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Sunday, December 16, 2012

ROUTES & BRANCHES
December 15, 2012
Scott Foley

Honored once again to be heralding the final days of the year with the first in my 2012 series of musical favorites.  Listening back to the show the morning after (I record each Episode using the free DARfm program online, and so can you!), I am reminded how each of these tunes scratches that special spot in my musical heart.  I remember one of the first times I aired what would go on to become my favorite song for the year, when another programmer strolled into the studio and tossed out a quick, "I don't like this very much".  Fact is, we're both right. 

This year, rather than offering a simple numbered list, I've waxed on a bit about what makes each track memorable for me.  Sometimes there's a lyric that's lodged into my head, other times it's an unforgettable hook.  Usually it's some combination of the two.  In every single case, I'm confident that I can't convince anyone else to feel the same way I do about a song, because you'll either feel it or you won't. 

My hope for each of you as 2012 rumbles towards the horizon is that you've been able to discover, embrace and share favorite music of your own during the past 11 1/2 months.  Just as much, I hope that you've made at least a couple of those discoveries while tuning into Routes & Branches.

Next Saturday, I'll be back in the studios for my annual Christmas music show.  While my daughter Madeleine will likely not be in attendance owing to the demands of her retail job, I'll probably drag my sons Logan and Gabe along for the sleigh ride.


FAVORITE SONGS from 2012

1) Delta Spirit, "California"  Delta Spirit  (Rounder, 3/13)
Am I forgiven that the first time I heard Delta Spirit's "California" it brought to mind A-ha?  The clicking drums, the droning, buzzing guitars, the layered vocals, all sounding nothing like americana, alt.country nor roots music.  Nevertheless, I knew quickly that I had heard a song that would likely land near the top of my 2012 list.  I find the tune unforgettable and tremendously evocative (in a way "Take On Me" could never really be), yet satisfyingly simple.  "I want you to wander silent past my outstretched arms / I want you to hide yourself from all I see / and though my heart will fight until it's dying breath / You're not for me".  In order to appease purists, I chose to air a more acoustic version of the tune, recorded during a SXSW appearance. 

2)  Iris Dement, "Sing the Delta"  Sing the Delta  (Rounder, 10/02)
Some have applied the phrase "worth the wait" to Dement's first album of new material in 16 years.  I wouldn't be so forgiving if it weren't so satisfying (but I'm not sure much of anything is worth that much waiting).  The title track to Dement's sweet album is reportedly inspired by the passing of the songwriter's mother and the Alabama land she left in her wake.  It's a 7 minute song, but wraps up the listener so warmly that the duration is irrelevant.  A stunning vocal worthy of Dement's classic 1-2 punch of Infamous Angel and My Life, but bearing the weight of nearly two decades more of living.  

3)  Sons of Bill, "Santa Ana Winds"  Sirens  (Thirty Tigers, 3/26)
A couple years ago, this Virginia band's "Broken Bottles" landed near the top of my favorite songs list.  An album later, a very different song strikes me just as strongly.  For starters, "Santa Ana Winds" begins with the voice of William Faulkner, reading from his 1950 Nobel Prize speech.  Hardly the stuff of dumb country types.  What follows is pure american mythology from a band that continues to mature from song to song.  Plus, it simply rocks. 

4)  First Aid Kit, "Emmylou"  Lion's Roar  (Wichita, 1/17)
Johanna and Klara Soderberg from Sweden can be more or less forgiven for settling for one of the worst band names of the last several years.  As evidenced on their third offical album, the sisters' harmonies are so tight and genuine that they could've called themselves just about anything and caught my attention.  The lyrics harken back to some of the seminal names in our kind of music, "I'll be your Emmylou, and I'll be your June / If you'll be my Gram and my Johnny too / No I'm not asking much of you / Just sing little darling, sing with me".  

5)  Trampled By Turtles, "Alone"  Stars & Satellites  (Banjodad, 4/10)
Minneapolis' best named band is notorious for their full-speed, revved up grass originals.  "Wait So Long" from their 2010 Palomino was one of my favorites for that year, and has lost none of its turbo driven appeal.  "Alone" is a different beast altogether, starting at a funereal pace and ever so slowly building to a soul-stirring climax:  "The days and nights are killing me / The light and dark are still in me / But there's an anger on the beach / So let the wind blow hard / And wear the falling star".  Heck, it doesn't even rhyme, but it's a mesmerizing journey.  

