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Sunday, September 17, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 17, 2017
Scott Foley, perennially tardy purveyor of dust

I don't know that my own father ever offered me any fatherly advice.  He has lived an exemplary life, though he never ever sat me down and steered me straight.  Sure, there was the time he took away the TV Guide I was reading and quietly insisted I study my Biology instead.  And he drop-kicked a McDonalds hamburger after I complained that it featured the wrong condiments ...  As a father who will never pass up the opportunity to dispense fatherly advice like a Pez dispenser on overload, I wonder how my kids will process their childhood.  Mine was idyllic - sheltered but blessedly so.  I grew up knowing the world extended beyond the tree shaded boundaries of our space, but in no hurry to explore those hinterlands.

Seems punk-in-recovery Tim Barry is taking stock of his own choices as a father on his eighth solo project, High on 95.  Never one to waste unnecessary time applying studio polish to his work, Barry's new collection is direct, sincere and satisfying.

Barry offers on "Slow Down":  There comes a time to stay home and watch the rain.  This mid-life inventory necessarily involves an assessment of our own misspent youth, as well as a take on the state-of-the-world.  As we raise our own kids, we can't help but compare their opportunities and challenges with our own.  While Barry spends more than his share of time crisscrossing the country, the theme of home carries throughout these new songs.  "Little Eden" is a moving acoustic reflection: Little Eden / I find myself in the same chair on the same porch time and time again. / I'm a true believer that we are all friends / And all that falls, we can rebuild again.  "Back Home" enhances his rough hewn guitar with violin from Barry's sister Caitlin Hunt.  It's a tune that acknowledges both the comfort of the familiar and the inescapable reality of restlessness.

Much of High on 95 takes this bare-bones approach to arrangement, recognizing that there is great power and even catharsis in Tim Barry's gruff vocal and workmanlike acoustic strings.  Songs like "O & Dp" opt for more of a front porch jam sound, adding handclaps, dobro and acoustic bass.  The loose folk number also reveals the writer's ability to take himself less seriously:  I do a lot of walking and thinking / It never really makes much sense. / If you're wanting to talk / You'll have to wait until I'm done thinking.  "Gumshoe Andy" is one of the record's fullest sounding numbers, featuring some rewarding dobro behind Barry's strumming.  Even with some studio company, the appeal can be traced back to the simple elements of voice and story.

The collection's title track adds electric guitar and keys for an anthemic spirit, a fight song:  The older I get, the less I need / The less I keep, the less I leave.  It's a glimpse of what might be possible were Barry interested in expanding his sound a bit.  But that extra noise would add little to "Running Never Tamed Me", the record's musical and emotional high point:  I run when I am angry / Drink when I get sad / Running never tamed me, lord / And drinking turned out bad.  Even if Barry's children might be too young yet to absorb the life learned messages imparted by their father, it seems pretty certain that his girls are foremost in his mind as he imparts this wisdom.

Throughout High on 95, Barry demonstrates the ability to maintain an earnest hope while being perennially honest about the gathering gloom.  He has become a sort of ringleader for his fans, eschewing big band studio trickery for a straightforward live-to-tape approach, honoring listeners through a dedication to purity and truth.  

- Blank Range, "Opening Band" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- J Roddy Walston, "Numbers" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Son Volt, "Looking at the World Through a Windshield" Retrospective: 1995-2000  (Warner, 05)
- The Americans, "Nevada" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)  D
- David Ramirez, "Good Heart" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Dead Man Winter, "Careful I Think It's Loaded" Careful It's Loaded  (GNDWire, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Ain't It Just Like a Cowboy" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Giant Sand, "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" Ballad of a Thin Line Man  (Fire, 86)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "When the Wall Comes Down" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Deer Tick, "Card House" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)
- Margo Price, "A Little Pain" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Housefire" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Branding Iron" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Yawpers, "Linen For the Orphan" Boy in a Well  (Bloodshot, 17)  C
- Whitney Rose, "Better To My Baby" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sidewalks of the City" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)
- David Rawlings, "Good God a Woman" Poor David's Almanack  (Acony, 17)
- White Buffalo, "The Observatory" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Suzanne Santo, "Blood on Your Knees" Ruby Red  (Soozanto, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Crying's Just a Thing You Do" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Lee Ann Womack, "All the Trouble" The Lonely the Lonesome and the Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Picture of a Man" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Consider Me" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "The Last" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Tim Barry, "High on 95" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)  D
- Blitzen Trapper, "Rebel" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)  D
- Dori Freeman, "If I Could Make You My Own" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)  D
- Meat Purveyors, "Rose Colored Glasses" Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse  (Bloodshot, 06)
- Langhorne Slim, "Zombie" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)  D

So with the keys to the wagon and a full tank of pride / Sipping battery acid and gin / Smoking pre-rolled Virginias to cover the grass / Up in knots that I tied myself in  - William the Conqueror

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

it's our kind of music
September 5, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Sadly, AMPM Minimart has already coined the phrase "too much good stuff" - otherwise I definitely would've jumped on that one.  September marks one of the most generous months, and the Industry's last concerted gasp for releasing new music.  Over the next 30 days, we'll be graced with new stuff from Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, Tim Barry, Hiss Golden Messenger, J Roddy Walston and so much more.  Like I always say, Too Much Good Stuff.

