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Thursday, February 05, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
January 31, 2015
Scott Foley

I don't think I've praised Matthew Ryan's Boxers enough (feels odd to type that sentence).  This is a man who has been sweating over a songwriter's desk since 1997's May Day.  Ryan's music rocks too hard for the much of the americana crowd, but he's also too much of a singer-songwriter to commune with the rockers.  Boxers is heavy with guitar fuzz 'n buzz, striking a punk pose for "Heaven's Hill" or "God's Not Here Tonight" before quieting down for a "A Song To Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come)".  There's no reason why "Anthem For the Broken" couldn't have been set to tape by Frank Turner, except that Matthew Ryan got to it first.  Matter of fact, if you need a quick and slightly inaccurate RIYL for Ryan's stuff, you can do worse than a hybrid of Turner and The Other Ryan (Adams - the former Mr Mandy Moore).  I've been spinning the record since before its October release, but it's taken this long for me to realize what a gem we have in Boxers (plus, there are some really neat promotional opportunities Ryan could've taken advantage of based on that title). 

 Another longtime act, Wrinkle Neck Mules are celebrating 15 years of alt.country with their 6th album appropriately called I Never Thought It Would Go This Far.  I recall stumbling across the North Carolina quintet's '06 Pull the Brake LP and rooting for them simply because a band with such an awesome name simply had no choice but to rise to stardom. There are bands that come immediately to mind when I think of Southern music:  Drive-by Truckers, the Gourds, Bottle Rockets to name a couple.  Fact is, I've almost never set foot in the South, with the exception of a week I spent in Nashville several years ago (I recall touching the Ryman, which was closed, and visiting the Bluebird Cafe where they were featuring an evening with a trio of Oregon singer-songwriters ...).  Anyhow, Virginia's Wrinkle Neck Mules trade in the mythology of the South.  "All of the shine is gone / We drank it all between Barnesville and Gulf Shores / The sutures have all dried / The wind's at our back and the tangles are untied."  Lead 'Mules Andy Stepanian and Chase Heard boast such distinct writing and vocal styles that it almost makes for two bands.  Stepanian comes across like a more sober, literary Kev Russell, while Heard might recall a looser Mike Cooley.  "Beehive" launches with, "Domestic abuse in a bottle, chemicals staining my brain ..."  The lyrical turns are everywhere on I Never Thought, ranging from clever to literary to downright moving.  "Whistlers & Sparklers" offers up the image of a car packed with a litany of fireworks, a fuse running "to my bent and defeated heart".  Like the Gourds, there's plenty of wry humor here, too:  "We were smoking like John Cougar ..."  Instrumental strains of 'grass and alt.country abound, but the prevailing sentiment is one of Southern roots rock.  Wrinkle Neck Mules have indeed gone this far, and it's a good thing they've picked up more than a couple cool tricks along the way. 

*  Matthew Ryan, "Heaven's Hill"  Boxers  (Blue Rose, 14)
*  Joe Purdy, "Can't Get It Right Today"  You Can Tell Georgia  (Joe Purdy, 07)
*  Murder By Death, "Natural Pearl"  Big Dark Love  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  American Aquarium, "Old North State"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Cody Canada & the Departed, "Inbetweener"  HippieLovePunk  (Underground Sound, 15)
*  Shonna Tucker, "Lonely Women Make Good Lovers"  single  (Scott Ward, 14)
*  Rocky Votolato, "The Hereafter"  Hospital Handshakes  (No Sleep, 15)  D
*  Sons of Bill, "Lost In the Cosmos (Song for Chris Bell)"  Love & Logic  (Thirty Tigers, 14)
*  M Lockwood Porter, "Chris Bell"  27  (M Lockwood Porter, 14)
*  Chris Bell, "You and Your Sister"  I Am the Cosmos  (Ryko, 92)
*  Water Liars, "Let It Breathe (live)"  OurVinyl Sessions  (OurVinyl, 15)  D
*  Austin Lucas, "Nevada County Line"  New Home In the Old World  (Last Chance, 11)
*  Ryan Culwell, "Flatlands"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
^  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Whistlers & Sparklers"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Sarah Borges, "False Eyelashes"  Diamonds In the Dark  (Sugar Hill, 07)
*  JD McPherson, "Bossy"  Let the Good Times Roll  (Rounder, 15)
*  Mavericks, "All Night Long"  Mono  (Valory, 15)  D
*  Calexico, "Cumbia de Donde"  Edge of the Sun  (Anti, 15)  D
*  Steve Earle, "Baby Baby Baby (Baby)"  Terraplane  (New West, 15)
*  Fifth On the Floor, "Movin' On"  & After  (Fifth On the Floor, 15)
*  Whiskeytown, "Faithless Street"  Faithless Street  (Outpost, 96)
*  Todd Adelman, "Cold Mississippi Blues"  Highways & Lowways  (Porch Lantern, 15)  C
*  Jim White vs Packway Handle Band, "Jim 3:16"  Take It Like a Man  (Yep Roc, 15)
*  John Calvin Abney, "Dallas City Lights"  Better Luck  (Foolish Philosophy, 15)
*  Two Cow Garage, "Let the Boys Be Girls"  single  (Last Chance, 15)  D
*  J Roddy Walston & the Business, "Caroline"  J Roddy Walston & the Business  (Vagrant, 10)
*  Pokey LaFarge, "Something In the Water"  Something In the Water  (Rounder, 15)  D

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