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Sunday, February 08, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 7, 2015
Scott Foley

Another week, another Episode crowded with debuts (conveniently marked below with a "D").  Sure, I could do another broadcast visiting ol' favorites, but as long as I have just 2 air hours, I'm going to weigh things heavily in the direction of Things You've Never Heard Before.  Plus, no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to shake the Ryan Culwell record.  A couple other blogs have featured Flatlands, but it still seems largely under the radar - showing up neither on the Americana Music Association nor the Roots Music Report charts.  Am I early (possibly)?  Am I wrong (no)? 

Usually, by the time an artist is picked up by a Big Label they just about fall off my own radar.  When Charlie Parr announced this week that his next record would be issued by Red House, I knew he'd stay true to his tradition.  Sure, he's playing with a full band on the first song, but it's Charlie Parr.  Besides, my favorite Parr record is Glory in the Meeting House, the 2010 collection he recorded with Black Twig Pickers.  I'm also looking forward to the 2nd record by Spirit Family Reunion, whose debut spent some quality time bobbing in the Routes & Branches rotation. 

So, what makes the R&B brand different?  Why do I say it's "like nothing on your radio dial (or streaming online, as the case may be)"?  It's the range.  And part of that reach encompasses artists like Natalie Prass.  A former backing singer for Jenny Lewis, Prass' voice is a dead ringer for her former employer's.  Her singing draws a line between the sweetness of 50's girl group innocence and contemporary indie edge.  What lands Prass on Routes & Branches, however, is her connection to country-soul songbirds like Dusty Springfield or Shelby Lynne.  Produced by Matthew E White (another soul-filled fringe dweller, possibly an alien), Prass' debut features Memphis horns, Nashville keys and the romantic despair essential to make the melancholy more than just an indulgent gimmick.  A couple of the record's tunes recall the folk-waif leanings of early Laura Marling or Joanna Newsom (also an alien), especially on cuts like the harp driven "Christy".  The more engaging numbers present Prass as a more organic, less drippy Lana Del Rey.  There is genuine songwriting talent in cuts like "My Baby Don't Understand Me":  "Oh no, my baby don't understand me anymore / What do you do when that happens / Where do you go, when the only home that you know / Is with a stranger"   How about the somewhat unhinged sentiment behind "Violently":  And I'll break my legs / Cause they want to walk to you ...  And I'll break my arms / Cause they want to hold you ..."  Reportedly, White's label (Spacebomb) has held these tunes back for a couple years in hopes of having the time and budget space necessary to take the album places.  It's a rare moment when R&B crosses tracks with the anti-anti-hipsters who pen the Pitchfork reviews (they try so very, very hard), but this is one of those blue moon occurrences.  Time will tell if Natalie Prass catches on with other more adventurous americana radio.  Listening to the sweet retro horns and perfect pop arrangements of "Your Fool", the oversight would be americana's loss. 

*  Benjamin Booker, "Falling Down Blues"  Live At Third Man Records  (Third Man, 15)  D
*  Neko Case, "High On Cruel"  The Virginian  (Bloodshot, 97)
*  Lone Bellow, "Heaven Don't Call Me Home"  Then Came the Morning  (Descendant, 15)
*  Great Lake Swimmers, "Zero In the City"  A Forest of Arms  (Nettwerk, 15)  D
*  American Aquarium, "Southern Sadness"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Matthew Ryan, "An Anthem For the Broken"  Boxers  (Blue Rose, 14)
*  Johnny Cash, "Southern Accents"  Unearthed  (American, 03)
*  James McMurtry, "Ain't Got a Place"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Ryan Culwell, "Amarillo"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Lowest Pair, "In the During of the Moment"  Sacred Heart Sessions  (Team Love, 15)
*  John Statz, "Tulsa"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, "Trailways Ramble"  Seasonal Hire  (Thrill Jockey, 15)  D
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Beehive"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "It Does Not Bother Me"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)  D
*  Ryan Bingham, "Snow Falls In June"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Andrew Combs, "Nothing to Lose"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Heartless Bastards, "Searching For the Ghost"  All This Time  (Fat Possum, 06)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Chick Singer Badass Rocker"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (RWH, 15)  D
*  Steve Earle, "Acquainted With the Wind"  Terraplane  (New West, 15)
*  JD McPherson, "Head Over Heels"  Let the Good Times Roll  (Rounder, 15) 
^  Natalie Prass, "Your Fool"  Natalie Prass  (Spacebomb, 15)  D
*  Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "We Live Dangerous"  So Delicious  (Shanachie, 15)
*  Dead Volts, "California"  We Are Already Dead  (Twang N Bang, 14)
*  Gretchen Peters, "When All You Got Is a Hammer"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)
*  Possessed By Paul James, "Older In My Body"  Feed the Family  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 10)
*  Charlie Parr, "Over the Red Cedar"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)  D
*  Mavericks, "What Am I Supposed To Do"  Mono  (Valory, 15) 

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