Thank you, Lilly Hiatt, for turning up your guitars on your new Trinity Lane CD.  Let's face it, it's practically impossible for a person of average awareness to not think about John Hiatt upon hearing daughter Lilly's songs.  It's the same for Justin Townes and Steve, for Lukas and Willie, etc.  It's not necessarily that Lilly Hiatt's music really sounds anything like her father's, but we're always keeping our ears open for the inheritance.  What is it that the younger generation is carrying forward from their forebears?

In Lilly Hiatt's case, it seems to be about the capacity to write great songs with just the right amount of personality and left-of-center humor.  Plus, there's that guitar.  It punches through nearly every song, either driving it forward or interrupting with a rude blast of colorful electricity.  Though Hiatt's songs haven't shaken loose the roots influence, that edge and attitude might bring to mind Lydia Loveless' more recent stuff (or even the confessional 90s rock of Liz Phair).

Songs like "All Kinds of People" demonstrate Hiatt's twang-friendly voice pushed to its natural limits. A great recurring guitar line recalls Ryan Adams: Spend a lot of time loving all kinds of people / But all kinds of people won't care for your heart .  Elsewhere, she sings of Eyes big as whole notes, with so much to say.   Much of Trinity Lane focuses on collecting the still sharp pieces of a shattered relationship.  On "The Night David Bowie Died", the singer has some choice words about her ex-, but never reaches a point of simply damning him. It's as though the song has caught Hiatt in the midst of taking stock rather than slaying demons.  Nevertheless, there seems to be a certain catharsis in her vocal and a release in the whirling psych pop bridge.

Hiatt's americana roots are more prominent in "Trinity Lane", a bar band rocker featuring a pounding piano and producer Michael Trent's unhinged electric solo:  I get bored so I wanna get drunk / I know how that goes. The title track addresses some of the chemical demons of her past, ghosts and angels that surface throughout the record.  Producer Trent and his Shovels & Rope partner Cary Ann Hearst provide some soulful vocals on "Everything I Had" - I spent all those nights feeling so guilty / For letting you near the ugliest parts of me.  There's an interesting and tentative balance happening on Trinity Lane, alternating between deeply felt absences and a burgeoning sense of identity.

On "Records" there is some hint at redemption, or at least comfort: I'll take lonely if it means free.  The music that matters to us provides solace and strength, an abiding presence that neither judges nor proves faithless.  It's among the CD's more redeeming moments, songs that push boundaries and favor the rock and pop elements in Hiatt's repertoire to shine through her roots.

Fact is, I'm sure many of these second-gen artists are less than thrilled with the mention of their parents in just about any review.  Lilly Hiatt's Trinity Lane absolutely succeeds on the strength of its own obvious merits - the bright energy, the sharp edge and the revelatory smarts.  It's a collection that finds her stretching in new sonic directions, accessing a fearlessness and self-definition that will assure her relevance for future work.  It's the rare album where a good amount of inner reflection reveals itself not in quiet, but rather in some worthy commotion and soul cleansing racket.

- Middle Brother, "Blue Eyes" Middle Brother  (Partisan, 11)
- Deer Tick, "Jumpstarting" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)
- Dan Auerbach, "Stand By My Girl" Waiting On a Song  (Nonesuch, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Curse of the Cajun Queen" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Domino (Time Will Tell)" Hallelujah Anyway  (Merge, 17)  D
- Iron & Wine, "About a Bruise" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
^ Lilly Hiatt, "Records" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Road to America" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Dark Chandelier" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)j
- Mount Moriah, "Swannanoa" Miracle Temple  (Merge, 13)
- Will Hoge, "This Ain't An Original Sin" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Habbie Doobie" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Moot Davis, "What's the Matter With Me" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)
- Great Peacock, "Making Ghosts" Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)j
- Joseph Childress, "Virginia Bound" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- David Wax Museum, "Your Mother the Ghost" Electric Artifacts  (Mark of the Leopard, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "Dig a Little Hole" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Into My Arms" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Saginaw Paper Mill" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Dancing Days" Work  (Brooklyn Basement, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Jesse Joe's Cigarettes" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)  D
- My Politic, "Bored Young Ghost" 12 Kinds of Lost  (My Politic, 17)  D
- Wynntown Marshals, "Low Country Comedown" After All These Years  (WM, 17)
- Whiskey Shivers, "No Pity in the Rose City" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Kacy & Clayton, "White Butte Country" Siren's Song  (New West, 17)  D
- William the Conqueror, "Pedestals" Proud Disturber of the Peace  (Loose, 17)
- John Murry, "Wrong Man" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Meadow" Sorry is Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Clem Snide, "Messiah Complex Blues" Your Favorite Music  (snideco, 00)
- Delines, "Gold Dreaming" Scenic Sessions  (El Cortez, 15)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
August 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Let's talk about Noise.  Thick guitars battling against heavy drums, a buzz that reaches from edge to edge, with all the spaces colored in.  I want my music to make noise, to push against the quiet until there's nowhere to go but deeper into the static.  New records by William the Conqueror and Blank Range have arrived just in time to chase away the hush.

