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Monday, November 11, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 10, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I've listened to music all my life.  But I came of age during an odd time, a circumstance that dictated somewhat my perspective on what's come to be known as "classic rock" (then simply known as "rock").  My first Grateful Dead record, f'rinstance, was Go To Heaven, largely forgotten save for their highest ever charting hit, "Touch of Grey".  My first Bowie experience came under the influence of Scary Monsters.  I learned of Neil Young from Hawks & Doves, and Emotional Rescue gave me my first taste of the Stones.  Similarly, when Little Scott decided to get to know Bob Dylan, I purchased a copy of Street-Legal (certainly nobody's choice for his career high point).  Perhaps if I'd been born five years earlier my experience would've been completely different, more typical.  There but for fate ...

I mention this by introduction of 16, a new 2-LP labor of love from Robbie Fulks (my first taste of Fulks came with 1998's highwater mark, Let's Kill Saturday Night).  In the ensuing years, the Chicago-bred artist has worked through an encyclopedic range of roots expressions, from the superb americana of Georgia Hard to the Grammy nominated folk of Upland Stories and last year's lark with The Killer's little sister Linda Gail Lewis, Wild! Wild! Wild!  As a connoisseur of left-of-center cover songs, I'd be amiss if I didn't mention Fulks' 2010 collection of Michael Jackson songs, or his sprawling 2009 project, 50 vc. Doberman.  But for 16, he's turned his restless attention to that curious Dylan period where the bard fell briefly under the influence of the just-passed Elvis and Leonard Cohen, a foray which would result in Street-Legal.

Robbie Fulks actually happens to be a skilled prose writer, as evidenced on his blog where he published a piece prefacing 16.  In a curious turn, the new collection is available only on LP - that's right, it's vinyl.  Fulks writes about being driven by his vision of a project that does justice to the turntable: ... one of my main motivations in doing this current record ... was to have one release I could point to in my life that had no audiophilic compromises ... There would be some analog component pre-mastering. And the finished thing would be available only as an LP, denying many potential listeners their preferred medium but assuring me that my efforts and expenditures wouldn't end at earbuds and laptops.  All of which means that you won't find songs from 16 populating our weekly ROUTES-casts at this time.  It's a consummately indulgent endeavor at some level, leading Fulks to advise fans recently against purchasing the relatively pricey double-LP, investing instead in joining him at an upcoming concert event.  Readers in search of a delightfully jargon- and opinion-filled explanation of the how's 'n why's of the vinyl process would be advised to spend some time with Fulks' blog (sound quality is harder to maintain as the circumference of the disc tightens ...).

For Dylan, Street-Legal arrived in the wake of a pair of critically acclaimed works, Blood on the Tracks and Desire (and it would lead into his "Christian trilogy").  Rather than reconvening his successful collaboration with Rolling Thunder Revue, he assembled a largely new supporting cast which introduced horns and gospel-influenced backing singers.  For his 16 sessions, Robbie Fulks maintains those delightfully dated touches, while crowding the studios with a celebration of Chicago's finest, including members of NRBQ, Flat Five, Superchunk, Waco Brothers and more.  While he's come to be primarily regarded as a folk artist, Fulks sounds great as a bandleader fronting a revue of his own.

A short liner note assures us that 16 is not a tribute to Street-Legal, and Fulks' treatment of Dylan's 9 songs assures that there is no undue reverence or slavish recital.  Far too much ink has already been spilt poring over these works, and few if any artists have been so adoringly covered.  Fulks is seemingly content to simply spend some time experimenting in his musical sandbox.  Just about every faithful reproduction is balanced by a more creative departure from Dylan orthodoxy.

"Changing of the Guards", for instance, slows the original significantly, trading Dylan's call-and-response with his backing singers for atmospheric pedal steel and Jenny Scheinman's restrained violin.  "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" and "Where Are You Tonight" are rendered nearly unrecognizable, both treated through a dark wash of foreboding psychedelics.  Fulks' lovely "No Time To Think" becomes a pastoral folk number, supported by little more than unvarnished fingerpicking and a backing chorus.  His written comments about his own early relationships with records could just as likely apply to these departures:  ... their records were replete with quirks, mistakes, eccentricities, holes you could fill in yourself.

There is an abandon to even the album's quieter cuts, a loose groove that appears most indelibly as Fulks' accompaniment grows and the pace quickens.  "True Love Tends To Forget" is soulful, with prominent horns and a strong bridge.  "Is Your Love In Vain" is truest to Dylan's original, showing Fulks in his most flattering light as a bandleader.  These moments find the singer, with a voice so perfectly suited for roots music, pushing that instrument towards its furthest reaches, emerging at times like Neil Young astride Crazy Horse in his heyday.  Nowhere is this more evident than on "New Pony", here engineered by the great Steve Albini.  Bluesy electric guitar and organ stomp and buck, establishing a genuinely bad and nasty grind that may catch even longtime fans of Fulks by surprise.

Time will tell if 16 earns a wider release, or if Robbie Fulks' wishes to keep it from your earbuds will be honored.  It's not necessarily the most suitable entry point into his oeuvre, but I would hope the project proved enjoyable enough that Fulks might be convinced to reconvene some of the players to pound out an album of his originals (suitable for release, of course, on all formats).  For now, we're pleased to luxuriate into these deep and roomy grooves, grateful for the opportunity to stretch our legs as we walk to the turntable to flip the LP every two or three songs.

- Whippoorwill, "Eventide" Nature of Storms  (Whippoorwill, Nov 15)
- Ruston Kelly, "All Too Well" Dirt Emo Vol 1  (Rounder, 19)
- Kasey Anderson, "Wiseblood (new edit)" To the Places We Lived  (Anderson, Dec 19)  D
- Ron Pope, "Practice What I Preach" Bone Structure  (Brooklyn Basement, Mar 6)  D
- Lucinda Williams, "I Lost It" Car Wheels On a Gravel Road  (Island, 06)
- Cave Singers, "Beat Just To Hang On" 5 Song EP  (Cave, 19)  D
- Simon Joyner, "You're Running Away David" Pocket Moon  (Grapefruit, 19)
- Terry Allen, "Death of the Last Stripper" Just Like Moby Dick  (Paradise of Bachelors, Jan 24)  D
- Nude Party, "Poor Boy Blues" Hot Tub  (Nude Party, 16)
- Futurebirds, "Waiting On a Call" Teamwork  (VL4L Records, Jan 15)
- Half Gringa, "Wearing White" Too Late To Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots  (Bloodshot, 19)
- Austin Lucas, "Ain't We Free (live)" No One Is Immortal  (Last Chance, 19)
- Richard Buckner, "Rafters" Dents & Shells  (Merge, 04)
- Michael Kiwanuka, "You Ain't the Problem" Kiwanuka  (Polydor, 19)
- Districts, "Hey Jo" You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere  (Fat Possum, Mar 13)  D
- Esme Patterson, "Light In Your Window" single  (BMG, 19)  D
- Gabriel Birnbaum, "Mistakes" Not Alone  (Arrowhawk, Nov 22)  D
- Cody Jinks, "Think Like You Think" After the Fire  (Late August, 19)
- Ags Connolly, "Lonely Nights in Austin" Wrong Again  (Finstock, 19)
- Allison Moorer, "Ties That Bind" Blood  (Autoelic, 19)
- Jamestown Revival, "Dead Wrong" single  (Jamestown, 19)  D
- Silver Jews, "Wild Kindness" American Water  (Drag City, 98)
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "World Gone Mad" King Of This Town  (Divine Industries, Jan 24)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Fake Plastic Trees" Sigourney Fever  (Banjodad, Dec 6)  D
- Sarah Lee Langford, "Painted Lady" Two Hearted Rounder  (Cornelius Chapel, 19)
- Dexateens, "Broken Objects" Sunsphere  (Cornelius Chapel, 13)
- Erin Enderlin, "Hell Comin' Down" Faulkner County  (Black Crow, 19)
- Joe Pug, "I Don't Work In a Bank" single  (Pug, 19)  D
- Crooked Fingers, "Sweet Marie" Red Devil Dawn  (Merge, 03)
- Miranda Lambert, "Settling Down" Maverick  (Vanner, 19)

