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Monday, November 24, 2014

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
November 22, 2014
Scott Foley

Saturday, December 15:  Routes & Branches Favorite Albums of 2014 Show  

So much this Episode from major forthcoming 2015 releases:  Steve Earle's blues influenced record with his Dukes, Robert Earl Keen's bluegrass sessions, JD McPherson's long awaited sophomore record.  Justin Townes Earle's companion piece to September's Single Mothers, Absent Fathers.  And, as I always say, the very best is the stuff we never expect. 

Speaking of which, who would've guessed that I'd be writing this week about a band that hasn't released a proper album since 1988?  At the time, I was a young man working as the "import buyer" for a record store in Salem, Oregon.  It was the sort of record store that's hard to find outside of metro areas these days, with a head shop conveniently attached and the pervasive smell of incense chasing away the faint of constitution.  I'm certain that everything ever purchased from Rising Sun/Paramount Records still smells like Rising Sun/Paramount Records to this day.  Boasting a precarious balance of old hippies and young punks, it was where I first fell for Dwight Yoakam, Cocteau Twins, REM and Scruffy the Cat.  Like their contemporaries, Camper Van Beethoven, Boston's Scruffy could get away with adding a jangly roots element to their college friendly pop.  Frontman Charlie Chesterman and co. have been partially blamed for the birth of the cowpunk/ movement.  

Big Thanks to Sony for releasing a digital-only collection of all 38 official Scruffy songs in August (Time Never Forgets), and especially to Omnivore Recordings, who have managed to pull together two dozen more rarities, b-sides and unreleased recordings on the glorious The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990. I've played and replayed Good Goodbye over the past week, behind the wheel awash in nostalgia for music I'd never heard before.  The jaw dropping revelation here is just how consistently great these unheard gems are, and how well they fare alongside Sony's remastered "official" tracks.   The power pop of a track like "Life Is Fun" or "Mybabyshe'sallright" can be heard in the unreleased "Love Song #9".  The adrenaline fueled "Upside Down" fits snugly beside "I Knew That You Would", and the gleeful punk of the live "Shadow Boy" is echoed in Goodbye's "Oldest Fire in the World".  It's remarkable that these tracks weren't released earlier. 

I lost track of Chesterman after I was dismissed from Paramount (good story:  I refused to toe the company line when a news crew came in to talk about some state challenges to classy head shops like ours).  Apparently, he continued as a regionally successful solo artist, and collaborated here and there with other short lived acts.  2011 marked a partial reunion for Scruffy the Cat, in the shadow of Chesterman's ongoing battle with cancer.   His passing last summer likely provided impetus for this pair of underappreciated records.  While the band served as a midwife of sorts for the birth of our kind of music, I would argue that as a pure lineage, Scruffy's branch has largely been lost.  Nobody makes music like this anymore:  So good humored, loose and charming.  Brilliant in its unpretentiousness,  their music is once more discoverable, like walking into an old fashioned record store and hearing music that opens your eyes and changes your life.

*  Bloodhounds, "Bottle Cap Blues"  Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 14)
^  Scruffy the Cat, "Love Song #9"  Good  Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings  (Omnivore, 14)  D
*  Drive-by Truckers, "First Air of Autumn (live)"  English Oceans (deluxe)  (ATO, 14)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Prove It All To You (live)"  Born Raised & Live From Flint  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Wilco, "TB Is Whipping Me"  Alpha Mike Foxtrot  (Nonesuch, 14)
*  Jerry Jeff Walker, "Backsliders Wine"  Viva Terlingua  (MCA, 73)
*  Lee Ann Womack, "Tomorrow Night In Baltimore"  Way I'm Livin'  (Sugar Hill, 14)
*  Lucero, "Like Lightning (live)"  Live From Atlanta  (Liberty & Lament, 14)
*  JD McPherson, "Bossy"  Let the Good Times Roll  (Rounder, 15)  D
*  Cracker, "San Bernardino Boy"  Berkeley  To Bakersfield  (429, 14)
*  Two Gallants, "Truck Driver"  While No One Was Looking  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Two Gallants, "We Are Undone"  We Are Undone  (ATO, 15)  D
*  Kelly Willis, "Don't Know Why"  Translated From Love  (Ryko, 07)
*  Steve Earle, "You're the Best Lover I Ever Had"  Terraplane  Blues  (New West, 15)  D
*  Ronnie Fauss, "Another Town"  Built To Break  (Normaltown, 14)
*  Elliott BROOD, "Better Times"  Work and Love  (Paper Bag, 14)
*  Gravel Kings, "Buffalo"  Arrows & Maps  (Self, 14)
*  Freakwater, "Queen Bee"  End Time  (Thrill Jockey, 99)
*  Cale Tyson, "Fool Of the Year"  Cheater's Wine  (Self, 14)  D
*  Rhiannon Giddens, "Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind"  Tomorrow Is My Turn  (Nonesuch, 15)  D
*  Old Crow Medicine Show, "Dearly Departed Friend"  Remedy  (ATO, 14)
*  Horse Feathers, "Violently Wild"  So It Is With Us  (Kill Rock Stars, 14)
*  Tom Vandenavond w/Larry & His Flask, "Dance Me Around"  Endtimes  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 14)
*  Justin Townes Earle, "Call Ya Momma"  Absent Fathers  (Vagrant, 15)  D
*  Sara Watkins, "Late John Garfield Blues"  Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows  (Oh Boy, 10)
*  Robert Earl Keen, "Hot Corn Cold Corn"  Happy Prisoner: Bluegrass Session  (Dualtone, 15)  D
*  Shane Nicholson, "God and Elvis"  Familiar Ghosts  (Liberation, 08)
*  Whitehorse, "Sweet Disaster"  Leave No Bridge Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)  D

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