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Wednesday, August 05, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 2, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

WtF, July?!!  Neck-deep into this plague year, expectations are light.  You had no business gifting us with such a wealth of new material, such a firehose rush of music we haven't had a chance to digest it all.  Nevertheless, we'll still take a good faith stab at showcasing our five favorite collections for the past month (in order of appearance):

- Margo Price, That's How Rumors Get Started  (Loma Vista, Jul 3)
- Joshua Ray Walker, Glad You Made It  (State Fair, Jul 10)
- Jayhawks, XOXO  (Sham, Jul 10)
- SG Goodman, Old Time Feeling  (Verve, Jul 17)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, Old Flowers  (Fat Possum, Jul 24)

August will be bringing an even longer list of new records, though it seems to be less packed with the higher-profile stuff on July's docket.  For the record, we're especially eager to take a deep dive into projects from Kathleen Edwards, Jerry Joseph, HC McEntire and Justin Wells.

And Arlo McKinley.  Back in 2014, the Cincinnati area songwriter released a sparsely but critically acclaimed full-length record with an outfit christened Arlo McKinley & the Lonesome Sound.  The collection had come together after three years of touring, and presented McKinley as a mature writer with a way for sad country songs.  While the album was lauded on a handful of end-of-year favorites lists, years of touring and a couple false starts assured that McKinley's follow-up was perennially on the horizon.

Credit for breaking that Sophomore-album stalemate is due at least in part to St John Prine, who signed McKinley to his Oh Boy label just prior to his ascension.  Prine and his new labelmate seem to have little in common as songwriters, aside from an obvious dedication to the craft.  As is not uncommon with an artist's second offering, some of the songs on Die Midwestern (due August 16) were reportedly written alongside tunes from that debut collection.  As a matter of fact, there is a remarkable consistency between McKinley's two records.

To produce Die Midwestern, Arlo McKinley recruited Matt Ross-Spang from Sam Phillips Studio in Memphis, a familiar name who has previously worked with Margo Price, Charley Crockett, Lucero and others.  Also on board for the sessions are Wilco drummer Ken Coomer, guitarist Will Sexton, Lucero pianist Rick Steff, fiddle player Jessie Munson and bassist David Smith.  The outfit generate a full and satisfying sound behind McKinley, especially Steff's always notable keys and Munson's tasteful fiddle.

With a headline like Die Midwestern, one might expect an LP crowded with anthems of heartland identity and Middle-American pride.  But McKinley writes as much about turning his back as he writes about roots and belonging.  From the title cut: I've been thinking that I should go / Cause if I don't leave now then I'm never gonna leave Ohio lord.  The loosely swaying track isn't cynical as much as it is restless, as the singer recognizes that the opportunity might not come around again.  He walks the familiar Cincinnati riverfront without much to keep him from moving on:  The streets are crowded and the lights are so bright / Another Cincinnati Saturday night / And I hate what that has become

While his voice has a bit of added gravel to it compared to his Lonesome Sound project, there remains a melodicism and a youthfulness to McKinley's delivery that rings like Jason Isbell with a touch more gospel in his roots.  You'll catch the resemblance on "We Were Alright", a slow builder that traces the arc of a relationship: We hit the road / I said tell me where you want to be / And that's where we're gonna go.  Behind Steff's barroom piano, "She Always Been Around" showcases the artist's ability to deliver on an old school hard country weeper. 

Over the years I've crossed paths with an unexpected number of folks who were strong advocates for Arlo McKinley's record with Lonesome Sound, pointing to cuts like "Time In Bars" and "Pass Us By" by way of supporting their argument.  Die Midwestern continues to deliver on that early promise, with "Bag of Pills" or "Suicidal Saturday Night" assuring that he won't shake his reputation as a sensitive troubadour of the downtrodden.  The former sets out with a memorable lyric: You want it / I can feel it / Got a bag of pills I've been dealing / So I can take you drinking.  Heavier guitars compliment the mounting drama in McKinley's delivery. 

Die Midwestern officially stands as the solo debut of Arlo McKinley.  More than six years after his Lonesome Sound collection, the artist is, of course, older with more experience under his belt, more miles on the road behind him, stories beneath his hat.  For most, this Oh Boy offering will serve as a fine introduction to a worthy writer.  And Die Midwestern does reset expectations, perhaps even laying the groundwork, if we're lucky and McKinley's cards fall right, for an album release schedule that will allow him to stretch and explore, to continue to grow as a performer. 

The expansive "Walking Shoes" is the CD's appropriate closer.  I'm putting on my walking shoes, he sings. Goodbye, wish you the best.  His current band behind him, channeling some of the ghosts haunting the Memphis studios. it speaks to closures and new starts:  Grudges that I fell upon / I've been holding for too long / Tomorrow they will all be gone / Once the morning comes

- Twain, "Love, Go Lightly" Days of Effort and Ease  (Twain, 20)  D
- Gillian Welch, "Here Come the News"  Boots No 2: Lost Songs Vol 1  (Acony, 20)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Mississippi John Hurt (feat. Pam Tillis)" Co-Starring  (Big Machine, 20)
- Heartless Bastards, "Revolution" single  (Sweet Unknown, 20)  D
- Texas Gentlemen, "Skyway Streetcar" Floor It!!!  (New West, 20)
- Jayhawks, "Across My Field" XOXO  (Sham, 20)
- Bonnie Whitmore, "Right/Wrong" Last Will and Testament  (Whitmore, Oct 2)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Guilty" Old Flowers  (Fat Possum, 20)
- Rocky Votolato, "Before You Were Born" Brag and Cuss  (Barsuk, 07)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Get Up!" All the Misery Money Can Buy  (GasPops, Sep 11)
- Matt Woods, "Tomorrow's All We Have" Mornings After EP  (Lonely Ones, Sep 4)  D
- Elvis Perkins, "Half Life" Creation Myths  (MIR Image, Oct 2)  D
- Parker McCollum, "Lonesome Ten Miles" Best of Parker McCollum  (McCollum, 20)
- Jerry David DeCicca, "I See Horizons" Unlikely Optimist and His Domestic Adventures  (This is a Self Release, Oct 16)  D
- Half Gringa, "Afraid of Horses" Force to Reckon  (Gringa, Aug 28)
- Tyler Childers, "Hwy 40 Blues (feat. Ricky Skaggs & Larry Cordle)" Spotify Singles  (Spotify, 20)  D
- Kathleen Edwards, "Fools Ride" Total Freedom  (Dualtone, Aug 14)
- Bo-Keys, "Set Me Free" Heartaches By the Number  (Omnivore, 16)
- Cut Worms, "Sold My Soul" Nobody Lives Here Anymore  (Jagjaguwar, Oct 9)  D
- Shannon LaBrie, "Alcohol (electric)" Building  (Moraine, Sep 25)
- Dawn Landes, "Mount Everest" ROW  (CropDuster, Oct 2)  D
- Limbeck, "In Ohio On Some Steps" Hi Everything's Great  (Doghouse America, 03)
- Kenny Roby, "Vampire Song (Whatcha Gonna Do)" The Reservoir  (Royal Potato Family, Aug 7)
- Laura Veirs, "Burn Too Bright" My Echo  (Raven Marching Band, Oct 23)  D
- Angel Olsen, "Whole New Mess" Whole New Mess  (Jagjaguwar, Aug 28)  D
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Way Country Sounds" OH/KY  (Sofaburn, 14)
- Molly Tuttle, "Olympia, WA"  ... but i'd rather be with you  (Compass, Aug 28)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Two Chords and a Lie" Aftermath  (Agent Love, Sep 11)
- Charley Crockett, "Wreck Me" Welcome To Hard Times  (Son of Davy, 20)
- Lori McKenna, "Two Birds" Balladeer  (CN, 20)