Here's where we encourage you to click over to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster, the blog's puzzlingly accurate record release calendar, updated on a whim.  This week, f'rinstance, we added a couple holiday-scented releases from the McCrary Sisters, Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters and a rare compilation for our Jewish friends, Hanukkah+, all due in your cornucopia on November 22.  The Dualtone label will be a bit late to the party, offering Dualtone Christmas the following week.  Trampled by Turtles have been stretching out into unexpected territory lately, like we like.  We're thrilled that their December 6 EP will be christened Sigourney Fever, boasting covers from Warren Zevon, Iris Dement, Radiohead and more.  Looking into 2020, we'll herald the new year with the release of Just Like Moby Dick from Terry Allen (Paradise of Bachelors, Jan 24), and As We Go Wandering from the perennially reliable Possessed by Paul James (Jan 31).  The close of January also brings us new records from Cave Flowers (feat. a former member of Vanish Valley), but we'll have to wait 'til March 13 for The Districts' I'm Not Going Anywhere  (Fat Possum).  Hark, your weekly ROUTES-cast awaits:

Monday, November 04, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 3, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of fine literature

Round about this time last year, we took a look at Jeff Tweedy's WARM record, alongside his excellent memoir, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back).  Longtime R&Bers will know that literature holds as high a place as music in my life, and I have a warm room in my heart for books about music.  It's the rare music memoir that earns its stripes as a literary work.  Off the top of my head, Patti Smith's done it a few times.  Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell have both exceeded expectations.  Elvis Costello, Levon Helm's This Wheel's On Fire.  Please add to this shortlist Allison Moorer, whose Blood is an eloquent exploration of the legacy of family violence.

Similar to Tweedy, Moorer has simultaneously released a companion record of sorts, a testimony to her skills as a writer of songs.  Music is a recurring, bonding and defining presence throughout her memoir, most specifically the classic country that was shared during family gatherings and that she breathed like the heavy air of her deep South Alabama home.  While she was warmly embraced by the Nashville establishment as a very young artist, Moorer hasn't released a proper country project at least since the early 'oughts. Her records are typically introverted, often "dark" and rarely upbeat.  Gifted with a voice that conveys volumes of emotion, she's built a career of telling her story.

And that story is a notorious one.  As told in the book, Allison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne were raised by an abusive, alcoholic father who would eventually take his own life and that of their mother.  Blood isn't a tell-all or a whodunnit.  Shared in short chapters like a catalog of snapshots, an inventory of memories, it's as much about what happened as it is about a survivor's struggles processing it all.  Digging through her father's briefcase.  Requesting and poring over her parents' autopsy reports.  Moorer writes of her father: Am I to believe he had a tender heart buried underneath the misery he showed the world so much of the time? Of course I am. Of course I do. (p5)

I listened to Blood, the album, a couple times prior to reading the memoir, then several times after setting the book down.  Especially in the wake of Moorer's story, the songs can be haunting and heartbreaking, beautiful and intimate.  Like just about every other one of her releases.  Allison Moorer writes with a sharp unsparing pen, paring out superfluous words and passages until all that shines through is pure and honest.  "Bad Weather" opens the album: Crazy girl in my speakers / Moaning 'bout her man / Trying to sound like Kathleen Edwards / But trying don't mean that she can.  Her voice rings throughout the new collection, an expressive instrument that needs little accompaniment or studio support.  Alongside producer Kenny Greenberg, she's built the album of her career.

As with just about any Allison Moorer record, there are just a couple more rocking tracks.  "Rock and the Hill" is a gospel tinged number, delivering the simple but haunting refrain: Why?  Drums like stomping feet propel "All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway)", a heavier rock 'n soul cut that reminds us how the singer draws as much from country as she does soul.  But most of the songs on Blood speak more directly to what Moorer has termed hillbilly Stockholm syndrome, a strain of PTSD that has assured her family stories are as present today as they've ever been.  In the book, she writes: Our story is made up of memories just like the story of every family. Some are good, some are bad. Some make me break out in a sweat and my head spin even today, even though they have all of those years on them. (p148)

The line between the story and Moorer's songs is seamless, never seeming heavy-handed or unnecessarily literal.  On "Cold Cold Earth" she turns her family's story into an Appalachian death ballad: Everyone was sleeping under an August moon / Except one man that sat awake, slowly going mad.  The gorgeous "Nightlight" serves as a lullaby, seemingly in tribute to the bond she shares with "Sissy".  Moorer gives cowriting credit to her father Franklin on the sad and bluesy ballad, "I'm the One To Blame".  Blood is a concept album, though for those who haven't yet read the book it stands sturdily as a collection of worthy songs.  As the title suggests, the prevalent thread addresses inheritance, what's carried forward from generation to generation.  On the standout "Ties That Bind": Why do I carry what isn't mine / Can I take the good and leave the rest behind.  The author Moorer states it more succinctly: Does our blood make us who we are? (p150)

Regarded as a piece, Allison Moorer's CD and book stand as the year's most impactful, emotionally resonant statement.  I haven't felt a book so deeply since Joan Didion's memoirs about the passing of her husband and daughter (Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights - read 'em and weep).  Blood is a glimpse into a raw wound, a lovestory written to a family that Moorer both adores and resents.  The lifelong fury she directs at her father is tempered only by her aching desire to understand him.  Most striking is the range of real emotion she demonstrates towards her mother and father, the insoluble brew of love and guilt and hatred and pity that she carries to this day.  It's a project that is fraught with feelings that are difficult to bear, especially for listeners or readers for whom the topics land close to home.  But it's what matters about books and music, finding commonality and unexpected understanding, discovering a mirror to hold up to better comprehend who we are.  And then sharing it with one another.  Look what I've found ...
Magic churns around everywhere and it can be harnessed with the right tools ... To see an artist in her full glory renders the world bearable.  (p255)

- Futurebirds, "My Broken Arm" Teamwork  (VL4L, Jan 15)  D
- Matthew Ryan, "And It's Such a Drag (band version)" Future Was Beautiful  (Need to Know, 19)  D
- Austin Lucas, "Let Me In (live)" No One Is Immortal  (Last Chance, 19)  D
- Leif Vollebekk, "Apalachee Plain" New Ways  (Secret City, 19)
- Amanda Shires, "Box Cutters" Down Fell the Doves  (Lightning Rod, 13)
- Railroad Earth, "Great Divide" All For the Song  (RRE, 20)  D
- Michael Kiwanuka, "Rolling" Kiwanuka  (Polydor, 19)  D
- Rev Shawn Amos & the Brotherhood, "Counting Down the Days" single  (Amos, 19)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Has She Got a Friend" Convincer  (Yep Roc, 01)
- Ags Connolly, "I'll Say When" Wrong Again  (Finstock, 19)
- Itasca, "Comfort's Faces" Spring  (Paradise of Bachelors, 19)
- The Deer, "Interstellar Frontier" Do No Harm  (Keeled Scales, 19)
- Vetiver, "Living End" Up On High  (Mama Bird, 19)
- Eleven Hundred Springs, "Thunderbird Will Do Just Fine" Bandwagon  (Palo Duro, 06)
- Marcus King, "Wildflowers & Wine" El Dorado  (Fantasy, Jan 17)
- Hallelujah the Hills, "It Still Floors Me" I'm You  (Discrete Pageantry, Nov 15)
- Twain, "Royal Road" Adventure  (Keeled Scales, 20)
- My Darling Clementine, "Heart Shaped Bruise" Country Darkness Vol 1  (Fretstone, 19)  D
- Evan Felker & Carrie Rodriguez, "Whiskey In Your Water" Next Waltz Vol 2  (Next Waltz, Nov 29)  D
- Simon Joyner, "You Never Know" Pocket Moon  (Grapefruit, 19)
^ Allison Moorer, "Bad Weather" Blood  (Autoetic, 19)
- Neal Casal, "There's a Reward" Return in Kind  (Fargo, 05)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Learn You" single  (Big Legal Mess, 19)
- Maria McKee, "Effigy of Salt" La Vita Nuova  (Fire, Mar 13)  D
- Fruition, "Wild as the Night" Wild as the Night  (Fruition, Nov 8)  D
- Massy Ferguson, "Lagrande" Damaged Goods  (Spark & Shine, 11)
- Delines, "Wait For Me" single  (Jealous Butcher, 19)
- Joe Henry, "In Time For Tomorrow" Gospel of Water  (Edel, Nov 15)
- J Tillman, "There Is No Good In Me" Year in the Kingdom  (Western Vinyl, 09)
- Drunken Prayer, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" single  (Drunken Prayer, 19)  D

