ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
May 30, 2015
WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT MAY?!!
Let me shine a light on what I'm doing here. Every month about this time, I'll take a quick look back at the best music that month had to offer. I'll select my five favorites, as well as a Colorado-based release if such a thing presents itself. While I tend to debut stuff as songs become available, nothing will make this list until I've had a chance to hear the entire thing. F'rinstance, even though I debuted a tune from Chris Stapleton's Traveler way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I didn't hear the whole collection until this month. See?
In addition to some Interesting Weather, May brought us a gob of good music. Tallest Man On Earth offered Dark Bird Is Home, demonstrating a fuller, more produced sound. The return of Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, Bad Omen, was still wonderfully mired in a swamp of lo-fi buzz. Sam Outlaw's official full length LP, Angeleno, was given a lovely ameripolitan bent by producer Ry Cooder. And Emmylou and Rodney (Harris and Crowell, respectively), will win shiny awards for the second volume of their collaboration, Traveling Kind.
My earliest taste of Will Hoge came back in 2006 with his blessedly over-the-top "Woman Be Strong". After nonstop touring, a horrific scooter accident and a truck commercial, that Will sounds little like the Will that brings us the paeon to rural 'merica, Small Town Dreams. I've made fun of the fact that each of these new songs is ready made for another Toyota spot, but I'm also quick to praise Hoge's peerless skill at painting pictures of small town life. He's the songwriting equivalent of a Norman Rockwell. Or is he the mainstream country Springsteen?
I've been waiting for Sonic Ranch, Whitey Morgan & the 78s' new LP, since the Michigan artist dropped his first collection in '08. After a batch of covers, a live record and a bare bones acoustic tribute to his grandpa, Morgan has finally delivered a lineup of timeless country originals. Sure, there are covers, but the remarkable fact is how brightly his own honky tonk, americana and country numbers shine alongside those classics.
Perhaps you'd be surprised to hear that I don't party. Like a dolphin on skis (or, apparently, Will Hoge on a scooter), I don't know that I'd even know where to start. That said, if I were the partyin' type, I'd like to think I'd party best to a soundtrack of dirty garage-born stuff like the Banditos. It's all you could want from Southern rock, a precarious balance of boogie, blues and rock 'n roll bluster.
Speaking of the South, you might recall that Alabama Shakes' 2012 Boys & Girls landed like a bomb on R&B (check out my post from Nov 12 2011, where I link to a post "that might change your life"). After years of nonstop touring, the world gradually caught up with my discovery, and the pressure of a follow up was tremendous. This month's Sound & Color could never compete with that initial Shakes encounter, but it's so damn good to have more new music from Brittany Howard and the boys.
I think I’ve been reserving a space on my favorites list for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller since hearing about the writer’s pending solo debut months and months ago. This after hearing only his work with the bluegrass supergroup SteelDrivers, and maybe harboring a passing familiarity with a song or two he’d penned for the day’s biggest mainstream country acts. Perhaps it was something as superficial as Stapleton’s look: yards of hair flowing from a cowboy hat tugged low enough to obscure any glimpse of his eyes. The popular response pegs him as an "outlaw" country guy, and “Might As Well Get Stoned”, “Outlaw State of Mind” and “Devil Named Music” assure that the “o” word will be easily attached to Stapleton’s resume, though he’s far bigger than the tired outlaw sub-genre. In the midst of all this hard livin’, heavy drinkin’ and deep sinnin’, there is a brutal honesty to Chris Stapleton’s music. When too much country is played with a wink or a tongue jammed in cheek, there’s none of this pretense to The Traveller. Perhaps no song speaks to this better than “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore”, a stark, barebones story that quietly breaks hearts. Molasses slow, with wheezing harmonica mimicking the sound of a miles-away train. “Daddy doesn’t pray anymore / Guess he’s finished talking with the lord / He used to fold his hands and bow his head down to the floor / But Daddy doesn’t pray anymore”. His take on "Tennessee Whiskey", which has been covered by acts from George Jones to Jason Boland, reveals the deep, genuine soul in Stapleton's vocal instrument. More edgy pieces like "Parachute" and "When the Stars Come Out" allow the singer to explore the full power of his classic voice: "One of those LA nights / When the stars come out and shine / They burn so bright / They drown the downtown lights ..."
Maybe next week I’ll start giving some thought to the half-year mark of 2015. At this point, it wouldn’t be premature to declare it a year when much of the appeal in our kind of music came from the country corner.
* Far West, "Bitter Drunk & Cold" Far West (Wooden Tapes, 11)
* Kasey Chambers, "Bittersweet" Bittersweet (Sugar Hill, 15) D
* Lindi Ortega, "To Love Somebody" Faded Gloryville (Last Gang, 15)
* Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Low Down On the Backstreets" Sonic Ranch (El Paso, 15)
* Will Hoge, "Growing Up Around Here" Small Town Dreams (Cumberland, 15)
* Sam Outlaw, "Who Do You Think You Are" Angeleno (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Deslondes, "the Real Deal" Deslondes (New West, 15)
* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Howling At Nothing" Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats (Stax, 15) D, C
* Alabama Shakes, "Future People" Sound & Color (ATO, 15)
* Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, "Death Watch Blues" Bad Omen (Tribulation, 15)
* Giant Sand, "Hurtin' Habit" Heartbreak Pass (New West, 15)
* Banditos, "Cry Baby Cry" Banditos (Bloodshot, 15)
* Langhorne Slim, "Strangers" Spirit Moves (Dualtone, 15)
* State Champion, "Don't Leave Home Without My Love" Fantasy Error (Sophomore Lounge, 15)
* Heartless Bastards, "Hi-Line" Restless Ones (Partisan, 15)
^ Chris Stapleton, "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore" Traveller (Mercury, 15)
* Chuck Ragan, "Vagabond" Kindred Spirit EP (SideOneDummy, 15) D
* Shelby Lynne, "I Can't Imagine" I Can't Imagine (Rounder, 15)
* Fox Street, "Our Garden" Authentic Western Dress (Fox St, 15) D, C
* Jimmy LaFave, "Beauty of You" Night Tribe (Music Road, 15)
* Eilen Jewell, "Needle & Thread" Sundown Over Ghost Town (Signature Sounds, 15)
* Rhett Miller, "Wanderlust" Traveler (ATO, 15)
* Richard Thompson, "All Buttoned Up" Still (Beeswing, 15)
* Leeroy Stagger, "Something Beautiful" Dream It All Away (Rebeltone, 15) D
* Hollis Brown, "Highway 1 (w/Nikki Lane)" 3 Shots (Hollis Brown, 15)
* Milk Carton Kids, "High Hopes" Monterey (Anti, 15)
* Yawpers, "Faith and Good Judgment" Spokesbuzz Vol 5 (Spokesbuzz, 14) C