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Saturday, November 16, 2013

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
November 9, 2013
Scott Foley

Thanks to Til Willis & the Erratic Cowboy (basically Til and Binkley) for bringing a bit of Lawrence, Kansas to the R&B studios this week.  You can check out Til's facebook page for a live 'n electric account of their Swing Station set later that evening.

By definition, compilation albums are pretty hit-and-miss.  Every moment of "wow!" tends to be balanced out by a "what?" or two.  Three new records featured on this week's Episode buck this trend, offering deep and rewarding collections to break up the end-of-the-year where-is-all-the-new-music blues. 

On Fat Wreck Chords is Songs of Tony Sly: a Tribute, certainly more of a contemporary punk than a
roots record but still quite a cool document.  Best known as the frontman for No Use For a Name, Tony Sly passed away last year, leaving a surprising catalog of quality tunes for his friends to cover.  Both peers and inspirations contribute, including California's Old Man Markley, Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem and a sweet collaboration between Jon Snodgrass and Chris Shiflett's Dead Peasants.  I've always believed in a certain camaraderie between certain strains of alt.country and punk music, and this album lies comfortably along that line.

 Completely on the other side of the equation is Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War, which stakes its claim with a more acoustic, folk-oriented lot. This is largely because alt.country wasn't yet invented around the time of the Civil War, and the tunes on this 2 disc set were all written over 150 years ago.  The artists represented weren't around either, and acts like Shovels & Rope, Chris Stapleton and AA Bondy treat the songs like contemporary pieces.  This is balanced out by Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn and Cowboy Jack Clement who just might've been around back in the day ...  Divided & United brings to mind the 2007 Songs of America project, helmed by the great champion of americana, Janet Reno. 

Somewhere in between lies one of the strongest collections of 2013, Songs For Slim: Rockin' Here Tonight from New West.  I've been airing tunes off this compilation since early in the year when the label began releasing them as monthly singles to raise money for the continuing treatment of the Replacements' Slim Dunlap.  Dunlap himself penned the vast majority of the pieces covered on this double-disc collection, a bit of a revelation for those of us who weren't following Slim's post-'Mats production.  There are some excellent punk-roots-rock tracks here, covered by a mix of former bandmates (the Replacements themselves, Chris Mars), New West label folk (Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams) and admirers (Jeff Tweedy, Craig Finn).  When I first began playing the singles that make up the majority of Songs For Slim, I remember commenting what a stellar full-length they would make.  Thanks, New West, for doing the right thing. 

*  Blue Mountain, "Jimmy Carter (live)"  Tonight It's Now or Never  (DCN, 02)
*  Two Cow Garage, "Annie Get Your Guns"  Death of the Self Preservation Society  (Last Chance, 13)
*  Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy, "Smut Jazz & Jive"  Crow Soldier  (Lemon Zephyr, 13)  D
*  Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy, "Best We Can"  live in studio
*  Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy, "In the Body"  live in studio
*  Howlin' Brothers, "Take Me Down"  Sun Studio Sessions  (Self, 13)
*  Lydia Loveless, "All the Time"  Boy Crazy  (Bloodshot, 13)
*  Possessed By Paul James, "There Will Be Nights"  There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 13)
*  Arliss Nancy, "Vonnegut"  Wild American Runners  (Black Numbers, 13)  C
*  Mary Gauthier, "Long Way To Fall"  Filth & Fire  (Signature Sounds, 02)
*  Lincoln Durham, "Annie Departee"  Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous  (Droog, 13)
*  Hard Working Americans, "Down To the Well"  Hard Working Americans  (Melvin, 13)  D
*  Strange Americans, "Dirty Shakes"  Dirty Shakes  (Self, 13)  C
*  Henry Girls, "Sing My Sister  Down"  December Moon  (Self, 13)  D
*  Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "North"  South  (File Under Music, 13)
*  Big Casino, "Drink the Water"  Alligator Gasoline  (Self, 13)
*  Marvin Etzioni w/Maria McKee, "You Possess Me"  Marvin Country  (Nine Mile, 12)
*  Matt Skinner Band, "I'll Keep Loving"  Native Stranger  (Tapadero, 13)  D,C
*  Songs:Ohia, "Whip-Poor-Will"  Magnolia Electric Co (10th Anniversary)  (Secretly Canadian, 13)
*  Townes Van Zandt, "Who Do You Love"  Sunshine Boy  (Omnivore, 13)
^  Old Crow Medicine Show, "Marching Through Georgia"  Divided & United  (ATO, 13)
*  Kathleen Edwards, "Westby"  Failer  (Zoe, 03)
*  Blue Rodeo, "New Morning Sun"  In Our Nature  (TeleSoul, 13)  D
^  Swingin' Utters, "Not Your Savior"  Songs of Tony Sly  (Fat Wreck Chords, 13)
*  Infamous Stringdusters w/Bruce Hornsby, "Road To Boulder"  Road To Boulder  (High Country, 13)  D
^  Jeff Tweedy, "Ballad of the Opening Band"  Songs For Slim: Rockin' Here Tonight  (New West, 13)
*  Tin Horn Prayer, "Louis Collins"  Get Busy Dying  (Bermuda Mohawk, 10)  C

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