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Friday, November 06, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
October 31, 2015
Scott Foley


Not much, really.  Any month that ends with this sad excuse for a holiday can't be too impressive, even if it is the official Gateway To Fall.  But even the Large Orange Month brought us a dumb plastic pumpkin's worth of quality music.  It's music that sometimes features a sharp razor sunk deep into the grooves.  Or some such Halloween metaphor ...

Israel Nash first graced the digi-pages of this blog back when he was traveling as Israel Nash Gripka behind 2011's praiseworthy Barn Doors and Concrete Floors ("Drown" still echoes deep in the corners of my music soul).  The lonesome mountain man yowl of the newly Gripka-free Nash continues to echo through last year's Israel Nash's Rain Plans and his just released Israel Nash's Silver Season, though both are much more musically adventurous, with songs relaxing into the 6 minute mark.  Musically, Nash's full steam americana has borrowed some habits from Crazy Horse era Neil Young.  It's not the record you'll reach for during your next party, but it's providing a perfect soundtrack to these inaugural snow days of Fall.  

You won't find a wider ranging resume than Aaron Lee Tasjan's,  reaching from stints with Canadian roots rockers Alberta Cross to serving with a more recent cohort of the New York Dolls.  Praise has already been heaped aplenty for Tasjan's debut full length, In the Blazes (which sounds more like the songs of Todd Snider as channeled thru Rodney Crowell).  That still leaves a bunch of room for musical wanderings.  Tasjan's ode to bad  habits, "Trouble With Drinkin", hales from the days of 70s country rock, arriving in a generous cloud of weed smoke.  From its title to its anthemic singalong Memphis gospel chorus, "Made In America" brings us up to '85 and JC Mellencamp's iconic Scarecrow.  And "Lucinda's Room" embraces both Blaze Foley and admirer Lucinda Williams, a stunner that will doubtless land among my year end favorites.  

I've heard rumors of Willy Tea Taylor over the past year or so, heralding the arrival of something really good.  There were the pictures of a burly, bearded figure, not infrequently bedecked in denim overalls (fyi, I harbor great envy of folks who can wear overalls without bringing Junior Samples to mind).  Now that Knuckleball Prime has landed, we'll have to consider Willy Tea among the best that this singer-songwriter-rich year has to offer (see Isbell, Porter, Combs, Moreland, et al.).  Produced by Michael Witcher, the record features a tasteful accompaniment from contributors like Benmont Tench, Greg Leisz, Gabe Witcher, Andrew Combs, Sara Watkins and everyone else.  All this talent would mean less if Taylor's songs weren't so sweet, evocative of both classic folk and traditional country.  The title track rings strongly of John Prine, while songs like the beautiful "Bull Riders & Songwriters" or "You Found Me" might recall earlier Guy Clark.  In this late, late baseball season, a couple of the record's tunes should find their place in the deep but underappreciated tradition of odes to the game.  While I haven't had the pleasure, Willy Tea's songs probably work just fine performed by one guy with a six-string unaccompanied under the lights.  Fortunately, the arrangements on Knuckleball Prime never overwhelm the intimacy and purity of the tunes they serve. 

A behind-the-scenes confession:  I've been dealing with the flu of late (hence, the fact that this week's Episode offered a "bonus" rebroadcast ...).  The last couple nights, the soundtrack of my fever dreams was provided by theYawpers' "Deacon Brodie".  I'd wake up drenched in sweat with the frantic and profane anthem racing through what was left of my brain (along with the vague feeling that I needed to make a phone call).  Having been through this experience, it's my contention that this is the best way to enjoy American Man.  Followed closely by the dangerous combo of "drunk" and "angry".  That said, the sound and fury of the trio's songs shouldn't overpower Nate Cook's matured lyrical talents.  Alongside Nathaniel Rateliff, the Yawpers' nationwide debut on Bloodshot Records (all hail!) is the feel good Colorado breakout story of the year.

I've taken a confident stand behind Ryan Adams' reimagining of Taylor Swift's ubiquitous 1989 over the last several weeks.  It's high time I drop the air of apology and defense and just declare Adams' unexpected project as among the year's most satisfying, not to mention a new watermark in his career.  Of course, the music world's relationship to Adams over the years has been characterized by alternating high praise and only partially earned personal criticism.  His music with Whiskeytown established a standard for our kind of music that remains relevant and largely unsurpassed to this day.  His solo releases have ranged from the classic (Heartbreaker, of course, or Cold Roses) to the questionably successful products of a buzzing creativity set free in a musical sandbox (lots of stuff).  1989 might be Adams' first project to address both the masterful and the mischievous side of his musical genius.  As I've proven,  listeners might be fortunate to come to the album with more of a familiarity with Adams than with Taylor Swift, because 1989 has more in common with the former than the latter.

If my recovery goes as planned, I'll have a real live radio show again next Saturday with a lineup of stuff featuring new stuff from Peter Case, Simone Felice, Joey Kneiser, Alabama Shakes and gobs more.  If I'm still flu-ish, I'll probably just play more Yawpers ...

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