This week we inaugurated new stuff into A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster from Merge Records, who has debuted a new holidayish collection featuring Fruit Bats, Hiss Golden Messenger, William Tyler and more.  We'll be ringing in the New Year to the tune of Jason Molina, as Secretly Canadian will be releasing Live at La Chapelle on January 1st.  Athens, Georgia's eclectic Futurebirds are setting January 15 for the introduction of Teamwork, just a scant few days before Pinegrove share Marigold.  British folk maverick Sam Lee will collaborate with Cooking Vinyl Records for a January 31 release of Old Wow, and that same day we'll welcome Dustbowl Revival's Is It You Is It Me.  Best Thing Ever this week is Maria McKee's declaration that she'll be returning with her first new recording in 13 years - La Vita Nuova is slated for March 13.  That's it, 'cept for your ROUTES-cast:

Monday, October 28, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 27, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Another month has come 'n gone, leaving some quality music in its wake.  Here's an accounting of our favorites (it's in order of appearance):

Wilco, Ode to Joy  (dBpm, Oct 4)
Alexa Rose, Medicine for Living  (Big Legal Mess, Oct 4)
Dead South, Sugar & Joy  (Six Shooter, Oct 11)
Chris Knight, Almost Daylight  (Drifters Church, Oct 11)
Big Thief, Two Hands  (4AD, Oct 11)
Cody Jinks, After the Fire / The Wanting  (Late August, Oct 11, 18)

Also released this week is Pocket Moon, the twenty-somethingth album by Simon Joyner.  The Omaha, Nebraska songwriter has been a sporadic presence on our playlists, especially for his masterful country-tinged Grass Branch & Bone and his relatively political-minded follow-up, 2017's Stepping Into the Earthquake.  Since his earliest records, he's been critically lauded for music that can be intimate, close to the bone, challenging and revelatory.  Through it all, Joyner has remained focused on his vision, a homespun strain of folk-rock woven around his bruised vocals and impressionistic poetry.

Joyner has collaborated with trusted producer and instrumentalist Michael Krassner for nearly every one of his albums, and has demonstrated a similar commitment to the players that surround him.  In a candid Aquarium Drunkard interview with Wooden Wand's James Jackson Toth, Joyner conceded, the less comfortable people are, the more I enjoy what they do in my band.  In order to foster that spirit, collaborators are rarely familiar with the songs they're recording.  For the Pocket Moon sessions, he left Omaha for Krassner's Phoenix studios, and even tasked the producer to assemble a small diverse cohort of unfamiliar musicians to back him.

Any overtly political statements are left behind on the new LP, gathering instead a pocketful of intimate portraits in a chamber folk setting.  Joyner has always been more of a painter than a storyteller, a lyrical impressionist still capable of eliciting real emotion from the way he stacks words. He calls for prayers for his Omaha home as strings swell on the lovely acoustic "Blue Lullaby": Where the corn bows before a sad river / And the cicadas sound like radiators.  The piano-based "Blue Eyed Boy" provides another of Pocket Moon's recurring pastoral scenes, pictures of home that are as often slightly unsettling as they are romantic: Kudzu covers your Grandpa's Ford / Moths nest in Grandmere's shawl / Papa greases the wheelbarrow wheel / 'Everything must work' he smiles.  Stick around for the song's outro, an evocative acoustic guitar and piano, with ghosts of pedal steel. 

 A lifelong practitioner of analog recording, Joyner's work isn't anchored in any specific tradition or period.  Songs will recall artists like Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin, but may also earn comparisons to more contemporary figures like Bill Callahan or Will Oldham at his most grounded.  Even the record's fullest moments, "Sean Foley's Blues" for instance, are hushed and melancholy.  With brushed drums, piano and strings alongside a rare organ, a friend is bid adieu: I know how precious time itself is / When you're passing, spending or killing it

Pocket Moon's arrangements are lovely, serving as a perfect counterbalance to Joyner's cracked and weathered voice.  "Yellow Jacket Blues" and "You Never Know" are the CD's most direct tracks, both featuring vestiges of country.  "Tongue of a Child" evokes Leonard Cohen's deceptively flat, deadpan delivery, coupled with a slightly Latin rhythm and a satisfying extended piano/fiddle passage.  The songwriter has admitted, I like things most when they're on the verge of falling apart.  These songs are hardly ramshackle, but there is an abiding feeling of hesitance or humility throughout these sessions, a spirit that serves them well. 

Simon Joyner's songs are imminently quotable.  Many of his lyrics were gathered in a 2015 book, under the title Only Love Can Bring You Peace.  For all the detail and the namedropping on his new record, he's never quick to give away a song's punchline.  Listeners are left with sometimes vague impressions, however poetic they may be.  There's a sinister Nick Cave spirit to the album's title track, the recurring squeal of metal on metal joining the ominous strings: 'Stick that butter knife in here' the wall socket whispers

As is my habit, I revisited much of Simon Joyner's back catalog in preparation for this Episode, from his earliest, more mercurial work to his his most celebrated project, 2012's double-LP Ghosts.  While each gesture has arrived with its own musical ideas, there's an impressively consistent thread that can be followed from album to album.  There are no outstanding mercurial moments that find Joyner indulging a whim to create something entirely other.  He might be addressing this creative process on "Time Slows Down in Dreams": The dusty bars of the spider's web / Catch wounded notes as they leave my head / And that is how the black widow is fed / On broken melodies