William the Conqueror hail from Cornwall in England, though you'd be forgiven for triangulating their origin somewhere between Memphis, Texas and Nashville.  Frontman Ruarri Joseph shrugged off the income and security of a major label offer to embrace the fickle muse of garage chemistry alongside drummer Harry Harding and bassist Naomi Holmes.  Their full-length debut, Proud Disturber of the Peace, exhibits the kind of loud and loose roots amalgam that you've always wished Kings of Leon or Black Keys made.

There is a Yardbirds inspired rattle to "Did You Wrong", an edgy guitar bite just this side of punk and a timeless blues vocal delivery.  "In My Dreams" extends that blues vibe in a darker and more sinister direction, like the Sadies with a rock in their shoe.  The groove grows and unspools, becoming more anthemic and more insistent with every verse.  While Joseph's solo projects bore the stamp of a contemporary folk singer-songwriter, Proud Disturber tips the balance towards a tuneful and confident garage rock.

There is a lovely blitz of guitars on "Tend to the Thorns", finding WtC at their most melodic.  It's a blues-inspired rock that wouldn't sound out of place on a Heartless Bastards release.  What sets the band apart is their ability to cool the flames to an appealing smolder on pieces like "Pedestals", giving lead to their country and folk influences:  Some would say I'm beginning to crack / Playing no regrets on twisted frets / With the sun down on my crooked back.  It stands as Joseph's most accomplished lyrical moment.

Like William the Conqueror, Blank Range preceded the release of their debut full-length with a series of shorter projects.  Whereas WtC borrowed from the blues palette to complete their sound, Blank Range look to 70s country-rock and Southwestern hues (I'd use the phrase "cosmic country" if it hadn't become a bit of a cartoon cliche).  Marooned With the Treasure finds Brad Cook in the producer's chair, fostering a cohesive spirit from an album that's about as eclectic as Proud Disturber.

The organ and vocal of "Opening Band" might bring to mind THE Band, a rusty and soulful bit of drawling roots rock with an immediately familiar appeal.  Vocal duties are shared between a couple members, contributing to the overall variety - one of the voices recalls Deer Tick's John J McCauley after a throat lozenge ...  "Ember in the Ash" is a stoney, lo-fi campfire number, with pedal steel and keys playing the part of crickets and cicadas.  It's one of a handful of tracks shrouded by a touch of psychedelic haze, a'la Futurebirds.

Quieter pieces like "The Season" or "Crimson Moon" provide a tasteful change of pace, slowing the tempo to a simmer for a subtly impressionistic effect.  At the opposite point of the compass, Marooned finds its highlight in the driving, My Morning Jacket-esque "Seemed Like Word Got Around".  Heavy guitars and thumping drums propel the song, building to a satisfying but too-short guitar rave.

In doing a bit of research for this piece, I came across an unexpected video of Blank Range performing "I'd Rather Go Blind".  While they don't achieve Etta James levels (or even Beyonce levels), the moment does demonstrate the outfit's musical cohesiveness, as well as the uncredited soul that burbles beneath their debut.

Butwaittheresmore.  An epic Episode also drops a new gem from Turnpike Troubadours (who currently sit at the #9 spot on iTunes' advance orders chart, rubbing shoulders with bedazzled names like Taylor Swift, P!nk and Demi Lovato).  Ron Pope's excellent new record boasts some impressive writing, as well as one of my recent favorite acoustic ballads.  Also, great to receive the news of Ronnie Fauss' pending collection.  Our first look into the record is a really satisfying midwest rocker featuring Ben Kweller.

