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Saturday, November 21, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
November 14, 2015
Scott Foley

I think I've mentioned before that I serve as Music Director for KRFC in Fort Collins, the radio station from where Routes & Branches originates every Saturday.  As part of that calling, I receive and preview just about all the music that is sent our way.  Also as part of that, I am faced with the good problem of Too Much Pretty Good Music.  As host of R&B, I try not to introduce a new artist or album if I can't support it from week to week.  I mention this as an intro to the following fact:  Sometimes I whiff.  I simply neglect to add records that are not merely pretty good, but ones that deserve a place on the playlists I post every week.  This Episode is dedicated in part to:
Stuff That Scott Whiffed On. 

Barna Howard, Quite a Feelin'  Released way long ago in May, this is the Portlander's 2nd album of West Coast country rock.  If pressed, I'd draw comparisons to early John Prine or even an early 70s folky like Paul Siebel, allowing space for no-frills acoustic arrangements that rarely rise beyond a casual pace.  Part of the connection lies in Howard's evocative vocals, but there's also a deeper debt to a deceptively laid-back strain of songwriting practiced by greats like Kris Kristofferson.  Despite this litany of soundalikes, songs such as "Bitter Side Of Blue" or "Indiana Rose" are more than mere odes to a bygone style.  Similar to other 2015 releases from Andrew Combs or Sam Outlaw, Quite a Feelin' owes much of its appeal to the fact that Howard is simply a skilled writer. 

Joan Shelley, Over and Even  I really have no business playing Joan Shelley on R&B.  An acoustic folk artist who recalls Joni Mitchell more than Lydia Loveless, her hypnotic originals aren't likely played on any program that trades in folk music or americana either.  Shelley's been adopted by the indie/college radio crowd in the same way her collaborators Bonnie "Prince" Billy or Daniel Martin Moore have found an appreciative home on "alternative" radio.  R&B provides a home to the sonically homeless, and songs like "Brighter That the Blues" or "Not Over By Half" make sense to me.  Shelley delivers her songs in a prettily fragile voice, accompanied by little more than a guitar or two.  There's a smartness and a deep serenity to her work, a sweetness to songs like "Wine and Honey" that I can't pass up.  Even if I did, in fact, whiff when it was released in mid summer. 

Mike Edel, India Seattle   Canada does roots right.  Similar to bands like Great Lake Swimmers or Blue Rodeo, Albertan Mike Edel weaves his magic along the line between pop and roots music.  On Edel's second record (issued in September, so I didn't whiff all that hard here), he gives us some fine nature imagery on the perfectly hooky "Blue Above the Green", then dials up the roots for "East Shore West Shore".  While pieces like "All the Morning" rely on polished, full production, songs like the quietly stirring title cut allow Edel little more than an acoustic and atmospherics.  I like to think that India Seattle is a record that was birthed on the wide and spacious Canadian prairies, with that openness finding its way into some of the more intimate acoustic moments.  On the other hand, I've never been to Canada, and for all I know Victoria is all about the tall buildings and pavement ...  Either way, Mike Edel bears the definite sonic stamp of his homeland. 

Jeremy Pinnell, OH/KY  Pinnell seems to have a tattoo on either side of his shaved head; one side bears the shape of Ohio, while the other features the outline of Kentucky.  To be honest, that's really all it takes to get me to listen to your record.  Then you open with a classic chunk of bar band 'tonk, "How Country Sounds", and my suspicions are confirmed.  Like the awesomely bearded JP Harris or Whitey Morgan (beard) or Sarah Gayle Meech (sans beard yet with plenty o' tats), Pinnell simply gets country music; he lives and breathes it, and he probably smells like it.  Released way back in March on Sofaburn Records, OH/KY drops a day's worth of wise lyrical dimes:  "I've been lovin' loose women / But they never love me"  It's the sort of approach that balances self-deprecating wit with sweet sad melancholy.  As a bonus, Pinnell's collection also features enough pedal steel to drown a cowboy. 