- Yola, "Fly Away" Orphan Offering  (Yola, 16)
- Wood Brothers, "Alabaster" Kingdom in My Mind  (HoneyJar, Jan 24)  D
- Tim Barry, "East Texas Red" Roads To Richmond  (Chunksaah, 19)
- Kelsey Waldon, "Black Patch" White Noise/White Lines  (Oh Boy, 19)
- John McCauley, "Rough Around the Edges" single  (McCauley, 19)  D
- Whitney, "Southern Nights" Light Upon the Lake: Demo Recordings  (Secretly Canadian, 17)
- Mikal Cronin, "Lost a Year" Seeker  (Merge, 19)
^ Simon Joyner, "Tongue of a Child" Pocket Moon  (Grapefruit, 19)
- Hallelujah the Hills, "Running Hot With Fate" I'm You  (Discrete Pageantry, Nov 15)
- Ags Connolly, "Meaning Of the Word" Wrong Again  (Finstock, Nov 1)
- Allison Moorer, "Ties That Bind" Blood  (Autoetic, 19)
- Jerry Leger, "Justine" Time Out For Tomorrow  (Latent, Nov 8)  D
- KORT, "Let's Think About Where We're Going" Invariable Heartache  (City Slang, 10)
- Erin Enderlin, "Sweet Emmylou" Faulkner County  (Black Crow, Nov 1)
- Cody Jinks, "It Don't Rain in California" The Wanting  (Late August, 19)
- Sarah Lee Langford, "Growing Up" Two Hearted Rounder  (Cornelius Chapel, Nov 8)
- Charlie Parr, "Running Jumping Standing Still" Charlie Parr  (Red House, 19)
- Dead South, "Black Lung" Sugar & Joy  (Six Shooter, 19)
- Jeb Loy Nichols, "Black Rooster" June is Short July is Long  (Compass, 19)
- Chris Knight, "Crooked Mile" Almost Daylight  (Drifters Church, 19)
- Trigger Hippy, "Full Circle and Then Some" Full Circle and Then Some  (Turkey Grass, 19)
- Chatham County Line, "Route 23" Route 23  (Yep Roc, 05)
- Aubrie Sellers, "Worried Mind" Far From Home  (Soundly, Feb 7)
- The Deer, "Swoon" Do No Harm  (Keeled Scales, Nov 1)
- Itasca, "Only a Traveler" Spring  (Paradise of Bachelors, Nov 1)
- Left Arm Tan, "69 Reasons" Alticana  (LAT, 13)
- David Dondero, "Presidential Palace of Pornography" Filter Bubble Blues  (Mama Bird, Jan 17)  D
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Cold 100" King of This Town  (BARK, Jan 24)  D
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "There is a Vine" single  (Big Legal Mess, 19)  D
- Mark Eitzel, "Gentle On My Mind" Music For Courage & Confidence  (New West, 02)

Don't neglect to add the following Very Special R&B Episodes to your daily planner:

* Favorite Songs of 2019:  November 24
* Favorite Records of 2019:  December 8
* Christmas Episode:  December 22
* Favorite Albums of the Decade:  January 5

Since we last convened, new stuff was added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster from Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, who this week shared an EP of covers, outtakes and b-sides from his solo records.  We added Wade Bowen atop our list of holiday music for 2019.  His Twelve Twenty-Five will land on November 8, way before we really need it for our seasonal purposes.  That same day, Fruition will release Wild As the Night.  Looking into the New Year, we slotted a trio of unrelated records for January 24 release.  Wood Brothers will present Kingdom In My Mind, while we'll get King of This Town from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.  Also, great to see something new from David Dondero, whose Filter Bubble Blues will happen that same day.  Finally, set March 6 as the birthday of Ron Pope's next effort, to be named Bone StructureA ROUTES-cast for you:

Monday, October 21, 2019

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

These days, albums aren’t so much a thing.  It’s not necessarily how folks encounter new music.  Here at R&B HQ we’re equal opportunity listeners.  We accept your self-standing singles, and we’re just thrilled with the advent of a new full-length record.  Frankly, it’s been that way since we were a little blogger, walk-running into the Grants Pass PayLess with allowance in our pocket and a lump in our throat.  Some days we’d trade that allowance for 45s, while other days we’d spring for the whole enchilada (we also spent our not-so-hard-earned dollars on comics and on an unreasonable amount of baseball/football cards (but rarely on enchiladas)). 

Erin Enderlin’s trying something new.  She’ll issue the new LP, Faulkner County on November 1 (via Black Crow/Blaster Records).  It’s the official follow-up to her superb 2017 volley, Whiskeytown Crier.  Back in April, she released the first “Chapter” of the record in the form of a three-song EP.  Every two months following, Enderlin has shared another Chapter, three new songs from the CD that will finally be published as a full-length in November.  Each EP reportedly focuses on the story of a single character.  Like its predecessor, regarded as a whole it serves as a chorus of fictional voices from small town America. 

Where Whiskeytown served as a gazette for an invented town, Faulkner County borrows its name from the Arkansas region where Enderlin came of age.  More specifically, the songwriter hails from Conway, namesake of Mr Twitty (and home of something called Toad Suck Daze).  In a sense, this session brings her full circle, from those impressionable years to her days as a Nashville writer and usher at the Opry, then back home to her humble beginnings. 

Prior to her solo stuff, Erin Enderlin served as a successful Nashville writer, landing songs with Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack and others (plus, she shared a house with future Savior of Country Music Chris Stapleton).  Jamey Johnson took her under his greasy wing to produce Whiskeytown (with Jim 'Moose' Brown), also welcoming Ricky Skaggs, Jessi Alexander and Stapleton into the studio. Both Johnson and 'Moose' return for these new sessions, along with friends like Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Cody Jinks.  While there are cowriters galore, this convergence of influences emerges as an impressively singular songwriterly vision.  

Digging through previous interviews and profile pieces, it's obvious that Enderlin is a lifelong student of country music, a died-in-the-wool fan who is fortunate enough to be able to find her way in the footsteps of artists she loves.  Last year she released a standalone single called "World Without Willie", and she's recorded one of my favorite takes on the oft-covered classic "Hickory Wind".  She is a songwriter in the classic sense, capable of wielding words in a timeless fashion, even as she is dedicated to paring it all back to its pure essence.  And the pure essence of country music is the story.  

 As a fan, some of her strongest songs pay tribute to the folks who set the stage.  For Faulkner County she's celebrating Emmylou Harris with "Sweet Emmylou".  Joined by Gill and Krauss and some wonderfully weepy pedal steel, she paints the picture of a woman who mines solace from the deep grooves of Emmylou's records: Sweet Emmylou / I blew the dust off you / You're the only one who / Knows what I'm going through.  Like last week's focus, Ags Connolly, tears lubricate just about every corner of Enderlin's songs.  She's a master at setting a simple stage, suggesting a place or a moment, sketching the scene of an emotional crisis.  The bluesy "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" adds the backing vocal of Dillon Carmichael to the mix: Another cheap hotel room with the curtains drawn / You like the conversation so you leave the TV on / Read the Bible on the nightstand looking for a little light.  

Accompaniment in the service of Enderlin's songs is basic, but consistently hitting the sweet spot.  Her run through Dolly Parton's "Old Flames" communicates with little more than keys and percussion, joined by pedal steel and guitar only as the chorus kicks in.  While we're never more than an emotion away from a sweet pedal steel line, strings are applied more sparingly.  "I Can Be Your Whiskey" delivers a shining fiddle outro: I can be your whiskey / I can be your cigarette / I can drown the memory / That you're trying to forget.  Enderlin and friends practice maturity and restraint even on the collection's heaviest track, the trucking anthem "Man With 18 Wheels", boasting the great line, His home away from home is the house that Peterbilt.  

With all the talk about Erin Enderlin's prowess as a writer, reviews can overlook the importance of her skill as a singer.  Her finesse shines through brightest in service of heart wringing ballads like "Broken" or Gene Watson's "Use Me Again".   Like Lori McKenna, her delivery is accessible and never showy, even understated in the tradition of Alison Krauss.  Listeners might also catch glimpses of Reba McEntire's attitude or Kacy Musgraves' more contemporary prettiness.  

Ultimately, Faulkner County tells stories, leaving listeners with the picture of a town haunted by lost souls and dark secrets, folks drifting away from last call with nobody to go home to.  After all, that's country.  Even so, some of Enderlin's most impressive pieces boldly challenge the long established country music traditions.  "Hometown Jersey" is a Springsteen-esque song about a hometown hero, lifted high on the shoulders of the townspeople one last time.  And "Queen of Marina del Ray" is a slyly transgressive cowrite with Felix McTeague and the great Shane McAnally.  The identity of the narrator of the blues-rock number only gradually becomes evident:  Blessed with a sick kind of strangeness / I wore like a cheap crown of thorns.  Moments like these speak to Erin Enderlin's ability not just to honor and embrace the beloved country music of her youth, but to play an important part in moving the genre forward into new lanes, telling new stories.  

