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Monday, May 04, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
May 2, 2015
Scott Foley

WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT APRIL?!!

For today's post, we'll pair a Saturday setlist with a quick recap of what happened while we were watching things turn to Spring.  Whereas March made it difficult for us to pare stuff down to just five fine releases, the month of April felt a bit tame by comparison. Debuted enough stuff, but I never like to declare my undying allegiance to an album until I've had time to live with the entire album for a week or two.

Now that we're officially one-third into 2015: The Year, the real jewels are starting to distinguish themselves from the pretty baubles.  If I was forced to generate a list of these priceless gems (in no particular order, of course), it might include selections such as Andrew Combs, John Moreland, Ryan Culwell, Charlie Parr and Americana Aquarium.  Stuff that's not worn out its welcome after repeated playings.  Will any of the following April records join this rarefied company?  As me later. 

It's always a worthwhile event when Joey Burns and John Convertino release a new set.  As Calexico, they have been making an uncompromising blend of Southwestern americana, indie rock and Mexican folk since they emerged from the shadow of Giant Sand in the mid 90s.  Edge of the Sun fits firmly in the more direct groove established since 2006's Garden Ruin.  Extra dimension comes from guests including former collaborators Neko Case and Sam Beam, as well as lesser known quantities like the Greek band Tikam and experimental Latin indie force Gaby Moreno.

I listened more to Brown Bird's Axis Mundi in April more than anything else, trying to get my ears around the duo's final statement.  Arriving in the wake of David Lamb's 2014 passing from leukemia, the songs are bold and ultimately affirming despite working with a dark musical palette.  Partner MorganEve Swain collected fragments and song ideas left by Lamb and arrayed them into a striking tribute to the too-brief tenure of Brown Bird.  With heavier electric guitars and percussion and lyrics that flirt and spar with mortality, it won't necessarily provide the soundtrack for your next dinner party, but it has definitely earned a slot in this year's R&B rotation. 

Dwight Yoakam might no longer have the element of surprise on his side, though his Second Hand Heart satisfies as much as almost anything he's done in the past decade.  While it's not the heralded return to Yoakam's iconic "cowpunk" days, it's a lively collection with enough edge and artistry to dispel any arguments that the man is cruising on yesterday's vapors.  His turbo-fueled romp thru "Man of Constant Sorrow" gets by on good nature alone, and Yoakam's stranglehold on pop-country hooks hasn't loosened a bit. I would also put in a good word for Yoakam as an underrated balladeer as evidenced on more restrained moments like "V's of Birds".

Similar to John Moreland, Philippe Bronchtein loads every lyric on Hold You Like a Harness with poetic worth and personal meaning.  As Hip Hatchet, he trades in the tales of a flawed romantic, driven by 75%  honorable intent but often as not greeting the dawn with regret and self doubt.  Bronchtein's fingerpicked guitar and strong smoky tenor speak strongly of their folk origins, though the pedal steel, fiddle and the lyrical edge speak more of unpaved parking lots, sketchy hotels and two-lane backroads than coffee houses.  "Man, I can't commit for shit / But damn can I act and pretend".

Chris Porter is the reason I keep listening to album after album.  I trust that the hours I spend previewing all that "pretty good" music will eventually pay off with an experience like This Red Mountain.  No doubt, I expected strong stuff from John Moreland's release, and in all honesty I wasn't ambushed by the strength of Dwight Yoakam's new record.  What feeds me is dropping in a CD or clicking on a file and having years of low expectations blown aside like cobwebs. While Porter isn't an entirely new quantity for me, his earlier work didn't prepare me for the impact of cuts like the title track or "Hardest Healin'".  Surrounded by  a supporting cast that would be the envy of any larger label artist, Porter sidesteps the Grand Musical Statement in favor of a slow, simmering impression.  Then it dawns:  Damn. 

Oh, and don't forget that William Elliott Whitmore will be joining me for an instudio set 'n chat around 4:30 (mt) Saturday, May 16.  Until such time, I will be over-listening and over-researching Mr Whitmore's oeuvre until I'm fairly overflowing with fanboy enthusiasm.

*  AJ Roach, "Sears & Roebuck Suit"  Revelation  (Waterbug, 06)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Gravel Road"  Ashes To Dust  (Southern, 05)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "South Lee County Brew"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)
*  John Moreland, "Hang Me In the Tulsa County Stars"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "V's of Birds"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Waitin' 'Round To Die"  Sonic Ranch  (Whitey Morgan, 15)
*  Lindi Ortega, "Tell It Like It Is"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)  D
*  Will Hoge, "Guitar or a Gun"  Small Town Dreams  (Cumberland, 15)  D
*  Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "You Can't Say We Didn't Try"  Traveling Kind  (Nonesuch, 15)
*  Staves, "You Don't Call Me Anymore"  If I Was  (Atlantic, 15)
*  Brown Bird, "Adolescence"  Axis Mundi  (Supply & Demand, 15)
*  Hip Hatchet, "Travel Map"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)
*  Shinyribs, "Sacred & the Profane"  Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)  D
*  Andrew Combs, "Month of Bad Habits"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Amy Black, "Tighten Up"  Muscle Shoals Sessions  (Reuben, 15)  D
*  Sam Lewis, "Love Me Again"  Waiting On You  (Brash, 15)
*  Jimmy LaFave, "Trying To Get Back To You"  Night Tribe  (Music Road, 15)  D
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "Put Your Hands Together"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  Chris Stapleton, "Nobody To Blame"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Little Black Hole"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)
*  Rhett Miller, "Kiss Me On the Fire Escape"  The Traveler  (ATO, 15)
^  Porter, "This Red Mountain"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
*  Darrell Scott, "Country Music I'm Talking To You"  10: Songs of Ben Bullington  (Full Light, 15)  D
*  Richard Thompson, "Beatnik Walking"  Still  (Beeswing, 15)  D
*  Giant Sand, "Hurtin' Habit"  Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)
*  Eilen Jewell, "Worried Mind"  Sundown Over Ghost Town  (Signature Sounds, 15)
*  Jim White, "Still Waters"  Wrong-Eyed Jesus  (Luaka Bop, 97)

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