6)  Langhorne Slim, "Way We Move"  Way We Move  (Ramseur, 6/05)
With his band the Law, Slim has crafted the strongest, most consistently fine album of his career.  Most satisfying is this rattling, punky title track, which Langhorne Slim shouts with infectious abandon.  The sound is so junky and carefree that I wouldn't be surprised if it's a first take. 

7)  Great Lake Swimmers, "Easy Come Easy Go"  New Wild Everywhere  (Nettwerk, 4/03)
I honestly reviewed the liner notes again today, to double check that this cut wasn't cowritten with Gary Louris, so evocative is "Easy Come" of a middle period Jayhawks number.  Alas, it's an original on an album that features a cleaner, more open sound for Tony Dekker and his fellow Canadians.  Dekker has never been known for writing easy hooks, but this one's as easy as they come.  

8)  Arliss Nancy, "Front Seat"  Simple Machines  (Suburban Home, ?)
"Front Seat" marks the highest ranking Colorado tune on my 2012 list, which features 4 square state tracks (as compared to just one last year!).  I hope I'm not giving away too much by saying that I can't get past my fondness for Arliss Nancy's most recent work.  It's as though the band secretly researched what I love in an album and dedicated the collection to exploring the results.  They've even invited Drag the River's Jon Snodgrass for a verse, joining other guests like Lizzie Huffman, Micah Schnabel, Shane Sweeney and others.  

9)  Kathleen Edwards, "Mint"  Voyaguer  (Rounder, 1/17)
Edwards' sound changed appreciably at the hands of producer, musician and boyfriend Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame.  Vernon's tweaks also seem to have served to amplify the Canadian writer's underrated song skills.  "Mint" features an indelible hook and some truly moving vocal turns, a song unafraid to use a couple "sha-la-la's" to make a point.  

10)  Patterson Hood, "Come Back Little Star"  Heat Lightning Rumbles In the Distance  (ATO, 9/11)
Hood's Heat Lightning struck me as his most mature songwriting statement ever.  The Drive-By Trucker himself called this cut one of his own favorites, cowritten with the wonderful Kelly Hogan.  A heartbreaking ode, "Come Back" pays loving tribute to the late, brilliant Vic Chesnutt.  Few others could balance such a loving tribute without falling into maudlin territory:  "I've got a drink or two myself to control the sting / Standard, when you traded in your wheels for wings".  

11)  Kasey Anderson, "Like Teenage Gravity"  Let the Bloody Moon Rise  (Self, 11/?)
In a perfect world, Kasey Anderson would have no trouble getting his eloquent, literary songs out to the appreciative masses.  As it is, this album was scheduled for Spring '13 release, but was scrubbed owing to a disagreement.  Anderson subsequently made his stellar album available for just a couple hours before shelving it for the time being.  While "Like Teenage Gravity" first saw the light of day as a piano ballad on 2010's Nowhere Nights, it is largely reinvented here, with a full band arrangement and backing vox from Star Anna.  Even Counting Crows recognized its worth, covering the song for their own 2012 album.  

12)  Yawpers, "All Night Long"  Capon Crusade  (Self, 10/16)
The second of four Colorado artists on this year's list comes from the Boulder band whose 2012 album immediately caught my attention (and still hasn't quite let go).  Yawpers' sound is so thick and heavy, with perfectly distorted guitar and harmonica atop a nonstop buzz.  "All Night Long" also boasts one of the year's strongest lyrics:  "The light collects around her body / Like it's coming home".  

13)  Johnny Hickman, "Another Road"  Tilting  (Self, 6/03)
Fort Collins' own Hickman has played guitar with a number of other bands, most notably Cracker. This tune from his solo effort strikes me as one that should've caught on at a wider scale.  If nothing else, "Another Road" might have been used for a cool truck commercial, with is wah-wah guitar reverb and ear candy guitar licks. 

14)  Tin Horn Prayer, "Stumble"  Grapple the Rails  (Paper + Plastick, 11/06)
I've been eagerly awaiting this Denver band's album seemingly for months.  "Stumble" was the first track to be released, and turned out to be the strongest cut on the record.  THP is primarily known as a punk band, but plays with more nuance than most and features definite roots influences on numbers like "Stumble".   Plus, I have a real soft spot for razor-shredded, bellowed vocals. 

15)  Departed, "Blackhorse Mary"  Adventus  (Underground Sound, 11/13)
Red dirt hearts were broken when Cody Canada  announced the dissolution of the longrunning Cross Canadian Ragweed.  A pair of excellent albums with his new group, the Departed, might serve to lessen that blow.  Adventus rocks harder than almost anything in CCR's catalog, and boasts a really satisfying electric crunch. 