- Drive-by Truckers, "Primer Coat (live)"  This Weekend's the Night  (ATO, 15)
- Yawpers, "Mon Nom"  Boy in a Well  (Bloodshot, 16)  C
- Dead Man Winter, "Travels With Charley" Careful It's Loaded  (GNDWire, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Bondurant Women" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Bohannons, "Heart Go West" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Lucifer & the Fallen Angels" Tell the Devil ...  (Bordello, 17)
- Shovels & Rope, "Shank Hill St" O' Be Joyful  (Dualtone, 13)
- David Ramirez, "Stone Age" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Illinois" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)  D
- Charlie Parr, "LowDown" Dog  (Red House, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Branding Iron" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "The Fall" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Brokedown Luck" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Bobby Bare Jr, "Things I Didn't Say" From the End of Your Leash  (Bloodshot, 04)
^ Blank Range, "Seemed Like Word Got Around" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Lukas Nelson, "Just Outside of Austin" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Concord, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Stick Around" Work  (Brooklyn Basement, 17)  D
- Tyler Childers, "Tattoos" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "Footsteps" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Arizona" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Alex Williams, "More Than Survival" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Saginaw Paper Mill" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)  D
- Lucinda Williams, "Six Blocks Away" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)  D
- Paul Thorn, "Heart With 4 Wheel Drive (live)" Hammer & Nail Live  (Perpetual Obscurity, 17)  D
- J Roddy Walston, "You Know Me Better" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)  D
^ William the Conqueror, "Tend to the Thorns" Proud Disturber of the Peace  (Loose, 17)  D
- Smog, "Cold Blooded Times" Knock Knock  (Drag City, 99)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "The Housefire" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)  D
- Iron & Wine, "Bitter Truth" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Patty Griffin, "Ohio" American Kid  (New West, 13)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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

Ever have one of those weeks when the song you listen to on repeat is Fleetwood Mac's live "Silver Springs", and when you wait too long to do your ROUTES-cast and there is too much new stuff?  Me too.

Not complaining.  Just wanting to put it all together in a way that demonstrates more grace than the firehose-to-the-face method of delivery.  The idea is that you listen to our ROUTES-cast every week, and that you listen at least a couple times.  Ideally, you'll grow familiar with the new artists and the new albums and the new songs (though you'll not find "Silver Springs" below, which doesn't mean that it's not a crushingly haunting song (damn!!)).  This way, you won't necessarily be overwhelmed by new stuff from White Buffalo or Dead Man Winter or even JD McPherson.  F'rinstance.

I whiffed on Jeremy Pinnell's 2015 OH/KY release, and acknowledged that on my Stuff That Scott Whiffed On post late that year:  "Pinnell simply gets country music; he lives and breathes it, and he probably smells like it".  That's what I said.  And I apparently did learn my lesson, jumping on Pinnell's new Ties of Blood and Affection as soon as Sofaburn Records generously made it available to me.  It's a smart and heartfelt shot of pure and unpretentious country music.

And Pinnell should know.  He opened OH/KY with "The Way Country Sounds":  You lived the life I lived / You would know / The way Country sounds.  He pulls no punches on the song that introduces the collection,  "Ballad of 1892".  He sings, My baby gets high / Walkin' the line, barely hinting at the fact that she's on that line in support of labor unions.  It's a honky tonk lovesong about a relationship built on a mutual commitment to the working class.  Doesn't hurt that there's some quality electric guitar here, as well as a rough and ready vocal from Pinnell.

This is his lane, Pinnell's modus operandi.  He lays out a thick and satisfying country groove and tops it with lyrics not typically found rebounding off the timbers and tables of your average roadside establishment.  "I Don't Believe" launches like a classic country trucking song, punctuated with pedal steel and a relentless shuffle.  Then he launches into the chorus:  I don't believe in a long black train / Or a lake of fire / Or a 40 day rain / But I believe we can all be free / And I know that if something's wrong / Then it's gotta be me.  The sound draws you in, then sets you up for a jarring shot for the bleachers.  This one's not about peace in the pews, but espouses the right life apart from church and congregation.  On "The Way We  See Heaven" Pinnell encourages us to recognize our family and friends as our salvation, rather than setting our sights on a ticket to the pearly gates.

Pinnell addresses politics of the domestic variety as well.  "Different Kind of Love" posits that heartfelt love runs deeper than flashy jewelry and superficial gestures:  She says she don't like diamonds / That's my kind of woman / These girls are hard to find / I guess you can say that I found mine / She takes good care of me / Like god split the sea / I seen her walk on the water / She makes it look so easy / It's a different kind of love ...  It's a sweet and sincere gesture, a genuine ode to a rare and lasting companionship.  On the loose and lazy "I'm Alright With This", the singer is at peace with his lot:  I got a good woman / She got the sweetest kiss / If life don't get better / I'm alright with this.  It's the kind of amazing grace that's rooted in riding the ruts of everyday life, taking for granted neither the hardships nor the blessings.

NoCo listeners should know that Jeremy Pinnell will be haunting the stage of Moe's Original BBQ at the close of this month.

