ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 4, 2015
WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT MARCH?!!
We're not even a week into it and April already seems like it's been a long month. We still have to put March in a box, which could prove difficult with all the quality stuff that landed on our speakers the last couple weeks. Matter of fact, there are no fewer than 8 records deserving of some sort of mention in the space below.
At least a few songs from Houndmouth's Little Neon Limelight were released a couple months ago, with the pop perfect "Sedona" lodging itself firmly in my ears. Under the direction of producer de jour Dave Cobb, the quartet walks a nice line between shiny pop and soulful roots music. Card carrying Texas music legend Ray Wylie Hubbard hasn't exceeded my expectations since 2009's awkwardly titled A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C). His new Ruffian's Misfortune is more musically varied and lyrically imaginative than his last couple records. William Elliott Whitmore's Radium Death also merits attention, venturing boldly into full band territory while keeping true to his Troubled-Farmer-With-a-Banjo beginnings. Now he just sings louder about his concerns.
I can put the following in no particular order, since time will ultimately tell how it all separates out.
Great Peacock's 2013 debut EP was one of those slimline cardboard deals that never got the play it deserved simply because I rarely realized it was there. While I only have a digital copy of their debut full length, Making Ghosts, it calls attention to itself for more than its physical dimensions. In Routes & Branches: The Early Days, I gave much more airspace to folky guys wielding acoustic guitars. Things have changed, and I'd like to think it takes more than a pretty beard for an artist to land on the R&B playlists. A good deal of progress has apparently happened since that EP, as evidenced on Ghosts, from the fuller band sound to the lyrical depth.
Songs from Andrew Combs' sophomore CD have stuck in my head more than almost any other collection this year. All These Dreams is supremely tuneful, a bit of retro country-pop that continues to surprise. Combs' vocals are classic, as are the pitch-perfect arrangements featuring the boys from Steelism on things with strings. True Fact: I woke up this morning with "Foolin'" on my mind.
Spirit Family Reunion's Hands Together features a formula that is a fool-proof ticket onto the Routes & Branches train. Wrecked vocals, gospel fervor and an off-the-rails spirit combine for a record that more than lives up to the promise of the band's 2012 debut. The haunted backwoods death march, "Skillet Good and Greasy", lays it out just right: slightly off tune fiddle, dusty banjo, phlegmy vocals and hollered backing vox. And there's no reason why a tune like "All the Way Back Home" couldn't vault SFR up to Avett-like heights.
I had mixed feelings upon hearing that lifelong independent Charlie Parr has signed to Minnesota based Red House Records. While Red House had been instrumental in introducing contemporary folk names like Greg Brown and John Gorka to the teeming masses, their formula has changed very little over the ensuing years. For every Pieta Brown or Dale Watson signing, there were a dozen more perfectly alright acoustic singer-songwriters. While there are some new sounds on Parr's Stumpjumper, this is unexpected territory for the label. To his credit, Parr compromises not one iota of his musical vision, choosing instead to rough it up just right with an edge and verve that do his songs proud.
John Moreland's In the Throes was a once-in-a-lifetime record, and even a holy shit collection like High On Tulsa Heat will never re-generate the sort of electric emotional shock I felt upon first hearing the 2013 classic. That said, I'm coming to recognize that purely as a collection of songs, Tulsa is a better product. It doesn't hold me as emotionally hostage as the earlier release, but it's an easier listen. It's musically a more mature effort. A fellow fan and blogger tells me that there's no way to compare the two albums, and I agree. I also recognize that it's inevitable. Moreland is as good a writer as we have. His ballads can rival some of Townes Van Zandt's for sheer devastation, and his band cuts strike a fine balance between lyrical smarts and sonic hooks. As with that other record, you can't help but wonder what's next.
March Came Bearing Great Gifts
Great Peacock, Making Ghosts
Andrew Combs, All These Dreams
Spirit Family Reunion, Hands Together
Charlie Parr, Stumpjumper
John Moreland, High On Tulsa Heat
Thanks to Tarnation's Andy D for sitting in for me this week. I'll be back micside this Saturday, with new offerings from Brown Bird, Heartless Bastards, Whitey Morgan and gobs more.