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Tuesday, July 12, 2016



ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
July 2, 2016
Scott Foley

Does this fall under "counting your chickens ..."?  Here are 20 records that are currently in the running for my favorites of the year, halfway through 2016, roughly in order of appearance.

Lucinda Williams, Ghosts of Highway 20
Margo Price, Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Caleb Caudle, Carolina Ghost
Richmond Fontaine, You Can't Go  Back
Freakwater, Scheherazade
Mount Moriah, How to Dance
Parker Millsap, Very Last Day
Left Arm Tan, Lorene
Austin Lucas, Between the Moon & the Midwest
Jayhawks, Paging Mr Proust
John Doe, Westerner
Sturgill Simpson, Sailor's Guide to Earth
Honeycutters, On the Ropes
Various Artists, Day of the Dead
Felice Brothers, Life in the Dark
Avett Brothers, True Sadness
Bonnie Bishop, Ain't Who I Was
Arliss Nancy, Greater Divides
Frankie Lee, American Dreamer
Matt Haeck, Late Bloomer

And here's what I'm most looking forward to hearing in the weeks 'n months to come:  Kelsey Waldon, Lydia Loveless, Two Cow Garage, Devil Makes Three, Tim Easton, Amanda Shires, Drive-by Truckers.

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There was a time during college when I wisely chose to sell my beloved vinyl collection.  I didn't do this for rent, grocery or beer money, but so that I could invest in sweet sweet cassette tapes.  I believe I had to sell at least a dozen hard-won discs in order to afford the hiss and warble of one tape.  Who knew that there would come a time when these very faulty plastic time bombs would no longer be valuable, let alone playable.  Curiously enough, cassette tapes are recently experiencing a slight renaissance, to the point where there are cassette only labels, and bands like Massy Ferguson who choose to make their music available on cassette.

Seattle trio Massy Ferguson borrow their name (dropping a vowel for legal reasons) from a farm equipment manufacturer.  There are no songs about the dustbowl on their new album.  No indulgent twangfest.  Instead, picture a big ol' combine rumbling down the streets of Middle America, harvesting the souls of folk like me who yearn for heavy guitar, reckless drums and no bullshit roots rock.  Here's what they have to say about their 4th record, Run It Right Into the Wall:

We wanted to pay homage to other music we grew up with and were inspired by: the sounds of college rock of the 80s.  Think early REM, Husker Du, the Church, the Connells and a big dose of the Replacements ...

As a card carrying college student during the 80s (don't do the math), these are the quintessential sounds of my life, largely upon which my presently sprawling musical tastes were constructed.  Of course, much of this scaffolding was strengthened with the addition of earlier alt.country acts such as Bottle Rockets, Uncle Tupelo, Drive-by Truckers, etc.  It's at these hallowed crossroads that Massy Ferguson has erected their roadhouse.

Massy Ferguson wisely choose not to disguise these compass points, leaping into the album's opener, "Gallipoli", with guitars that alternately stab and chime and vocals that recall Jay Farrar perhaps as crossed with early REM.  An instantly familiar musical equation, it manages to avoid the common retro-for-retro-sake traps. And the unabashedly tuneful single, "Makin' It", embraces the Southern roots pop practiced by Bottle Rockets in their heyday.

In the wake of the departure of the band's keyboardist, Run It opts for an edgier, pared back approach that layers guitars for that retro-perfect production.  Pieces such as "Firewater" still feature keys, but as a deeper musical background rather than a primary color.   "Dogbone" unleashes a swampier sound with loping drums and Fogerty-worthy guitar before slipping into a major key chorus that affirms the trio's sure pop ear.

With its neon bright blue and pink packaging, Run It Right Into the Wall might've fit just fine alongside my other cassettes from Let's Active, Pylon, Hoodoo Gurus and Green On Red.  In my digital files, however, it earns its place snugly among classics from Son Volt, Supersuckers and Blue Mountain, maintaining that essential edge so crucial to the relevance of alt.country and roots rock.

New stuff this week from Dale Watson, offering a live Jerry Reed cover.  Ronnie Fauss gives the roots treatment to a Slobberbone classic, and we revisit Will Johnson's masterful take on a lesser known Old 97s cut.  That, and some brand new solo Dex Romweber.   And I didn't play Dave Alvin's "Fourth of July".

- Two Tons of Steel, "Crazy Heart" Unraveled  (Smith, 13)
- Darrell Scott, "Moonlight Midnight" Couchville Sessions  (Full Light, 16)
- Avett Brothers, "Mama I Don't Believe" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Surrender Under Protest" American Band  (ATO, 16)
- Cross Canadian Ragweed, "The President Song (live)" Live and Loud at the Wormy Dog Saloon  (Smith, 01)
- Dale Watson, "Amos Moses (live)" Live at the Big T Roadhouse  (Red House, 16)  D
^ Massy Ferguson, "Santa Fe" Run It Right Into the Wall  (Massy Ferguson, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Orange Blossom Trail" Exodus of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Luke Bell, "Loretta" Luke Bell  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Rusty Truck, "Tangled In the Fence" Broken Promises  (Coda Terra, 03)
- Joe Purdy, "Kristine" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Matt Haeck, "Lucky Cigarette" Late Bloomer  (Blaster, 16)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Lumberlung" single  (New West, 16)  D
- Big Shoals, "Only God Knows" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- BJ Barham, "Reidsville" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Whitney, "Golden Days" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- Eddie Hinton, "I Got the Feeling" Very Extremely Dangerous  (Capricorn, 97)
- Corb Lund, "Bible On the Dash" Cabin Fever  (New West, 12)
- Dex Romweber, "Trouble of the World" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Plunder" Life in the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Fruit Bats, "Humbug Mountain Song" Absolute Loser  (Easy Sound, 16)
- Will Johnson, "Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s  (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Rob Baird, "Horses" Wrong Side of the River  (Hard Luck, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Poor Man's Melody" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Factory Smoke" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C
- Israel Nash, "Drown" Barn Doors &  Concrete Floors  (Israel Nash, 11)

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