- Sturgill Simpson, "Some Days" High Top Mountain  (High Top Mt, 13)
- Tyler Childers, "Feathered Indians" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Rebellious Sons" Tell the Devil ...  (Bordello, 17)
- David Rawlings, "Guitar Man" Poor David's Almanack  (Acony, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Silver Wings" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Moot Davis, "Here Comes the Destroyer" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)
- Billy Bragg, "Sleep of Reason" single  (Cooking Vinyl, 17)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Live Fast Love Hard Die Young" Cowboy Outfit  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Ian Felice, "In the Kingdom of Dreams" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Darkness Falls So Quiet" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Mark Olsen, "Dear Elisabeth" Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun  (Glitterhouse, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Time" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Wynntown Marshals, "End of the Golden Age" After All These Years  (WM, 17)
- Dead Man Winter, "Careful I Think It's Loaded" Careful It's Loaded  (GNDWire, 17)  D
- Blank Range, "Ember in the Ash" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- White Buffalo, "Avalon" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Juanita Stein, "Dark Horse" America  (Hand Written, 17)
- Austin Lucas, "Small Town Heart" Stay Reckless  (New West, 13)
- John Murry, "Under a Dark Moon" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- Ruby Force, "Church and State" Evolutionary War  (Force, 17)
- Suzanne Santo, "Ghost in My Bed" Ruby Red  (Soozanto, 17)
- Dead Rock West, "Boundless Fearless Love" More Love  (Omnivore, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Lucky Penny" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)  D
- Margo Price, "Weakness" Weakness EP  (Third Man, 17)
- Charlie Parr, "I Ain't Dead Yet" Dog  (Red House, 17)
^ Jeremy Pinnell, "Different Kind of Love" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- LeeAnn Womack, "All the Trouble" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)  D
- Joseph Childress, "Virginia Bound" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)  D
- Eilen Jewell, "It's Your Voodoo Working" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)  D
- Tim Barry, "Lost and Rootless" Lost and Rootless  (Chunksaah, 14)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

it's our kind of music
August 13, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Remind me not to look for other online reviews before I write my own.  Apparently, I'm not the first to write about Tyler Childers' Purgatory.  I drove thru Kentucky a couple weeks ago.  All I remember is thunderstorms, humidity, horses, lightning bugs and life-changing sea bass.  That, and alcohol.  But apparently Childers has spent his life in Eastern Kentucky.  His new CD sums up that misspent youth, gathering songs from throughout the last several years (some of which have been previously released).  The project arrives amidst a genuine hubbub, which is curious given the fact that he spent most of his touring years quite close to home.  I'm sure much of the buzz began with the news that fellow Bluegrass Stater Sturgill Simpson had chosen Childers' collection as his first production project (along with veteran producer David Ferguson).  The team admirably balances more restrained, traditional acoustic arrangements with a couple more adventurous moments.

Purgatory serves as a fine companion piece to Sturgill's own 2013 solo debut.  Both demonstrate an eclectic grasp on a range of roots sounds, from regional 'grass to hard country.  The two records are also deeply grounded in a real sense of place, showing glimpses of a grasp on Life the Universe and Everything (subjects Simpson has wholeheartedly embraced in his subsequent albums).

Like Parker Millsap or John Fullbright from a couple states to the left, Tyler Childers delivers his stories in a fully realized, soulful voice, equally conversant in the more trad folk and more contemporary alt. vernacular.  "I Swear (to God)" is a loose and good-natured ramble, one of several cuts ornamented by Stuart Duncan's bluegrass fiddle.  It paints a vivid, Prine-esque portrait of the artist as a young roustabout, "Working on a building out of hand hewn brimstone".  "Whitehouse Road" holds the signpost for the harder edge of things, boasting boldly of long evenings of questionable choices and general abandon.  In this guise, Childers brings to mind a young Steve Earle.

Tyler Childers' lyrical promise is demonstrated on pieces like the 'grassy "Born Again":  "Once I was and you were too / And we were both the word of truth / We built this world together / With a loud and mighty bang".  Like recent releases from Jason Eady or Colter Wall (which featured a guest pass from Childers), he works in familiar forms and themes, but instead of falling into the ruts and habits of contemporary country writers, Childers explores a more personal and poetic expression, establishing himself as one of our present day writers for whom words matter.  "Tattoos" is confident in its quiet, with sweet fiddle and waves of pedal steel:  "The past is fading / Over time / But it's still hanging on for life".

While Purgatory earns its stripes by demonstrating its ability in these pre-established arenas of folk, country and bluegrass, the album's two highwater moments demonstrate Childers' willingness to stare down those boundaries.  "Feathered Indians" is simply a great song, a piece Guy Clark would've been pleased to write (or Sturgill Simpson).  In its portrayal of relational bliss, it celebrates the latter frontiers on the writers' journey from troubled roustabout to settled guy.  It's also complimented by the collection's strongest lyric:  "Well my belt buckle makes impressions / On the inside of her thigh / There are little feathered Indians / Where we tussled through the night / If I'd known she was religious / Then I wouldn't have come stoned / To the house of such an angel / Too fucked up to get back home".   Musically, the CD's peak comes with "Universal Sound", a nod to the perennial hum that lies beneath, within and throughout all of Life.  My sense is that it's the song that most clearly bears Sturgill Simpson's fingerprint as a producer.  Like much of Simpson's Metamodern Sounds, it preaches a decidedly universal message, with just a hint of psychedelic philosophy.  While it's Purgatory's most obvious outlier, "Universal Sound" might offer a glimpse of Tyler Childers' next record.  But first he's probably got some more living to do, more stories to collect.