New this week to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your MonsterWill Johnson has dropped an announcement that his next project will be released on Aug 14 (Aug 7 via Bandcamp).  El Capitan comes courtesy of Keeled Scales.  Shannon LaBrie has announced a follow-up to 2016's War & PeaceBuilding is expected September 25 via Moraine Records.  We had the privilege of hosting an instudio session with Bonnie Whitmore back in our radio daze.  On October 2, expect the singer's Last Will & Testament.  Word has it that Lera Lynn's On My Own (Oct 23) is completely produced, written and played by the artist.  And more good news:  Angel Olsen will be creating a Whole New Mess on August 28, via Jagjaguwar.  Here is a ROUTES-cast:

Thursday, July 30, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 28, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Rumors, of course.  Dylan's Blood On the Tracks.  My own favorite, Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights.  Classic breakup albums, bubbling under with resentment, sparking animosity, assigning blame.  It's all part and parcel of the catharsis that follows the dissolution of a relationship that has run its course.

While Courtney Marie Andrews exhibits a diverse range of emotions on her own breakup record, Old Flowers, it might be among the most decent collections of its type.  At one point, the writer offers, I hope this world sees who I see in you.  If you're looking for claws and blood and clouds of dust, you won't find it on Andrews' new collection.  She writes by way of introduction:  This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can't be with. It's about being afraid to be vulnerable after you've been hurt. It's about a woman who is alone, but okay with that, if it means truth.

Old Flowers is the third higher profile release for Andrews, following on the heels of 2016's Honest Life and 2018's May Your Kindness Remain, both of which found a place on our yearly favorites lists.  Issued by Fat Possum Records, it's by no means a big departure from the thoughtful country-folk that populated those earlier efforts, even as the artist opts for as stripped back and vulnerable a sound as we've heard from her.

Andrews has gathered an intimate cadre of collaborators for Old Flowers, including producer Andrew Sarlo, who has worked previously alongside Hand Habits, Bon Iver and Big Thief.  Instrumentally, Twain's Matthew Davidson serves on guitars and keys, and Big Thief's James Krivchenia adds percussion.  As a unit, they make interesting musical choices and take risks that draw listeners closer and emphasize the underlying indie aspects of Andrews' folk.  A strummed acoustic lays the groundwork for "Break the Spell", but the song's magic is conjured by a subtle breeze of chimes, percussion and keyboard ambiance that might be overlooked without leaning into the sound.

One of Old Flowers' certain highlights is "If I Told", a glance back at the birth of a relationship on Venice Beach, under the palm trees.  Once again, a standard strummed acoustic shares space with those treated, looped elements.  Andrews' delivery is peerless, though never showy or indulgent.  The lyric betrays a sense of self-uncertainty that threads across the record: I am a loner, I am stubborn / Can you handle this world I live in. Like many of the CD's ballads, "Together or Alone" trades guitar for piano, but leaves those lovely sonic treatments like a river beneath it all.  The song straddles the beginning and the resolution of the relationship, from When we first met, your hair was in your eyes to the resigned What a goddamn mess, fate is such a joke.

Listeners who fell hard for Andrews' previous projects will still encounter a lot to enjoy on Old Flowers, tunes that skew in a more familiar direction.  The title track reaches back to childhood recollections, minimalist pedal steel echoing across a cornflower blue sky like a lone cloud.  There is a country-soulfulness to cuts like "Guilty", built of little more than drum, bass and piano.  "It Must Be Someone Else's Fault" serves to tie up the collection's story arc, finding the narrator revisiting their ex- following an extended silence.  I'm still sensitive and stubborn, Andrews sings, Still cry more than a person should / But it's this feeling inside that's changed / Like I've gone bad, but the world is good.  She sings with somewhat of a yodel on the project's most traditional arrangement.

Fact is, every time I've listened to Courtney Marie Andrews' new album, I've reached for the headphones.  Old Flowers is not a pristine listen, it's rough and grained like burlap.  Even as Andrews' voice has been recognized as among the most beautiful instruments in our kind of music, it's the company she keeps on her new collection that lift Old Flowers beyond being just another pretty sad folk album.  Listen closer.  It's the whispers and the spaces between that will tell you that this is a masterful record.

- Juanita Stein, "Snapshot" Snapshot  (Handwritten, Oct 2)  D
- Flying Burrito Brothers, "Juanita" Gilded Palace of Sin  (UMG, 69)
- Justin Wells, "No Time For a Broken Heart" United State  (Singular, Aug 28)
- Ashley Ray, "Dirty Work" Pauline  (Soundly, Aug 14)
- Charley Crockett, "Don't Cry" Welcome To Hard Times  (Son of Davy, Jul 31)
- Colter Wall, "Cowpoke" Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs  (La Honda, Aug 28)
- Margo Price, "That's How Rumors Get Started" That's How Rumors Get Started  (Loma Vista, 20)
- Old 97s, "The Dropouts" Twelfth  (ATO, Aug 21)
- Paul Thorn, "If You Can't Love Me Forever" Are You With Me  (Perpetual Obscurity, 04)
- SG Goodman, "Supertramp" Old Time Feeling  (Verve, 20)
- John Murry, "King of Kalifornia" John Murry is Dead EP  (Submarine Cat, Sep 11)
- Lydia Loveless, "Love Is Not Enough" Daughter  (Honey You're Gonna Be Late, Sep 25)  D
- Delta Spirit, "It Ain't Easy" What Is There  (New West, Sep 11)
- Deadly Snakes, "West Texas Sound" I'm Not Your Soldier Anymore  (In the Red, 01)
- HC McEntire, "Final Bow" Eno Axis  (Merge, Aug 21)
- Arlo McKinley, "Gone For Good" Die Midwestern  (Oh Boy, Aug 14)
^ Courtney Marie Andrews, "Old Flowers" Old Flowers  (Fat Possum, 20)
- Shovels & Rope, "Mississippi Nuthin' (acoustic)" By Blood (Deluxe Edition)  (Dualtone, Aug 28)
- Jerry Joseph, "Sugar Smacks" Beautiful Madness  (Soundly, Aug 21)
- Bill Callahan, "Protest Son" Gold Record  (Drag City, Sep 4)
- Samantha Crain, "Little Bits" A Small Death  (Ramseur, 20)
- Blank Range, "Circumstances" Vista Bent  (Sturdy Girls, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Little Victories" XOXO  (Sham, 20)
- Great Peacock, "All I Ever Do" Forever Worse Better  (Soundly, Oct 9)  D
- Bella White, "Hand of Your Raising" Just Like Leaving  (Bella White, Sep 25)  D
- Jon Snodrass, "Renaissance Man" Tace  (A-F, Oct 9)  D
- Texas Gentlemen, "Hard Road" Floor It!!!  (New West, 20)
- Lori McKenna, "Stuck In High School" The Balladeer  (CN, 20)
- Nude Party, "Shine Your Light" Midnight Manor  (New West, Oct 2)  D
- Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Help These Blues" Damage  (Blues Explosion, 04)