16)  Spirit Family Reunion, "I Am Following the Sound"  No Separation  (Self, 7/12)
It broke my heart that I accidentally left my copy of this album at home, and was unable to share it during this broadcast.  There is something immensely likeable about this band and their ramshackle revival sound.  They reportedly got their start busking on a streetcorner, and little has changed musically since then.  

17)  Darrell Scott, "Hopkinsville"  Long Ride Home  (Full Light, 1/31)
I got an opportunity this year to chat by phone with Mr Scott (while he was driving around Philadelphia looking for a place to buy a cheesesteak).  His Long Ride Home finds him backed with the band of a lifetime, featuring folks like Dennis Crouch, Guy Clark, Lloyd Green and Hargus "Pig" Robbins, whose loping piano line serves as the musical bed for this working class ode. 

18)  Dwight Yoakam, "Long Way To Go"  3 Pears  (Reprise, 9/18)
While mainstream country music abandoned Yoakam years ago, this first new material in over 7 years has been warmly embraced by americana sorts.  I still think he writes such strong hooks and sing with such an infectious twang, and I owe much of my fondness for our kind of music to 1986's Guitars Cadillacs Etc Etc.  

19)  Missing Cats, "Larry Brown Amen"  Larry Brown Amen  (Two-Bone Shoes, 9/04)
Here's one of those cases when an album boasts one truly strong track amidst a handful of alright ones.  I've been a fan of the essential Southern writer Larry Brown for years, and appreciate Missing Cats' catchy nod to his oeuvre.  

20)  Ronnie Fauss, "I Don't See You"  I Am the Man You Know I'm Not  (Normaltown, 10/09)
I've been a fan of this Dallas songwriter for several years, enjoying his EPs and his left-of-center style of writing.  This first majorish label full length revisits a number of earlier tracks, and adds some new gems to the Fauss canon.  While I was tempted to give this year's nod to "The Last" I settled on a brand new cut.  Especially nice to have Fauss in the R&B studios a few weeks back.  

21)  Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, "Like a Stone"  Our Lady of the Tall Trees  (Self, 9/25)
While I'm admittedly allergic to most standard folk and string music, I've been impressed with this Seattle songwriting duo since 2010's Holy Coming of the Storm.  Both are skilled players and engaging vocalists, generating just enough melancholy with lyrics like, "When my love comes tumbling down / I lose a little more faith each time".  

22)  Mindy Smith, "Tin Can"  Mindy Smith  (Giant Leap, 6/26)
8 years have come and gone since Smith's auspicious debut, One Moment More, and the stellar track "Come To Jesus".  Until this year's self-titled release, that had to serve as a very early career highlight.  Subsequent albums have been fine, but rarely lived up to the promise of her intro.  Fortunately, songs like the jangly, lighthearted "Tin Can" return to what charmed us in the first place.  

23)  Denver, "Way It Is"  Denver  (Mama Bird, 8/14)
Denver's facebook page calls them a "ramshackle all-star country band", featuring members of Alela Diane's band as well as folks from Blitzen Trapper and turns from fellow Portlanders Lewi Longmire, Dan Wilson and others.  Their self-titled CD offered the kind of comfortable, weather-beaten alt.country that's difficult to come by these days.  One would hope Denver isn't a one-and-done project.  

24)  Kat Edmonson, "I Don't Know"  Way Down Low  (Spinnerette, 4/12)
It's pretty rare that I discover a new artist by tripping across a music video.  I guess the first time I heard this Austin artist was in a 2011 holiday duet with Lyle Lovett, which drove me to watch the charmingly over the top video for "I Don't Know".  While Edmonson's music tends to garner more attention from jazz sorts, there is something about this feather-light romp that has stuck with me for months.  

25)  Elliott BROOD, "Lindsay"  Days Into Years  (Paper Bag, 2/28)
Reportedly, this Canadian band's 2012  release (2011 in their home country) was inspired in part by a trip to a European World War I cemetery which served as the final resting place for scores of Canadian service men.  This discovery triggered a reflection on loss and memory, which inspired the songs of Days Into Years.   Potentially heavy stuff for those who'd rather their music not be as thick and burdensome as their history books.  Still, Elliott BROOD has always been able to pull off gravity in light of the grace of their music.  Their new songs add a bit more electric guitar, but stick with the mandolin and the vocals and rhythms that have always made their music so palatable. 

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