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Monday, January 26, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 24, 2015
Scott Foley

To quote Neil Young (which I do quite often):  "Live music is better.  Bumper stickers should be issued."  I spent several hours of my valuable youth poring over Mr Young's Live Rust, a classic live record, and its live/studio companion Rust Never Sleeps.  We launched into this Episode with several concert takes from recent releases, including the rare Neil Young R&B sighting.  While I'm not automatically a fan of live records, I can't deny that a couple of them played a big part in my musical childhood (thinking Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous, the Kinks' One For the Road, to cite just two ... oh, and Neil Diamond's Hot August Night, which proved that indeed there was a time when the man was cool incarnate).  It's hard to argue that Blitzen Trapper's Live In Portland will change a child's life, but at least it makes for an interesting radio bit.

In other news, it happens way too often now.  A really good band reaches the precipice of public awareness, then decides the music world would be better off without them.  Add to this heap o' sadness Lexington's Fifth On the Floor, who have released an EP, & After, calling it their "latest and last".  I'm especially fond of the duet with americana up-and-comer Lucette on the painfully sweet "Whiskey and Wine".  Here's hoping Justin Wells is only pulling a Sturgill Simpson here ...

Fortunately, BJ Barham and American Aquarium have managed to weather the road long enough to land an album that could boost them onto a more prominent national stage.  From the sounds of it, Barham's not exactly enchanted with the touring life - nearly every song on Wolves addresses being away from home, watching friends raise families, weary traveling and seeing life thru the bottom of a beer bottle.  Still, if we've learned anything over the years on R&B, it's that sometimes the hardest times generate the strongest music.  Produced by Megafaun's Brad Cook, Wolves is a great sounding record, just perfectly arranged and on that dangerous edge between professional and polished.  Despite the generous pedal steel and Memphis style keys, American Aquarium has never made a more rock sounding collection.  As a writer, Barham has never bared so raw a personal nerve than on tunes like "Southern Sadness":  "There's a certain kind of despair / It hangs heavy in the air / And everywhere I go I'll always smell the Piedmont pines / There's a Southern sadness that won't let go / Of this heart of mine".  The song even quotes Gram Parsons.  That Southern sadness permeates Wolves, from the self deprecation of "Man I'm Supposed To Be" ("Nobody's ever called me a good man / And that's all right by me")  to the sad sack "Losing Side of Twenty-Five"  ("My parents ask me how I'm doing / I hang my head and close my eyes / They say don't throw your life away / Go and get a job that pays / We love you and we know that you tried."  This isn't to say that Wolves doesn't kick it at times  -  check out the chunky style Southern rock of "Wichita Falls" or the driving ode to the band's Carolina home, "Old North State".  At the heart of the album, however, is the kind of soul searching honesty that is too often passed over for the easy "last call" cliches.  "They say home is where the heart is / It's a place I get my mail sent / A two bit room museum for the things I never get to use". 

*  Waco Brothers, "Death of Country Music (live)"  Waco Express: Live and Kickin'  (Bloodshot, 08)
*  Blitzen Trapper, "God and Suicide (live)"  Live In Portland  (LidKerCow, 14)
*  Phosphorescent, "Nothing Was Stolen (live)"  Live At the Music Hall  (Dead Oceans, 15)
*  Dr. Dog, "County Line (live)"  Live At a Flamingo Hotel  (Anti, 15)
*  Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Welfare Mothers (live)"  Rust Never Sleeps  (Reprise, 79)
*  Eilen Jewell, "Rio Grande (live)"  Live At the Narrows  (Eilen Jewell, 14)
^  American Aquarium, "Southern Sadness"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Ryan Culwell, "Piss Down In My Bones"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 14)
*  Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Let's Jump a Train"  So Delicious  (Yazoo, 15)
*  Diamond Rugs, "Voodoo  Doll"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)  D
*  Ryan Bingham, "Broken Heart Tattoos"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Lydia Loveless, "Let Me Leave"  The Only Man  (Lydia Loveless, 09)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Whistlers & Sparklers"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)  D
*  Steve Earle, "Go Go Boots Are Back"  Terraplane Blues  (New West, 15)
*  Robert Earl Keen, "Footprints In the Snow"  Happiest Prisoner: Bluegrass Session  (Dualtone, 15)
*  Vetiver, "Current Carry"  Complete Strangers  (Andrew Cambric, 15)  D
*  Gretchen Peters, "Nashville"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)
*  Ben Weaver, "Littleman"  I'd Rather Be a Buffalo  (Hymie's Record Label, 14)
*  Maggie Bjorklund, "Name In the Sand"  Shaken  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Fifth On the Floor, "Whiskey and Wine (w/Lucette)"  & After  (Fifth On the Floor, 15)  D
*  Kill County, "Broken Glass In the Sun"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 14)
*  John Calvin Abney, "Dark Horse Army"  Better Luck  (Foolish Philosophy, 15)  D
*  Cary Hudson, "Vinyl and Wine"  Town and Country  (Cary Hudson, 14)  D
*  Alabama Shakes, "I Found You"  Boys & Girls  (ATO, 12)
*  Pops Staples, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"  Don't Lose This  (Anti, 15)
*  Sixteen Horsepower, "Bad Moon Risin' (live)"  Hoarse  (Alt.Tentacles, 01)  C
*  Jason Isbell, "Tour of Duty (live)"  Live From Alabama  (Lightning Rod, 12)
*  Wanda Jackson, "Rip It Up"  Party Ain't Over  (Nonesuch, 03)

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