ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 30, 2016
Last month I assembled a short list of my favorite songs for the first quarter of the year. That set us back for our monthly favorite albums posting. In order to catch up, here's this:
WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT MARCH and/or APRIL?!!
Jayhawks, Paging Mr. Proust - When the smoke clears and my kids' kids are looking back on Grampa's shameful affair with americana, few bands will shine as guiltily as the Jayhawks. Too pop for roots and too roots for pop, the band's early Louris/Olson material honed in on a sound with which I've been flirting ever since. For this new/old quartet, co-producers Tucker Martine and Peter Buck brush on a sticky layer of extra-glossy pop sheen, putting some distance between the new stuff and Mockingbird Time's more roots-oriented fare. Jayhawks' guitars achieve an unforeseen level of crunchiness on songs like "Lost the Summer", while listeners in search of sweet pop harmonies need only tune into "Devil Is In Her Eyes" or the near-perfect "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces".
Arliss Nancy, Greater Divides - There's not much happening in Colorado music circles this year. Fort Collins' alt.country rousers Arliss Nancy drag their tales of working class wisdom towards the "heartland" on their solid new collection. There's not an ounce of sell-out or compromise in the heavy guitars, shredded vocals or lyrical honesty in these ten cuts, which also add a welcome dose of piano/organ to their mix. Greater Divides asks what might've happened if Lucero had continued to mature their songwriting talents while maintaining their early punk and hellfire spirit. The band's new work mashes the clarity of Simple Machines with the restless energy of Wild American Runners, ten songs that are simultaneously engaging and flirting boldly with the edge of the rails.
Sturgill Simpson, Sailor's Guide To Earth - First, get over any feelings that Sturgill's first post-conquest record is too short, that it's not country enough or that there aren't any obvious radio singles. Just embrace Sailor's Guide for what it is, a deeply personal musical statement that sidesteps any of the "sounds-like" expectations of Metamodern Sounds and embraces a new genre: Sturgill Simpson. Overall, it is a sonically heavier collection, drenched in deep purple guitars and shining with generous horn arrangements throughout. Simpson has addressed his intention to create a "prettier" record, citing the lush, expansive sound of Elvis Presley or Roy Orbison as a compass point. The heart of both records, and the consistency from one collection to the next, lies in his talents as a consistently emotive, eclectic writer and vocalist.
Margo Price, Midwest Farmer's Daughter - I heralded Margo Price's "Hands of Time" as my favorite song of the year a couple weeks ago, a smart and moving origin story that sets the table for what follows on her debut record. Other reviewers haven't shied away from comparing MFD to recent work from Brandi Clarke, Kacey Musgraves or Ashley Monroe, so why should I? Fact is, despite their professed outlaw status and genuine talent, those three products still show fingerprints of the Nashville machine. Released by Jack White's Third Man Records, Price's music is very much a product of the Nashville tradition, but in all the richest ways.
Austin Lucas, Between the Moon and the Midwest - More than anything it's his voice, a remarkable and otherworldly instrument I first heard on 2007's Putting the Hammer Down. The following year brought a collaboration with Chuck Ragan exploring bluegrass, gospel and old timey sounds on the beautiful Bristle Ridge. I can do no better than to introduce Lucas' new record by quoting the opening lines: I've been told to walk away / Nearly every time I've made an album / I hear there's no good men left / Everyone in Nashville's deaf / And sad songs are a thing of the past / But if I'm an old photograph / Worn and torn and fading fast / In a frame that's shattered, laying on the floor / Maybe this old picture/ Like an old vinyl record / Could be dusted off and loved just like before. From "Unbroken Hearts", the verse is a fitting intro to an artist whose talent vastly exceeds his notoriety. Lucas is backed here by fellow artists who have recognized his gift: Lydia Loveless, Cory Branan, John Moreland, Joey Kneiser, Kelly Smith and others. Loveless duets with Lucas on the longing "Wrong Side of the Dream", taking stock of years spent romancing the reluctant muse: Well time don't seem to slip away / So much as it drags on / And I look around at 35 / And all I've got are songs. As you might expect, my favorite cut on Between the Moon is the introspective ballad, "Pray For Rain". Free from the trappings of some of the more upbeat tracks, Lucas gives rein to his beautiful voice which simmers, breaks and ultimately soars like little else we've heard. You said the brightest thing about me / Was an ever present sadness that I own / Truly truly there must be more / More to the man that you adore.
... so, all in all it's been a remarkable couple weeks for new music. Allowed more space, I could've just as well featured praise for Al Scorch's scorching folkpunk banjo, the rebirth of the Hackensaw Boys, or the Honeycutters (the best damn country band you haven't heard of yet). Even when you are a butterfly and life is a big slobbery dog chasing you around the yard barking, there is always good music to look forward to. When the record industry has been eulogized and the dirt has been piled on, there will still be music that moves us. Even when the deadlines are looming and the last thing you want to do is put your passion for this stuff into words that don't do it justice, it's still worthwhile. Because music.
- Hard Working Americans, "High Price of Inspiration" Rest in Chaos (Melvin, 16)
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Rubin & Cherise" Day of the Dead (4AD, 16)
- Sallie Ford, "Loretta" Days Full of Rain: Portland Tribute to Townes Van Zandt (WoodPhone, 16)
- Jon Dee Graham, "I'd Have Taken Better Care" Dreamer: Tribute to Kent Finlay (Eight 30, 16)
- Dave Alvin, "I Wish It Was Saturday Night" Romeo's Escape (Razor & Tie, 86)
- Luke Bell, "Sometimes" Luke Bell (Thirty Tigers, 16) D
- Al Scorch, "City Lullaby" Circle Round the Signs (Bloodshot, 16)
- Honeycutters, "Hallelujah" On the Ropes (Organic, 16)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Happy For Us In the Down" Charismo (Free Dirt, 16)
- Sara Watkins, "Move Me" Young In All the Wrong Ways (New West, 16) D
- Lyle Lovett, "South TX Girl" It's Not Big It's Large (Lost Hwy, 07)
- Whitehorse, "Pretty Thing" NorthernSouth Vol. 1 (Six Shooter, 16)
- Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, "Happy & Free" Colvin & Earle (Concord, 16)
- Tony Joe White, "Opening of the Box" Rain Crow (Yep Roc, 16) D
- Adia Victoria, "Stuck in the South" Beyond the Bloodhounds (Atlantic, 16) D
- Quaker City Nighthawks, "Mockingbird" El Astronauta (Lightning Rod, 16)
^ Austin Lucas, "Pray For Rain" Between the Moon and the Midwest (Last Chance, 16)
- McDougall, "Shaken" Reaching For Some Light (McDougall, 16) D
- Jason Isbell, "Brand New Kind of Actress" Sirens of the Ditch (New West, 07)
- Arliss Nancy, "Dufresne" Greater Divides (Arliss Nancy, 16)
- Promised Land Sound, "The Big Easy" Stoned Eagle (Jeffrey Drag, 12)
- Holly Williams, "Settle Down" Southern Family (Elektra, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Too Late" Ain't Who I Was (Plan BB, 16)
- Bo-Keys, "Longer You Wait" Heartaches By the Number (Omnivore, 16)
- Slobberbone, "Barrel Chested" Bees & Seas: Best of (New West, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Ace" Paging Mr Proust (Thirty Tigers, 16)