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Sunday, January 11, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 10, 2015
Scott Foley

There is a certain strain of americana whose gentle and earnest spirit allows it to masquerade as folk.  Think artists like Nancy Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Robin & Linda Williams or Rosanne Cash.  They're each capable of tremendous writing, but often lack the edge that I need to assuage my restless spirit.  Plus, I'm a hipster.  Anyhow, I'd add to this list Gretchen Peters, who was incidentally just inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame largely on the strength of songs that were made hits by mainstream acts like Martina McBride and Patty Loveless.  I've always admired Peters' writing, to the point where she joined me for an Episode a couple year ago.  Peters' new album, Blackbirds, raises the bar for her solo work, as well as providing a definite edge and a dimension of darkness.  More than this, Gretchen Peters' voice opens up to sound like an entirely new instrument, almost like a Kate Bush for the roots crowd. 

Peters' excellent Blackbirds is just one of the many forthcoming 2015 releases targeted in this Episode.  There's also an unexpected shot from Nashville by way of West Texas -  Ryan Culwell's Flatlands lands via Lightning Rod on March 3.  Culwell issued his debut back in 2006, then disappeared into a world of laboring as "a cow bile cooker, roof salesman, server, mover, air conditioner delivery man, sports radio editor, telemarketer and roustabout".  Those dirty hands and cracked fingernails make a music that's deeply rooted in the blue collar world of his Texas home:  "Take me back where I can see / Miles of dirt in front of me / Summer's hot and winter's mean / There ain't nothin' in between / The earth can break a man / But here I'll take my stand / I'll climb my mountains out in the flatlands".   Culwell's voice comes across like a cross between Jimmy LaFave and John Fullbright, and he shares their respective way with a lyric: Folks with lined faces, dead-end jobs and a conflicted relationship with the small town where they were born, likely the very same place they will die.  This is the territory of our best writers, names like Isbell, Moreland and Caudle.  It's the devil haunted Ray Wylie Hubbard that comes to mind on the gritty, gutbucket "I Think I'll Be Their God":  "Well I think I'll be a preacher / It's the good book that I love / I'm 'a preach my altar call to the dirt / Save anybody who comes up".  It's a push/pull relationship between Culwell's people and their land, the dirt from which they draw their living:  "She's cleanin' red dirt / Off the life he's brought her".  There are few sweet moments to balance out the bitter, tunes like "I Will Come For You" or (believe it or not) "Piss Down In My Bones", which adds gospel to the equation.  Early last year it was Parker Millsap's self-titled record that largely helped to set the tone for the year's first quarter.  For 2015, that bar might be set by Ryan Culwell. 

*  Silver Jews, "Honk If You're Lonely"  American Water  (Drag City, 98)
*  Holy Ghost Electric Show, "Highway Towns"  Great American ...  (This Is Amer Music, 14)
*  Glossary, "Rutherford County Line"  How We Handle Our Midnights  (TIAM, 03)
*  American Aquarium, "Wolves"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Scruffy the Cat, "Love Song #9"  The Good Goodbye  (Omnivore, 14)
*  Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be"  Down To Believing  (E1, 15)
*  Flatlanders, "Way We Are"  Hills and Valleys  (New West, 09)
^  Ryan Culwell, "Flatlands"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)  D
*  Bloodhounds, "Wild Little Rider"  Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 14)
*  Cody Canada & Departed, "Inbetweener"  HippieLovePunk  (Underground Sound, 15)  D
*  4H Royalty, "She Only Karaokes To the Dan"  single  (4H Royalty, 15)  C, D
*  Gretchen Peters, "When All You Got Is a Hammer"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Sedona"  single  (Houndmouth, 15)
*  Legendary Shack Shakers, "Dump Truck Yodel"  single  (Arkam, 15)  D
*  Pine Hill Haints, "7 On a Pair Of Dice"  Magick Sounds Of ...  (K, 14)
*  Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Let's Jump a Train"  So Delicious  (Yazoo, 15)  D
*  Lucinda Williams, "Lake Charles"  Car Wheels On a Gravel Road  (Island, 98)
*  Vic Chesnutt, "Lucinda Williams"  West of Rome  (Texas Hotel, 91)
*  Roger Alan Wade, "Things I Been Blamed For"  Bad News Knockin'  (Knoxville, 15)
*  Jamey Johnson, "Alabama Pines"  single  (Big Gassed, 15)  D
*  Ryan Bingham, "Fear and Saturday Night"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Small Houses, "Seventeen In Roselore"  Still Talk Second City  (Cottage, 15)  D
*  Eilen Jewell, "Everywhere I Go (live)"  Live At the Narrows  (Eilen Jewell, 14)  D
*  Tim Barry, "Older and Poorer"  Lost & Rootless  (Chunksaah, 14)
*  Matthew Ryan, "A Song To Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come)"  Boxers  (Blue Rose, 14)
*  Townes Van Zandt, "Where I Lead Me"  Sunshine Boy  (Omnivore, 13)

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