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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES 
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
October 17, 2015
Scott Foley

Vic Chesnutt gave it all he had, then left it behind on Christmas Day 2009.  Once you're done fiddling around on this site, go look for Chesnutt's performance videos.  Even solo, curled around his acoustic guitar attached with a string around his sloped shoulders, he seemed to invest every last bit of emotion and energy he could summon from his tired and broken body.  Fronting an electric band of trusted collaborators, Chesnutt could howl.  His songs were crowded with words as though he were singing from a book.  He spat syllables and drew out the long vowels with his head turned to the empty sky.  Throwing Muses' Kristen Hersch writes intimately of her time on the road with the acerbic songwriter in Don't Suck Don't Die:Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.  I don't necessarily have heroes, but there is a space reserved in my pantheon of late music types for Vic Chesnutt, alongside other tragic and torn figures like Elliott Smith and Jason Molina.  Anyone looking for an entryway into his music might want to try his 1995 masterpiece Is the Actor Happy

I don't know that I've ever listened to a Taylor Swift song from front to back.  I say this even as I acknowledge that my musical knowledge far outreaches my personal taste, but a guy's only got so much time.  With that in mind, I'll also acknowledge that I've read some scathing reviews of Ryan Adams' fullscale reimagining of Swift's worldwide mega-hit 1989, most of which focus on the rickety argument that Ryan is to be mocked for taking seriously an artist of Taylor's prominence.  I'll lay whatever reputation I might have on the line by saying that if nobody told me these were initially Swift's songs I might say 1989 is Adams' strongest record at least since his days with the Cardinals.  Moreover, the collection is not entirely out of line with his most recent output, his excellent self titled record from last year and the previous year's underappreciated Ashes & Fire, both of which committed fully to the standard pop/rock formula with a distant whiff of the roots sound Adams dismisses so readily from  his earlier recordings.  What at first might've seemed a lark actually comes across as 100% serious, with carefully considered arrangements and the occasional lyrical tweak that make sense coming from Adams.  1989 also features his most accomplished vocals to date, especially on ballads such as "This Love".  These might come across as pop songs when delivered by Swift, but folks forget most of her earlier country stuff was built on a strong bed of pop.  With his arrangements and delivery of songs like "Wildest Dreams" and "Out Of the Woods", Adams also reminds us of the roots rock potential and the pure songcraft inherent in the songs.  "Welcome To New York" pulls it all together, drawing a direct line from the time Adams was Swift's age and chose a deliberate detour from country and americana with his Gold record, which launched with his own ode to the Big Apple, "New York New York".  I'd hazard a guess that his next original release will benefit from his musical dialog with Swift, finding him reinvested in the pure genius songcraft that's lay at the heart of every Ryan Adams album. 

I've been a fan of Ryan Adams since Routes & Branches: The Early Days, recognizing the man as an authentic (and genuinely flawed) representative of what I do here.  I feel the same about Vic Chesnutt, though he was obviously a different musical beast that Adams.  The epitome of an insider and the lifelong outsider, both of which have earned respect, as well as an open invitation to the R&B playlist (Taylor Swift, maybe not so much). 


* Lambchop, "I Believe In You"  Oh (Ohio)  (Merge, 08)
* Patty Griffin, "Shine a Different Way"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Israel Nash, "Willow"  Silver Season  (Loose, 15)  D
* David Wax Museum, "Every Time Katie"  Guesthouse  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Phil Lee, "Ain't No Love"  Some Gotta Lose  (Palookaville, 15)
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Made In America"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)
* Brent Best, "Robert Cole"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* Pollies, "Paperback Books"  Not Here  (Single Lock, 15)
* Blitzen Trapper, "Cadillac Road"  All Across This Land  (Vagrant, 15)
* Los Colognes, "Backseat Driver"  Dos  (Los Colognes, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Washed Up Rock Star Factory Blues"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Ashes"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Honey Honey, "Bad People"  3  (Rounder, 15)
* David Ramirez, "Communion"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
^ Ryan Adams, "Welcome To New York"  1989  (PaxAm, 15)
^ Vic Chesnutt, "Wrong Piano"  Is the Actor Happy  (Texas Hotel, 95)
* Brute, "Westport Ferry"  Nine High a Pallett  (Widespread Panic, 95)
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Holic Relic Sale"  Squelch  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Willy Tea Taylor, "Bull Riders & Songwriters"  Knuckleball Prime  (Blackwing, 15)  D
* Joe Ely, "Here's To the Weary"  Panhandle Rambler  (Rack 'Em, 15)
* Black Lillies, "That's the Way It Goes Down"  Hard To Please  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Jeffrey Foucault, "Slow Talker"  Salt As Wolves  (Blueblade, 15)
* Kevin Gordon, "All In the Mystery"  Lone Gone Time  (Kevin Gordon, 15)
* Ryan Bingham, "Endless Way"  Roadhouse Sun  (Lost Hwy, 09)
* Jason & the Scorchers, "American Legion Party"  A Blazing Grace  (Mammoth, 95)
* Alone at 3am, "I'm Dying"  Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)

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