ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
August 22, 2015
I've been in the book industry forever. One thing I've learned is that, while you can't necessarily judge a book by its cover, you can definitely make someone pick that book up with the right jacket. Likewise, there are some publishers that I simply trust more than others. I'll ignore a book that's published by X Publisher, and take a second look at a book from Y Publisher. I feel the same way about music. I might pay relatively little attention to something released by one label, while paying extra attention to a record from a label with a stronger catalog.
Which brings us to a trio of albums just released by Portland's Fluff & Gravy Records (motto: "Trust Your Label" - indeed). To date, Fluff & Gravy have launched collections by artists like Jeffrey Martin, Hillstomp, Anna Tivel and more. This Summer, we get stuff from Mike Coykendall, Drunken Prayer and Fernando Viciconte. Boom!
Perhaps you've heard of a 90s San Francisco area alt.country act called the Old Joe Clarks? Certainly you're familiar with M Ward? Blitzen Trapper? She & Him? The commonality between these bands and others is veteran instrumentalist, writer and producer Mike Coykendall (please, for the love of americana, say "kir-ken-doll"). While his stuff with other artists might be relatively conventional, Coykendall's solo work challenges those boundaries with music that can be edgy, daring and unconventional - consider this a compliment. Like a musician in a sandbox, he refuses to respect boundaries or to make safe choices. Blues bump into country, and rock rubs shoulders with psychedelic sounds, while Coykendall simply sounds like he's having a great time in the studio.
Morgan Christopher Geer is Drunken Prayer. On his 4th release, Devil & the Blues, Geer plays alongside luminaries from bands like Reigning Sound, Sadies and Freakwater. As opposed to Coykendall's work, the songs of Drunken Prayer tend to play closer to tradition, while demonstrating a sardonic wit that leads to songs like "Johnny Paycheck's Cocaine" and "Captain and Tennille" (see also "The Champagne Of Tears"). There's plenty of lyrical poetry here, too, on cuts like "Echo Of a Heavy Slamming Door" and the unexpectedly introspective "Love Looks Like a Master". Much more common are the Good Time Numbers such as the loose romp, "What's Gonna Happen". Guitars are rude and sloppy and vocals threaten to leave the rails, spiced with the occasional horn and bar ready keys. Even as Geer name drops god and the devil throughout, it's a collection that opts for a good time over any profound and serious message.
Fernando Viciconte has been on my musical radar for years. As a former (and, I'm sure, a future) Oregon resident, I have been spinning the Portland legend's street smart rock songs since the 1997 Windows release. Fernando has steered clear of the recording studio since 2011's fantastic True Instigator, though he returns with a doctor's note excusing the absence on account of surgery to address a throat condition. As heard on Leave the Radio On, Fernando's songs are actually short stories set to music, not unlike Alejandro Escovedo's classic early work. As a listener, I've always harbored a fondness for artists like Los Lobos, Doug Sahm or Escovedo who drip Latin colors onto their palette. Mariachi flavored horns burst into "El Interior", and a South-of-the-border mandolin augments a handful of tracks. Guests include Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, members of Richmond Fontaine and that Coykendall guy. Where Drunken Prayer's stuff provides the perfect soundtrack for an evening of deliberate misbehavior, there is a darkness and gravity to Fernando's songs, dripping with heavy guitar and even bits of psychedelia with Viciconte's voice echoing deep into the mix. Radio is rarely "easy listening", rather it seems to be a project driven by a very personal musical compass. "The Freak" is a raggedly beautiful anthem with a pure pop heart, and the pedal steel and strummed acoustic "Kingdom Come" is as close as the record comes to tradition. Instead, Fernando chooses to dodge any preconceptions with a far reaching, ambitious collection and a much fuller sound and vision that we might have anticipated.
Towards the end of the year, when I'm compiling my favorites lists, I'll typically also comment on praiseworthy labels for that year. My early guess is that Fluff & Gravy will take its place on the proverbial podium alongside other indies like Alive Naturalsound and This Is American Music when the confetti falls.
Incidentally, this week's Episode marked my first R&B broadcast from KRFC's Home In Exile; our temporary studios whilst our permanent home is being reduced to rubble and rebuilt like the phoenix from the ashes. Dunno if that makes any difference for my site, but it's certainly thrown my week into a tailspin. Hence, the fact that I never did get around to posting last week. So much good stuff ...
* Hiss Golden Messenger, "Southern Grammar" Lateness Of Dancers (Merge, 14)
* Leon Bridges, "Flowers" Coming Home (Sony, 15)
* Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Life's a Bell" Spirit Moves (Dualtone, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Run Down Neighborhood" Faded Gloryville (Last Gang, 15)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Mercury" Turnpike Troubadours (Bossier City, 15)
* Lucero, "Can't You Hear Them Howl" All a Man Should Do (ATO, 15)
* Damn Quails, "Just a Little While" Out Of the Birdcage (Damn Quails, 15) D
* Phil Cook, "Anybody Else" Southland Mission (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Tallest Man On Earth, "Little Nowhere Towns" Dark Bird Is Home (Dead Oceans, 15)
* Wussy, "Teenage Wasteland" Attica! (Shake It, 15) D
* Freakwater, "Wild and Blue" Dancing Under Water (Thrill Jockey, 97)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "One That Got Away" Southern Surreal (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Blitzen Trapper, "All Across This Land" All Across This Land (Vagrant, 15)
* GospelbeacH, "Mick Jones" Pacific Surf Line (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Jason Isbell, "To a Band That I Loved" Something More Than Free (Southeastern, 15)
* Supersuckers, "Holdin' the Bag" Holdin' the Bag (Supersuckers, 15) D
* Son Volt, "Loose String" Trace (Warner, 95)
* Alone at 3am, "I'm Dying" Show the Blood (Sofaburn, 15) D
* Mary Gauthier, "Sorry You're Sick" Cold & Bitter Tears: Songs Of Ted Hawkins (Eight 30, 15) D
* David Ramirez, "How Do You Get 'Em Back" Fables (Sweetworld, 15)
* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Wasting Time" Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats (Stax, 15) C, D
* Watkins Family Hour, "Hop High" Watkins Family Hour (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "Singin' To Strangers" Paradise (Thirty Tigers, 15) D
* Jolie Holland, "Amen" Escondida (Anti, 04)
* Joe Ely, "Cold Black Hammer" Panhandle Rambler (Rack 'Em, 15) D
* Bottle Rockets, "Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)" South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot, 15) D
* Ana Egge, "Fifth Of July" Bright Shadow (Parkinsong, 15)
* Delines, "Wichita Ain't Far Away" Colfax (El Cortez, 14)