental drama, though Bryant is more likely to add subtle studio touches and synth textures to achieve his sonic goals.

18. Trampled by Turtles, Life is Good on the Open Road  (Banjodad, May 4)
Rafter-rousing or reflective, the songs of Life is Good on the Open Road are smart, instrumentally impressive and truly nourishing to the soul.  After eight studio records (and an exceptional live document), Trampled by Turtles could easily cruise on the fumes of goodwill.  Concert crowds are packed with dedicated followers - enough to fill Red Rocks here in the wilds of Colorado.  While this new collection gives the people what they want, Simonett and company never take their musical choices for granted.  It sounds like Dave Simonett and cohorts weren't ready to release another record without having a worthy message to deliver.

17. Lori McKenna, The Tree  (CN, Jul 20)
Lori McKenna's new collection is a wise and stirring account of what life's still like well beneath the bustle and noise of what passes for popular dialog.  Like Mary Chapin Carpenter or a more down-to-earth Patty Griffin, her songs are typically cast in acoustic country-leaning folk settings.  With its steady going beat and lyrical flow, there's no reason "Young and Angry Again" couldn't be picked up by any number of famous faces.  Her second consecutive project with producer Dave Cobb features several of these moments, when we recognize that McKenna might be one of the best country writers of her generation.  She's certainly among our most eloquent documenters of small town iconography.

16. John R Miller, Trouble You Follow  (Emperor, Aug 31)
I spend more than my fair share of time stalking new music, so it's pretty rare when something evades my attention like Miller's new CD.  Once I was able to catch up, I haven't been able to let go.  Supported by his band, The Engine Lights, Miller realizes the promise he's shown in acts like Fox Hunt and Prison Book Club, but he does it in such a casually brilliant way that it's almost easy to overlook.  Like this year's Chuck Westmoreland disc, I'm not quite sure if Trouble You Follow won't prove itself as even more worthy with future listenings.

15. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Years  (Bloodshot, Apr 6)
Between you and me, Sarah Shook is one of the best things happening in our kind of music.  Her edge and grit come from such a refreshingly genuine place that even her occasional missteps can be intriguing.  Where Lydia Loveless veered into pop territory after her Bloodshot debut, my sense (and my hope and expectation) is that Shook will simply dig her heels further into the dirt with her subsequent projects.

14. Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, Tearing At the Seams  (Concord, Mar 9)
I was a dedicated fan of Rateliff's earlier solo work, idiosyncratic indie folk that sounds very little like his subsequent work with Night Sweats.  That said, this second studio project feeds all my roots rock 'n soul monsters, single-handedly covering the vast and sprawling range of musics that we embrace here at R&B.  It's retro- and evocative, but it remains true to its muse without simply being a tribute act.

13. Jamie Lin Wilson, Jumping Over Rocks  (JLW, Oct 26)
2015's Holidays & Wedding Rings was a fine debut, though there's no reason we should've expected this.  Wilson's sophomore collection is as strong as Margo Price, and deserves the attention folks are giving to artists like Lori McKenna.  Jumping is neck-deep in great songs, tunes that are immediately engaging and capable of sinking quickly into your musical memory.  Like Kelly Willis, Wilson knows her way around the country vernacular, and she delivers her unassuming work in a voice that goes down so easy.  Her sweet duet with Jack Ingram on Guy Clark's "Instant Coffee Blues" should be enough to get the mainstream to open the door.

12. Ruston Kelly, Dying Star  (Rounder, Sep 7)
I like dark.  I'm a fan of irreverent.  I need my music to be smart.  Ruston Kelly's second CD falls straight into my wheelhouse, even as it's also received some attention from perennially edge-averse mainstream country.  Dying Star is constructed with contemporary sounds (see "Son of a Highway Daughter"), though it never panders to trends.  Perhaps Kelly has benefited from his high-profile marriage to this year's model Kacey Musgraves, but he demonstrates remarkable talent and direction that cement him as a true original.  This is simply a great-sounding collection.

11. Alejandro Escovedo, The Crossing  (Yep Roc, Sep 14)
Escovedo has done this before, building an album around a single narrative arc.  But his work has rarely seemed so timely, so relevant as it does on this record-length story of identity, borders and the transformative power of music.  The legend reported on his previous CD that he was considering hanging up his guitar, but on these new songs he sounds reinvigorated, fronting a young and energetic Italian band called Don Antonio.  At this point, the only reason I'd like to see Escovedo hang up his guitar would be to devote some time to what would surely be a fascinating memoir.

10. Ryan Culwell, Last American  (Culwell, Aug 24)
Most of our parents did their best to bequeath to us their faith in the American dream.  On Last American, Culwell wonders how to do the same with his children.  How do we speak honestly and with love about the world into which they're growing?  The nights that keep us awake with preoccupation tend to outnumber the times when we feel like we're getting it right.  While Ryan Culwell's new songs offer us few comforts, it's at least heartening that he's so able to set our feelings to such rewarding music.