Some quality additions to our Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster this week - our bold release calendar updated on an obsessive basis.  In addition to serving as 1/3 of Bonny Light Horseman, Eric D Johnson is Fruit Bats.  This week it was announced that Fruit Bats will be issuing an album-length cover of Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream CD (Merge, Aug 21).  Nude Party will share the follow-up to their fine 2018 self-titled record on what's shaping up to be THE go-to release date for Fall music.  Expect their Midnight Manor courtesy of New West.  One-time Howling Bells frontperson, Juanita Stein's 2017 solo debut, America, was better than anticipated.  We anticipate the followup, Snapshot, on October 2 (Handwritten).  We've been active supporters of Great Peacock since their inception.  Forever Worse Better arrives via Soundly on October 9.  And one-time Colorado resident and Drag the River participant Jon Snodgrass has set an October 9 date for Tace.  Yer ROUTES-cast has arrived:

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 19, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I began this Routes & Branches thing with a whimper back in the Summer of 2008.  I had just moved from Oregon to Colorado, gradually settling into a position as Music Director of an area community radio station.  Of course, I had no idea what would become of my new hobby, nor the spectacular heights I would reach as writer for a small, out of the way blog.  But one of the very first Episodes featured a picture of a young, laughing Samantha Crain, an Oklahoma singer-songwriter who had just landed her Confiscation EP on the fledgling Ramseur Records. The project secured a spot in Young Scott's year-end favorites list for '08, alongside stuff from Alejandro Escovedo, Felice Brothers and since forgotten gems by Will Quinlan and Danielle Talamini.

I kept pace with Samantha Crain over the years, as she soon abandoned her Midnight Shivers backing band, extending her artistic reach from album to album, embellishing her music with touches of pop and deepening her lyrical gifts beyond measure.  Crain's new collection, A Small Death, arrives in the wake of personal and medical challenges that threatened her livelihood for a time.  An extended recovery allowed her to rediscover the motivation for her art.  After a trio of critically acclaimed projects with John Vanderslice at her side, she has taken the reins as producer for these intimate pieces.

Samantha Crain delivers eleven new songs from this side of the crucible, dreamlike tales of her ordeal.  I've gotten over the shame in little bits, she sings on the collection's brief closing song, one that sounds like little else on A Small Death.  Tik-tok beats are juxtaposed alongside pedal steel runs, catching the listener off guard at the tail end of a record characterized by thoughtfully deployed woodwinds and horns and near-jazz gestures.  But it's the perfect bow to tie upon an album that is more likely to keep secrets than overstay its welcome.  You can open up or keep it secret if  you want / As if to spurn the weakness / As if to change the way it all went down ...

More typical of Crain's arrangements on her new CD is "Holding to the Edge of Night", a meandering meditation on walking in the dark.  The lightly fingerpicked acoustic that introduces the song is gradually clouded over by atmospherics, a single clarinet flitting like a restless moth.  Those woodwinds and horns leap to life halfway through "Constructive Eviction", highjacking the track until its close.  These are the careful choices Crain makes on an album that is sturdy and warm, but deliberately constructed.  Studio loops and effects are present, but like the horns they are used only when it's necessary to move the story forward: Trust is a heavy broken piano / You have to pay someone to take it off your hands.

Samantha Crain's debut EP introduced her as a risk-taking lyricist, a promising writer.  As capable of storytelling as she is of introspection and vulnerable expression, she's grown to be a consistently impressive songwriter.  "An Echo" is gorgeous: But then became the Summer when my hands appeared so useless I felt like a little baby / And my pride evaporated like the water in a skillet / And you softened like some butter.  Few artists can so provocatively toe the line between confession and mystery.  The detail in "Tough For You" is obviously rooted to some extent in Crain's own experience:  I was planning to be changed the darkest day of the year, as we parked near the Christian thrift store / The smell of the downtown feed mill, the popcorn and the rain / I wanted to bow out, to hesitate some more / But I wanted to be tough for you.

Of course, Crain's immediately identifiable voice has served as her calling card since her first recordings.  At times low with a defined vibrato, it can soar on songs like "Pastime".  Hushed cuts like "High Horse" and "Joey" strip back the surroundings to allow her voice to shine:  From the cracks in my textured walls / Weeps a loneliness that falls into the pit of my stomach.  A record produced in the wake of such life-altering physical and emotional distress could've been indulgent or unnecessarily dramatic in less skilled hands.

But like Anna Tivel Samantha Crain can captivate with the most minimal arrangement.  Like Phoebe Bridgers she can add bold and interesting brush-strokes with confidence and purpose.  Just as impressively, she writes and sings "When We Remain" in the language of her Choctaw ancestors.  A Small Death is born of a dark period, but Crain emerges from that wilderness a stronger and more original artist, deserving of wider listenership among indie folk circles and beyond.

