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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 19, 2016
Scott Foley

Who knows?  Maybe country music wants to be saved after all.  Fact is, most of the Kacey Musgraves, the Ashley Monroes, even the bestselling Loretta Lynns are garnering more attention from americana radio than from country.  But what do we make of Chris Stapleton's armload of country awards, especially without any mainstream radio play to speak of?  The newest name in this litany is Nashville's Margo Price, whose Midwest Farmer's Daughter is just released on Jack White's Third Man Records label.  The record opens with "Hands of Time", one of the year's most worthy singles to date:  "When I rolled out of town / On the unpaved road / I was fifty seven dollars / From being broke".  Just this side of thirty years old, perhaps some of the details of this hard luck tale come from Price's own story.  With lush strings balanced by retro-sounding twang 'n groove, "Hands" sounds simultaneously age-old and absolutely relevant.  Price is far from a shrinking violet, spending nearly half of Daughter in the honky tonk.  "This Town Gets Around" and the stellar "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" blow from the speakers smelling of stale beer and too much smoke.  "Hurtin'" will justifiably earn a place on several of the year's best-of lists, with lines that flirt with cliche but always rise just enough above:  "I've been ridin' high on low expectation".  The cut that most pushes Daughter's musical envelope might be "Tennessee Song", whose biggest risk lies in not necessarily tapping into those deep classic country wells.  With her name on the credits of nearly every song here, Margo Price proves herself a country writer who should be gratefully embraced by the powers behind her genre.  Midwest Farmer's Daughter offers yet another generous lifeline to mainstream country's drowning masses.  Americana crowds have already grabbed ahold as they did with Brandy Clark and Sturgill Simpson.  "I killed an angel on my shoulder / With a fifth of Evan Williams / When I found out / You were never comin' home".

Fewer debuts this Episode than we've had all year (though we received a goodly number of full copies of stuff we've already debuted).  Like everything on the Alive Natural Sound label, the two Irish lads behind The Bonnevilles make more than their share of nasty noise between them.  We also heard a darker, sinister take on a tune from last year's American Aquarium release, inspired by the Walking Dead storyline.  Plus, we managed to sandwich five of the most legendary country music voices of all time into our final two songs.

- Charlie Parr, "Funeral Road Blues" 1922  (House of Mercy, 03)
- Freakwater, "Skinny Knee Bone" Scheharazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Love Is So Easy" Lovers and Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Don't Be Against Me" Charismo  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Sons of Bill, "This Losing Fight" Sirens  (Thirty Tigers, 12)
- Mount Moriah, "How to Dance" How to Dance  (Merge, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Comeback Kids" Paging Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Donovan Woods, "On the Nights You Stay Home" Hard Settle Ain't Troubled  (Meant Well, 16)
- Sarah Borges, "Purple GTO" Good and  Dirty  (Dry Lightning, 16)
- Oh Susanna, "Greyhound Bus" Short Stories  (Outside, 07)
- Slobberbone, "Whiskey Glass Eye" Bees and Seas  (New West, 16)
- Palace Music, "Work Hard/Play Hard" Viva Last Blues  (Drag City, 95)
- Jason Isbell, "God Is a Working Man" Southern Family  (Elektra, 16)
^ Margo Price, "About To Find Out" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Bonnevilles, "Electric Company" Arrow Pierce My Heart  (Alive Natural Sound, 16)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "Freedom Bus" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
- Chris Pureka, "Holy" Back In the Ring  (Sad Rabbit, 16)
- Harvest Thieves, "Part-Timer's Lament" Rival  (Holy Mt Sound, 16)
- American Aquarium, "Wolves (Revisited)" single  (American Aquarium, 16)
- Old 97s, "Big Brown Eyes (live)" Alive and Wired  (New West, 05)
- Grant-Lee Phillips, "Smoke and Sparks" The Narrows  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Lake Street Dive, "Hell Yeah" Side Pony  (Nonesuch, 16)
- Son Volt, "Tear Stained Eye" Trace: 20th Anniversary  (Rhino, 15)
- Lydia Loveless, "Wine Lips" Somewhere Else  (Bloodshot, 14)
- Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones, "Never Knew You Loved Me Too" Little Windows  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Malcolm Holcombe, "Another Black Hole" Another Black Hole  (Gypsy Eyes, 16)
- Pines, "Where Something Wild Still Grows" Above the Prairie  (Red House, 16)
- Parton, Ronstadt & Harris, "Lover's Return" Trio II  (Rhino, 98)
- Loretta Lynn w/ Willie Nelson, "Lay Me Down" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)

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