It's my sense that for just about any roots music album that's been released, there are about half a dozen blogs willing to heap praise upon it.  A CD or digital file will arrive, heralded by Mr Twang or Meat 'n Potatoes as the best thing ever.  I'll give almost anything a couple minutes, but it really is remarkable how much "pretty good" music there is in the world.

I don't want pretty good stuff for Routes & Branches.  While I play an absurd amount of new music, it's honestly just a fraction of what I'm given access to on a weekly basis.  That said, I love the process, from hearing of the pending arrival of a new record to the first single or two, then the promise inherent in the arrival of the full thing.

Alright.  I admit that it's an addiction.  It's a perpetual merry-go-round, a carousel with no exit except to leap from your horsey and trust you'll avoid anything sharp on the way down.  While each week is a struggle, I'm by no means ready to exit the ride (though I wouldn't mind if we slowed down a bit).  This week's playlist is one of the year's heaviest with regards to debuts (they're marked with a capital "D" in our playlists from week to week).  Big Ones by David Rawlings share space with lesser knowns like Jarrod Dickenson or Suzanne Santo (she was one-half of HoneyHoney).  And it's all good.  So hang on to your horsey and enjoy the ride.

 - Split Lip Rayfield, "Just Like a Gillian Welch Song" Should Have Seen It Coming  (Bloodshot, 04)
- David Rawlings, "Cumberland Gap" Poor David's Almanack  (Acony, 17)  D
-  Whiskey Shivers, "Southern Sisyphus" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "I Don't Believe" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Lie to Me" This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- Will Hoge, "Little Bit of Rust" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Had to Laugh" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Alex Williams, "Hellbent Hallelujah" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)
- Holly Macve, "No One Has the Answers" Golden Eagle  (Bella Union, 17)
- Possessed by Paul James, "There Will Be Nights" There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 13)
- Iron & Wine, "Thomas County Law" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Night David Bowie Died" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Blank Range, "Seemed Like Word Got Around" Marooned With Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Elliott BROOD, "Til the Sun Comes Up Again" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)  D
- Nicole Atkins, "Brokedown Luck" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Long Distance Tears" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- South San Gabriel, "Alabama Crusade" Dual Hawks  (Misra, 04)
^ Tyler Childers, "Universal Sound" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Throwin' Stones" Every Way But Easy  (KEG, 17)  D
- Jarrod Dickenson, "California" Ready the Horses  (Decca, 17)  D
- Margo Price, "Paper Cowboy" Weakness EP  (Third Man, 17(
- Mark Olsen, "Time of Love" Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun  (Glitterhouse, 17)  D
- Suzanne Santo, "Better Than That" Ruby Red  (Soozanto, 17)  D
- Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic, "East Virginia" Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic  (Rivers/Birds, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Can't Stop Shakin'" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)  D
- Slaid Cleaves, "Still Be Mine" Ghost On the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)
- BJ Barham, "Unfortunate Kind" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Wynntown Marshals, "Low Country Comedown" After All These Years  (Wynntown, 17)  D
- the Districts, "Rattling of the Heart" Popular Manipulations  (Fat Possum, 17)  D
- Calexico, "Sinner in the Sea" Algiers  (Anti, 12)

Friday, August 04, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
August 4, 2017 (way too late)
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Jeezus I'm late with this one!  No matter, just gives us more time to enjoy last Episode's robust playlist.  But now it's time to move forward with some new stuff for your previewing pleasure.  This includes the strongest song yet from Tyler Childers' Purgatory.  We're also beginning our romance with White Buffalo's forthcoming release, and reveling in Margo Price's surprise EP!  Plus, there's not much prettier this year than Tallest Man on Earth's sublime new EP with chamber folk outfit yMusic.

There's always been a backward glance to Nicole Atkins' music, a borrowing of sounds from years gone by.  From the early pop drama of her 2007 Neptune City Lights full-length debut through the heavier rock 'n soul of 2011's overlooked Mondo Amore and the "desert disco prog rock" that powered 2014's Slow Phaser.  Atkins' new Goodnight Rhonda Lee explores that tendency to its fullest, released on John Paul White and Ben Tanner's discerning Single Lock label and played largely live in studio with the band that backed up Leon Bridges on his memorable debut.  Story has it that Atkins was challenged by her producer to leave her indie rock elements on the back burner and to focus on the Muscle Shoals sounds that have always been lurking behind her music.  The resulting collection brings to mind names like Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield and even Jenny Lewis, offering a generous dose of noir psychedelia with moments of Spector-esque drama.

