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Wednesday, October 07, 2015


ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
October 3, 2015
Scott Foley

No fancy and highfalutin playlist this week, but thanks bunches to Tarnation's Andy D for being a pal and sitting in for me.  Gives me a chance to sneak a rare glance over my shoulder at what happened last month.

WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT SEPTEMBER?!!

Phil Cook's Southland Mission arrived with quite the pedigree.  As a onetime participant in bands like DeYarmond Edison, Megafaun and Striking Matches, Cook has released previous solo records, but none so aptly fulfilling Cook's promise until now.   Mission is a seemingly effortless collection that belongs on the front porch alongside Charlie Parr's Stumpjumper (plus, he does a great job covering Parr's "1922").  --  The Pollies present a very welcome blend of roots rock and pop polish on Not Here, approaching the sound of later Jayhawks work.  Songs are smart, satisfying and original, fearlessly venturing far from roots rock cliche for a refreshing sound all their own.  --  Speaking of satisfying, Will Johnson's first post-Centro-Matic album gives concerned fans confidence that the bandleader has no plans for slowing his musical output as a solo artist.  Swan City Vampires surpasses expectations with a batch of songs that manages to sound both fully fleshed out and nicely off-the-cuff and intimate.  --  One of the best things I can add to my take on Alone At 3am's Show the Blood is that it prompted me to return to the band's earlier records to check that these guys were always this good.  What my explorations confirmed was that Max Fender has been gradually exploring his potential as a truly underappreciated punk/roots writer.

Col. JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers stopped by the KRFC studios this week, banjo at the ready to play a couple pieces from the band's new Southern Surreal. It's a very welcome return for the group, who have faced some personal adversity over the past couple years.  With Alternative Tentacles as their new label home, their new material sounds fresh and relevant, their sense of humor as well honed as their musical edge.  If I were a Halloween sort of guy (spoiler: I'm not), these songs would provide the perfect soundtrack, with Wilkes presiding as the unholy reverend. 

Long as we're talking about long awaited returns to form, we might as well bring up the Bottle Rockets, whose South Broadway Athletic Club is the alt.country stalwarts' finest product at least since 1997's 24 Hours a Day.  Songs like "Building Chryslers" and "Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)" immediately take their place among the band's best songs.  Fact is, I'll lend an ear to anything the B'Rox release, though 2013's reissue of their first two records reminded me of what's been largely missing since those early days.  As a workin' class band, we've never asked for much more than a good time.  South Broadway delivers that and much more. 

Too may artists who self-define as hard country simply try too hard.  At the point of his 8th studio record, Squelch, Jason Boland has earned the moniker.  With his Stragglers, Boland creates music that truly deserves to be called country, though it's absolutely ignored by the country music gatekeepers.  Admittedly, Boland's new set features cuts called "I Guess It's Alright To Be An Asshole" and "Fuck Fight and Rodeo", but nothing on Squelch smacks of desperation.  On the contrary, there's a rich, dark and genuine vein running through this music, and it sounds like nothing but country. I've reserved a space on my year end songs list for "Holy Relic Sale", and "Break 19" and "Heartland Bypass" speak a familiar language without to self parody or dumb country stereotype.  Boland generously overflows the red dirt and contemporary country boundaries on Squelch, and he deserves to be considered among the best writers of his type. 

For some reason, the contemporary country world has been paying some attention to Turnpike Troubadours' new self titled record.  It's no surprise to those of us who were paying attention to their promising Diamonds & Gasoline and the rewarding Goodbye Normal Street, but I'm way past expecting anything worthy from the mainstream.  I'll listen to "The Mercury" 100 times before giving any time to what's on country radio.  The Troubadours' hybrid of grit and grace, hook and smarts recalls the salad days of Reckless Kelly.  I'll also bring Old 97s to the table, and not only because of the new record's excellent cover of "Doreen". We're only a scant few weeks before the finish of 2015, and I'd argue that no band has surpassed expectation this year more than Turnpike Troubadours. 

Yep. As countless bloggers have pointed out before me,  Lucero's music has changed since their debut at the turn of the century.  While their early albums remain rightfully beloved, I'm in favor of growing up, exploring sounds and learning to be a better writer.  All a Man Should Do is one of the year's most satisfying collections, from Memphis horns to heavy guitars, from top to bottom. Give me Rick Steff's bar band piano, Ben Nichols' jaded romantic lyrics and vocals that walk the line between gravel and smoke.  The band on "Can't You Hear Them Howl" or "Young Outlaws" is nothing less than the perfect evolution of the naive and restless guys that gave us "Sweet Little Thing" and "Tears Don't Matter Much" more than a decade ago.  It's not the first time we've been reminded that youth is wasted on the young, but it means a lot more coming from a band many of us have grown up with. 

I'll begin our exploration of October on next Saturday's Episode, fully honoring my solemn commitment to never feature a "special Halloween show" despite the fact that the country's most sorry excuse for a holiday falls on a Saturday this year.  And by the way, get off my damn lawn! 

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