Christopher Paul Stelling, Labor Against Waste  While Brooklyn's Stelling draws a line of influence back to country-blues and folk trad artists, the sounds on his second full length are fully realized and decidedly current.  The assembled company plays with such purpose and intensity on the wisely arranged tunes such as "Horse" and "Warm Enemy" that it comes across like a gospel service.  Think Langhorne Slim joining the Felice Brothers back in the chicken coop days.  Space is filled with Stelling's stealthily picked acoustic as well as a generous helping of things with strings and the songwriter's yalping vocal delivery.  "Scarecrow" and "Dear Beast" scale back the pace a'la Damien Rice or earlier Josh Ritter, leaving room for Stelling's lyrical care to shine through.  Released in May, it seems Stelling has toured the record through Northern Colorado at least twice since then, giving me no excuse to whiff on this gem.

Jonathan Tyler, Holy Smokes   Word has it that Tyler fronted a band called Northern Lights, signed to Atlantic Records and poised to make some big industry noise.  To his good credit, once the label showed its cards, asking Tyler for a mainstream country record, he left his band for the more musically versatile shores of a solo career.  Hearing the rocky blues crunch of songs like "Riverbottom" or "Hallelujah", it's safe to say Tyler has made the wiser decision.  Released in July, Holy Smokes boasts both a polish and a loose rattle, with bits of country dirt clinging to the roots for good measure.  "Honey Pie" generates a Stonesy boogie, while Nikki Lane contributes a ghostly vocal to the cosmic country of "To Love Is To Fly".  Jonathan Tyler's solo debut hints at an artist who is hot on the trail of his unique muse, mainstream country radio be damned!

 ... oh, and I also decided I'll be unleashing my year end favorites list during my R&B broadcast on December 12.  For those who value such things, I'll also be broadcasting my yearly all Christmas Episode on December 19 (plus, a bonus festive Mix-mas show on Wednesday December 23 from 8-10am Mountains Time).  I trust you will respond appropriately.  


* Allen Toussaint, "Last Train"  Southern Nights  (Rhino, 75)
* Lucero, "Throwback No. 2"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "Raindrop"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Joey Kneiser, "Run Like Hell"  The Wildness  (This Is American Music, 15)
^ Mike Edel, "Blue Above the Green"  India, Seattle  (Cordova Bay, 15)  D
* Gillian Welch, "Down Along the Dixie Line"  Harrow & the Harvest  (Acony, 11)
^ Barna Howard, "Pull Us Back Or Wind Us Up"  Quite a Feelin'  (Mama Bird, 15)  D
* Au Pair, "In Every Window"  OneArmedCandyBear  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Mount Moriah, "Cardinal Cross"  How To Dance  (Merge, 16)
* JD McPherson, "Dimes For Nickels"  Signs & Signifiers  (Rounder, 12)
* Eric Church w/Susan Tedeschi, "Mixed Drinks About Feelings"  Mr Misunderstood  (EMI, 15)
* Yawpers, "Faith and Good Judgement"  American Man  (Bloodshot, 15)  C
* Peter Case, "If I Go Crazy"  Hwy 62  (Omnivore, 15)
^ Jonathan Tyler, "Riverbottom"  Holy Smokes  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Dead Volts, "California"  We Are Already Dead  (Twang 'n Bang, 14)
* DBUK, "Uncle John's Boat"  Songs One Through Eight  (SCAC Unincorporated, 15)  D, C
* Simone Felice, "Morning I Get To Hell (live)"  From the Violent Banks Of the Kaaterskill  (Mighty Hudson, 15)
* Kasey Chambers, "Cold & Bitter Tears"  Cold & Bitter Tears: Songs Of Ted Hawkins  (Eight 30, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Alt Berliner Blues"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
^ Joan Shelly, "Brighter Than the Blues"  Over and Even  (No Quarter, 15)  D
^ Jeremy Pinnell, "The Way Country Sounds"  OH/KY  (Sofaburn, 15)  D
* Neko Case, "Mood To Burn Bridges"  Furnace Room Lullaby  (Bloodshot, 00)
* Deer Tick, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"  Bloodshot Six Pack To Go  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* JJ Grey & Mofro, "A Woman"  Country Ghetto  (Alligator, 07)
* Dexateens, "Broken Objects"  Sunsphere  (Cornelius Chapel, 13)
* Danny Barnes, "Big Girl Blues"  Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later)  (Eight 30, 15)  D
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Made In America"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)
^ Christopher Paul Stelling, "Horse"  Labor Against Waste  (Anti, 15)  D
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Mercury"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)


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