- David Bazan, "American Flags" single  (Barsuk, 09)
- Christopher Paul Stelling, "Trouble Don't Follow Me" Best of Luck  (Anti, Feb 7)  D
- John Moreland, "East October" LP5  (Old Omens, Feb 7)  D
- Delines, "Eight Floors Up" single  (Jealous Butcher, Nov 1)  D
- Vetiver, "Wanted Never Asked" Up On High  (Mama Bird, Nov 1)
- Hallelujah the Hills, "Folk Music is Insane" I'm You  (Discrete Pageantry, Nov 15)  D
- Thousand Horses, "Livin' My Best Life" single  (Elektra, 19)  D
- Bonny Light Horseman, "Deep In Love" Bonny Light Horseman  (37d03d Records, Jan 24)
- Dex Romweber Duo, "Wish You Would" Is That You In the Blue  (Bloodshot, 11)
- X, "Delta 88 Nightmare" single  (Fat Possum, Nov 29)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "Remember to Breathe" Sound & Fury  (Elektra, 19)
- Matthew Ryan, "Avalanche of Stars" Fallen Ashes & Embers  (Hearts & Smarts, 19)
- Fruition, "I Should Be (On Top of the World)" Watching It All Fall Apart  (LoHi, 18)
- GA-20, "Greene Boy" Lonely Soul  (Karma Chief, 19)
- GospelbeacH, "I'm So High" Let It Burn  (Alive Naturalsound, 19)
^ Erin Enderlin, "Queen of Marina del Ray" Faulkner County  (Black Crow, Nov 1)
- Steve Gunn, "Chance (acoustic)" Acoustic Unseen  (Matador, 19)  D
- Delta Spirit, "People Turn Around" Ode to Sunshine  (Rounder, 08)
- Highwomen, "Wheels of Laredo" Highwomen  (Elektra, 19)
- Brent Cowles, "High to Low" single  (Cowles, 19)  D
- Little Teeth, "Drunk Apostles" Redefining Home  (Gunner, 19)
- Holly Golightly, "Seven Wonders" Slowtown Now  (Damaged Goods, 15)
- Cody Jinks, "Never Alone Always Lonely" The Wanting  (Late August, 19)
- Tim Barry, "Box Wine" Roads to Richmond  (Chunksaah, 19)
- Sarah Lee Langford, "Two Hearted Rounder" Two Hearted Rounder  (Cornelius Chapel, Nov 8)  D
- Wilco, "Hold Me Anyway" Ode to Joy  (dBpm, 19)
- Big Thief, "Shoulders" Two Hands  (4AD, 19)
- Frazey Ford, "Kids Are Having None Of It" single  (Arts & Crafts, 19)  D
- Leif Vollebekk, "Blood Brother" New Ways  (Secret City, Nov 1)
- Sallie Ford, "Poison Milk" Dirty Radio  (Partisan, 11)

The first couple months of 2020 are just beginning to take shape, giving us some stuff to anticipate during the deep midwinter.  Foremost of these is John Moreland's aptly named LP5 (because it's his 5th record, see?), promised on February 7.  That very same day we'll be honoring the release of Best of Luck (Anti) from Christopher Paul StellingRobbie Fulks is plenty good at writing his own music, but he also has a way with covers, as his 50-vc. doberman sessions proved a decade ago (Fulks' take on "Irreplaceable" would certainly appear on my list of favorite roots covers).  Save a couple spaces on your record shelves for the November 1 introduction of a double LP collection celebrating Bob Dylan's underappreciated Street Legal record.  The ever-reliable Bloodshot label will gift us with a pair of compilations next month, including Wayne Hancock's Man of the Road: The Early Bloodshot Years (Nov 15) and Scott H Biram's Sold Out to the Devil: A Collection of Gospel Cuts (Nov 22).  As we learned a couple weeks ago, Bonny Light Horseman is the folk music supergroup featuring Anais Mitchell, Eric D Johnson of Fruit Bats and producer Josh Kaufman, who has worked alongside the National and Hiss Golden Messenger.  You can expect the trio's self-titled debut January 24.  Discover more juicy release date gossip by visiting A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  A ROUTES-cast for now:

Monday, October 14, 2019

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

These days my attention is so much more devoted to stuff that stretches the boundaries of what folks think about americana, and roots music.  I've fallen hard for projects by Brittany Howard and Wilco, given my heart to Angel Olsen and to that Sturgill Simpson frankenstein.  This week, Adrienne Lenker and Big thief crushed me with their second superlative LP of 2019, Two Hands.  I watch my patience wane for some of the americana artists who once drove our thing.  Playlists continue to make good sense for me, though they still look like few others of their ilk.  Like I like.

So thanks to Ags Connolly for dragging my focus at least momentarily back to the country side of our equation with his sweetly trad third full-length, Wrong Again (Finstock, Nov 1).  I picked up on his previous record, Nothin' Unexpected, prior to its US debut in 2017:  It strikes me that too many retro country types look and sound like they're trying really hard to turn back the clock.  It can come across like a costume show, a dress-up party with a soundtrack that is a hollow estimation of the real thing.  Good thing we have folks like Ags Connolly on our side.  That's what I wrote back then.

And I'm sticking to my words.  As you might recall, our country music hero hails not from Nashville or Kentucky or Austin, but from Oxfordshire in England.  Not that this ever becomes evident on Wrong Again, a collection that sounds more like country music than anything you'll find on the country airwaves (or americana, for that matter).  Connolly's self-produced songs land so effortlessly on the ears that it might take a couple tunes to realize how considerable this feat is.

Ags Connolly isn't trying to move country music forward, he's not an innovative sort.  Matter of fact, his origin story says it wasn't until he heard some of the classics that he knew where his own songs might fit in.  Years of honing his craft in workshops and in bars, listening deeply to folks like David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck boosted his skills and his confidence.  While Connolly's voice stirs up ghosts from George Jones to Randy Travis, his new sessions speak to an emerging originality that lifts Wrong Again beyond the realm of tributes and imitators.

We'll begin at the end.  The CD's only upbeat cut, "Sad Songs Forever" speaks to Connolly's inspiration in the same way as his earlier track, "When Country Was Proud".  Eamon McLoughlin's fiddle shines alongside pedal steel:  Maybe all you have to be is lonesome / Maybe all you have to feel is pain, he sings on the song that wouldn't sound out of place breaking through the static of a 1970s AM station.  It hints at the secret to the perennial success of country weepers like those that populate Connolly's LPs, the fact that sometimes it feels okay to entertain our melancholy monsters.

Much of Wrong Again trades in sounds from the border, owing largely to the evocative accordion of the Mavericks' Michael Guerra.  "I'll Say When" is an impeccable example, strings and keys tripping across the floor in support of Connolly's immediately appealing vocal delivery:  I'll go through this again / And I guess I'll survive it then / How long it lasts will depend / So just pour and I'll say when.

Songs are reliably set on the empty road or firmly wedged into a corner booth in the bar.  Connolly's thoughts turn to lost loves and past transgressions on cuts like the gorgeous "Lonely Nights in Austin": I had my share of 3ams in Magnolia Cafe / And I got lost down on Red River before I knew any other way ... I had my lonely nights in Austin / Before I ever met you.  See also "Then and Now", an acoustic showcase for the singer's priceless voice, reaching from the floorboards to the rafters and capable of wringing tears from the driest eyes.

The title track shuffles along amiably, In trusting your heart / And believing once more / This time you'll win / And you won't hurt anymore / You're wrong again.  One wonders if Connolly challenges himself to reach for new levels of misfortune with each cut, and the downcast spirit might prove overwhelming if it weren't delivered in such a consummate fashion, from tight but restrained instrumentation to lyrics that never stray into exaggeration.  The smooth "Say It Out Loud" rings true like a classic Guy Clark story, and "What Were You Gonna Do About It" risks a lingering look into the stranger in the mirror behind the bar:  There's a tremble in your hand / There's a picture in your mind / How much can it withstand / How many years will slide by.

So thanks and thanks again to Ags Connolly, for broadcasting these masterfully witsful vignettes from across the proverbial pond directly into our hearts.  Wrong Again can readily compete with records with three times the production cost, its humble odes to heartbreak cutting deeper than any other act reaching for the country golden ring.  Ags may be building his reputation from several time zones to the East, but they hit more truly than stuff written much closer to home.  He's not just one of the finest country songsmiths from England, he's fast becoming one of our best, period.

- Charlie Parr, "Twenty-Five Forty-One" Charlie Parr  (Red House, 19)
- Julien Baker, "Tokyo" single  (Sub Pop, 19)  D
- Dead South, "Broken Cowboy" Sugar & Joy  (Six Shooter, 19)
- Whippoorwill, "California" Nature of Storms  (Whippoorwill, Oct 15)
- Mount Moriah, "Social Wedding Ring" Mount Moriah  (Holidays for Quince, 11)
- Bonnie Prince Billy, "In Good Faith" I Have Made a Place  (Drag City, Nov 15)  D
- Marcus King, "The Well" El Dorado  (Fantasy, Jan 17)  D
- Jeb Loy Nichols, "Last Train Home" June is Short July is Long  (Compass, 19)
- Eric Bachmann, "Misinformation Age' single  (Merge, 19)  D
- Chris Knight, "Send It On Down (feat. LeeAnn Womack)" Almost Daylight  (Drifters Church, 19)
- Marah, "Formula Cola Dollar Draft" Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight  (Marah, 04)
- John Calvin Abney, "When the Dark Winds Blow" Safe Passage  (Black Mesa, 19)
- Trigger Hippy, "Paving the Road" Full Circle and Then Some  (Turkey Grass, 19)
- Michael Chapman, "White House" Americana I & II  (Mooncrest, 19)
- Cody Jinks, "Someone To You" After the Fire  (Late August, 19)
- Big Thief, "Two Hands" Two Hands  (4AD, 19)
- Tim Barry, "Bent Creek" Roads to Richmond  (Chunksaah, 19)  D
- Steve Earle, "South Nashville Blues" I Feel Alright  (Warner, 96)
- GA-20, "One Night Man" Lonely Soul  (Karma Chief, Oct 18)
- Kelsey Waldon, "Very Old Barton" White Noise/White Lines  (Oh Boy, 19)
- Likely Culprits, "Won't Do That No More" Likely Culprits  (Big Gassed, 19)
- Lucero, "Always Been You (acoustic)" Before the Ghosts: Acoustic Demos  (Liberty & Lament, 19)
- Twain, "Inner Beauty" Adventure  (Keeled Scales, 19)  D
- Alexa Rose, "Leaving Kind" Medicine For Living  (Big Legal Mess, 19)
- Whiskey Myers, "California to Caroline" Whiskey Myers  (Wiggy Thump, 19)
- Son Volt, "Mystifies Me" Trace  (Rhino, 95)
- Rachel Harrington, "Susanna" Hush the Wild Horses  (Harrington, 19)
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "Best Side of Luck" Fried Chicken & Evil Women  (la Honda, 19)
- Jamestown Revival, "Operator" single  (Jamestown, 19)  D
- Souled American, "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" Nothing Left to Lose: Tribute to Kris Kristofferson  (Incidental, 02)

So nothing monumental added to our Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster this week.  It's just that time when our beloved industry applies the brakes a bit to allow for holiday traffic.  Norah Jones' country-leaning side act, Puss n Boots will be sharing a holiday-themed EP on October 25.  Featuring a couple originals and some trads, Dear Santa marks the trio's first material in more than five years.  The reliably excellent Cornelius Chapel Records will release a full-length from Birmingham, Alabama's Sarah Lee Langford on November 8.  Two-Hearted Rounder boasts backing from members of Dexateens and Vulture Whale.  And celebrated blues-rock bandleader Marcus King has announced his debut solo record.  Produced by Dan Auerbach, El Dorado will land on store shelves on January 17.  How 'bout a weekly ROUTES-cast?

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

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

Halloween is coming.  I've never been a fan.  I only remember going trick-or-treating twice as a child, and we lived far enough outside of town that nobody ever walked up to our house to avail themselves of the bowl of dimes my parents prepared.  In my radio days, fellow programmers would present playlists of vaguely spooky songs.  And I wouldn't.  I like to think dark music is something to enjoy year-round, recognizing the shadow side of any life no matter what the calendar tells us.

Dead South could certainly fit on a Halloween playlists, were I to build such a monster.  And, like many dark-dwelling roots acts, the quartet never take themselves too seriously.  Out of the Saskatchewan capital of Regina, they were largely inspired to take up their stringband instruments by Trampled by Turtles.  This Summer, they played alongside their heroes at Red Rocks here in the Square State.  But it all began with the 2013 release of an EP, The Ocean Went Mad and We Were To Blame, which set the flame burning for their frenzied, unholy roots hybrid.  Try "Banjo Odyssey" for example, the crowd-pleasing epic which boasts the line: I guess she's my cousin / But she needs some sweet lovin' anyway.

Certainly, it wouldn't hurt our kind of music to take itself less seriously.  But Dead South aren't clowns.  They are instrumental acrobats, setting fire to the stage in their trademark black-and-white "Amish rebel" attire.  Frontguy Nate Hilts has cited cinematic influences on the band's sound, inspiration ranging from "Spaghetti Western" composer Sergio Leone to horror maestro Wes Craven and generational bad boy auteur Quentin Tarentino.  Dead South sharpened their vision with their debut full-length, 2016's Good Company, stirring up a dedicated fan base at home and overseas in Europe with their feverish touring behind an energetic live act that earned them fans well outside of the roots stable.

As Dead South prepared 2016's Illusion & Doubt, they released a stopgap video for an earlier song, "In Hell I'll Be In Good Company".  Featuring the quartet hamming it up in a countless array of locales, the piece went viral in a way no bluegrass-breathing band had previously, introducing the quartet to new stages and marketing opportunities.  They had also accidentally positioned themselves to be taken under wing by a larger label, poised for Big Things.

Which brings us to their third full-length LP, Sugar & Joy (Six Shooter, Oct 11).  The recording sessions marked Dead South's first time working in a studio outside of Canada, collaborating with Memphis FAME-trained producer Jimmy Nutt at his Sheffield, Alabama studio.  Played at a racing pace with copious banjo from Colton Crawford and a Danny Kenyon's bonus cello solo, "Blue Trash" sets the stage.  On the self-referential song,  Dead South seek to define themselves against a popular conception of bluegrass music:  I'm feeling salty but I'm drinking Sprite / That tangy banjo's sounding / So dang bright.  While the act's music is sturdily rooted in the familiar tropes of folk and bluegrass, they feel no compulsion to color within those lines.  To that point, "Crawdaddy Served Cold" addresses the glamours of a touring band:  Life ain't easy being on the road / It's a van full of filthy trash / And a bag of stinky clothes.  While harmonies aren't especially tight, the voices of singers Nate Hilts and Scott Pringle sound perfect side-by-side, and largely define the quartet's sound.

With his cottonmouth delivery, Hilts is a top-notch vocalist, especially on slightly unhinged bits like "Alabama People":  Hungry people in Alabama / Broken people in Alabama / Lonely people in Alabama.  One of Sugar & Joy's spotlight cuts, "Diamond Ring" celebrates the band at its best.  A story of appetite and greed, the lengths folks might go to scratch that itch, it includes old Western tongue-in-cheek backing vocals and some stellar musicianship:  Old William has a stash of gold / So I went to his place with my pistol and my grace.

