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Friday, March 06, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
February 28, 2015
Scott Foley

Greg Brown was a gateway artist to folk music for me.  I believe it was a cassette copy of In the Dark With You that ushered me in in the wake of the title cut, "Slept All Night With My Lover"  and "Who Do You Think You're Fooling".  Soon enough, I was a concert promoter in Oregon, where Mr B was a recurring figure on the scene, often accompanied by longtime guitarist and producer Bo Ramsey.  Bo showed up at the KRFC studios this week, on the arm of Greg's youngest daughter, Pieta.  I asked her some good questions, but not the potentially touchy one I really wanted to pose ("Say Pieta, how did you end up hitched to Uncle Bo ... ?").  Nevertheless, she is a talented writer who vastly overflows her reputation as a contemporary folk singer-songwriter. 

Some tempting glimpses into a couple of the year's most promising releases:  Tallest Man On Earth, William Elliott Whitmore and Hip Hatchet, each broadening their previously more intimate sound.  I'm entertaining Hiss Golden Messenger-esque expectations for each of these Spring arrivals.

Producers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson have previously worker with quality artists like Justin Townes Earle, Caitlin Rose, Steelism and Laura Cantrell.  Matter of fact, it was Rose who introduced her producers to her tourmate, Nashville's oft-heralded Andrew Combs.  Back in 2012, I had added my voice to the chorus of praise which greeted Combs' debut full length, Worried Man.  If I remember correctly, I likened his smoothly romantic americana to a young Ryan Bingham.  What a difference a couple years and some effective collaborators can make.  It's not that the songwriter has changed directions with his excellent new All These Dreams.  You can catch hints of the soulful countrypolitan groove here and there on the earlier disc, but the previously tentative musical ideas are given glorious full reign on Dreams.  As a singer, Combs' sandier edge continues to evoke Bingham, but now there's a more suave, buttery quality that brings to mind BJ Thomas or even Harry Nilsson (Lehning actually worked with Thomas on a recent project).  The instrumental duo of Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum Jr (Steelism), back Combs up throughout, laying down such an evocative, vaguely retro groove on guitar and pedal steel, respectively.  "Ain't it funny how you learn to pray / When your blues skies turn to gray / When there's nothing left to say" he sings on "Rainy Day Song".  "Laughing ain't a pleasure / till you know about crying", sounding every bit like a classic country rock arrangement.  "Nothing To Lose" is built atop Cullum's perfect steel, as well as percussion that wouldn't sound out of place on 70's a.m. country radio.  Melancholia is the pervading sentiment on All These Dreams, broken only for soul searching songs like the piano-based "Slow Road To Jesus".  Andrew Combs' new collection more than fulfills his earlier promise, with the sort of mature, original musical statement that could lift a guy onto the popular radar. 

*  Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, "Dive For the Pearl"  Seasonal Hire  (Thrill Jockey, 15)
*  Farrar Johnson Parker James, "Careless Reckless Love"  New Multitudes  (Rounder, 12)
*  Pieta Brown, "Wondering How"  live in studio
*  Pieta Brown, "No Not Me"  live in studio
*  Mavericks, "Stories We Could Tell"  Mono  (Valory, 15)
*  Girls Guns & Glory, "Moanin' the Blues"  Tribute to Hank Williams Live  (Dry Lightning, 15)  D
*  Kill County, "7 Billion Broken Hearts"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 15)
*  Delta Routine, "Gone Again"  You and Your Lion  (Delta Routine, 15)  D
^  Andrew Combs, "Slow Road To Jesus"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Sugar Bowl"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Allison Moorer, "Tear Me Apart"  Down To Believing  (EOne, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "The Big Time"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Gill Landry, "Take This Body"  Gill Landry  (ATO, 15)
*  James McMurtry, "She Loves Me"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Whitehorse, "Sweet Disaster"  Leave No Bridge Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)
*  Hip Hatchet, "Coward's Luck"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)  D
*  Leon Bridges, "Lisa Sawyer"  Coming Home  (Capitol, 15)
*  Tallest Man On Earth, "Sagres"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)  D
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Healing To Do"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)  D
*  Magnolia Electric Co, "Whip-Poor-Will"  Josephine  (Secretly Canadian, 09)
*  American Aquarium, "Losing Side of Twenty-Five"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Watermelon and Root Bear"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)  D
*  John Statz, "Tulsa"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  Sam Lewis, "3/4 Time"  Waiting On You  (Brash Music, 15)  D

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