Atkins cowrote the opener, "A Little Crazy" with longtime friend Chris Isaak.  It immediately sets the stage with a "To Sir With Love" vibe, featuring a soaring vocal and a flicker-to-a-conflagration build that milks the melancholy for all it's worth.  Largely freed from the heavy production of her earlier records, the horns and strings of Rhonda Lee serve to untether Atkins' tremendous vocal talents.   "Brokedown Luck" is typical of most of these originals, opening with a cautious restraint before erupting into a sharp and soulful, shamelessly melancholy chorus.

The title track serenades Nicole Atkins' bad girl alter ego, the wayward woman responsible for all her bad choices and driving over life's potholes.  Despite dismissing her with a charming wave, Atkins treats Rhonda Lee with unexpected sympathy and fondness.  This sense of humor and self deprecation are found throughout the record, from the overwrought emotions to the sad sack persona.  But it's also a remarkably addictive collection, deep with hooks and a genuine sense of musical legacy.  Shelby Lynne has done this exceptionally well before (though with little or no levity), and Joan Osborne can pull it off with zero irony or self-consciousness.  But most other singers who attempt a retro vibe like "If I Could" risk ending up coming across as costumed clowns and wannabes.  What might've been Atkins' one-note punchline is instead a rich and diverse statement, a supremely cool tear through early rock, country-soul and Brill Building pop.

Nicole Atkins' skill is perhaps best appreciated on Rhonda Lee's less bombastic cuts.  "Darkness Falls So Quiet" is a slinky groover, punctuated with perfect horn accents and lazy strings.  The horns are muted and paired with saaaad pedal steel on "A Night of Serious Drinking", a torch ballad boasting the CD's most mature and nuanced vocal performance.  I'd advise listeners to track down live video takes of some of these numbers, captured during the nearly five-year journey that birthed this record.  What you'll catch here that might elude you on the album is twofold: That sense of humor and edgy charm that should land Nicole Atkins a big screen gig any moment now, as well as the realization that she executes this all without the use of modern studio sleight-of-hand.  Goodnight Rhonda Lee isn't just a momentary detour or a passing novelty.  With her fourth full-length project, Nicole Atkins has reached into the past for a fully satisfying and relevant pleasure.

- Kathleen Edwards, "Mint" Voyageur  (Concord, 12)
- Rod Melancon, "Mary Lou" Southern Gothic  (Blue Elan, 17)
- Bohannons, "Run the Road" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "House of the White Rose Bouquet" Tell the Devil ...  (Bordello, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Tattoo" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Charlie Parr, "Dog" Dog  (Red House, 17)
- Emmylou Harris, "Icy Blue Heart" Bluebird  (Warner, 88)
- Juanita Stein, "Someone Else's Dime" America  (Hand Written, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Sons of the Wandering" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- White Buffalo, "The Observatory" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Darlin' Angel Eyes" Rose of England  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Different Kind of Love" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Forget About Georgia" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Rounder, 17)
- Cross Canadian Ragweed, "Jimmie and Annie" Highway 377  (Smith, 99)
- Steel Woods, "Better in the Fall" Straw in the Wind  (Woods, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "Thomas County Law" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Sorry is Gone" Sorry is Gone  (ATO, 17)  D
- John Murry, "One Day (You'll Die)" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Twins" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetword, 17)
^ Nicole Atkins, "A Little Crazy" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)  D
- Jason Isbell, "Hope the High Road" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Avett Brothers, "Smoke in Our Lights" Carolina Jubilee  (Ramseur, 03)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Pain" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Is It Too Much" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Margo Price, "Weakness" Weakness EP  (Third Man, 17)  D
- House and Land, "Rich Old Jade" House and Land  (Thrill Jockey, 17)
- Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic, "There's No Leaving Now" Tallest Man on Earth w/yMusic  (Rivers/Birds, 17)  D
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "You Are Not Needed Now" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Grant Lee Buffalo, "Bethlehem Steel" Copperopolis  (Slash, 96)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing in the Doorway" single  (Merge, 17)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

photo by Richard Markham
the very best of americana, and roots music
July 17, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Back in 2013, John Murry's Graceless Age found a place near the top of my year-end favorites list.  I wrote:  "Murry sings in a slurred baritone that resonates somewhere between the junkie hymns of Alejandro Escovedo and the American mythology of Springsteen."  More than any other album on that year's list, Graceless Age continues to haunt me.  Nearly five years later, "Penny Nails" and "Little Colored Balloons" still transport me like they were new.  This is an exceptionally rare thing when it comes to my relationship with music.

There's a brief promo for an in-the-works documentary about Murry that shares the title of his new record, Short History of Decay.  In the trailer, the writer returns from "exile" in Ireland to his Mississippi home, to explore the family history that connects him to William Faulkner.  Even with crashing waves, sprawling landscapes and haunting cityscapes, there's nothing more mesmerizing in this footage than John Murry himself.