- Waylon Payne, "All the Trouble" Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me  (Carnival, Sep 11)
- SG Goodman, "Space and Time" Old Time Feeling  (Verve, 20)
- Gillian Welch, "Strange Isabella" Boots No 2: Lost Songs Vol 1  (Acony, Jul 31)  D
- Daniel Bachman, "Night Glows" Green Alum Springs  (3 Lobed, 20)  D
- Long Ryders, "Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home" Two Fisted Tales  (Island, 09)
- Buddy & Julie Miller, "Let It Rain (feat. McCrary Sisters & Steve Earle)" single  (New West, 20)  D
- Sons of Bill, "In Your Eyes (feat. Molly Parden)" single  (Sons of Bill, 20)  D
^ Samantha Crain, "High Horse" A Small Death  (Ramseur, 20)
- Mendoza Line, "Jefferson" If They Knew This Was the End  (Bar/None, 03)
- Buck Meek, "Roll Back Your Clocks" single  (Keeled Scales, 20)  D
- Blitzen Trapper, "Dead Billie Jean" Holy Smokes Future Jokes  (Yep Roc, Sep 11)
- Bill Callahan, "35" Gold Record  (Drag City, Sep 4)
- Ruston Kelly, "Pressure" Shape & Destroy  (Rounder, Aug 28)
- T Hardy Morris, "Share the Needle" Audition Tapes  (Dangerbird, 13)
- The Chicks, "Sleep at Night" Gaslighter  (Columbia, 20)
- Rev Greg Spradlin & Band of Imperials, "I Drew Six" Hi-Watter  (Out of the Past, 20)
- Mavericks, "Recuerdos" En Espanol  (Mono Mundo, Aug 21)
- Buffalo Clover, "Truthfulness" Test Your Love  (Buffalo Clover, 14)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Sing Me To Sleep" Floor It!!!  (New West, 20)
- Ashley Ray, "Pauline" Pauline  (Soundly, Aug 14)  D
- Brent Cobb, "Keep 'Em On They Toes" Keep 'Em On They Toes  (Ol' Buddy, Oct 2)  D
- Ha Ha Tonka, "Cold Forgiver" Lessons  (Bloodshot, 13)
- Kenny Roby, "Old Love" The Reservoir  (Royal Potato Family, Aug 7)
- David Ramirez, "Shine On Me" My Love Is a Hurricane  (Sweetworld, 20)
- Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, "Abandoned Love" All the Good Times  (Acony, 20)
- Lori McKenna, "Balladeer" The Balladeer  (CN, Jul 24)
- Daniel Donato, "Justice" Young Man's Country  (Cosmic Country, Aug 7)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "Black & Blue" Listening To the Music  (Last Roundup, Aug 28)
- Buddy & Julie Miller, "Get Offa My Money" single  (New West, 20)  D
- Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons, "Blowing My Brains Out" Into the Lovely  (Cosmo Sex School, 05)

The longer we wait to publish each weekly Episode, the more there is to draw your attention to on our Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster page.  Just yesterday, one of our defining artists of the past decade announced her first new collection in almost five years.  We'll share the first single from Lydia Loveless' Daughter on our next ROUTES-cast.  Expect the record on September 25 on her own label, Honey You're Gonna Be Late.  From off the release of an assemblage of cover songs with David Rawlings, Gillian Welch will be dropping a generous collection of outtakes on July 31 via her own Acony Records.  Boots No 2: the Lost Songs Vol 1 is the unwieldy title for the project.  The Secretly Canadian label has announced an LP of covers from WhitneyCandid lands on shelves by August 28, and features tunes originally recorded by John Denver, Roches, David Byrne and more.  Most recently part of Jon Langford's Four Lost Souls, Bethany Thomas is Bloodshot Records' most recent signing.  BT/She/Her is scheduled for an August 28 street date.  Finally, set a timer for October 2, when we're expected to get our hands on Brent Cobb's next full-length.  Keep 'Em On They Toes will reach us, courtesy of Ol' Buddy Records.  ROUTES-cast ahoy:

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 12, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Back when touring was a thing, I would sometimes look into supporting acts of artists I enjoyed, in hopes of catching a newer act on the rise.  This is how I initially came across SG Goodman, scheduled as an opener on several dates for John Moreland.  I immediately departed on an internet investigation, finding that she had released a record under the name Savage Radley, and that she was working with Jim James on her first solo session, Old Time Feeling, set for release this Friday on the Verve Forecast label.  Goodman had met the My Morning Jacket frontman as contributors to the Pine Mountain Sessions, a largely overlooked 2-LP set of music and poetry from Kentucky artists and writers (you'll want to track this down).

Of course, I don't know that there has been more of a hotbed of our kind of music over the past couple years than Kentucky.  In addition to James, think Joan Shelley, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers.  But just like roots music in general, each of these artists exported a different sound and represented a different take on their Southern homeland.  Some would embrace the mythology, while others would rail against it.  Artists would alternately sink their heels into the green green grass of home, or would struggle to escape its pull.

As the country was beset by the plague, SG Goodman was mulling over the idea of relocating from Murray, Kentucky to New York City.  As a gay woman born and raised in the South, she is both an insider and an outsider to the culture, a perspective that she mines throughout Old Time Feeling.  She sings on the beat-driven title cut: the Southern state is a condition it's true / i've got a little proposition for you / stick around and work your way through / be the change that you hope to find.  The record's sonic outlier, it enters like a freight train with guitars blazing and Goodman's insistent delivery bringing to mind the early punk-inspired like Maria McKee and Lone Justice.  It's what the artist calls a new wave of indie Southern rock.  With its blunt guitar and bluesy undertones, "When You Hear the Way I Talk" introduces a more atmospheric side to SG Goodman's sound, including some prime guitar squall.  The songs aptly pinpoint her relationship with her Southern home, recognizing her own rootedness even as she bemoans the rotten elements at its core:  a tale as old as time / to turn the poor against the poor.

The sound of Old Time Feeling is a fascinating  meeting of tradition and vision, though Goodman points to Link Wray's timeless 1971 self-titled record as inspiration.  You might also be able to draw a line through Nashville and a couple hundred miles to the Southwest, where Bobbie Gentry conjured her 1968 Delta Sweete.  You'll wade through that hazy, humid spirit on "If It Ain't Me Babe", a tune that also name-drops Neil Young's Harvest.  But, like Mercury Rev's recent reimagining of Gentry's music, Goodman's sessions with Jim James add a layer of atmospherics and attitude that assure that Old Time Feeling isn't just another nod to days gone by.  "Space and Time" reads like an early rock 'n blues, as delivered by Courtney Marie Andrews.  In a beautiful cry, Goodman recognizes the role that even her detractors have played in making her who she is:  the stranger i pass / my momma / brothers / friends and my father / they're god undercover.

SG Goodman is a powerfully emotive singer, one whose strength comes as much from brokenness and vulnerability as from her capacity to hit all the right notes.  This is especially evident on the slower, simmering cuts like the stirring "Redbird Morning" or "Burn Down the City".  The latter pulses along with lovely keening backing vocals and an electric undercurrent that brings to mind HC McEntire and Mount Moriah.  The evocative "Tender Kind" features an appropriately fragile vocal on a piece that recalls a passed relationship: postcard with a cotton bloom / sent from the south and it made it to you / signed, your delta blue.

Old Time Feeling introduces us to a fully formed artist, her songs unmistakably steeped in the romanticism and mythology of the South, but speaking urgently and eloquently about our present situations.  One can imagine SG Goodman taking bold strides in years to come, expanding roots music into new directions and, just as importantly, delivering messages that matter.  It's the kind of rare discovery that keeps our kind of music relevant, and it fuels everything we do.