9.  Sons of Bill, Oh God Ma'am  (Gray Fox, Jun 29)
These flights are firmly anchored in the skin and soil of real life.  Like Matthew Ryan's excellent recent work, there is a deep intimacy to songs like "Sweeter Sadder Farther" that prevents these from being simply dreamy departures. "Sweeter" features a moving vocal, supported by little more than a piano and ambient electronics.  It would've sounded out of place alongside earlier material like "Roll on Jordan" or "Broken Bottles" or even "Life in Shambles" from the relatively recent Sirens.  But these are different days, and they evoke a more somber, measured response.  Oh God Ma'am may not win Sons of Bill new fans in the sometimes superficial roots music world, but such an honest and soul-baring effort earns on space on any playlist that features music that matters.

8.  Marie/Lepanto, Tenkiller  (Big Legal Mess, Jan 26)
Tenkiller succeeds in advancing the respective sonic palette of both artists, reigning in Johnson's tendency for sprawl 'n squall (not complaining), while simultaneously pushing the limits of Kinkel-Schuster's quieter acoustic work (still not complaining).   Aside from producer Jeff Powell, the duo are responsible for every bit of Tenkiller's thick, rich sound, from writing and playing to sharing the vocals. The songs respect the unique spirit of both, without sounding fractured or schizophrenic.

7.  Kristina Murray, Southern Ambrosia  (Loud Magnolia, Sep 21)
Much of what sets this new collection apart from Murray's debut is her emerging confidence as a songwriter, especially as heard on some of the album's more measured tracks such as "Strong Blood".  She lets the humidity of the South seep into her delivery on the inventory of life as seen from the kitchen window:  Eatin' a cling peach / Over the kitchen sink / Southern ambrosia.  It's a lovely work that brings to mind the eloquent drawl of Gillian Welch, fully embracing her inheritance.  "Pink Azaleas" completes this picture of home, from Amazing Grace from a hymnal page / Taped to the fridgerator door to Sunday drink of vodka and tomato juice with salt on the rim.  Like a calling card reminding us of her deep roots, Murray also dives into the true-to-trad "Tell Me", sounding not unlike a long lost Patsy Cline cut.

6.  Austin Lucas, Immortal Americans  (Cornelius Chapel, Aug 17)
To my ears, these two forces come together most effectively on "Monroe County Nights", a more driving tune that sounds like a collaboration between Austin Lucas and Will Johnson.  Like a contemporary Edgar Lee Masters of song, Lucas takes a bird's eye view of the Bloomington home to which he has returned, touching upon how time has changed the people and the place, and how we are changed in return:  By and by / We all are shackled / Caged by county lines / Wired, blood-drunk and born into the fight.  By relaxing into what comes naturally, by welcoming a degree of intimacy and uncertainly into his music, Austin Lucas has created the most honest and direct music of his career.

5.  Caleb Caudle, Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, Feb 23)
There is more of a confidence and a cohesiveness to Caleb Caudle's musical vision on Crushed Coins.  Beyond writing good songs, he strives for overarching messages and thematic gestures, elements that can be followed like a ribbon from song to song.  Sometimes this is accomplished by juxtaposing diverse bits.  The newfound hope of "Love That's Blind" vs the abandonment and finality of "Six Feet From the Flowers":  The tools have gone to rust / With no one left to impress / I haven't built a thing / I reach into my pocket / And hold your wedding ring.  Caudle himself has drawn the lines to define the theme as "trying to find hope in a dark place ... relying on the people and the things that you love".

4.  Courtney Marie Andrews, May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, Mar 23)
At a time when decency is hard to find in the public sphere, kindness can be revolutionary, and personal connection can be essential:  When you're trying to be tender / But instead you come off cold / When your sweetness surrenders / To the cruelness of this world.  The songs on May Your Kindness Remain aren't political in the protest sense of the term.  But Andrews does indirectly acknowledge the current state of affairs through these stories.  The title track locates some small salvation in the simple wish that we hold fast to that spark of kindness, of humanity, even as our other trappings may fade:  If your money runs out / And your good looks fade / May your kindness remain ...

3.  Lucero, Among the Ghosts  (Liberty & Lament, Aug 3)
When your longtime favorite below-the-radar act appears on CBS This Morning, it's time to reassess your definitions.  Without the horns and Memphis groove that defined their past couple records, Ghosts is a bit of a throwback to earlier days.  On the other hand, Lucero has never sounded this focused, songs have rarely been this ambitious, and the band sounds more cohesive than ever.  Most impressively, these sessions mark an evolution in Ben Nichols' identity as a writer who ventures outside the usual lines to deliver stories steeped in history and literary detail.

