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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
July 16, 2016
Scott Foley

Among the news sites, the music blogs, the social media and the literary related sites I visit while traipsing through the internet is a page that shows a view down the main street of the town where I grew up in Southern Oregon.  From this camera I can see a brick trash can I would sit on to watch the annual Memorial Day parade.  Just around the corner was the record store where I lay down most of my paycheck for LPs.  I can see the coffee shop planted right there that has grown into a successful West Coast chain, and the curious sign that arches over the street proclaiming "It's the Climate".  And if you were to climb the green wooded mountain behind this Main Street USA you would run into the house where I grew up on your way down the other side.

American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham grew up in Reidsville, North Carolina. He walks down its streets and sits on its porches in the video for the title cut to Rockingham, his debut solo record.  "I wrote these songs as a kind of road map to where I came from ... an album about time, home and place ... "  I've been on a long (long) road trip these past couple days, following endless straight roads through scrub brush and high grass.  Pulling into a small town, I'll gas up, grab some coffee, then take a couple minutes to get lost on rutted backstreets, catching the glance of a wide mouthed kid who knows nothing else as home.

I hear there's work in Richmond and some in New Orleans / But outside that Clark County line is a world I've never seen  ... The bottom doesn't look so bad when the bottom's all you know  -  "Water In the Well"

Barham reportedly wrote the bulk of Rockingham over a couple days on tour in France, in the wake of recent terrorist activity.  Perhaps your hometown comes into strongest focus when viewed from a distance.  A world away from a blood splattered night club, a young working man struggles to reconcile the American dream with his reality at "American Tobacco Company":  I sit here on the line and watch these big machines / Crush my hopes and dreams into Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes

We romanticize small town life, reducing the rural experience to Andy and Opie walking down a sepiatoned dirt road.  The realities of poverty, however, can necessitate some extreme or even criminal measures to assure survival.  On "O'Lover", "Things are going like I promised", driving the narrator to grab his father's revolver and take a trip to a nearby town and an appointment with destiny.


You can't call yourself a farmer just because you plant a seed / You must bargain with the dirt, your hands must blister they must bleed / Only then will you find beauty, not in the bloom, but in the weeds.  -  "O'Lover"
These are beautiful and sometimes brutal snapshots of rural reality, a lingering look at what happens when the cross country tourist leaves for the main roads and the crushing quiet returns.  But this is life in all its highs and lows, challenges and its small victories.  On the perfectly sparse "Unfortunate Kind", Ain't it funny how every now and then the unfortunate kind / Get lucky sometime?  Barham's glimpse behind the sun bleached curtain reveals domestic affairs, so revealing and intimate as to be uncomfortable.

Both "Reidsville" and "Road To Nowhere" appear in different arrangements on earlier American Aquarium albums.  I am not a godly man, my road's twisted and sinful / But to have you back I'd bow my head and sing a Southern Baptist hymnal / Hallelujah.  Like the new songs on Rockingham, these are dusty acoustic numbers, nothing louder than a dobro or lazily picked banjo. With his band, both were quiet and atmospheric, while in these solo settings that hush takes on a more intimate and personal tone.  When it comes my day to die, I want to look God in the eyes / And ask him why he gave up on this place 

I haven't been to Grants Pass since the day my mother's unexpected death almost 15 years ago. But when I need to center myself I can bring up that live webcam, recognizing that we spend our lives either trying to get back to that place we grew up or trying to escape it.
Never be ashamed of the fact that you are Southern / Those long vowels, oh, they're a beautiful thing  -  "Madeline"

A great week for debuts brings us the first glimpse into some monster Fall releases.  Great to hear from Carolyn Mark again, and the legendary John Prine proves he may still have something in the pump with another record of duets.  Looking forward to digging further into Tim Easton's first album for the Last Chance label.  And even after so many years nobody else sounds anything like the Handsome Family.  I'm going to wait by my mailbox for the Hiss Golden Messenger CD ...

- Paper Bird, "I Don't Mind" Paper Bird  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  C
- Big Shoals, "Happy For a While" Hard Lessons  (Big Shoals, 16)
- Dex Romweber, "Trouble of the World" Carrboro  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Otis Gibbs, "It Was a Train" Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth  (Wanamaker, 14)
- Levi Parham, "These American Blues" These American Blues  (Music Road, 16)
- Sean McConnell, "Ghost Town" Sean McConnell  (Rounder, 16)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Lumberlung" single  (Fauss, 16)
- Carolyn Mark, "In Another Time" Come! Back! Special!  (Roaring Girl, 16)  D
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Supermoon" Case/lang/Veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Whitney, "No Woman" Light Upon the Lake  (Secretly Canadian, 16)
- Monsters of Folk, "Whole Lotta Losin'" Monsters of Folk  (Shangri-La, 09)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Biloxi" Heart Like a Levee  (Merge, 16)  D
- William Tyler, "Kingdom of Jones" Modern Country  (Merge, 16)
- Caleb Caudle, "Gotta Be" Carolina Ghost  (This is American Music, 16)
- Massy Ferguson, "Gallipoli" Run It Right Into the Wall  (MF, 16)
- Lydia Loveless, "Longer" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "I'm Not the Devil" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)  D
- Handsome Family, "Gold" Unseen  (Handsome, 16)  D
- Bill Eberle, "Matter & Time" Matter & Time  (Twin Lawn, 16)  D
- Jay Farrar, "Barstow" Sebastopol  (Acony, 01)
- Chatham County Line, "Rock in the River" Autumn  (Yep Roc, 16)  D
- Tim Easton, "Right Before Your Own Eyes" American Fork  (Last Chance, 16)
- John Prine, "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out" For Better or Worse  (Oh Boy, 16)  D
- BJ Barham, "Rockingham" Rockingham  (Barham, 16)
- Lyle Lovett, "On a Saturday Night" My Baby Don't Tolerate  (Lost Hwy, 03)
- Ana Egge & the Sentimentals, "Take Off My Dress" Say That Now  (Grace, 16)
- Ana Egge, "There Won't Be Anymore" Bad Blood  (Ammal, 11)
- St Paul & the Broken Bones, "Flow With It" Sea of Noise  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Caitlyn Smith, "Before You Called Me Baby" Starfire  (Skylark, 16)  D
- Paul Cauthen, "Still Drivin'" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)  D
- Felice Brothers, "Life In the Dark" Life In the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)

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