Of course, Dead South aren't the first band to project a punk spirit onto roots music.  Heck, we've spent over a decade tracking down gems like Devil Makes Three and Larry & His Flask, Legendary Shack Shakers and Whiskey Shivers.  But Hilts and co. are carving themselves a niche with their custom blend of fireball playing and dark storytelling.  They find their lane with tales of tragedy and woe, desperation and melancholy, typically delivered with a devilishly subtle wink and a nod beneath titles like "Smooching in the Ditch" and "Every Man Needs a Chew".  "Heaven in a Wheelbarrow" trades in fire-and-brimstone, behind Crawford's rolling banjo and shouted backing vocals.  The record's title is borrowed from the collection's oddest bit (a recurring habit for Dead South), "Fat Little Killer Boy":  Fat little killer boy / Eggs, sugar and joy.  The line is repeated, leaving us with a cursed story of gluttony and revenge.

I'm constantly interested in an artist's inspiration, the music they listen to on the long straight roads between shows.  On Dead South's Spotify page, each member offers a bit from their own playlist, with a line-up ranging from Wanda Jackson and Ennio Morricone (Nate) to Booker T and Tool (Scott).  Sugar & Joy is the wickedly addictive product of this recipe from an outfit with a dedication for matching the spit and energy of their live act in a studio setting.  Nutt rises admirably to the challenge of capturing that elusive spirit on songs like "Broken Cowboy" and "Black Lung".  Dragged behind Kenyon's walking plucked cello, the latter tune tramples tradition and leaves strings smoking in its wake: West Virginia's home and that's where we're staying / To the blade of the Bible hymn / Jesus says we're wicked, so we just keep on pickin' / At the scab of the open mine.

- Kelsey Waldon, "Kentucky 1988" White Noise/White Lines  (Oh Boy, 19)
- Dan Baird, "Julie and Lucky" Love Songs For the Hearing Impaired  (American, 92)
- Kurt Vile, "Baby's Arms (feat. the Sadies)" single  (Matador, 19)  D
- GospelbeacH, "Nothing Ever Changes" Let it Burn  (Alive Naturalsound, 19)
- State Champion, "Don't Leave Home Without My Love" Fantasy Error  (Sophomore Lounge, 15)
- Kacy & Clayton, "South Saskatchewan River" Carrying On  (New West, 19)
- Wilco, "White Wooden Crosses" Ode to Joy  (dBpm, 19)
- Big Thief, "Forgotten Eyes" Two Hands  (4AD, Oct 11)
- Sam Outlaw, "Keep It Interesting" Angeleno  (Six Shooter, 15)
- Avett Brothers, "Locked Up" Closer Than Together  (American, 19)
- Craig Finn, "It's Never Been a Fair Fight (acoustic)" single  (Partisan, 19)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "Mercury in Retrograde" Sound & Fury  (Elektra, 19)
- Jeb Loy Nichols, "Think I'm Going To Fall In Love Today" June is Short July is Long  (Compass, 19)
- Meat Purveyors, "Rose-Colored Glasses" Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse  (Bloodshot, 06)
- Angel Olsen, "Too Easy" All Mirrors  (Jagjaguwar, 19)
- Cody Jinks, "Ain't a Train" After the Fire  (Late August, Oct 11)
- Likely Culprits, "Big Revival" Likely Culprits  (Big Gassed, 19)  D
- Ruston Kelly, "All Too Well" Dirt Emo Vol 1  (Rounder, Oct 11)
- Alexa Rose, "Borrow Your Heart" Medicine For Living  (Big Legal Mess, 19)
- Wild Earp & the Free for Alls, "Last Honky-Tonk in Chicago" Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots  (Bloodshot, Nov 8)  D
- Sammy Kay, "Thoughts & Prayers" civil/WAR  (Kay, 19)
- Joe Henry, "Bloom" Gospel According to Water  (Worksong, Nov 15)  D
- Lucero, "Long Way Home (demo)" Before the Ghosts: Acoustic Demos  (Liberty & Lament, 19)  D
- Dori Freeman, "Another Time" Every Single Star  (Freeman, 19)
- Andrew Combs, "Ideal Man" Ideal Man  (New West, 19)
- Brittany Howard, "Georgia" Jaime  (ATO, 19)
- Red River Dialect, "Salvation" Abundance Welcoming Ghosts  (Paradise of Bachelors, 19)
- Pieta Brown, "Beyond the Sun" Freeway  (Righteous Babe, 19)
- Gourds, "Jesus Christ With Signs Following (live)" All the Labor: the Soundtrack  (High Plains, 13)
- Angie McMahon, "Take It With Me" Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits  (Dualtone, Nov 22)

These are monumentally good days for new music.  Those of us with eagerly open ears are threatened with an overwhelming wave from Friday to Friday.  Listen first to Wilco?  To Angel Olsen?  Kelsey Waldon maybe?  From my vantage, while there are some good weeks on the horizon none come close to these last couple for sheer bounty.  By the way, I'd recommend Wilco first ...

Save room on your server for the following, added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster since last we convened.  Most importantly, Lucero came seemingly out of nowhere with this week's Before the Ghosts: Acoustic Demos.  The Saving Country Music blog also drew my attention to an outfit named Likely Culprits, boasting contributions from a rogue's gallery of session masters.  On a lesser scale, eclectic Austin band White Denim will be offering a live set, In Person, on October 29.  And if you've got an itch involving the Mavericks covering Marvin Gaye, Springsteen or John Anderson, you can scratch it on November 1 with the arrival of Play the Hits. Almost a year ago, Joe Henry revealed that he had been dealt a lifechanging cancer diagnosis.  Then, of course, he went into the studio to create The Gospel According To Water, to be shared with us all on November 15.  Add Molly Burch Christmas Album to your wish list, and maybe even The Juice, G Love's New Years present to us all.  Finally, few if any labels have spent as much time on our R&B playlists than Bloodshot Records.  And nobody puts together a better anthology.  In celebration of their 25th anniversary, the label will celebrate their sweet Chicago home with Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots on November 8.  The collection features unreleased stuff from alt.something denizens like Robbie Fulks, Freakwater, Handsome Family and more.  Your weekly gift of our ROUTES-cast:

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 29, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Let's leave September in the ditch with an accounting of our five (5) favorite sounds from the month passed:

Pernice Brothers, Spread the Feeling  (Ashmont, Sep 9)
Hiss Golden Messenger, Terms of Surrender  (Merge, Sep 20)
Brittany Howard, Jaime  (ATO, Sep 20)
Will Johnson, Wire Mountain  (Keeled Scales, Sep 27)
John Calvin Abney, Safe Passage  (Black Mesa, Sep 27)
Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury  (Elektra, Sep 27)

Yah ... that's six.

Among folks who keep a finger on the pulse of our kind of music, Chris Knight's seven-year recording hiatus has been a recurring topic of conversation.  Since the appearance of his 1997 debut, few if any artists have proven so consistent with regards to quality and integrity.  Knight has said he doesn't release stuff until he has enough good songs for an album - a strategy that seems pretty reasonable, albeit distressingly rare. The Kentucky-born songwriter steps back into the sun with next month's release of Almost Daylight (Drifters Church, Oct 11).

As I commit to a review, I'll always revisit an artist's previous output in order to give some context to the new songs.  For Chris Knight, that meant sidling up alongside some old friends, a trove of near-perfect tunes from tremendous collections.  Even his Trailer Tapes sessions can be revelatory, recorded early on in his mobile home in Slaughters, KY.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has agilely avoided the slumps and desperate maneuvers, the concessions and cries for popular attention that might plague an artist.  Knight has simply kept his head down and shared good songs when he's had them.