2.  American Aquarium, Things Change  (New West, Jun 1)
But ... Things Change, and it's up to each of us to find a way forward.  BJ Barham and his new comrades aren't reinventing American Aquarium as much as they're charting the next step in the band's evolution.  With the support of a new label and with a family waiting at home, Barham's priorities have become clearer, his mission better defined, embracing his status as a bit of a spokesman for the working class.  With the losing side of twenty-five distant in the rearview mirror, we have no choice but to look forward.

1.  Neko Case, Hell-on  (Anti, Jun 1)
Each year, I do my best of honor our commitment to playing music that matters (insert fancy trademark sign here).  This year, that means recognizing one of the most fearless, uncompromising voices in all of music.  While the music world pats itself awkwardly on the back for a cursory celebration of women in music, I'd say that there's not an artist that has presented such a literary masterpiece, not a performer who has exhibited such strength and such fury in the past twelve months.  Case not only stares down the monster, she grabs it by the jaws and devours it.  In a year when Important Statements are in fashion, she simply does what she has done for years.  Neko Case messes with our mythologies, and defines 2018.  

Finally, in the Great Spirit of Music Discovery, we'll compensate for all that looking back by looking forward into the first several weeks of 2019.  Rather than populate our ROUTES-cast with songs from the albums above, we've featured thirty songs from forthcoming records of great promise.  Consider it your forbidden peek over the horizon and around the corner.

- Hayes Carll, "Jesus & Elvis" What It Is  (Dualtone, Feb 15)
- Mercury Rev, "Sermon (feat. Margo Price)" Bobbie Gentry's Delta Sweete Revisited  (Partisan, Feb 8)
- Liz Brasher, "Blood of the Lamb" Painted Image  (Fat Possum, Jan 18)  D
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Better in the Morning" QCNH  (Lightning Rod, Mar 1)
- Durand Jones & the Indications, "Don't You Know" American Love Call  (Dead Oceans, Mar 1)
- Delines, "Eddie & Polly" The Imperial  (Decor, Jan 11)
- Phil Cook, "The Truth" single  (Psychic Hotline, Dec 4)  D
- Lily & Madeleine, "Self Care" Canterbury Girls  (New West, Feb 22)  D
- Mandolin Orange, "Golden Embers" Tides of a Teardrop  (Yep Roc, Feb 1)
- Cactus Blossoms, "Please Don't Call Me Crazy" Easy Way  (Walkie Talkie, Mar 1)  D
- Yarn, "Undone" Lucky 13 Vol. 1  (Yarn, Dec 4)  D
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Do It Alone" All For Money  (Big Blue Zoo, Jan 18)
- Deer Tick, "Strange Awful Feeling" Mayonnaise  (Partisan, Feb 1)
- Blank Range, "Proximity" In Unison  (Sturdy Girl, Feb 1)  D
- Howe Gelb, "Thousand Kisses Deep (feat. M Ward)" Gathered  (Fire, Mar 8)
- JS Ondara, "Saying Goodbye" Tales of America  (Verve, Feb 1)  D
- Jessica Pratt, "Poly Blue" Quiet Signs  (Mexican Summer, Feb 8)
- Michael Chapman, "It's Too Late" True Blue  (Paradise of Bachelors, Feb 8)
- Pedro the Lion, "Model Homes" Phoenix  (Polyvinyl, Jan 18)
- Ryan Bingham, "Wolves" American Love Song  (Axster Bingham, Jan 15)
- Sean McConnell, "Shaky Bridges (feat. McCrary Sisters)" Secondhand Smoke  (Big Picnic, Feb 8)  D
- Seth Walker, "Giving It All Away" Are You Open  (Royal Potato Family, Feb 15)  D
- Steel Woods, "Southern Accents" Old News  (Woods Music, Jan 18)
- William the Conqueror, "Curse of Friends" Bleeding On the Soundtrack  (Loose, Feb 15)
- Adia Victoria, "Dope Queen Blues" Silences  (Atlantic, Feb 22)  D
- Steve Gunn, "Stonehurst Cowboy" Unseen In Between  (Matador, Jan 18)
- William Tyler, "Fail Safe" Goes West  (Merge, Jan 25)
- Robert Ellis, "Fucking Crazy" Texas Piano Man  (New West, Feb 15)
- Boo Ray, "A Tune You Can Whistle" Tennessee Alabama Fireworks  (Boo Ray, Feb 15)  D
- Yola, "Ride Out in the Country" Walk Through Fire  (Easy Eye Sound, Feb 22)

There's a pretty fair chance that at least a couple of the above will show up on my year-end albums list for 2019.  Thirteen of the CDs I tagged for 2018's half-year favorites list actually made it to the finish line six months later.  For folks who share my insatiable appetite for novelty, you'll want to bookmark the link down the right side of your screen, A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  That's our obsessively, lovingly updated release calendar where you can track what's being released when by whom.  As we inch ever further towards the unknowns of the New Year, here's your ROUTES-cast for the week: