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Monday, August 13, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 12, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Austin Lucas is due some credit.  Since his last release he has lost over 100 pounds, seen his partner through cancer, shaken his substance issues and recorded Immortal Americans.  He stares out from the jacket of his seventh record, perhaps scarred by his experience but stepping wide-eyed into what's to come.

Lucas has also moved back to Bloomington, Indiana where he came of age as a punk and an outcast:  I learned to be a man / Watching 80s action movies with my friends / I searched my reflection for traces of great American men.  "Killing Time" contributes to Part 1 of a collection that almost seems to be composed of two halves.  That first chapter features a familiar Austin Lucas, documenting the lives of the "immortal Americans" who scrape and scratch and make their way beneath the mainstream.  Pedal steel haunts both "Killing Time" and "Happy", and those instantly recognizable vocals dodge and stab.  Lucas deserves to be considered among the foremost of our lyrical princes:  You were born a little sparrow / With an arrow in your throat.

The title cut is foremost among these more standard Austin Lucas offerings.  With its anthemic spirit and its embrace of the young, passionate and overlooked, "Immortal Americans" serves as among the defining moments of his career:  Children turn the radio on / Fists hit the air, praising rock 'n roll gods / From the soil they are formed / Born to grow corn and cut stone.  Lucas has become a bard for the least of these, living on the outskirts of our mainstream.  He revisits the haunts of his childhood home, perhaps seeing himself in the kids who still populate the parking lots and the late night streets.  Music pumps through their veins:  Sha-la-la goes the rattle and hum / from the hearth of a midwestern home.

Lucas seems to address much of Immortal Americans to that younger self, unfolding his dreams and expectations in light of present realities.  Are you happy / With your new life / Are  you happy / With the new world / Are you drowning in the dream / Of a shiny new beginning / Just like me.  With the benefit of hindsight, we regard our younger selves with a certain ratio of shame and affection, wondering what that person might think of the choices we've made.

But Immortal Americans is largely defined by its second half, which might speak to the influence of co-producer Will Johnson and engineer Steve Albini.  Pieces like "My Mother and the Devil", "Eye of an Asp" and "Between the Leaves" are far more immediate than anything Lucas has released to date.  Those striking vocals seem closer, more fragile and even more impactful, owing to Albini's analog recording and the generous amount of space around the songs.

"My Mother and the Devil" alternates between moments of skeletal acoustic guitar and pounding drums and electric guitar.  Lucas hasn't recorded anything with this degree of vulnerability.  Bits of silence separate the moods, like deep breaths that allow us an uncomfortable pause for thought.  My father says the devil and my mother / Are the only ones who'll be there / Always and forever / No matter what I do.

Matter of fact, the banjo playing of his father Bob Lucas appears throughout the record, serving to anchor the sessions in the sounds of Austin's childhood.  "Eye of an Asp" is a gorgeous duet between the voice of the son and the father's primitive strings.  The backing vocals of Chloe Manor float throughout Immortal Americans, complimenting the arrangements perfectly.  Much of this second half is rooted in dark folk traditions, sounds which were applied to a more upbeat effect about a decade ago on Lucas' tremendous Bristle Ridge collection.  But the shadows that fall across these more recent pieces are new.

To my ears, these two forces come together most effectively on "Monroe County Nights", a more driving tune that sounds like a collaboration between Austin Lucas and Will Johnson.  Like a contemporary Edgar Lee Masters of song, Lucas takes a bird's eye view of the Bloomington home to which he has returned, touching upon how time has changed the people and the place, and how we are changed in return:  By and by / We all are shackled / Caged by county lines / Wired, blood-drunk and born into the fight / By and by / We are no easy prey / Creatures prone to flight / By and by / On a Monroe County night.  By relaxing into what comes naturally, by welcoming a degree of intimacy and uncertainly into his music, Austin Lucas has created the most honest and direct music of his career.

- Two Cow Garage, "Come Back to Shelby" III  (LC, 07)
- Hawks & Doves, "Dangerous Ones" From a White Hotel  (Julian, 18)
- Cordovas, "Step-Back Red" That Santa Fe Channel  (ATO, 18)
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "The Being Gone" Jumping Over Rocks  (JLW, 18)
- Arliss Nancy, "Finches" Greater Divides  (Gunner, 16)
- Ruston Kelly, "Faceplant" Dying Star  (Rounder, 18)
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Poor Until Payday" Poor Until Payday  (Family Owned, 18)  D
- Cody Jinks, "Colorado" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- JP Harris, "Golden Ring (w/Kristina Murray)" Why Don't We Duet in the Road  (Demolition & Removal, 17)
- Jason Eady, "I Lost My Mind in Carolina" I Travel On  (Old Guitar, 18)
- Kevin Gordon, "Gatling Gun" Tilt & Shine  (Crowville Media, 18)
- Glorietta, "Golden Lonesome" Glorietta  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Eric Bachmann, "Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter" No Recover  (Merge, 18)
- Adam Faucett, "T-Rex T-Shirt" More Like a Temple  (Faucett, 11)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "The Rest is Yet to Come" Karma for Cheap  (New West, 18)
- All Them Witches, "Fishbelly 86 Onions" Atw  (New West, 18)  D
- Murder by Death, "Chasing Ghosts" The Other Shore  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- William Elliott Whitmore, "Don't Pray on Me" Kilonova  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Honky Tonk Hell" Hard Times & White Lines  (Morgan, 18)  D
^ Austin Lucas, "Killing Time" Immortal Americans  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Black Lillies, "Ten Years" Stranger to Me  (Attack Monkey, 18)
- Bottle Rockets, "Kerosene" Bottle Rockets  (East Side Digital, 93)
- Malcolm Holcombe, "I Don't Wanna Disappear (w/Iris Dement)" Come Hell or High Water  (Gypsy Eyes, 18)  D
- War & Treaty, "Here is Where the Loving is At (w/Emmylou Harris)" Healing Tide  (Strong World, 18)
- Andrew Combs, "Expectations" 5 Covers & a Song  (New West, 18)
- Shooter Jennings, "Living in a Minor Key" Shooter  (Elektra, 18)
- Ryan Culwell, "Heaven Everywhere I Go" Last American  (Culwell, 18)
- Waxahatchee, "Chapel of Pines" Great Thunder EP  (Merge, 18)
- John Hiatt, "Cry to Me" Eclipse Sessions  (New West, 18)  D
- Alynda Segarra, "Drunken Angel" Blaze: Original Cast Recording  (Light in the Attic, 18)  D

On our radar for the weeks to come are new projects from Kristina Murray, JP Harris and Bottle Rockets.  We've already laid our ears upon the new Adam Faucett, and look forward to digging into that collection.  And we've previously expressed the opinion that movies about music are some of the most difficult to get right.  We're tentatively looking forward to the forthcoming Blaze Foley film, based on an overlooked book by his former partner.  Here's your ROUTES-cast for this week:

Monday, August 06, 2018

by Kris Wixom
featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 5, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

The cover of Israel Nash's Lifted looks like a crowded canvas from Howard Finster's folk art.  Or maybe one of those shadow boxes, where seemingly unrelated curios collect to form a personally meaningful tableau.  Fact is, there's a lot going on on his fifth studio record, which is also indicative of what happens when the music starts.

It sounds like a carnival.  A "modern-day hippie spiritual" is what Israel Nash himself calls it.  Following some ambient midway feedback, "Rolling On" erupts gloriously from the speakers, spattering anyone within earshot with colors and sounds and strings and the Aaaaahhhhhs of one-hundred bearded angels.  Phil Spector built his Wall of Sound.  Israel Nash has the psychedelic beaded curtain of Dripping Springs (TX Hill Country, where he's built his Plum Creek Studio).  It's honestly one of the musical year's most beautiful moments, the generous noise almost too much to accept at first.

Alongside producer Ted Young, Nash has created this wonder from that home studio, one I envision without a roof, where the lines between the natural world and a man's musical laboratory are blurred.  "Sweet Springs" is an ode to the idyllic space, delivered in his perfectly fractured Neil Young yawl: Think I'll sit and rest my bones / Low in my evening chair / I'll follow you right into the colors that float in the air.

He's readily acknowledged the inspiration of production-driven projects like Sgt Pepper's and Pet Sounds, little symphonies that incorporate the studio among the instruments.  The video for "Lucky Ones" portrays Nash in a stark white suit, roaming the surrounding wilderness like a lost Alan Lomax.  He holds out a microphone to the mountains and the hills and the trees and rocks, gathering found sounds and literal field recordings that he's hidden in these songs.

Lifted raises us on its inspirational breezes: You are scattered like light from a sunbeam / Piercing the heart of an old dream / That's spinning me out in the open.  It's an album of ambitious contrasts, isolation vs immersion, sinking deep roots in a rural community vs universal awareness.  It's one man's radically individual vision, lovingly pieced together and carried on the wind to the masses.

I've seen videos online of Israel Nash performing a couple of these pieces solo with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, so I know there's a solid song beneath all that noise and glory hallelujah.  Drums and guitar and pedal steel are never far from our ears, especially on "Northwest Stars" or "Lucky Ones".  But when the trumpet and strings sweep into "Looking Glass", it's hard to resist the wave.  Like those curio cabinets, the songs of Lifted are fascinating, inviting the listener to grab the headphones and disappear into them.  But at heart, it's still a man and his guitar, "farm-to-table rock 'n roll".  Like those classic sounds from Brian Wilson, Nash's heart still beats beneath the surface, and the crickets chirp and the wind blows and the thunder rolls.  Everything has a story / All things they must pass / Once it brought me strife and worry / Now at times it makes me laugh ...

- Willy Tea Taylor & River Arkansas, "Lazy Third Eye" Good Damn Dog  (WTT, 18)
- Jason Isbell, "Cumberland Gap (live)" Live From the Ryman  (Southeastern, 18)  D
- Neko Case, "Pitch or Honey" Hell-on  (ATO, 18)
- Phosphorescent, "New Birth in New England" C'est la Vie  (Dead Oceans, 18)  D
- Sons of Bill, "Easier (w/Molly Parden)" Oh God Ma'am  (Gray Fox, 18)
- Blitzen Trapper, "Furr (live at KCRW)"  Furr: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition  (Sub Pop, 18)
- Cordovas, "This Town's a Drag" That Santa Fe Channel  (ATO, 18)
- Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis, "Who Cares" Wild Wild Wild  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Amanda Shires, "Break Out the Champagne" To the Sunset  (Silver Knife, 18)
- Pollies, "Hold on My Heart" Transmissions  (This is American Music, 18)
^ Israel Nash, "Sweet Springs" Lifted  (Desert Folklore, 18)
- Tom Freund, "Broke Down Jubilee" East of Lincoln  (Surf Road, 18)
- Son Volt, "Driving the View" Wide Swing Tremolo  (Warner, 98)
- Cody Jinks, "Lifers" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- Hawks & Doves, "Bulletproof Hearts" From a White Hotel  (Julian, 18)  D
- Kevin Galloway, "Don't It Feel Good To Smile" The Change  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Kendl Winter, "Stumbler's Business" Stumbler's Business  (Team Love, 18)
- Rhett Miller, "Question" The Believer  (Verve, 06)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Wildflowers" single  (Banjodad, 18)
- Austin Lucas, "Monroe County Nights" Immortal Americans  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Kevin Gordon, "Saint on a Chain" Tilt & Shine  (Crowville Media, 18)  D
- Dolorean, "The Unfazed" The Unfazed  (Partisan, 10)
- Dawn Landes, "Keep on Moving" Meet Me at the River  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Adam's House Cat, "Runaway Train" Town Burned Down  (ATO, 18)  D
- Band of Heathens, "Heaven Help Us All" Message From the People Revisited  (BoH, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Irene" Honest Life  (Mama Bird, 16)
- Will Hoge, "Gilded Walls" My American Dream  (Edlo, 18)
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "the Being Gone" Jumping Over Rocks  (JLW, 18)  D
- Noah Gundersen, "Slow Dancer" Carry the Ghost  (Dualtone, 15)
- Over the Rhine, "Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down" Meet Me at the Edge of the World  (Great Speckled Dog, 13)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Photo by Peter Farrier

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 29, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I'm a bit backed up with stuff to review this week.  Should I focus on Amanda Shires' unexpectedly forward-thinking CD?  While I'm liking Lucero's most adult-sounding record to date, I'm not entirely sure what I can contribute to the conversation.  How about Israel Nash's "modern day hippie-spiritual", or the just-released album that's set to make Cody Jinks a household name?

Nah.  How 'bout a quietly stunning little solo album from one-half of the Lowest Pair?  It's what we're all about here at R&B, shedding new light on stuff you might otherwise overlook.  While each of the above will almost certainly appear on my year-end favorites lists, nobody who frequents our humble online abode is unaware of them.  In some ways, I feel obligated to review those, and I'm really happy to share them.  But I feel positively driven to talk about Kendl Winter's Stumbler's Business (Team Love Records).

It's not necessarily what you think.  Kendl Winter is best known for her recent acoustic collaborations with Palmer T Lee, though she's been a contributor to a variety of bands from punk to folk for years.  She's issued a diversity of solo CDs as well, though Stumbler's Business marks my entree into her musical world. It's folk music, though it's characterized by its departures as much as it is by its allegiances.

"Pretty Saro" has been tackled by a who's who of the Folk Mount Rushmore, including Dylan, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger and Judy Collins.  Winter delivers the standard as a spooky and mournful Appalachian dirge, enveloped in an exquisite quiet.  What separates her from these others is her age-old voice, an instrument made beautiful for its creaks and warm breaks.  The most ready comparison would be to Victoria Williams, though there is also room for Karen Dalton and Gillian Welch.  "Saro" is about as trad as she gets, with most of Stumbler's Business flowing from her own pen.

Audio fidelity is not the point of these recordings.  Songs like "Solitude" and "When She Did" are delivered in lo- or no-fi.  Even at its most polished, Winter's recordings retain the warmth and honesty of a living room session, and that contributes to the appeal.  Kendl Winter is a skilled banjo player and a guitarist, populating her songs with impressive stringwork, both acoustic and electric.  And despite those folk roots, many pieces feature some degree of unexpected accompaniment.

"Artesian Well" pairs her otherworldly voice with that of Pine Hearts' Joe Cappocia, singing the praises of the healing waters of her Pacific Northwest home. Winter's lone frailed banjo is gradually joined by guitar and mandolin, with voices weaving and meeting at the well:  We keep coming back / It's all I know how to do.

"Beauty We Beg" is an inventory of her world, a warning to those who would try to force an artificial order on nature's disorder.  I will not impose my chaos upon those / That would rather walk than to run.  More than any other, the tune shows Winter's gift as a lyricist, capable of poetry and pun.  Driftwood beam to hold up the thing / That smells like the crotch of the ocean / You call it a home / It does look warm, though I wrinkle my nose / From my station.

But Stumbler's Business is at its most rewarding as it strays furthest from expectation, as heard on "Nebraska" or on the title track.  The former is built upon unexpectedly gritty squalls of electric guitar and little more. On a record that reaches us largely through intimacy, "Nebraska" is fierce and dark:  I've been framed / Free to go and then detained / This jury's loaded and deranged / Nothing's changed and everything's changing.

The CD's title cut begins and ends with ambient street noise, which folds into Winter's electric guitar and her voice: I'm looking for a way to fall / Tonight / I hear that record skipping / I feel bodies moving.  Her guitar echoes until it's almost a tidal drone behind her gorgeous and ecstatic phrasing.  We fall forward and we fail, we learn and we fall again:  Floor / Meet the body / Body / Meet the floor.

You might recall some good words I cast a couple months ago upon a record by Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden.  Like that refreshing blast of folk-inspired song, Kendl Winter's new collection is so unlike almost anything else on the airwaves that it's inseparable from its creator.  Both work their craft with reverence for tradition, but force those familiar sounds in new directions in a spirit of playfulness and joy.

What's So Great About July?!!

July is the King of Assy Weather.  It's also been an underwhelming month for noteworthy new releases.  Nevertheless, there's always something shiny to distract us.  Here are my five favorite things from the past thirty days, in order of appearance:

Nude Party, Nude Party  (New West, Jul 6)
Jayhawks, Back Roads & Abandoned Motels  (Sony, Jul 13)
Lori McKenna, The Tree  (CN, Jul 20)
Israel Nash, Lifted  (Desert Folklore, Jul 27)
Cody Jinks, Lifers  (Rounder, Jul 27)

Fortunately, our musical horizon is crowded with goodness.  We're staring down new gamechanging stuff from Amanda Shires, Lucero, Jason Eady, Austin Lucas, Ryan Culwell, Aaron Lee Tasjan and more.

- Slobberbone, "Gimme Back My Dog" Everything You Thought Was Right  (New West, 00)
- Nude Party, "Chevrolet Van" Nude Party  (New West, 18)
- Cedric Burnside, "Ain't Gonna Take No Mess" Benton County Relic  (Single Lock, 18)
- John Howie Jr, "When I'm Not There With You" Not Tonight  (Howie, 18)  D
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Front Porch Trained" So Delicious  (Shanachie, 15)
- Jason Eady, "That's Alright" I Travel On  (Old Guitar, 18)
- Lucero, "Cover Me" Among the Ghosts  (Liberty + Lament, 18)
^ Kendl Winter, "Nebraska" Stumbler's Business  (Team Love, 18)
- Iron & Wine, "What Hurts Worse" Weed Garden EP  (Sub Pop, 18)  D
- Rayland Baxter, "79 Shiny Revolvers" Wide Awake  (ATO, 18)
- Lori McKenna, "Young & Angry Again" The Tree  (CN, 18)
- Ben Danaher, "Still Feel Lucky" Still Feel Lucky  (Soundly, 18)
- Jerry David Decicca, "Cactus Flower" Burning Daylight  (Super Secret, 18)  D
- Leif Vollebekk, "Southern United States" North Americana  (Missing Piece, 13)
- Kevin Galloway, "Miles and Miles" The Change  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Tom Freund, "Freezer Burn" East of Lincoln  (Surf Road, 18)
- Willy Tea Taylor & River Arkansas, "Leaf Change"  Good Damn Dog  (WTT, 18)
- Damnations (TX), "Steeple Full of Swallows" Where it Lands  (Joy-Ride, 02)
- Richard Thompson, "Bones of Gilead" 13 Rivers  (New West, 18)
- Tyler Childers, "Bottles & Bibles" Live on Red Barn Radio I & II  (Hickman Holler, 18)
- Nathan Bowles, "The Road Reversed" Plainly Mistaken  (Paradise of Bachelors, 18)  D
- Colter Wall, "Plain to See Plainsman" Songs of the Plains  (Young Mary's, 18)  D
- Dawn Landes, "Traveling" Meet Me at the River  (YepRoc, 18)  D
- Jayhawks, "Gonna Be a Darkness" Back Roads & Abandoned Motels  (Sony, 18)
- Ruston Kelly, "Son of a Highway Daughter" Dying Star  (Rounder, 18)
- Bottle Rockets, "I Wanna Come Home" Brooklyn Side  (East Side Digital, 95)
- Cody Jinks, "Colorado" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- Andrew Combs, "I Envy the Wind" 5 Covers & a Song  (New West, 18)
- Black Lillies, "Midnight Stranger" Stranger to Me  (Attack Monkey, 18)  D
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Weeds Downtown" Dereconstructed  (Sub Pop, 14)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 22, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

My mother was an educated woman.  She graduated from nursing school, where she met my father, before she reached the age of eighteen.  Once her children demanded more time from her she stepped away from a career and became a "housewife".  Every day from that point on, my mother would clean the house from top to bottom.  There was not a single day during my childhood that she wouldn't meet my brothers and me at home after school.  Even after we grew away from home, she took it upon herself to create an oasis of peace and comfort for my father, the quietest, cleanest, most removed place I knew.  While I didn't recognize it at the time, there was a streak of agoraphobia behind the bubble she built. Even as a nurse, she hated to visit the hospital, vowing that the next time she set foot in the building she'd never leave.  My mother fulfilled this prophecy mere weeks after convincing my father to retire.

There's a song on Lori McKenna's The Tree called "A Mother Never Rests".  She probably didn't know that she wrote this about my mom:  She's a stubborn believer that time and a clean house is how you heal / So a mother never rests.  When press attention began to gather around McKenna's 1999 Paper Wings & Halo, it was always mentioned that she was a Massachusetts mother of five.  She's written about a lot of things over the space of ten CDs, and garnered plenty of accolades writing for mainstream country sorts like Faith Hill, Sara Evans, Carrie Underwood and more.  Through it all, Lori McKenna's been best known as chronicler of the domestic drama, singer for the unsung.

None of her characters are larger than life.  There are no "Jolenes", no Wandas looking to exact revenge on any Earls.  Matter of fact, the scenarios are drawn from the stuff of every day, folks who would go unheralded were it not for a poet such as McKenna.  There is "The Fixer", the handyman surrounded by bicycle tires and lawnmower parts / Miles of wires and kitchen drawer nobs / Transistor radios, scrap metal / Hand-me-down tools, one of everything.  Like my father, another "fixer" in his own right, he is an imminently capable man brought down to earth at the mercy of his wife's illness: The Fighter says, 'Some things just can't be fixed'.

Following on the heels of 2016's much-deserving Bird & the Rifle, Lori McKenna's new collection is a wise and stirring account of what life's still like well beneath the bustle and noise of what passes for popular dialog.  Like Mary Chapin Carpenter or a more down-to-earth Patty Griffin, her songs are typically cast in acoustic country-leaning folk settings.  With its steady going beat and lyrical flow, there's no reason "Young and Angry Again" couldn't be picked up by any number of famous faces.  Her second consecutive project with producer Dave Cobb features several of these moments, when we recognize that McKenna might be one of the best country writers of her generation.  She's certainly among our most eloquent documenters of small town iconography:  Lighting cigarettes just to hold 'em / Up in the air, singing Never Get Old / Throwing bottles at a high school chainlink fence.