Produced by Ray Kennedy, and featuring turns from recurring friends John Prine,  and Lee Ann Womack, Almost Daylight is the grittiest album from a man who's built a career out of telling dark stories.  Much of the credit is owed to Dan Baird, whose low slung guitar populates every shadowed corner of the sessions.  But it's Chris Knight himself who muddies up the proceedings so wonderfully, his voice so swampy and cragged that you'd have to throw Billy Joe Shaver or even Malcolm Holcombe into the mix of vocalists to whom he's likened (John(ny Cougar) Mellencamp, Steve Earle, et al.).

The record sets sail with a story song, "I'm William Callahan":  Started poor as Kentucky coal / Lined my pockets with Denver gold / I've been cold as Alaska snow / Searching for the sun.  A heavy-loaded freight train of a song, it takes no time to kick into its steady gear, fueled by harmonica and Knight's genuine delivery, such a welcome gift after seven years gone.  Sure, this sort of been-there-done-that account can be cliched in the wrong hands, but credit Knight and company for wrenching it free from its deep ruts.  You'll find very few covers in his oeuvre, though Daylight closes with a pair of tunes originally from Johnny Cash and John Prine, reminding listeners that he's earned his right to dip into this rich well of tradition.

But more often than not, Knight is simply mining from his own mythology, sharing those pitch-dark stories in pretty bleak times.  We live in a world of lies, he growls, And that's the damn truth.  Cowritten with Gary Nicholson, "Damn Truth" adds mandolin, organ and backing vocals to the powerful full band setting.  What sounds like a timeworn warning from the grizzled stranger sharing the bar is tempered just a touch by a suggestion that We oughta help the ones in need / Help a man get back on his feet.  With its plucked banjo sharing the space with some of Baird's most electric guitar, "Crooked Mile" follows the narrator off the grid in a search for something to call his own:  Back in the woods where the law won't go / Down in the hollow where the wind don't blow / Gonna raise us a family, make us a home / We'll be alright if they leave us alone.

For all its overcast prophecy, Chris Knight and Ray Kennedy have built a great sounding album. Almost Daylight isn't a departure from the pair's previous work on 2012's Little Victories, though this ninth record sounds thicker, the guitars louder and the troubles deeper.  "Trouble Up Ahead" is delivered through the eyes of a man whose reputation has preceded him into town.  Drums kick up in the wake of the first verse, as the song grows like a contemporary "Copperhead Road".  The magic even drills through a tune like "Everybody's Lonely Now", a downcast number that originally appeared on 2008's Heart of Stone.  This new take is heartbreakingly soulful, making the original sound like a demo:  I wanna reach out and hold you / But I feel like I'm in the way.

One of the recurring themes on R&B is the absolute necessity of new artists to keep the edges of our kind of music sharp and cutting.  While it's heartening that some of our Old Favorites return with new collections from year to year, nobody can make a case that these legacy artists play any significant hand in the future of roots music.  As artists age, those added years and a modicum of success can weaken the voices and dull the once sharp vision.  But I would argue that Chris Knight remains relevant with Almost Daylight, an uncompromising glimpse into the mirror.  Age (and a healthy cigarette habit) simply adds gravitas to the mix, perhaps in the same way the Johnny Cash's take on "Hurt" only works in light of his advancing years.  It's curious that Knight has christened his discomfiting new work Almost Daylight.  The title cut breezes by in just three minutes, a road-weary ode to his wife and home.  It's a sobering moment on a CD that stirs many emotions.  He sings: I'm a gypsy on my way home ... It's alright / It's almost daylight.

- John Calvin Abney, "I Just Want To Feel Good" Safe Passage  (Black Mesa, 19)
- Michaela Anne, "Tattered Torn and Blue (And Crazy)" Desert Dove  (Yep Roc, 19)
- Will Johnson, "Need of Trust and Thunder" Wire Mountain  (Keeled Scales, 19)
- Whiskey Myers, "Little More Money" Whiskey Myers  (Wiggy Thump, 19)
- Harmed Brothers, "Bottle to Bottle" A Lovely Conversation  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Charlie Parr, "Love is an Unraveling Bird's Nest" Charlie Parr  (Red House, 19)
- Replacements, "Portland" Dead Man's Pop  (Warner, 19)
- Little Teeth, "Western Skies" Redefining Home  (Gunner, 19)
- Laura Gibson, "La Grande" La Grande  (Barsuk, 12)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Make Art Not Friends" Sound & Fury  (Elektra, 19)
- Kenny Roby & 6 String Drag, "Memories and Birds" Tired of Feelin' Guilty: 25 Years  (Schoolkids, 19)
- Dori Freeman, "Like I Do" Every Single Star  (Freeman, 19)
- The Deer, "Confetti To the Hurricane" Do No Harm  (Keeled Scales, Nov 1)
- Allison Moorer, "All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway)" Blood  (Autotelic, Oct 25)
- Ags Connolly, "Say It Out Loud" Wrong Again  (Finstock, Nov 1)
- Roger Harvey, "Burn One With John Prine" single  (Lions Tooth, 19)  D
- Darrin Bradbury, "Hell's More or Less the Same" Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs  (Anti, 19)
- Trigger Hippy, "Don't Wanna Bring You Down" Full Circle & Then Some  (Turkey Grass, Oct 11)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Whip" Terms of Surrender  (Merge, 19)
- Rachel Harrington, "Hush the Wild Horses" Hush the Wild Horses  (Harrington, 19)
- Jeremy Ivey, "Ahead, Behind" Dream & the Dreamer  (ATO, 19)
- Sam Phillips, "I Need Love" Zero Zero Zero  (Virgin, 98)
- Sammy Kay, "Hummingbird" civil/WAR  (Kay, Oct 11)
- Pernice Brothers, "Queen of California" Spread the Feeling  (Ashmont, 19)
- GospelbeacH, "Let It Burn" Let It Burn  (Alive Naturalsound, Oct 4)
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Holy Relic Sale" Squelch  (Proud Souls, 15)
- GA-20, "Lonely Soul" Lonely Soul  (Karma Chief, Oct 18)  D
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "Highway Shine" Fried Chicken & Evil Women  (la Honda, 19)
- Charley Crockett, "Way I'm Livin' (Santa Rosa)" The Valley  (Son of Davy, 19)
- Colter Wall, "Happy Reunion" Colter Wall & Scary Prairie Boys  (Young Mary, 19)  D

It's actually been a very largehearted month for new records, and October looks to be promising as well.  Before you know it, it'll be time to kill a turkey and have Christmas. Which reminds me that we've got several Very Special Episodes on the R&B horizon.  I'll be showcasing my favorite songs of 2019 on our November 24 post.  My favorite albums post will likely happen on December 8.  Makes sense that we'll shoehorn an all-holiday thing on December 22.  And then stay tuned for a favorites of the decade list for our first offering of 2020  (January 5).

This new records were added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster by a diversity of folks like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (Ghosteen, Oct 4) and Jason James, whose Seems Like Years Ago will hit shelves wherever music hits shelves next week.  The ever-reliable Colemine Records will share the debut CD from heavy blues duo GA-20 on October 18, and Scottish folk duo Doghouse Roses has claimed November 1 as the release date for their fourth record, We Are Made of Light.  Did you know that Jenny Owen Youngs actually wrote Panic! at the Disco's "High Hopes"?  Huh.  Anyhow, she's got an EP in the wings.  Night Shift is coming out November 15.  November 29 marks the debut of a new Mose Allison tribute called If You're Going To the City (Fat Possum/Sweet Relief).  Contributors include Robbie Fulks, Peter Case, Dave Alvin and more.  Crossing over into the New Year, we've added the first LP in four years from Smoke Fairies, as well as Far From Home from Aubrie Sellers.  Please enjoy this complimentary ROUTES-cast: