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Sunday, September 20, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
September 12, 2015
Scott Foley

South San Gabriel, Centro-Matic, Overseas, New Multitudes ... I can groove to any iteration of Will Johnson you send my way.  Puts me into an immediate mellow.  If my lovely wife tolerated such a thing, I would arrange for Johnson's solo music to lullaby me to sleep at night (maybe alternating with helpings of Mark Kozelek, pre-trouble years).  The stuff on Will Johnson's new solo work, Swan City Vampires is hardly easy listening.  It's not stuff you can set beside the baby and expect her to drift off to visions of rainbow ponies.  "The Watchman" launches safely enough, on a straight piano and chunky style percussion.  Brief squalls of feedback foreshadow the musical storm to come, with Johnson's calm Neil Young croon providing the calm throughout.  Halfway through, the acoustic strumming gives way to a thick, electric buzz that threatens to overwhelm the keys.  Johnson's vocals are delivered in a layered fashion, with that creaky, party cloudy wail anchored on a lower, more stable counterpart.  Much of Vampires is built out of that storm of piano, electric guitar and voice.  "Call Call Call" is the most traditional track, sounding like a close cousin of John Murry's incredible 2014 Graceless Age release.  "You vs. Off the Cuff" is simply gorgeous:  "A stumbling through / And charging toward the finer points / To a much better you / And a much better me / And not quite as gone".  Reminds me of the cloudy poetry of Richard Buckner's Devotion + Doubt.  "(Made Us Feel Like) Kings" offers a delicate piano refrain that compliments Johnson's acoustic guitar, with lyrics that are mumbled like overheard asides.  These moments of deep intimacy largely define Swan City Vampires, which isn't to say that it's a gentle album.  On the contrary, the buzz and fret of electric guitars tends to dominate when present, and even the more hushed moments betray an intensity.  On the acoustic "Multnomah":  "27 steps to the kitchen / I stumble down and feel for the light / Friendliness is not what I'm missin' / I only wish that you would make up your mind".  On Jason Isbell's own Something More Than Free, a song called "To a Band That I Loved" pays moving, personal tribute to Johnson's work with Centro-Matic.  In his own words:  "The melodies are beautiful and memorable, and Will's voice is a complex and delicate instrument."  It's a rare music that I can listen to on repeat, never tiring of the ride.

My friend, Tarnation's Andy D will be distracting me instudio this next Episode.  We'll be poking the hamster in hopes of generating some online and phone pledges in support of KRFC, Radio Fort Collins.  Routes & Branches wouldn't be Routes & Branches without the generous contributions of Listeners Like You during our twice yearly Membership Drives.  If you enjoy and/or find inspiration in these pages, please consider supporting the work we do with your dollars.

Update: I'm late in publishing this week's Edition, meaning that your chance to pledge during Routes & Branches has passed.  You can still head to the KRFC website,  however, and click on the pretty purple Donate buttonAlso, for Fort Collins readers, check out Will Johnson's website for info on a living room concert on October 1. 

* Rocky Votolato, "This Is My Work"  Hospital Handshakes  (No Sleep, 15)
* Joe Ely, "Twistin' In the Wind"  Twistin' In the Wind  (UMG, 98)
* Joe Ely, "Southern Eyes"  Panhandle Rambler  (Rack 'Em, 15)
* White Buffalo, "Radio With No Sound"  Love and the Death Of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Ashley Monroe, "I Buried Your Love Alive"  the Blade  (Warner, 15)  D
* Kacey Musgraves, "Are You Sure (w/Willie Nelson)"  Pageant Material  (Mercury, 15) D
* Chris Stapleton, "When the Stars Come Out"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
* Johnny Cash, "Rusty Cage"  Unchained  (American, 96)
* Donnie Fritts, "Memphis Women and Chicken"  Oh My Goodness  (Single Lock, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "Building Chryslers"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Steve Earle, "Mississippi, It's Time"  single  (Fantasy, 15)  D
* Lindi Ortega, "I Ain't the Girl"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Chuck Ragan, "Vagabond"  Kindred Spirit  (SideOneDummy, 15)
* Joey Cape, "Moral Compass"  Stitch Puppy  (Fat Wreck Chords, 15)  D
* Pollies, "Jackson"  Not Here  (Single Lock, 15)  D
* Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Spirit Moves"  Spirit Moves  (Dualtone, 15)
* Possessed By Paul James, "Come To the Water"  Cold and Blind  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 15/08)
* Gary Clark Jr, "Shake"  Story Of Sonny Boy Slim  (Warner, 15)  D
* Supersuckers, "Shimmy & Shake"  Holdin' the Bag  (Acetate, 15)
* Lonesome Billies, "Y'all Never Came Out West"  It's Good To Be Lonesome  (Stay Lonesome, 15)  D
* Los Colognes, "Baby You Can't Have Both"  Dos  (Los Colognes, 15)
* Promised Land Sound, "Otherworldly Pleasures"  For Use and Delight  (Paradise Of Bachelors, 15)
* Futurebirds, "Hotel Parties"  Hotel Parties  (Early Sound, 15)
* Lydia Loveless, "I Would Die 4 U"  single  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* Rhett Miller, "Reasons To Live"  Traveler  (ATO, 15)
* Peter Case, "Pelican Bay"  HWY 62  (Omnivore, 15)  D
* Chuck Prophet, "American Man"  Let Freedom Ring  (YepRoc, 09)
* Wood Brothers, "Never and Always"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Brent Best, "Travel Again"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)

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