Try "Lot Behind St Mary's" for another poetic dose of nostalgia, this one about facing down the boundaries and taboos we learn at church.  McKenna never clubs us with lessons or easy emotions.  Rather, she simply allows those lyrics to wash over us:  Every now and then you look at me and I know you wonder why / We can't get back to when September was our only adversary / In the lot behind St Mary's.  Only once, on 2007's Unglamorous, did she embrace a more contemporary approach to her songs, ramping up the production and surrounding herself with bigger sound.  More typically, as on The Tree, McKenna applies only the instrumentation merited to deliver her message.  None of these songs are bare bones.  Rather, McKenna and Cobb opt for a full but tasteful arrangement.  She spells out her approach on "Like Patsy Would":
I wanna pray like Jesus is listenin' / I wanna play like I'm made of strings on wood / I wanna write it down like Hemingway / Like it's the last damn thing I'll ever say / And try to sing it like Patsy would
"People Get Old" is my favorite song from The Tree.  Once again, it's about family, about the difference between our parents in our memories and the folks we visit now that we're grown.  While much attention is paid to Lori McKenna's skill as a writer, her new collection reminds us of her grace as an expressive singer as well. As the Pop Matters site put it so aptly, "She impresses by not trying to impress".

Songs on The Tree pull back the curtains on our little lives.  They are patient with our faults and forgiving of our sins, humble in the light of the small good things we do.  We don't look in on our kids before bed or spare a dollar for someone in need because we're saints.  It's just what we know, who we are when nobody is watching.  And it's those moments she captures so perfectly in her music. 

I remember when I visited my mother and father after being away at college for several months.  The house in which I grew up seemed smaller and more run down.  My parents had seemingly retreated into their story, occasionally collecting new wrinkles or signs of age.  I didn't belong there anymore.
Houses need paint / Winters bring snow / Kids growing up and sneaking out the window / Hitting every small town dirt road / And that's how it goes / You live long enough / And people get old

- Kim Richey, "Red Line" Edgeland  (YepRoc, 18)
- Rodney Crowell, "Ain't Living Long Like This" Acoustic Classics  (RC1, 18)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Sonica USA" The Crossing  (YepRoc, 18)
- Gaslight Anthem, "Patient Ferris Wheel" '59 Sound Sessions  (SideOneDummy, 18)
- Lucero, "Among the Ghosts" Among the Ghosts  (Liberty + Lament, 18)
- William Elliott Whitmore, "Fear of Trains" Kilonova  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Ryan Culwell, "Last American" Last American  (Culwell, 18)
- Lera Lynn, "Almost Persuaded (w/John Paul White)" Plays Well With Others  (Single Lock, 18)
- Brothers Comatose, "These Ways" Ink Dust & Luck  (AntiFragile, 18)
- War & Treaty, "Are You Ready to Love Me" Healing Tide  (Strong World, 18)  D
- Adam Wright, "Dirt Poor" Dust  (Carnival, 18)
- Kevin Galloway, "Hands on the Wheel" The Change  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Rayland Baxter, "Strange American Dream" Wide Awake  (ATO, 18)  D
- Blackberrry Smoke, "Ain't Got the Blues" Whippoorwill  (3 Legged, 12)
- Cody Jinks, "Somewhere Between I Love You & I'm Leavin'" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- Amanda Shires, "Eve's Daughter" To the Sunset  (Silver Knife, 18)
- Willy Tea Taylor & River Arkansas, "Lazy Third Eye"  Damn Good Dog  (Taylor, 18)  D
- I See Hawks in LA, "Live and Never Learn" Live and Never Learn  (ISHiLA, 18)
- Dillon Carmichael, "Dancing Away With My Heart" Hell On An Angel  (Riser House, 18)
^ Lori McKenna, "Like Patsy Would" The Tree  (CN, 18)
- Richard Thompson, "Storm Won't Come" 13 Rivers  (New West, 18)  D
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Heart Slows Down" Karma for Cheap  (New West, 18)
- Marc Ribot, "Srinivas (w/Steve Earle, Tift Merritt)" Songs of Resistance 1942-2018  (Anti, 18)
- Glorieta, "Hard Way" Glorieta  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Eric Bachmann, "No Recover" No Recover  (Merge, 18)
- Ben Danaher, "Jesus Can See You" Still Feel Lucky  (Soundly, 18)
- Alynda Segarra & Special Men, "Don't Tell Me That It's Over" single  (Special Man, 18)  D
- Kendl Winter, "Stumbler's Business" Stumbler's Business  (Team Love, 18)  D
- Waxahatchee, "Chapel of Pines" Great Thunder EP  (Merge, 18)  D
- Cat Power, "Wanderer" Wanderer  (Domino, 18)  D

Monday, July 16, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 15, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

It's the feeling I live for as a music lover.  Open up the record, put it on the player, and immediately feel in my pocket, settled into the groove.  Happens just a couple times per year, even less with new artists.  But it's what drives me.

Kevin Galloway isn't an unfamiliar quantity.  As a member of Uncle Lucius, he released four albums of really good Southern country rock, and toured hard to foster a nationwide reputation.  With The Change (Nine Mile Records, August 3rd), Galloway steps into his own, apart from the "five-headed beast" that was his musical home for a decade.  The results feel like home.

The Change opens with the infectiously positive "Don't It Feel Good To Smile" written by Hal Vorpahl, another founding member of Uncle Lucius.  Don't it feel good to smile / Let our worries rest awhile / Might as well enjoy the ride.  The unceasingly upbeat tune doesn't whack you across the face with its positivity, but simply paints a picture of the simple things that make up a Good Life.  Morning light ... coffee ... an old Don Williams record.  The song harkens back to the days of a.m. country music that blurred the boundaries between country and deliciously mellow rock.

Galloway calls this new stuff Gulf Coast country-soul.  Its soul is deeper than Lucius, though it rocks less.  Its statements are more subtle and less insistent.  It is a mannered record, more old-fashioned though it is no simple throwback.  With his band, Galloway was one of several writers, each of whom dragged a different musical brand and diverse influences to the table.  On The Change, he is freed to simply dive deep into his own sound, which is rich, generous and patient.  Where Lucius was hot sauce, Galloway is maple syrup.

Galloway is a singularly gifted vocalist, singing around the beat and investing his lyrics with heart and soul without resorting to tricks.  His run through Billy Preston's ubiquitous "You Are So Beautiful" reminds us of the simplicity and sweetness of the song, often buried by singers more likely to showboat (go back to Preston's original version for an antidote to Joe Cocker's iconically gut busting version).

"Hands on the Wheel" brings an unhurried gospel sensibility, beautifully played and graciously delivered.  Aside from Galloway's vocal, the keys hold the central role here, conducted so gracefully by Jon Grossman, a latter day addition to Lucius.  His solo sounds like nothing else in our kind of music.  Now my hand's on the wheel of something that's real / And I feel like I'm going home. It's a heart-full testament that brings to mind certain of Leon Russell's earlier, more restrained moments that are so good to your ears that it almost hurts.

"Miles and Miles" trades in a more contemporary sound, perhaps akin to 2016's revelatory Justin Wells CD.  Like the title cut, it proves that Galloway hasn't abandoned some of the stuff he contributed to the band.  And soon he'll realize that he is lost / And he'll get down from off his cross / And he'll rise up like a man.  It's the perfect country compliment to the more soul-leaning sounds, the fuller band arrangements constructed with producers Hal Vorpahl and James Stevens.

But it's songs like "When the Heart Cries Out" that sink further into my heart.  Galloway delivers it like a secular hymn, in a voice that lifts him among the rare roots music talents.  It's a spirit that might've gone largely underappreciated in Uncle Lucius' rush to make an unholy noise.  While I've been a fan of the band, the aptly-named The Change is a revelation.

- Uncle Lucius, "My Gun Can Burn" Something They Ain't  (Uncle Lucius, 06)
^ Kevin Galloway, "Don't it Feel Good to Smile" The Change  (Nine Mile, 18)  D
- Tyler Childers, "Dead Man's Curve" Live on Red Barn Radio I & II  (Hickman Holler, 18)
- Cody Canada & the Departed, "Song About Nothin'" Three  (Underground Sound, 18)
- Lori McKenna, "Lot Behind St Mary's" The Tree  (CN, 18)
- Ruston Kelly, "Mockingbird" Dying Star  (Rounder, 18)
- Devil Makes Three, "Bad Idea" Chains Are Broken  (New West, 18)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Sonica USA" The Crossing  (YepRoc, 18)  D
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Lost My Mind" Junkyard Speed Ball  (Alive, 11)
- Lucero, "Cover Me" Among the Ghosts  (Liberty + Lament, 18)
- Tom Freund, "East of Lincoln" East of Lincoln  (Surf Road, 18)  D
- Colter Wall, "Calgary Round-up" single  (Young Mary's, 18)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "Life of Sin" Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (High Top Mt, 14)
- Jason Eady, "The Climb" I Travel On  (Old Guitar, 18)
- Israel Nash, "Spiritfalls" Lifted  (Desert Folklore, 18)
- Houndmouth, "Waiting for the Night" Golden Age  (Reprise, 18)  D
- Amanda Shires, "Parking Lot Pirouette" To the Sunset  (Silver Knife, 18)
- Gregory Alan Isakov, "Chemicals" Evening Machines  (Dualtone, 18)  D
- Andrew Combs, "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me" 5 Covers & a Song EP  (New West, 18)
- American Aquarium, "When We Were Younger Men" Things Change  (New West, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Wildflowers" single  (Banjodad, 18)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Easton & Main" Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
- Cody Jinks, "Somewhere Between I Love You and I'm Leavin'" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- Jayhawks, "Bitter End" Back Roads & Abandoned Motels  (Sony, 18)
- William Elliott Whitmore, "Fear of Trains" Kilonova  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Hurray for the Riff Raff, "No One Else" Small Town Heroes  (ATO, 14)
- Juanita Stein, "Get Back to the City" Until the Lights Fade  (Nude, 18)
- Eric Church, "Desperate Man (w/Ray Wylie Hubbard)" Desperate Man  (EMI, 18)  D
- Jason Isbell, "Racetrack Romeo" Sirens of the Ditch: Deluxe Edition  (New West, 18)
- The Pollies, "Unknown Legend" single  (This is American Music, 18)  D

Monday, July 09, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 8, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

If Pixar is looking for a heartfelt ballad to launch their next movie over the top, they might want to check with Adam Wright about the selling price for "Born to Dream".  Inspired by his own children, the track might have been sweet-overload if it weren't so wise and beautiful.  Truth is, song after song this solo CD from one-half of The Wrights comes across as too good to be true.  Wright invests so much melodicism and genuine heart into his music and lyrics that, no matter your opinion about folk-leaning country, you're rooting for the guy as the album progresses.

Aside from his work with The Wrights, Adam has penned tracks for an army of Nashville luminaries, including Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack and more.  Wright served as cowriter and accompanist to Womack on last year's superb The Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone.  She returns the favor with a haunting duet on "From My Bough". Assuming the form of a traditional folksong, the song speaks achingly from the perspective of a tree that bends beneath the burden of having supported the bodies of lynchings:  Cut them loose and chop me down / And hang no more murder from my bough.  A similar foreboding holds sway over "Dark Life" as well, another song that grows around the figure of a tree.  The carefully constructed orchestration that groans and lurches recalls Joe Henry, as does Wright's capable delivery.

The title cut celebrates the gift of Wright as a lyricist, with a story about Money, Muscle and Mercy, three broken souls keeping one another afloat:  Like dust in the light / We fall and we fly / And we shine in spite of ourselves.  Wright's record speaks primarily in acoustic tones, with an occasional undertone of grit.  The abiding edge becomes more evident with repeated listening, partially hidden between the folds of these seemingly gentle songs.

"Ruby" rides in on a Southwestern vibe, recalling Townes Van Zandt in his earlier days, made all the more tragically lovely with a smattering of Espanol and some filigreed guitar:  She entered the saddle in the dust of El Paso / Fastened her lasso to the bull they call life.  In a somewhat similar vein, "Dirt Poor" drags things back closer to home, bumping along on the syncopations of a Western noir, an unflinching tale of abuse and revenge:  I used to think about Jesus / Tried to be more like he was / Turning the other cheek just got me another welt.  See also "Billy Get Your Bike", a chilling cautionary tale worthy of a Cormac McCarthy short story.

Even amidst these shadows, there's a warm beating heart to Dust.  The aforementioned "Born to Dream" is tame as a lullaby but shot through with wisdom:  There ain't a pie in the sky I ain't tried a slice of / A dream in a pipe I've passed up a puff of / And I've wished on every fallen star I've seen / There ain't a longshot I wouldn't bet it all on / And a whole lot of times it's gone all wrong / But oh well, I was born to dream.  "War of No One Cares" portrays the fleeting church encounter between a pair of life's survivors:  He settled in a couple rows behind her / And he breathed out all of his air / When he recognized the scars of a fellow purple heart / In the war of no one cares.  It's a masterful moment, with a light touch of strings adding to the crushingly melancholy spirit of the piece.  From his voice to his recognition of a melodically appropriate gesture, Wright recalls a more melancholy Ron Sexsmith.

Adam Wright has likened his songs to short stories, written in the voice and from the perspective of a character (or of flora, in a couple cases).   It's undeniably beautiful stuff, a fact that we shouldn't let temper our realization that the pieces also plumb the depths of our little lives  There is darkness and there are glints of light on a record that sings the praises of a writer who might have otherwise escaped the attention of folks like us always on the lookout for music that matters.

- Charles Lloyd & the Marvels, "Angel (feat. Lucinda Williams)" Vanished Gardens  (Blue Note, 18)
- Ruston Kelly, "Jericho" Dying Star  (Rounder, 18)
- Johnny Irion, "Cabin Fever" Driving Friend  (Irion, 18)
- Lera Lynn, "Nothin' to Do With Your Love (feat. JD McPherson)" Plays Well With Others  (Single Lock, 18)
- T Hardy Morris, "4 Days of Rain" Dude the Obscure  (Normaltown, 18)
- National Reserve, "New Love" Motel la Grange  (Ramseur, 18)
- Paul Cauthen, "My Cadillac" Have Mercy EP  (Lightning Rod, 18)
- Brothers Comatose, "Cedarwood Pines" Ink Dust & Luck  (AntiFragile, 18)
- Dead Horses, "American Poor" My Mother the Moon  (Dead Horses, 18)  D
- Tyler Childers, "Bottles & Bibles" Live on Red Barn Radio I & II  (Hickman Holler, 18)  D
- Rodney Crowell, "Lovin' All Night" Acoustic Classics  (RC1, 18)
- Austin Lucas, "Immortal Americans" Immortal Americans  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Brent Cowles, "Velvet Soul" How to Be Alone  (Dine Alone, 18)
- Laura Cantrell, "Churches Off the Interstate" Not the Tremblin' Kind  (Diesel Only, 00)
- David Nail & Well Ravens, "Heavy" single  (One Five Sound, 18)  D
- Nude Party, "Feels Alright" Nude Party  (New West, 18)
- Liz Cooper & the Stampede, "Hey Man" Window Flowers  (Sleepyhead, 18)
- Glossary, "Hold Me Down" How We Handle Our Midnights  (Young Buffalo, 03)
- Glorietta, "Heatstroke" Glorietta  (Nine Mile, 18)
- Lori McKenna, "Young and Angry Again" The Tree  (CN, 18)
^ Adam Wright, "Born to Dream" Dust  (Carnival, 18)
- John Fullbright, "I Only Pray at Night" From the Ground Up  (Blue Dirt, 12)
- Neko Case, "Sleep All Summer (feat. Eric Bachmann)" Hell-on  (Anti, 18)
- Jeffrey Foucault, "I Know You" Blood Brothers  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Milk Carton Kids, "Mourning in America" All the Things That I Did  (Anti, 18)
- Shannon Shaw, "Golden Frames" Shannon in Nashville  (Easy Eye, 18)
- Ana Egge, "White Tiger" White Tiger  (StorySound, 18)
- Carolina Story, "Lay Your Head Down" Lay Your Head Down  (Black River, 18)  D
- Gillian Welch, "One More Dollar" Revival  (Acony, 96)
- Damien Jurado, "I've Been Riding With the Ghost" Weary Engine Blues - North Star  (Graveface, 13)

Monday, July 02, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 1, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Last week we stole a quick glance backwards at some of our favorite music from the first half of the year.  It's only fair that this Episode is devoted to some of the stuff that may define the next six months.