Thanks to producer and Cowboy Junkie Michael Timmins, Murry's broken, wired, ramshackle, glorious spirit shines through the songs of Decay.  Whereas Graceless Age seemed a carefully, deliberately arranged mosaic of song, sound and spirit, new tunes like "Under a Darker Moon" and "Wrong Man" are barely held together, conveying the same reckless passion that seems to drive Murry's live sets.  The guitars buzz and shriek, piano enters tentatively, and Caitlin O'Riordan's backing vocals come across as a ghostly afterthought.

"Under a Darker Moon" is the record's most standard rocker, offering a steadily skittering beat and bass to cling to, as well as a surefooted melody.  With in-your-face guitar and a lack of definite resolution, it'll never be mistaken for radio bait.  But its urban late night street sounds bring to mind figures like Mark Lanegan and even Lou Reed at his most tuneful.  All I do is fix what I did the day before.

"Come Five & Twenty" is a prettier number, spectral lyrics brightened by a burbling organ and O'Riordan's subtly charming vocal.  Life is a gift / I don't recall taking  / I wear it till it fades.  With its delicate acoustic and midtempo percussion, it brings to mind Richard Buckner.  Matter of fact, I'd argue that Buckner's classic Devotion + Doubt is an apt comparison.  Despite the fact that it's generally a lighter, less intense set, both records employ silence and space to masterful effect.

More commonly, Decay plods along at a pallbearer's pace.  "One Day (You'll Die)" is a drowsy reflection that morphs unexpectedly into the 1959 instrumental "Sleep Walk".  It's one of a couple moments of relative levity that Murry forces into the thick dark.  "Wrong Man" is a Nick Cave-esque folk ballad no more substantial than smoke, with piano given a slight echo treatment and the sound of fingers sliding across frets as loud as anything else in the mix.  I'm the wrong man to ride shotgun / On your murder mile.

The songs on Decay aren’t entirely different than those on Murry’s effort of 5 years ago.  There is talk of mortality and meaning, lyrics couched in religious imagery, perhaps a pervasive lack of hope or trust.  He remains a smart and literate writer, drawn towards the sort of grand statements more common in philosophy and literature (the record’s title is borrowed from a book by Romanian nihilist philosopher Emil Cioran).  The dividing line between the two CDs comes down to the producer’s choices.  Michael Timmins has left more of the grain, the texture in Murry’s music, resulting initially in a more challenging listening experience.  But with repeated trips through Short History of Decay, the gradual familiarity carves a path towards a deeper appreciation of John Murry’s tortured art, and for the jumbled, raw setting that ultimately compliments his overall vision.  On “One Day (You’ll Die)”:  I’ll remain nothing more than a misquote in history’s back pages.  Bleak as it is, the music trades in genuine emotion.  

This week's Episode also brings new stuff from the Southern rock outfit Blank Range, as well as something decidedly fantastical from Ian Felice.  Also, Howling Bells' Juanita Stein launches her solo career, and Alex Williams is 4 real.

- James Elkington, "Wading the Vapors" Wintres Woma  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Nick Lowe, "Lovers Jamboree" Pinker and Prouder Than Previous  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Danny & Champions of the World, "Waiting For the Wheels to Come Off" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- Steelism w/Andrew Combs & Jessie Baylin, "Lonely Game" Ism  (Intoxicating Sounds, 17)
- Mastersons, "Don't Tell Me To Smile" Transient Lullaby  (New West, 17)
- Steve Earle, "News From Colorado" So You Wannabe An Outlaw  (Warner, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Texas Jesus" This Tall To Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Universal Sound" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Will Hoge, "This Ain't An Original Sin" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Matt Woods, "Fireflies" How to Survive  (Lonely Ones, 16)
- Whiskey Shivers, "Liquor Beer Wine & Ice" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Brand New Start" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Ballad of 1892" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Dead Volts, "Enough" Hate Ray  (Twang N Bang, 17)  D
- Alex Williams, "Little Too Stoned" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)  D
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Nail My Feet Down To the Southside of Town" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Blank Range, "Opening Band" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girl, 17)  D
- Yayhoos, "Bottle and a Bible" Fear Not the Obvious  (Bloodshot, 01)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Find Yourself" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Concord, 17)  D
- GospelbeacH, "Kathleen" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Heartless Bastards, "Swamp Song" Stairs and Elevators  (Fat Possum, 04)
- Juanita Stein, "Cold Comfort" America  (Hand Written, 17)  D
- Moot Davis, "Shot Down in Flames" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)  D
- Deer Tick, "Jumpstarting" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)
^ John Murry, "Under a Dark Moon" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)  D
- Ian Felice, "In the Kingdom of Dreams" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)  D
- Spirit Family Reunion, "Put the Backseat Down" No Separation  (SFR, 12)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Graceland" single  (New West, 17)
- Sam Baker, "Moses in the Reeds" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "I Do Believe I've Had Enough" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)