- Molly Tuttle, "Standing On the Moon" ... but i'd rather be with you  (Compass, Aug 28)
- Ottoman Turks, "You're Only Pretty When You're Sad" Ottoman Turks  (State Fair, 19)
- Joshua Ray Walker, "User" Glad You Made It  (State Fair, 20)
- Margo Price, "Prisoner of the Highway" That's How Rumors Get Started  (Loma Vista, 20)
- Texas Gentlemen, "East St" Floor It!!!  (New West, Jul 17)
- Dougie Poole, "Freelancer's Blues" Freelancer's Blues  (Wharf Cat, 20)
- Greyhounds, "Long Goodbye" Primates  (Nine Mile, 20)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Bones" Aftermath  (Agent Love, Sep 11)
- Bohannons, "Built a World" Unaka Rising  (This is American Music, 12) 
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Rock Gods (feat. Aaron Lee Tasjan)" Co-Starring  (Big Machine, 20)
- Eilen Jewell, "Green River" single  (Signature Sounds, 20)  D
- Bill Callahan, "Another Song" Gold Record  (Drag City, Sep 4)
- Elliott Brood, "Stay Out" Keeper  (Six Shooter, Sep 18)  D
- Jayhawks, "Homecoming" XOXO  (Sham, 20)
- Jolie Holland, "Amen" Escondida  (Anti, 04)
- Pollies, "Hold On My Heart" From the Guest Bedroom  (Single Lock, 20)  D
- Dead Tongues, "Nothingness and Everything" Transmigration Blues  (Psychic Hotline, 20)
- Wilco, "Red-Eyed and Blue" Being There  (Reprise, 96)
- Avett Brothers, "Victory" Third Gleam  (Loma Vista, Aug 28)  D
- Kathleen Edwards, "Hard On Everyone" Total Freedom  (Dualtone, Aug 14)
- John Murry, "Intruder" John Murry is Dead EP  (Hibernian Sweatshop, Sep 11)  D
- Gasoline Lollipops, "All the Misery Money Can Buy" All the Misery Money Can Buy  (Soundly, Sep 11)  D
- Aubrie Sellers, "Wicked Game" World on Fire EP  (Soundly, Aug 7)  D
- Band of Heathens, "Black Cat" Stranger  (BoH, Sep 25)
- Kasey Chambers & Jimmy Barnes, "Black Bess" Cannot Buy My Soul: Songs of Kev Carmody  (EMI Australia, Aug 21)  D
- Great Peacock, "Broken Hearted Fool" Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)
- Chuck Prophet, "Love Doesn't Come From the Barrel of a Gun" Land That Time Forgot  (Yep Roc, Aug 21)
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Secret Keepers" Dirt and the Stars  (Lambent Light, Aug 7)
- Grant-Lee Phillips, "Gather Up" Lightning Show Us Your Stuff  (Yep Roc, Sep 4)
- Cat Power, "Still In Love" Myra Lee  (Smells Like, 96)

Let's take a look at some of the stuff that's been added this week to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster, our obsessively updated release guide.  We caught wind of From the Guest Bedroom by the Pollies this week (Single Lock).  It actually hit shelves in June, featuring some pared back rerecordings of earlier songs.  We were also surprised this week with a covers collection from Gillian Welch and David RawlingsAll the Good Times includes cuts originally by Prine, Dylan, Cash and others.  My Morning Jacket dropped The Waterfall II, a companion piece to 2015's The Waterfall.  Looking into the future, we've added All the Misery Money Can Buy to our plans for September 11, courtesy of Colorado's Gasoline Lollipops.  Finally, the Canadian trio Elliott BROOD have announced their first collection since 2017's Ghost Gardens.  On Six Shooter Records, Keeper should be expected September 18.  Your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Tuesday, July 07, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 5, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of campers, travel-trailers and RVs

I'm not giving away any secrets by saying that sorrow is a key aspect of country music.  It's common knowledge that the genre is fueled by melancholy, disillusion, tragedy, darkness, heartbreak, loneliness and life's little disappointments.  In the process of turning much of country music on its head, the mainstream expression has largely lost that thread of sadness.  Curiously, listeners currently seem to gravitate more towards songs about good times.  I suppose this is alright, but it's not where Joshua Ray Walker comes from.

On his 2018 debut, Wish You Were Here, the Dallas resident introduced himself on one of that year's strongest songs.  From "Canyon": I'm a big big man / Not just in size or in stature / In terms of space that can't be filled / I'm a bottomless canyon / Without a drop to spill.  Walker delivered these lines and others on the record in a voice that has known sorrow, a high and lonesome yodel that borrows as much from his grandfather's bluegrass record collection as from country classics and new traditionalists.

Walker has appropriately called his follow-up Glad You Made It, gathering producer John Pedigo and a roomful of the same collaborators behind that first collection.  And in the tradition of "Canyon", he introduces his new album with an absolute gut punch:  I might put this truck in neutral / Let it roll into the lake / First I'll finish off this bottle / So it looks like a mistake.  "Voices" launches his heartbreaking vocal from a haze of pedal steel, a vibe that translates perfectly to the video's David Lynch-ian tableau, portraying Walker staring down the camera in the company of several of the characters from the CD's other stories.  It's an indelible image.

Whereas Wish You Were Here was populated almost entirely with these weepers and wrist-slasher ballads, Glad You Made It takes the deliberate step of leaning into the tempo a little more, generating sounds that would translate to a more electric stage show.  Which doesn't mean the propulsive "True Love" parts the clouds even as it invites listeners onto the dance floor.  With its see-saw fiddle and tumbling drums, the song stays true to Walker's somewhat jaded spirit: We won't grow old together / Holding hands when your hair turns gray.  And later: You just want what / You can't have / Lonely ain't that bad.

One constant from record to record is Walker's facility for conjuring characters who populate his land of fractured dreams.  The center of attention, the titular "Boat Show Girl" stands with her eyes fixed on the distance Like a redneck Statue of Liberty.  A lazily lilting accordion gives the song a Border flair.  She's a sympathetic subject, as are many of these down-and-outers.  Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses waiting on the shore, Walker sings.  May you board this fiberglass vessel / And not feel empty anymore.  See also the rocking "DB Cooper", a monster guitar and Frankenstein organ adding new textures to the artist's sound.

The most interesting character on Glad You Made It might be Joshua Ray Walker himself.  The writer has acknowledged that while most of his songs aren't autobiographical, there are aspects of his own story throughout.  With is brassy horns and big band bounce, "User" might be the most upbeat ode to recreational substance use we've had in years:  Think I'm gonna use again / It's been a long long time.  The tune also serves to remind us that Walker may plumb the emotional depths, but he's rarely self-serious: Some say I'm addicted / But what do they know / It's not a struggle if you don't fight.  Seeming like a long lost Dire Straits track, "Cupboard" follows the narrator's reverie about our perception of time, triggered by expired dry goods in the pantry.

