Sunday, December 06, 2015
ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
December 5, 2015
While I've damned this time of year in the past for its lack of new music, I admit that it's growing on me as a rare moment to attend to the stragglers and oversights of the year. To my piece focusing on "Stuff That Scott Whiffed On", add Ben Rogers' The Bloodred Yonder, released in August. This is the Canadian's second record, produced by his brother Matthew who plays with the Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer. While it's far from the feel good release of the year, it's certainly near the top in terms of body count.
Some of Rogers' tunes are built on familiar alt.country foundations. On the driving western "Panhandler", Rogers boasts "I got a three-legged dog called Tripod / And he's widowed every pair of socks I got / Gonna thumb my way out west / To the Topanga Canyon Beard Growing Contest / Win the whole lot". The rhythm and instant familiarity of "Wild Roses" speaks of Corb Lund, though the poetry and tragic biblical imagery are more akin to Ray Wylie Hubbard or Malcolm Holcomb.
"Sinners" begins with a bomb, "Somebody just called me a fag / For picking flowers from a chainlink fence". Like Waits or Kristofferson, Rogers can construct a hymn from a hellish perspective: "Well God spoke to me last night / I told him I don't talk to strangers". The songs of Bloodred Yonder make for a chilling altar call. Rogers' god doesn't offer comfort or solace, and even comes across as a bastard unworthy of our trust: "And God said I'll never flood the land again / River at my back door carry me home / But I swore I seen a rainbow with a broken back".
Songs like "Wanted" or "The More I Learn" betray an occasionally lighthearted side to Rogers' work. On the latter, he portrays a sadsack loser worthy of John Prine: "Well my dog took a shit and I went to pick it up / But there was a hole in the bag / The same thing happens when I'm picking up the pieces of my past".
As a rule, Ben Rogers is a haunted man, bound like Cain to cause harm to the family and friends he holds most closely. As with author Cormac McCarthy, there's a deep crimson beauty to the carnage on songs like the gorgeous dirge, "Darling Please": "Well the sun begins to hemorrhage / Into the blood red yonder / Tattered rays fraying upon your naked body / Where the winter chill did blossom". The record's final cut evolves from a gently picked folk a'la Chip Taylor to an overwhelming and ominous chorale.
I've frequently been told I play music that's depressing. I would argue that there's nothing more depressing than music that takes the easy way out, trading in cliches and dishonest sentiment. I find music like Ben Rogers' Bloodred Yonder moving in its heartfelt bleakness, beautifully damaged. It's heart may be compromised and profoundly flawed, but Rogers' music is genuine.
For more genuinely depressing music, tune in next Saturday as I lay the bones of my favorite records of 2015 in the sun to be picked clean by ravenous vultures. It'll be fun. Promise. If you're unable to listen, I'll do my best to display them right here soon after the broadcast.
* Will Hoge, "Desperate Times" Small Town Dreams (Cumberland, 15)
* Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets, "Linus & Lucy" Quality Holiday Revue Live (Yep Roc, 15) D
* Los Straitjackets w/Exene, "I'll Go Down Swinging" Sing Along With (Yep Roc, 01)
* Mekons w/Robbie Fulks, "Beaten & Broken" Jura (Bloodshot, 15)
* Waco Brothers, "Girl At the End Of the Bar" Cabaret Show Time (Bloodshot, 15) D
* Maxwell Mud, "St Peter's Blues" Maxwell Mud (Maxwell Mud, 15) C
* Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Low Down On the Backstreets" Sonic Ranch (El Paso, 15)
* Hellbound Glory, "Sun Valley Blues #2 (Showin' Off)" Black Mass (Leon Virgil Bowers, 15) D
* Brennen Leigh, "I Love You a Thousand Ways" Sings Lefty Frizzell (Brennen Leigh, 15) D
* Barna Howard, "Bitter Side Of Blue" Quite a Feelin' (Mama Bird, 15)
* Margo Price, "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man, 16) D
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "First To Know" Squelch (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Porter & the Pollies, "Your Hometown" Porter & the Pollies (This Is American Music, 13)
* Quiet Hollers, "No Good" Quiet Hollers (Quiet Hollers, 15) D
* Andy Thomas' Dust Heart, "Reckless Abandonment" Reckless Abandonment (Andy Thomas, 15) D, C
* Rev Horton Heat, "Donuts In the Snow" Indie For the Holidays (Amazon, 15) D
* Shovels & Rope, "Leaving Louisiana In the Broad Daylight" Busted Jukebox Vol. 1 (Dualtone, 15)
* Cicada Rhythm, "Dirty Hound" Cicada Rhythm (Normaltown, 15) D
* Kelly Hogan & Nora O'Connor are Lady Parts, "Me Myself & Wine" Bloodshot Six Pack To Go (Bloodshot, 15)
* John Howie Jr & Rosewood Bluff, "Man I Used To Be" Everything Except Goodbye (Hands Up, 14)
* Joey Kneiser, "My Younger Self" The Wildness (This Is American Music, 15)
* Will Johnson, "(Made Us Feel Like) Kings" Swan City Vampires (Undertow, 15)
* M Ward, "Girl From Conejo Valley" More Rain (Merge, 16) D
* Ethan Johns & Black Eyed Dogs, "Juanita" Silver Liner (Three Crows, 15) D
* Delines, "Cool Your Jets" Scenic Sessions (El Cortez, 15)
* Dr Dog, "Distant Light" B-Room (Anti, 13)
^ Ben Rogers, "Wild Roses" The Bloodred Yonder (Tonic, 15) D
* Red Dirt Revelators, "The Rub" The Rub (RDR, 15) D
* Danny Barnes, "I'm Convicted" Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later) (Eight 30, 15)