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Friday, February 19, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
February 13, 2016
Scott Foley

I really don't enjoy writing about music, though I do it for a living.  It's tough to translate such personal feelings into words.  I imagine this is why so many blogs simply copy or paraphrase an artist's or label's promotional copy, tack on a track to stream and call it a day.  Others go so far out of their way to make a meaningful statement that it hardly seems like they're writing about music at all (see Merge's rambling and lofty promo for the excellent new Mount Moriah record  -  After reading what's essentially a short story, I had no idea what to expect from the music).  My R&B blog is increasingly about one man's encounter with a strain of song.  I don't necessarily want to tell you what's good or what's not worth your dime, but rather to describe my encounter with a piece of music during a specific point of time in my life.  Far as I'm concerned, this is really the only way I can write about this stuff credibly, without resorting to absurdity, cliche or boldface promotion.

Speaking of that Mount Moriah promo, I've been looking forward to the arrival of How To Dance since the debut of the advance cut way back in November.  The North Carolina trio's Miracle Temple landed among my favorites of 2013.  Heather McEntire is as strong a writer and vocalist as Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom or Hurray For the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra.  Where Wennerstrom trades in heavy, darker shades, McEntire's music (esp. her new songs) works in bright, natural colors.  Upon first listen, songs like "Baby Blue" and "Calvander" burst with nature imagery.  It's my habit to listen to an album once or twice through before looking at other reviews or promo material.  It was only after looking into the packaging that I found the album's dedication:  "This album is dedicated to anyone who has ever felt the cold shadows of oppression or discrimination; to the misfits, the outcasts, the loners, the misunderstood, the underdogs ..."  Then I watched the moving video for "Baby Blue", which features little besides people; a woman washing her hair, a man applying oil to his body, perhaps a man urinating on a couch?  Musically, the songs on How To Dance hold less tightly to the typical scaffolding of americana and alt.country, allowing room for more indie or folk rock elements.  There is even a gospel spirit to the mystical "Higher Mind":  I meet my maker in the desert / And beg for a heavy lesson / Find a fire, see where the smoke begins / Follow the flames and let them burn your hands.  It's McEntire's voice that most firmly roots songs like "Precita" and "Cardinal Cross" in the music of rural America.  Backed by the harmonies of Amy Ray and Angel Olsen, "Precita" verges on the transcendent.  Low brass blows through on occasion, giving "Cardinal Cross" the dark urgency of "Gimme Shelter".  "Baby Blue" is the sweetest song of the collection, with its lilting, recurring refrain of "Are you gonna let me win ... ?" Like Hiss Golden Messenger or even later Neko Case (see "Fox In the City"), Heather McEntire's spirit filled songs are about people, though they speak in the language of nature. Rather than fill her lyrics with accusations and political rant, she is confident enough that her message of acceptance and identity will find its way through our ears to the listener's heart. 


HERE's the WEEK's PLAYLiST:

- Nathaniel Rateliff, "Brakeman" In Memory Of Loss  (Rounder, 10)  C
- Richmond Fontaine, "Tapped Out In Tulsa" You Can't Go Back ...  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Aoife O'Donovan, "King Of All Birds" In the Magic Hour  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Parker Millsap, "Morning Blues" Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Willie Nelson, "Bloody Mary Morning" Phases & Stages  (Atlantic, 74)
^ Mount Moriah, "Precita" How To Dance  (Merge, 16)
- Caleb Caudle, "Gotta Be" Carolina Ghost  (This Is American Music, 16)
- Calexico, "Sunken Waltz" Feast Of Wire  (Quarterstick, 03)
- Trevor Sensor, "Texas Girls and Jesus Christ" Texas Girls and Jesus Christ  (Jagjaguwar, 16)  D
- Lucinda Williams, "Ghosts Of Highway 20" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Happy For Us In the Down" Charismo  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Dolorean, "Unfazed" The Unfazed  (Partisan, 11)
- Lucero, "The Mountain" Rebels Rogues & Sworn Brothers  (Liberty & Lament, 06)
- Cactus Blossoms, "No More Crying the Blues" You're Dreaming  (Red House, 16)
- Brothers Comatose, "Angeline" City Painted Gold  (Swamp Jam, 16)
- Giant Sand, "The Sun Set" The Sun Set  (Fire, 16)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "Sugar Daddy" Vinyl  (Atlantic, 16)  D
- Marlon Williams, "After All" Marlon Williams  (Dead Oceans, 16)
- Richard Buckner, "A Goodbye Rye" Devotion + Doubt  (MCA, 97)
- Javier Escovedo, "Beaujolais" Kicked Out Of Eden  (Saustex, 16)
- Dori Freeman, "Tell Me" Dori Freeman  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Lindi Ortega, "Dying Of Another Broken Heart" Little Red Boots  (Last Gang, 11)
- Waco Brothers, "All Or Nothing" Going Down In History  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Left Arm Tan, "Gonna Find Me a Rock" Lorene  (LAT, 16)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "Cadillac Dust" Tin Type  (Weewerk, 03)
- Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop, "Every Songbird Says" Love Letter For Fire  (Sub Pop, 16)  D
- Lake Street Dive, "Mistakes" Side Pony  (Nonesuch, 16)
- Buddy Miller w/Kris Kristofferson, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" Cayamo Sessions At Sea  (New West, 16)
- Blue Mountain, "Generic America" Homegrown  (Roadrunner, 97)

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