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Saturday, June 11, 2016

a home to the americana diaspora
June 4, 2016
Scott Foley

I have a file on my iTunes where I keep most of my favorite songs - the rare stuff I can listen to with relative frequency and not get tired.  The other day I was streaming this playlist and one of my kids remarked how similar some of these tunes were in terms of structure and melody, and he was right.  As much as I consider myself a reactionary music curmudgeon, when the rubber hits the road I like a melodic hook as much as the next guy.  Case in point:  Cahalen Morrison's new project, Western Centuries, whose "Weight of the World" sounds so much like a Sturgill song that the more I listen to it the more I think of Sturgill.  Still a great song, though.

Other evocative moments on this Episode come from Lydia Loveless, whose "Longer" accompanies her country-perfect voice with a more urban garage guitar buzz.  I spin Tom Petty for the first time in more than ten years of R&B.  While I've been a fan since I purchased a cassette copy of Damn the Torpedoes, it's apparently taken until his second Mudcrutch record for me to justify the airspace.  Jeez, I've even played John(ny Cougar) Mellencamp in the ensuing years.  And yet, all it took was a quick listen to Shane Leonard's Kalispell to pique my interest in the multi-instrumentalist's primarily acoustic chamber-americana.  Good news is that Tom Petty has done fine without my imprimatur.

All it took to commit me to Matt Haeck's Late Bloomer was a glance at the playlist.  A duet with Caitlin Rose, a song called "Pissing Contest" and another called "Minnie Pearl".  Tracking into the freight train roar of "Tennessee" was really the final blow in deciding that I wanted to write about Haeck.  His origin story says he was born in the West Indies, raised by evangelist parents and even attended seminary until he was sidetracked by more worldly pursuits.  While it's not strictly a concept album, some of these personal details populate the songs on Late Bloomer.  That aforementioned contest really did happen, though the track which flows from the episode has more to do with Haeck's efforts to square his professed faith with some of the hobbies he had adopted:  Have you ever read the Hebrew Bible and argued with a fossil / Or testified loudmouthed and wide-eyed with cocaine in your nostril.  The music is loose and good-natured, the kind of freewheeling ramble that provided the bed for much of Roger Miller's work. And though Haeck isn't necessarily hard on himself, he readily acknowledges his foibles:  Every hypocrite is a human / And we're all human down to a man.  "28 Years" adds a satisfying blast of both horns and accordion, like a beast from Memphis by way of Terlingua.  A manic dose of pedal steel recklessly drives the cut like a truck threatening to veer into the ruts.  By contrast to the charming bombast of  these tunes, many of Late Bloomer's sweeter moments hail from the more subtle, more traditional gestures.  "Minnie Pearl" twines gospel and 'grass in a hymn to the women who have crossed Haeck's path:  But in the darkness there's a song / That's kept me going for so long / And as long as I keep singing / There's a purpose and a meaning to this life ...  Fellow songwriter Elizabeth Cook adds a layer of nuance and beauty to several cuts on Bloomer, one of a small cadre of cohorts joining Haeck, including Aaron Lee Tasjan, Critter Fuqua and producer David Mayfield.  Caitlin Rose provides another alluring contribution on one of the record's quiet but resonant highlights.  "Cotton Dress" sets aside some of the collection's cynicism and self-deprecation for an almost pastoral folksong.  Matt Haeck's most worthy statement as a writer comes from "Lucky Cigarette".  Slow as late summer, the track simmers with delicious melancholy:  So darlin' / Won't you do me the honor / Of burnin' the lucky one.  It erects an appropriately sober compliment to the carefree romp of "Tennessee" that begins Late Bloomer, and serves to cement Matt Haeck's  promise as a top notch writer of unusual sensitivity a'la early Todd Snider or present day Aaron Lee Tasjan.

- Trampled by Turtles, "Walt Whitman" Stars & Satellites  (Thirty Tigers, 12)
- Al Scorch, "Lost at Sea" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Sara Watkins, "Truth Won't Set Us Free" Young in All the Wrong Ways  (New West, 16)
- Yarn, "Carolina Heart" This is the Year  (Redbush, 16)
^ Matt Haeck, "Tennessee" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Western  Centuries, "Weight of the World" Weight of the World  (Free Dirt, 16)  D
- Austin Lucas, "Kristie Rae" Between the Moon & the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
- John Doe, "Drink of Water" The Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Dyin" Exodus of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Robert Ellis, "How I Love You" Robert Ellis  (New West, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Deadman's Blues" With Love From Brushy Mountain  (Pisgah Ridge, 12)
- McDougall, "Ten Speed" Reaching For Some Light  (McDougall, 16)
- Poet's Row, "Goin' Down" The Artichoke  (Poet's Row, 16)  C, D
- Drunken Hearts, "Happy" Love & Thirst  (Drunken Hearts, 16)  C, D
- Uncle Tupelo, "Train" No Depression  (Columbia, 90)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Ship of Fools" Day of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Kalispell, "Printer's Son" Printer's Son  (Cartouche, 16)  D
- Magnolia Electric Co, "Dark Don't Hide It (live)" Trials & Errors  (Secretly Canadian, 05)
- Kevin Morby, "I Have Been  To the Mountain" Singing Saw  (Dead Oceans, 16)
- Ben de la Cour, "Walkin' 'Round With the Blues" Midnight in Havana  (Flour Sack Cape, 16)  D
- Lydia Loveless, "Longer" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Frankie Lee, "High &  Dry" American Dreamer  (Loose, 16)
- Two Cow Garage, "Mantle in '56" Death of the Self Preservation Society  (Last Chance, 13)
- Felice Brothers, "Triumph '73" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Whitney, "No Matter Where We Go" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)  D
- Mudcrutch, "Trailer" Mudcrutch 2  (Mudcrutch, 16)  D
- Dwight Yoakam, "Bury Me" Guitars Cadillacs Etc Etc  (Reprise, 86)

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