ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
August 29, 2015
First things first: White Buffalo (aka Jake Smith) is known for his fearsome beard and his gruff, darkly uncompromising alt.country (as featured in your favorite episodes of Sons of Anarchy). Smith's 5th record, Love and the Death of Damnation, maintains that Triple-H-meets-Eddie-Vedder spirit while adding new shades throughout. You can find a great primer on all things White Buffalo at this link, where the fine folks at Ernie Ball are sharing a series of shorts called "Capturing the White Buffalo". The ten sessions show Smith's workmanlike commitment to expand the borders of his musical repertoire. Damnation boasts more upbeat cuts like "Dark Days" or "Modern Times", which are also more tuneful than almost anything that White Buffalo has previously released. On the opposite end of the spectrum are gorgeously gritty ballads such as "Radio With No Sound" and "Last Call To Heaven". Both pieces highlight the deep and honest romantic streak, as well as a baritone delivery that can caress as effectively as it slays during the rockers. Romantic or not, Smith is no bullshitting Romeo, as evidenced on "Home Is In Your Arms", where his sweet talk consists of "Your love is a motherfuckin' revelation / And I'm just lookin' for a fillup station / To fill your heart / Just hoping it starts". On "Go the Distance", he woos with "You're not just my woman / You're a piece of ass". Nevertheless, White Buffalo bears the marks of a real poet of the common man. "Life ain't nothing like a railroad track / It'll lead you there but don't lead you back". On the mariachi border story, "Chico", he paints this masterpiece: "I kick in the door at the Casa de Nada / He swings from the fan like a busted pinata / With no candy prize". The album's final volley. "Come On Love, Come On In" is an unexpectedly soulful gospel number, replete with organ, horns and a choir. Most importantly, it showcases Jake Smith's deeply emotive delivery. Always a strong singer he reaches new heights from the 2:25 moment to the song's finale, where he gets his Joe Cocker on for the good of all music. It's why gospel music done right can wield such power, even for listeners without a shred of traditional religious dedication. Music saves. White Buffalo saves. God bless Jake Smith.
WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT AUGUST?!!
August drags on like a bad death scene from an early western. August is the C minus of months. You like humidity? How 'bout bugs? Got a thing for dry grass, uncomfortably warm nights, or sweltering cars? Panting dogs, chilled soup, fetid stagnant water, cleaning filthy barbecue grills? Have I got a month for you! On top of it all, my vocational life chose August as a suitable time to explode, from a nonstop parade of hiring and training at the library to a wholesale station relocation at KRFC. When time permitted, new music arrived like a clean, cold washcloth to the face in August.
This month's cool breeze included a blast of garage soul from longtime Boston frontman Barrence Whitfield & the Savages. Under the Savage Sky is rude, loud and just right. Anderson East's Delilah marks another satisfying product from the hand of uber-producer Dave Cobb. Seems everything Cobb touches these days turns to soul (see debut Corb Lund single below). East is by no means a mere vehicle, however, blessed with a classic golden voice and material to match.
It just makes sense that this is the moment for an artist like Langhorne Slim & the Law. Now that the Mumfords and Avetts have made the world safe for spirit-filled acoustic music, a record such as The Spirit Moves can blaze a straight path to the hearts of the unwashed masses. 2012's Way We Move showed moments of such crowd pleasing energy, and Langhorne Slim's new selection finally gathers all the promise evident since his 2004 debut. There's enough banging drums, urgent vocals and friendly punk drive to start a love riot.
I've been following Austin singer-songwriter David Ramirez for a good long time. He's been one of those hard touring, under the radar performers who's almost seemed too busy for success. Ramirez's new Fables is reportedly the product of stepping back, pulling off the road, and taking some time to create a product worthy of his vast talents. I believe I've played "Harder To Lie" more than just about any other song this year, a gem of writing that reflects Ramirez's quiet, understated way with a lyric. Nothing here will immediately hit you over the head. Nothing rocks too hard or builds too high. By your third or fourth listen, however, you'll be able to see through all that quiet to find an artist who is ripe for discovery. For all I crowed about fellow Texan Ryan Culwell earlier this year, David Ramirez just might be my Culwell for the second half of 2015.
It's not Fernando Viciconte's fault that he's not as well known as Alejandro Escovedo or Chuck Prophet. His first new release in almost 5 years probably won't change that, though it does cement his status among Those That Know as one of our foremost urban/roots rockers. As mentioned in last week's posting, the fact that Peter Buck contributes throughout Leave the Radio On should be enough of an imprimatur to open some doors. If it's still not enough, try setting the needle down on songs like the Calexico-leaning "So Loud" or the cliche-free alt.country of "Kingdom Come" for another argument for why Fernando belongs on your music device of choice.
Nathaniel Rateliff would've been just fine to continue with his successful stream of solo releases. Both 2010's debut, In Memory Of Loss and 2013's Falling Faster Than You Can Run sound like absolutely nothing in your record collection. Instead, the burly, bearded Denver fellow surrounded himself with a chaingang of friends for one of the most satisfyingly soulful blasts of the year. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats has actually caught the easily distracted national ear for their clapping and stomping ode to withdrawal, "S.O.B." Go deeper into the record, though, for cuts like the dusty, lilting "Wasting Time" or "Trying Hard Not To Know" with its infectiously chugging rhythmic hooks if you're already reaching your satiation point for the single.
* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Shake" Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats (Stax, 15) C
* Anderson East, "Keep the Fire Burning" Delilah (Elektra, 15)
* Drunken Prayer, "What's Gonna Happen" Devil and the Blues (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
* Honeycutters, "Jukebox" Me Oh My (Organic, 15)
* Justin Townes Earle, "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now" Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot, 12)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Easton & Main" Turnpike Troubadours (Bossier City, 15)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "Mud" Southern Surreal (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Rod Picott, "Drunken Barber's Hand" Fortune (Welding Rod, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Faded Gloryville" Faded Gloryville (Last Gang, 15)
* Slobberbone, "To Love Somebody" Slippage (New West, 02)
* Rayland Baxter, "Young Man" Imaginary Man (ATO, 15)
* David Ramirez, "Harder To Lie" Fables (Sweetworld, 15)
* Watkins Family Hour, "King Of the 12 Ounce Bottles" Watkins Family Hour (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)" South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot, 15)
* Patty Griffin, "Rider Of Days" Servant Of Love (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Kevin Gordon, "GTO" Long Gone Time (Kevin Gordon, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Weight Of the Gun" Things That Can't Be Undone (New West, 15) D
* Fernando, "Burned Out Love" Leave the Radio On (Fluff & Gravy, 15) D
* Yawpers, "Deacon Brodie" American Man (Bloodshot, 15) C, D
* Drive-by Truckers, "Made Up English Oceans (live)" It's Great To Be Alive! (ATO, 15)
* Old 97s, "Desperate Times" Hitchhike to Rhome (Old 97s, 94)
* Delines, "Gold Dreaming" Scenic Sessions (El Cortez, 15) D
* Will Johnson, "Call Call Call" Swan City Vampires (Undertow, 15) D
* Joe Ely, "Southern Eyes" Panhandle Rambler (Rack 'Em, 15)
* John Moreland, "Good Book" Earthbound Blues (Memorial, 11)
* Will Hoge, "Woman Be Strong" Man Who Killed Love (Will Hoge, 06)
^ White Buffalo, "Come On Love, Come On In" Love and the Death Of Damnation (Unison, 15)
* Cox Family, "Good Imitation Of the Blues" Gone Like the Cotton (Rounder, 15)
* Brent Best, "Queen Bee" Your Dog Champ (Last Chance, 15)
* Have Gun Will Travel, "Goodnight Sweet Chariot" Science From An Easy Chair (This Is American Music, 15)