featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
January 2, 2016
I don't know of any bloggers who make a living writing about music. By definition, it's a labor of love, and make no mistake about it, it is a labor. I also don't know too many bloggers who wholeheartedly embrace writing about records. Let's face it, there's only so many ways you can say, "Damn, this is pretty good". Every once in a while, maybe a couple times per year, I catch a creative wave and produce something of which I feel especially proud. Mostly, it's just degrees of, "Oh well. I'll just publish this and we'll see what happens next week".
That said, I love this little corner of the web I've woven, and I'm proud of the small but ever growing community of folks that land here regularly to see what I'm up to. Typically, I leave the station Saturday evenings full of good intent which spoils to stress and guilt as the days progress and I don't get my weekly post published. Once that hurdle is cleared, the emotional roller coaster shudders to life once again for another thrill ride. While it's apparently all I can do to honor this weekly posting schedule, I want to do much more with my blog, from longer original pieces to interviews, sound files, calendars and god knows what else.
Behind the curtain, I carry a full time job as a managing librarian at a small but mighty public library in Colorado. I've also been functioning (more or less) as Music Director of KRFC, the station from which Routes & Branches originates every week. Plus, I manage the CD section for a small independent bookstore in Oregon. And I'm tired. Music is my passion, and I need to enjoy it, even to thrive on it and to be fueled by music. Increasingly, it is my job, my obligation, my stress and my albatross.
It's staring to feel like soon, I'll be stepping down as Music Director, as well as retreating from my long distance bookstore position. I hope to immerse myself in the more focused universe of my weekly broadcast and in a fuller, more robust iteration of this blog. I still won't be making any money from it. Matter of fact, I'll be bringing in less money as a result of bowing out from my other paid responsibilities. Nevertheless, it'll foster a happier relationship with the things I truly love to do. What's your part in this as a reader and/or a listener? How can you help? Well, a reasonable contribution to KRFC as you're able certainly wouldn't hurt. Along with that, I'd ask that you help spread the word if you look forward to my weekly broadcast or my regular blog. Share stuff via your own sites, tell a friend, or issue bumper stickers. If you're an artist I support on Routes & Branches, feel free to check all of the above. In a perfect world, it's a mutual appreciation society, not a soliloquy or a monologue. It's a dialog between a growing community and the music we love. While other bloggers I've admired have experienced a similar crisis of conscience and have understandably chosen to shutter up their respective blog, I hope the end of 2016 will find Routes & Branches a thriving destination.
Anyhow, music-wise we've collected quite the array of debuts this week, some from artists who are frequent residents of past year-end favorites lists. I may shriek like a little girl when I'm privy to the first Richmond Fontaine record in five years in its entirety. With Dave Cobb at the helm and artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell on the mic, Southern Family promises to be the biggest allstar event of the early americana year. Lucinda sounds to be in perfect form for the first record issued on her own label. And Caleb Caudle's followup to 2014's Paint Another Layer On My Heart is the best thing I've heard all year ...
I never expect Lydia Loveless. My first listen to her 2011 Indestructible Machine broke my heart in all the right places. If not a once-in-a-lifetime record, it at least set a high water mark for alt.country on my program. All I can say is thank god for Sarah Shook. Her first widely released record with the Disarmers, Sidelong, scratches some of those same deep itches. At times Shook's delivery communicates such a genuine spirit and a sharp edge. I break out in a rash when I come across music that's dishonest, music that uses cliches and catchprases to gain traction. While she sometimes applies a curious, Johnny Cash-like bleat/vibrato, and yes there is a song called "Fuck Up", Shook never reaches too desperately to shock and the attitude is hard earned. The members of Shook's band, the Disarmers, arrive with their own pedigree. Guitarist Eric Peterson cut his teeth with bands like the dBs and Flat Duo Jets, and John Howie Jr deserves high praise for some of his timeless writing with Two Dollar Pistols and his current Rosewood Bluff (curiously, Howie's on drums here).
Sidelong launches with the chug 'n spit rhythms of "Keep the Home Fires Burnin'", its most worthy cut. Like Maria McKee's earliest stuff with Lone Justice, it's a nitro-fueled nod to early country. The title track dials back the twang in favor of a more restrained roots rock groove. It also stands as the "best case scenario" of what Shook might be capable of in the future. Other songs are more upbeat or more tough, but "Sidelong" boasts a more satisfying depth and maturity. Where Lydia Loveless gave us "Steve Earle", Sarah Shook counters with her own clever name dropper, "Dwight Yoakam": She said he likes to make love when he's smokin' / And he don't walk around like he's broken / And he sings just like Dwight Yoakam. I don't know enough about Shook to assume anything about the fact that the sweetheart who left her for this guy is another woman. Chalk it up to just another potentially interesting facet to the artist. And about that "Fuck Up" song. It's actually a more nuanced song than the title might suggest. It's exemplary of the thin chalk line that Sarah Shook walks between bad girl and artist, with the latter taking the upper hand on Sidelong.
* Black Twig Pickers w/Jack Rose, "Some Happy Day" Jack Rose & the Black Twig Pickers (VHF, 09)
* Vic Chesnutt, "Wallace Stevens" North Star Deserter (Constellation, 07)
* Kelly Hogan, "Ways Of This World" I Like To Keep Myself In Pain (Anti, 12)
* Patterson Hood, "Come Back Little Star" Heat Lightning Rumbles In the Distance (ATO, 12)
* Tin Horn Prayer, "All Good Wayfaring Sons" Love Will Under (Tin Horn Prayer, 16) C, D
^ Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Dwight Yoakam" Sidelong (Disarmers, 15) D
* Waco Brothers, "Had Enough" Going Down In History (Bloodshot, 16) D
* Buddy Miller w/Nikki Lane, "Just Someone I Used To Know" Cayamo Sessions At Sea (New West, 16)
* Luther Dickinson, "Up Over Yonder" Blues & Ballads (New West, 16) D
* Steeldrivers, "Midnight Train To Memphis" Steeldrivers (Rounder, 08)
* John Paul White, "Simple Song" Southern Family (Low Country Sound, 16) D
* Chuck Ragan, "Flame In the Flood" single (Ten Four, 14)
* Avett Brothers, "Rejects In the Attic (live)" Live, Vol. 4 (Republic, 15) D
* Birch Street, "Take Me Home" Birch Street (Birch St, 14)
* Charles Bradley, "Changes" Changes (DapTone, 16) D
* Lucinda Williams, "Dust" Ghosts Of Highway 20 (Hwy 20, 16) D
* Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Hard Life" Master and Everyone (Drag City, 03)
* Phosphorescent, "Last Thing I Needed (First Thing This Morning)" To Willie (Dead Oceans, 09)
* Margo Price, "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man, 16) D
* Brennen Leigh, "What You Gonna Do Leroy" Sings Lefty Frizzell (Brennen Leigh, 15)
* Laura Cantrell, "Poison In Your Heart" Kitty Wells Dresses (Diesel Only, 11)
* Aubrie Sellers, "Loveless Rolling Stone" New City Blues (Thirty Tigers, 16) D
* Caleb Caudle, "Piedmont Sky" Carolina Ghost (This Is American Music, 16) D
* Hiss Golden Messenger, "Wish I Had Not Said That" Parallelogram (Three Lobed, 15) D
* Richmond Fontaine, "Wake Up Ray" You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To (El Cortez, 16) D
* Head Cat, "Big River" Fool's Paradise (Rock-a-Billy, 06)
* Hailey Whitters, "Low All Afternoon" Black Sheep (Carnival, 15)
* King Mud, "Back It Up" Victory Motel Sessions (Alive Naturalsound, 16) D