ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 14, 2015
I think it would be cool if, as we enter the later years of our lives, we could put together mixes of the tunes that have defined us. Then, when we shuffle off this mortal coil our friends and family could play that mix and remember us. Certainly there's a fortune to be had in this idea ...? In my case, it seems most years drop 1 or 2 songs that could qualify for my Death Mix (little trademark sign here). Last year was a bit on the slow side, but the year before brought me Phosphorescent's transcendent "Song For Zula", which would certainly land on my Mix. This year is a mere 2.5 months old, but I've already tagged one cut as a near certain long-lister. Tallest Man On Earth's "Sagres" actually had me pondering putting an end to my perennial quest for the Next Great Thing. The tune caught me off guard during what has been the longest week ever, dropping the lyrical bomb, "It's just all this fucking doubt ...". I've been living with that phrase ever since, actually using a screen shot of it as the wallpaper for my cell phone. Sure, the song sounds like an updated take on Springsteen's "My Hometown" (which isn't an entirely dumb song to crib if you're going to crib). But like Matthew Houck's delivery of "Zula", "Sagres" rides on Kristian Matsson's broken and world-weary voice.
This week we opened the door for John Moreland's new High On Tulsa Heat record, a single that features a gritty, rocking full band sound. We were also pleased to feature a 20 Year anniversary collection of rarities and outtakes from Alive Natural Sound Records, a double gatefold LP to be released on Record Store Day 2015. Like another recent anniversary release from Bloodshot, this one features a generous collection of artists, from Left Lane Cruiser and Lee Bains III to Bloodhounds and Black Keys.
I've mentioned before how gospel plays a role in the R&B rotation as it meets with some of these other genres. Even if lyrics aren't immediately recognizable as such, the musical structures of many of these bands owes a degree of debt to the genre. The six piece Spirit Family Reunion trades in elements of 'grass, country, folk and country, but is largely driven by a pervasive gospel spirit throughout their second full length, Hands Together. The appeal of the Brooklyn acoustic band can be followed back to their roots as a street busking act. Songs like "Put Your Hands Together When You Spin the Wheel" demonstrate that tight but freewheeling sound that is found as well in Old Crow Medicine Show or Felice Brothers. A line can be drawn between two distinct halves of Hands Together. The first half is characterized by chugging rhythms, Avett-esque banjo, harmonies and singalong choruses readymade for the congregation: "I'm gonna fill my heart with love / Until it almost breaks my heart / No more bitter feelings that keep driving us apart". The sandpaper vocals of Nick Panken recall the early Felice Brothers on pieces like "Skillet Good and Greasy", with its slightly off-the-rails fiddle and harmonica. "It Does Not Bother Me" finds the band's gospel spirit displayed to its full potential.
It's not until "How I Long To Take That Ride" that the service cools to a relative simmer "Let me touch the hand of a righteous man / Let me hear them clear and loud / I have waited round for the glory bound / How I long to join that crowd". "Once Again" allows a rare lead vocal from banjo player Maggie Carson, much a part of Spirit Family's sound, but typically as a harmonizer. As a frontperson, Carson's homespun delivery recalls Catherine Irwin of Freakwater. If the raucous early moments are designed to rouse the spirit, this latter period is a call for reflection and self-analysis. Even "Wait For Me", encourages soul searching with its profane chorus "Wait for me / Sweet destiny / I'd move if I could find the fuckin' door".
This isn't to say that Grandma and Grandpa will want to shelve Hands Together alongside their Gaither Family LPs. The point is that the beauty of our kind of music lies in the gray areas, where genres cross pollinate and the dark night of the soul brings us to our knees and to revival. Spirit Family Reunion won't tell you what to believe, but they'll definitely make you feel.
* Southern Culture On the Skids, "Smiley Yeah Yeah Yeah" Mojo Box (Yep Roc, 04)
* Great Peacock, "Making Ghosts" Making Ghosts (This Is American Music, 15)
* Steve Earle, "Tennessee Kid" Terraplane (New West, 15)
* Sarah Gayle Meech, "Watermelon and Root Beer" Tennessee Love Song (SGM, 15)
* Ryan Culwell, "Piss Down In My Bones" Flatlands (Lightning Rod, 15)
* Asleep At the Wheel w/Jamey Johnson, "Brain Cloudy Blues" Still the King (AatW, 15) D
* Gourds, "Omaha" Shinebox (Sugar Hill, 01)
* Trout Steak Revival, "Colorado River" Brighter Every Day (TSR, 15) D, C
* John Moreland, "High On Tulsa Heat" High On Tulsa Heat (Old Omens, 15) D
* Lindi Ortega, "Tell It Like It Is" single (Last Gang, 15) D
^ Spirit Family Reunion, "Wake Up Rounder" Hands Together (SFR, 15)
* Charlie Parr, "Stumpjumper" Stumpjumper (Red House, 15)
* Ha Ha Tonka, "Walking On the Devil's Backbone" Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South (Bloodshot, 09)
* Andrew Combs, "Slow Road To Jesus" All These Dreams (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Bloodhounds, "La Couahuila" Rock & Roll Is a Beautiful Thing (Alive Natural Sound, 15) D
* Natalie Prass, "Your Fool" Natalie Prass (Spacebomb, 15)
* Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "I Follow Rivers" Sea Songs (Southeastern, 15)
* Kill County, "Bad Gasoline" Broken Glass In the Sun (Kill County, 15)
* Simon Joyner, "You Got Under My Skin" Grass Branch & Bone (Woodsist, 15)
* Lilly Hiatt, "Off Track" Royal Blue (Normaltown, 15)
* Sam Lewis, "3/4 Time" Waiting On You (Brash Music, 15)
* William Elliott Whitmore, "Healing To Do" Radium Death (Anti, 15)
* Mark Olson & Creekdippers, "How Can I Send Tonight" December's Child (Dualtone, 02)
* Mavericks, "The Only Question Is" Mono (Valory, 15)
* Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Whistlers & Sparklers" I Never Thought It Would Go This Far (Lower 40, 15)
* Minus 5, "Hold Down the Fort" Dungeon Golds (Yep Roc, 15) D
* 6 String Drag, "Kingdom of Gettin' It Wrong" Roots Rock 'n Roll (Royal Potato Family, 15)
* James McMurtry, "These Things I've Come To Know" Complicated Game (Complicated Game, 15)
* John Statz, "One Way Opens" Tulsa (John Statz, 15) C