An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Walker has served his time in small Texas clubs, as well as with bands like Ottoman Turks (who are presently wrapping up a new record).  But it's his vocal expression that is showcased on his new collection, an instrument that falls somewhere between the country twang of Dwight Yoakam and the keening hurt of Austin Lucas.  And that range is on full display with Glad You Made It, from the elastic, echoing yodel of "Loving Country" to the 'grass-strained "Play You a Song", with the repeated refrain, Sometimes it feels like / I can't do much else right. You won't hear any complaining from our side of the bar.  Joshua Ray Walker has played his cards wisely, with the release of this second album that both fulfills the promise of his debut and extends his rich musical vision towards future possibilities. 

- Will Hoge, "Maybe This Is Ok"  Tiny Little Movies  (EDLO, 20)
- Kyle Nix, "Sweet Delta Rose" Lightning On the Mountain & Other Short Stories  (Bossier City, 20)
- Reckless Kelly, "North American Jackpot" American Jackpot / American Girls  (No Big Deal, 20)
- Kristina Murray, "Great Unknown" single  (Loud Magnolia, 20)  D
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Whitewash" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)
- Country Westerns, "Slow Nights" Country Westerns  (Fat Possum, 20)
- Shovels & Rope, "I'm Comin' Out (Acoustic Version)" By Blood (Deluxe Edition)  (Dualtone, Aug 28)
- Town Meeting, "Answers" Make Things Better  (Town Meeting, 20)
- Nickel Creek, "Destination" A Dotted Line  (Nonesuch, 14)
- Thad Cockrell, "Fill My Cup" If In Case You Feel the Same  (ATO, 20)
- Jeb Loy Nichols, "GTO" Season of Decline EP  (Compass, 20)
- Bill Callahan, "Pigeons" Gold Record  (Drag City, Sep 4)  D
- Sera Cahoone, "Shitty Hotel" Only As the Day Is Long  (Sub Pop, 08)
- Waylon Payne, "Dead On the Wheel" Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, The Pusher & Me  (Carnival, Sep 11)
- Nicole Atkins, "Forever" Italian Ice  (Single Lock, 20)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Southern Child" Live From Capricorn Sound Studios  (3 Legged, 20)
- Arlo McKinley, "Die Midwestern" Die Midwestern  (Oh Boy, Aug 14)
- Fernando, "S. California" Old Man Motel  (Domingo, 10)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "How You Get Hurt" Old Flowers  (Fat Possum, Jul 24)
- Charley Crockett, "Run Horse Run" Welcome To Hard Times  (Son of Davy, Jul 31)
- James Elkington, "Beechwood Park" single  (Paradise of Bachelors, 20)  D
- Cass McCombs, "Robin Egg Blue" Humor Risk  (Domino, 11)
- Sun on Shade, "Z71 (feat. Sam Doores)" Sun on Shade  (ATO, 20)
- Dead Tongues, "Deep Water, Strange Wind" Transmigration Blues  (Psychic Hotline, 20)
- Low Cut Connie, "Stay As Long As You Like" Private Lives  (Contender, Oct 13)  D
- Dolorean, "Hannibal, MO" Not Exotic  (Yep Roc, 03)
- Jenny O, "Psychedelic Love" New Truth  (Mama Bird, Aug 7)
- Tommy Alexander, "Waves" Waves  (Alexander, 20)
- Cadillac Sky, "Ballad of Restored Confidence" Letters In the Deep  (Dualtone, 10)
- Jason Molina, "Mission's End" Eight Gates  (Secretly Canadian, Aug 7)

A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster is what we call it.  It's our way of keeping track of albums that have been announced by artists that we follow.  We're adding to the thing daily, but each Episode we'll stop down to mention just a couple more newsworthy entries.  Bass Player To the Stars Ted Russell Kamp, f'rinstance, will be releasing his next full length, Down In the Den, on July 24)  Seth and Scott Avett are adding to their celebrated Gleam series, planning to debut Third Gleam on August 28 (Loma Vista).  Matt Woods will be sharing an EP's worth of material recorded during last year's Natural Disasters sessions.  Expect Mornings After wherever music matters on September 4 via Lonely Ones.  We've been singing the praises of Bandcamp lately, and this past week the site was packed with great new releases, owing to the fact that they had waived the artists' fees.  Water Liars, for instance, were selling digital downloads of Roll On, their last unreleased sessions as a trio before Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster and Andrew Bryant departed for solo careers.  There's also a sprawling covers collection coming together under the moniker Cover Charge: North Carolina Artists Go Under Cover to Benefit Cat's Cradle.  Due in full July 31, the collection features NC artists such as Chatham County Line, Iron & Wine, Sarah Shook and many more, with all benefits directed towards the survival of the celebrated music venue.  Your weekly ROUTES-cast, of course:

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 28, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

It's my opinion that the only thing better than not mowing the lawn is having mowed the lawn.  This little affirmation can be applied to just about every daunting task in our lives.  The only thing better than not exercising is having exercised.  Visiting the doctor.  Having a difficult conversation.  Summer.

Throughout much of my life, Summer has been a nemesis.  Here in Our Faire Square State, temps can reach the 90s on a regular basis, with humidity just in the teens.  It almost always cools into the 50s or even the 40s overnight.  Nevertheless, I'm ready for Fall.

It's fortunate that 2020 continues to be as strong a year for our kind of music as any.  Every month, rain or shine, heat or chill, we revisit the thirty days passed in order to wrap up our favorite records for the last couple weeks.  It looks like this:

- Harmed Brothers, Across the Waves  (Fluff & Gravy, Jun 5)
- Hellbound Glory, Pure Scum  (Black Country Rock, Jun 5)
- Will Hoge, Tiny Little Movies  (EDLO, Jun 26)
- Country Westerns, Country Westerns  (Fat Possum, Jun 26)
- Kyle Nix, Lightning On the Mountain & Other Short Stories  (Bossier City, Jun 26)
... it's in order of appearance, because that's how we do.

More than a dozen records into his career, Will Hoge isn't afraid to speak his mind.  Just this week, in response to a non-masked, non-physically distanced concert held by Chase Rice:  Shame on every damn one of your selfish asses.  On his last album, 2018's My American Dream, the Nashville resident took his country and his town to task.  Hoge reserved special scorn for his fellow Southerners who chose to fly high the Confederate colors:  I'm looking away now, Dixie / Cause I've seen all I can stand / But I'm still a Southern man.

That prophetic rage echoes across a couple cuts on Tiny Little Movies.  Battered by the blunt guitars of "Con Man Blues", the titular punching bag is told, You're just fakin' / It's everything you do.  We're all at the mercy of his madness, Hoping in the morning if we wake up / It won't feel so much like we've all gone insane.  With a barking rasp that land somewhere between Tom Petty and Bob Seger, Will Hoge lands these blows soundly, leaving no question that the target of "The Overthrow" (Darth Vader with a spray tan) has earned every bit of his scorn.  The song's slicing guitars and call-and-response backing chorus sound light years away from Music City, perhaps inherited from a 1981 Billy Squier or Loverboy hit.