When I'm recording our ROUTES-cast I'm surrounded by thousands of CDs.  These days I work almost exclusively with mp3s, but the time I served in radio and retail served me well in building an encyclopedic roots music library.  I have, for instance, nearly every CD released by Cody Canada's various projects, from Cross Canadian Ragweed to his solo record and his project with Mike McClure and his most recent stuff with The Departed.  Looking at it all, you might think I've been a longtime fan.  While I've made a point of representing every record on R&B, my appreciation has been superficial. This isn't to say that my short attention span has been merited.  It's just a fact.

Canada began his reign with the Departed in 2011, releasing a quality collection of Oklahoma-born music called This is Indian Land.  It served to remind us where so much of his music has found inspiration, in the red dirt stronghold from the Panhandle State to Texas. The subsequent Adventus and 2015's HippieLovePunk boasted a bigger, more eclectic and topical sound than CCR, while maintaining a firm grasp on the tuneful appeal that has always defined Cody Canada's work.

And then there were three.  Again.  Or rather, there was 3.  It's the name of Cody Canada's new CD, but also his third original record with The Departed (if you don't count bassist Jeremy Plato's sadly overlooked 2016 In Retrospect).  And The Departed have been honed to a lean trio, featuring Canada, his longtime CCR bassist Plato and drummer Eric Hansen.  It would seem that after spending several years working to distance himself from Cross Canadian Ragweed, Cody Canada has realized that 3 really is a magic number.

There's a looseness and an easygoing spirit throughout 3 too, harkening back to the earlier days of that other band.  There's even a "Song About Nothin'", a sweet and breezy piece Canada constructed as an antidote to writer's block:  The record player, it's uneven / But not enough to make me drive to town.  No hearts are breaking, the weather's okay, nothing to see here.  Nevertheless, it's one of a handful of tracks that speaks to his facility with even the simplest of words and music.

With its chiming guitar, "Lipstick" portrays a queen of the streets, a recognition that our fascination with the world's oldest profession ain't never gonna change.  Canada's guitar tears into a rocking solo to close the track.  The sound of six strings singing lends the record much of its appeal, while his vocal delivery is one of the most recognizable in the business.  Behind producer and longtime collaborator Mike McClure, 3 is an immediately comfortable listen, songs that satisfy our basic needs for simple sounds well delivered.

One of the CD's most worthy tracks features The Departed's take on McClure's own "Daughter of the Devil", lending the classic red dirt country rocker a swampy groove.  Other covers include Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack's "Betty Was Black (& Willie Was White)" and a low-key run through Merle Haggard's classic "Footlights".  That pared-back simplicity also serves the banjo-centric "Blackbird" and the folky acoustic "One of These Days (Skinner)".  Canada delivers these songs with an unforced ease, comfortable not to aim for the rafters in an attempt to prove himself.

Because the fact is, even as a trio The Departed are not Cross Canadian Ragweed.  Even as crowds call out for the beloved band's well-worn hits, "Unglued" and the bluesy swagger of "Lost Rabbit" are as strong as anything Canada's released with his current band, achieving that melodic sweet spot while never resorting to self parody.

- Band of Heathens, "America the Beautiful" Message From the People Revisited  (BoH, 18)  D
- Caleb Caudle, "Mr President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" single  (Caudle, 18)  D
- Andrew Combs, "Reptilia" 5 Covers & a Song  (New West, 18)
- Will Hoge, "Thoughts & Prayers" My American Dream  (Edlo, 18)  D
- Ryan Culwell, "Can You Hear Me" Last American  (Culwell, 18)
^ Cody Canada & the Departed, "Unglued" Three  (Underground Sound, 18)
- Amanda Shires, "Eve's Daughter" To the Sunset  (Silver Knife, 18)
- Israel Nash, "Lucky Ones" Lifted  (Desert Folklore, 18)
- Blitzen Trapper, "War is Placebo" Furr: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition  (Sub Pop, 18)  D
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "If Not Now When" Karma for Cheap  (New West, 18)  D
- Adam Wright, "Dirt Poor" Dust  (Carnival, 18)  D
- Eric Bachmann, "No Recover" No Recover  (Merge, 18)  d
- Austin Lucas, "Immortal Americans" Immortal Americans  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)  d
- Ben Danaher, "My Father's Blood" Still Feel Lucky  (Soundly, 18)
- Bermuda Triangle, "Till the End of Days" single  (Bermuda Triangle, 18)  D
- Glorietta, "Golden Lonesome" Glorietta  (Nine Mile, 18)  D
- Jason Eady, "Always a Woman" I Travel On  (Old Guitar, 18)
- Liz Cooper & the Stampede, "Mountain Man" Window Flowers  (Sleepyhead, 18)  D
- Ruston Kelly, "Jericho" Dying Star  (Rounder, 18)  D
- Lucero, "Long Way Home" Among the Ghosts  (Liberty + Lament, 18)
- Cody Jinks, "Lifers" Lifers  (Rounder, 18)
- Cedric Burnside, "We Made It" Benton County Relic  (Single Lock, 18)  D
- Marc Ribot, "Srinivas (w/Steve Earle, Tift Merritt)" Songs of Resistance 1942-2018  (Anti, 18)  D
- Jayhawks, "Backwards Women" Back Roads & Abandoned Motels  (Sony, 18)
- Cordovas, "Frozen Rose" That Santa Fe Channel  (ATO, 18)
- Murder by Death, "True Dark" Other Shore  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Lera Lynn, "Wolf Like Me (w/Shovels & Rope)" Plays Well With Others  (Single Lock, 18)  D
- St Paul & Broken Bones, "Apollo" Young Sick Camillia  (Records LLC, 18)  D
- Brothers Comatose, "These Ways" Ink Dust & Luck  (AntiFragile, 18)  D
- Amy Helm, "This Too Shall Light" This Too Shall Light  (YepRoc, 18)  D