But, as the CD's title might suggest, the script of Tiny Little Movies is full of politics of the everyday sort.  Rather than pointing fingers at the rats scurrying from DC's bubbling swamp, Hoge glances over fences and pulls aside curtains for a glimpse of life as it's lived in places like his "Midway Motel".  I'm not alone, he sings on the opening track.  There's a bible and a telephone / And a TV that keeps flashing off and on / It's as broken as the world outside.  These are the songs that Hoge writes best, taking elements of country and heartland rock, binding them with a twine of sincerity and grit.

"Midway Motel" rides on heavy but melodic guitars, telling stories from a place we've all been, a way stop for some and a dead end for others.  The narrator includes himself in this latter cohort: I keep a key that opens up 203 / It's got everything that I need / When I want to leave it all behind.  Hoge neither admires nor pities his characters, but simply accepts them like an eagle-eyed reporter from the corner booth.  Another heartland rocker, "Even the River Runs Out of This Town" acknowledges the songwriter's rare and hard-earned skill with an observation or a turn of phrase:  The railroad track and the highway / I guess it's your turn now / Even the river runs out of this town.  A more nuanced cut, piano and orchestral flourishes are applied for cinematic effect.

Some of the most impactful moments on Tiny Little Movies come from songs that find Hoge stepping back to assess his own place in the world.  "Maybe This Is OK" alternates more reflective verses with a fiery chorus, as the writer gives himself permission to entertain the feeling of contentment as he settles into middle age: The mystery has come unwound / I slowly lay this armor down.  It was Hoge's lesser heard soulful side that first drew me to his music nearly fifteen years ago.  "My Worst" mines those bluesy veins, allowing the underrated vocalist to stretch out  into the song's deep groove. 

There's a bit of a restless streak in Will Hoge's music, a legacy that finds him increasingly comfortable in exploring all the dark corners and the implications of his music.  Where 2006's Man Who Killed Love portrayed him as a soul belter, 2015's Small Town Dreams embraced the country and heartland elements of Hoge's songwriting.  Upon the release of 2017's Anchors, he addressed the need to pare it all back to a bare minimum, to rattle around the country as a solo artist in hopes of rediscovering the joy that led him to writing and performing as a younger man.  Tiny Little Movies seems to strike his most eclectic chord to date, gathering each of these tendencies and influences into a cohesive sound even as he still allows the frayed ends to show. 

^ Will Hoge, "Midway Motel" Tiny Little Movies  (EDLO, 20)
- The Chicks, "March March" Gaslighter  (Columbia, Jul 17)
- Jerry Joseph, "Bone Towers" Beautiful Madness  (Decor, Aug 21)
- Country Westerns, "It's Not Easy" Country Westerns  (Fat Possum, 20)
- Jess Williamson, "Pictures of Flowers (feat. Hand Habits)" single  (Mexican Summer, 20)  D
- Delta Spirit, "How Bout It" What Is There  (New West, Sep 11)  D
- Sun On Shade, "Mainline Getaway (feat. Shonna Tucker)" Sun On Shade  (ATO, 20)  D
- Thad Cockrell, "Slow and Steady" If In Case You Feel the Same  (ATO, 20)
- Eric Church, "Stick That In Your Country Song" single  (EMI, 20)  D
- HC McEntire, "Time On Fire" Eno Axis  (Merge, Aug 21)  D
- Corb Lund, "Oklahomans!" Agricultural Tragic  (New West, 20)
- Town Meeting, "Goddamn Song" Make Things Better  (Town Mtg, 20)  D
- Dan Penn, "Living On Mercy" Living On Mercy  (Last Music Co, Aug 28)  D
- Bonny Light Horseman, "Green Rocky Road" Green/Green EP  (37d03d, Aug 7)  D
- Rev Greg Spradlin & Band of Imperials, "Stainless Steel" Hi-Watter  (Out of the Past, Jul 17)
- SG Goodman, "It Ain't Me Babe" Old Time Feeling  (Verve, Jul 17)
- Dead Tongues, "Bama Boys Circa 2005" Transmigration Blues  (Psychic Hotline, 20)
- Railroad Earth, "Delta Queen Waltz" On the Road: Tribute to John Hartford  (LoHi, 20)
- Kyle Nix, "Josephine" Lightning On the Mountain & Other Short Stories  (Bossier, 20)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing In the Doorway (Alive at Spacebomb Studios)" Let the Light Of the World Open Your Eyes  (Merge, 20)  D
- David Ramirez, "Hell (feat. Sir Woman)" My Love Is a Hurricane  (Sweetworld, Jul 17)
- Molly Tuttle, "Fake Empire" ... but i'd rather be with you  (Compass, Aug 28)  D
- Old 97s, "Turn Off the TV" Twelfth  (ATO, Aug 21)  D
- Texas Gentlemen, "Train to Avista" Floor It!!!  (New West, Jul 17)
- Justin Wells, "Screaming Song" The United State  (Singular, Aug 28)  D
- Joshua Ray Walker, "Cupboard" Glad You Made It  (State Fair, Jul 10)
- Ruston Kelly, "Radio Cloud" Shape & Destroy  (Rounder, Aug 28)
- Jayhawks, "Bitter Pill" XOXO  (Sham, Jul 10)
- Greyhound, "Primates" Primates  (Nine Mile, Jul 10)
- Half Gringa, "1990" Force to Reckon  (Half Gringa, Aug 28)  D

While society as we know it circles the drain in an attempt to enforce back to normal, our music world continues to provide us with reasons to carry on, fight the good fight, etc.  We typically select just five new announcements from the week passed, and we'll continue in that tradition, even as we acknowledge that there were at least a dozen additional worthy records added to A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster since last Episode (not counting another superb live recording uploaded to Bandcamp by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit).  Old 97s have set August 21 as the street date for their twelfth album, Twelfth, to be released via ATO Records.  Mount Moriah frontperson HC McEntire will share her second solo CD since last recording with her band.  Eno Axis debuts courtesy of Merge Records on August 21.  Justin Wells' Dawn In the Distance earned one of the top spots on our year-end favorites list back in 2016.  Set your expectations appropriately for The United State, dropping August 28 on Singular.  Bill Callahan is wasting no time in unleashing the follow-up to last year's Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest.  The Drag City label will drop his Gold Record on September 4.  Finally, I was just mentioning to my son that it was way past time for Delta Spirit to return to the studio.  Matthew Logan Vasquez and co. have taken my request to heart.  Expect What Is There on New West Records when September 11 rolls around.  All of the sudden, it's your weekly ROUTES-cast:

Monday, June 22, 2020


featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 21, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

One of our regular stops in traipsing the nets is Bandcamp.  The site is more artist-driven than iTunes or Spotify, and during these plague months, they have featured days where they've waived their commission fees or directed profits towards social justice organizations like Black Lives Matter.  Fortunately, Bandcamp is also a fine resource for music discovery.  There are music blogs that dedicate recurring review space to stuff that's only available through the site.  The past couple weeks alone have seen excellent full releases from Tommy Alexander, Joe Pernice, Mekons, Twain and Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, Live at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville.  While each and every one of these is worth the price of admission, none of them are available outside of Bandcamp.

But let's redirect our attention to an album that can be tracked down wherever music matters.  Perhaps nothing this year has resonated with me on a more visceral level than Country Westerns' full length debut (Fat Possum, Jun 26).  Buzzing and pounding, driving and jangling, no song straying far beyond the three minute mark, it's evocative of the college radio heyday and bands like Replacements and Meat Puppets.

The trio assembled in Nashville, hailing from other worthy acts such as Silver Jews, the Weight and State Champion.  After some time flying beneath the radar, they were spurred on to create a record in part by the late David Berman, following producer Matt Sweeney to Brooklyn's Strange Weather Studios.  In his intro to the band, Sweeney recalls their stated mission to make depressing songs with fun drums.  There is understated magic in the sessions, an urgency and vitality of the sort that originally contributed to what would eventually become alternative country.

Not that your initial impressions will necessarily bring to mind Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt.  It's harder than that, stuff with a sharper edge.  Matter of fact, what is communicated on Country Westerns is closer in line with Stephen Malkmus' more dusty, organic material.  Singer-guitarist Joseph Plunket snarls like Paul Westerberg on "It's Not Easy", and when his guitar sparks to life, the sound is fractured and primal.  You might hear strains of REM's "One I Love" between the guitar lines of "Gentle Soul": I'm just a gentle soul / When you push me I'm willing to roll / I don't want to fight with you.  The music of Country Westerns is evocative, but it is also relevant.

From Sleater-Kinney to Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr, there's a chemistry in the most successful indie trios that's hard to define.  With Plunket simply backed by Sabrina Rush on bass and Brian Kotzur at drums, there is a remarkable amount of noise to songs like "Anytime".  As we begin to test the waters of summer, it's the kind of melodic buzz that feels perfect blasting from unrolled windows.  "Times to Tunnels" speaks to the simplicity of these eleven pieces too, songs that aren't dumbed down though they never work overly hard to make an impression.  One reviewer called the tunes casually literate.

On a terrific Spotify playlist attributed to Joseph Plunket, acts like Rock*A*Teens share space with Magnolia Electric Co and Michael Hurley's "Sweet Lucy".  And it's not hard to hear a common spirit with bands like Lee Bains III & Glory Fires or Arliss Nancy on "Close to Me".  Loud guitars with a modicum of twang and spitting solos on songs like "It's On Me".  Vocals this side of shredded.  No matter how you triangulate the sound, where you draw the lines, Country Westerns is simply good rock 'n roll at a time when that's precisely what's needed.  You'll know as soon as the needle lands on the first groove - the punk fueled passion of playing with a band.  Cut down to the scar / That's how you got where you are / And you'll always wear the mark of every cheap scene, every bar ...

^ Country Westerns, "Gentle Soul" Country Westerns  (Fat Possum, Jun 26)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Grits Ain't Groceries" Live From Capricorn Sound Studios  (3 Legged, 20)  D
- Kyle Nix, "Josephine" Lightning On the Mountain and Other Short Stories  (Bossier, Jun 26)
- Jaime Wyatt, "Rattlesnake Girl" Neon Cross  (New West, 20)
- Chuck Ragan, "Bedroll Lullabye" Till Midnight  (SideOneDummy, 14)
- Israel Nash, "SpiritFalls (live)" Across the Water  (Desert Folklore, 20)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Nothing Worth Saying" single  (Normaltown, 20)  D
- Daniel Donato, "Luck of the Draw" Young Man's Country  (Cosmic Country, Aug 7)  D
- Bonnie Whitmore, "Fuck With Sad Girls" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Starlet & Dog, 16)
- Anna Tivel, "Worthless (acoustic)" The Question (Live and Alone)  (Fluff & Gravy, 20)
- Dougie Poole, "Buddhist For a Couple Days" Freelancer's Blues  (Wharf Cat, 20)
- Jeb Loy Nichols, "Season of Decline" Season of Decline EP  (Compass, 20)  D
- Michaela Anne, "Good Times" single  (Yep Roc, 20)
- Possessed by Paul James, "Take Off Your Mask" Cold and Blind  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 08)
- Hellbound Glory, "Someone To Use" Pure Scum  (Black Country Rock, 20)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Perfect Girls of Pop" Aftermath  (Agent Love, Sep 11)  D
- Colter Wall, "Western Swing & Waltzes" Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs  (La Honda, Aug 28)  D
- Cory Brannan, "Muhammed Ali" 12 Songs  (Madjack, 06)
- Vincent Neil Emerson, "Road Runner (feat. Colter Wall)" single  (La Honda, 20)  D
- Will Hoge, "Overthrow" Tiny Little Movies  (Edlo, Jun 26)
- Tessy Lou Williams, "Round and Round" Tessy Lou Williams  (TLW, 20)
- Buffalo Tom, "Sundress" Sleepy Eyed  (Megadisc, 95)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Drink Till I See Double (feat. Paula Nelson & Elizabeth Cook)" Co-Starring  (Big Machine, Jul 10)
- Corb Lund, "Never Not Had Horses" Agricultural Tragic  (New West, Jun 26)
- Waylon Payne, "What a High Horse" Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me  (Carnival, Sep 11)
- Pert Near Sandstone, "Hell I'd Pay" Rising Tide  (PNS, 20)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Heart a Home" Touch of You: Lost Songs of Gary Stewart  (Prairie Rose, 20)
- Tommy Alexander, "I Blame Myself" Waves  (Alexander, 20)
- Grant Lee Phillips, "Lowest Low" Lightning Show Us Your Stuff  (Yep Roc, Sep 4)
- Richard Buckner, "Ed's Song" Devotion + Doubt  (UMG, 97)

In addition to those terrific Bandcamp releases, this week brought more quality ear candy to the roster for A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.  Guitar wunderkind Daniel Donato will be wielding his Grateful Dead-influenced cosmic country when he releases Young Man's Country on August 7.  We've been sharing singles from Jenny O's New Truth since it was announced several weeks ago.  Her Mama Bird debut will have to wait until its new August 7 due date.  Colter Wall's fourth full-length release is happening on August 28, when Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs is delivered by la Honda Records.  We're pleased to announce that the legendary Dan Penn has made time for a record of his own, after serving behind countless other acts.  Living On Mercy will land wherever music matters on August 28 courtesy of Last Music Co.  It's coming on five years since Elizabeth Cook shared Exodus of Venus.  She's finally announced Aftermath for September 11 via Agent Love.  Finally, there's a call out for crowd funding to release what sounds like a stellar tribute to Neal Casal.  Highway Butterfly: Songs of Neal Casal will feature contributions from Jaime Wyatt, Steve Earle, Beachwood Sparks and more.  Here's your weekly ROUTES-cast: