ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
September 3, 2016
I was born on a side road far from here / While the town was burning out my dark window / I was crowned with a cage of cold barbed wire / And my bottle I keep with me even till now
-- Boz Skaggs
Very nice this week to be contacted by Mr Bill Frater of Freight Train Boogie fame regarding an interview for his No Depression column. Frater writes "Radio Friendly", shedding light on americana djs, promoters, luminaries and such. Please take a look at my lil' interview here. One of my sons called it "dad humor" - fathers must be a plenty funny people ...
Also, you'll notice that I've been paying good attention to Lydia Loveless' recent Real release over the past several weeks. I wrote a piece about it on Charles Hale's Ajax Diner Book Club blog (brought to you by the word "smitten").
Little shorter playlist this Episode, owing to a kind studio visit from cellist singer-songwriter Ben Sollee. Not a slew of debuts, but following the muse deeper into new stuff from Devil Makes Three, Handsome Family, Dexateens and more. Hollis Brown have taken a really satisfying turn in a more soulful direction on their new EP. Plus, I spin a 2001 Songs: Ohia cover of a Boz Scaggs song. I didn't know the thing existed until this week, but it's one of the fullest, most transcendent things Jason Molina recorded. Fortunately, you can check it out on the Spotify playlist below, if you got the Spotify.
Got a generous mailing from John Calvin Abney this week. In addition to his laudable new Far Cries & Close Calls record, there was a short typewritten note. Like from a typewriter. In an age of mass produced, impersonal communications, it was special to hold the paper to the light, run my hands across the type and know that there was a human at the return address.
Abney's 2015 debut, Better Luck, initially caught my attention because of the involvement of fellow Okie John Moreland. It earned its spot on the R&B playlist for its mature roots rock writing and originality. Far Cries exceeds that promise, and should by all means vault the perennial multi-instrumental sideman to a more prominent national position.
"Beauty Seldom Seen" kicks Far Cries into gear, melodic roots pop built on chiming electric guitars and sighing steel. Abney sings with a youthful snarl that might recall early Tom Petty: It's a long tired dream / Fighting for a losing team / And I feel just like a refugee. A bright wurlitzer chirps through "Goodbye Temporarily", which also adds violin and harmonica for a mid-period John Mellencamp vibe. The upbeat, major key spirit of a number of the songs are balanced by accompanying lyrics that are by no means dour, but tend towards self doubt and uncertainty. I'm not the man that you refused / You're not the girl I left behind me.
Other songs pare the arrangements to a bare minimum and bring to mind the tragic urban folk of Elliott Smith - the vocals are sometimes even double-tracked a'la Smith. "In Such a Strange Town" is a beautifully, confidently spare acoustic waltz: I want a picture over a prayer / Maintenance touch, your reticent glare / Star keeper I'm back / Can you tell me / I've confused dreams with memories. Abney's lyrics are rarely direct, but can be meaningful in a poetically opaque way.
The point to the parade of comparisons isn't to say that John Calvin Abney isn't his own artist. While there's an appealingly eclectic quality to his music, there's also an accompanying familiarity that abides from one song to the next. He is neither burdened by the pressure to stay true to any single "vibe" nor driven to wander too far afield in an artificial attempt to be everything to everybody. At heart, songs like "Jailbreak" simply engage at the most genuine level, appealing to our love of a true tune well constructed. In that light, perhaps the most apt comparison would be to Ryan Adams.
With a rude swagger, hellbent guitar and pounding drums, "Weekly Rate Palace" is the record's most direct bar band rocker. On a record that's so smartly arranged and impressively played (primarily by the man himself, it would seem), it's heartwarming to hear such a freewheeling racket from Abney and friends. It's just another sharp tool in his belt, another shade on a record that ranges from bright and brash sunlight to overcast and introspective.
- Songs: Ohia, "Sweet Release" Burlap Palace: Tribute to the Muscle Shoals Sound (Soundgun, 01)
- Shinyribs, "Victoria" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s (Jeff Neely, 16)
- Devil Makes Three, "I Am the Man Thomas" Redemption & Ruin (New West, 16)
- Shakey Graves, "Tomorrow" In Case You Missed It: 15 Years of Dualtone (Dualtone, 16) D
- Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Don't Hang Up Virginia" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You (Chris Porter, 16) D
- Angel Olsen, "Never Be Mine" My Woman (Jagjaguwar, 16) D
- Dexateens, "Fellowship of the Saturday Night Brotherhood" Teenage Hallelujah (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- Hollis Brown, "Cold City" Cluster of Pearls (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
- Lydia Loveless, "Midwestern Guys" Real (Bloodshot, 16)
- Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, "Laid Low" Constant Stranger (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- BJ Barham, "Reidsville" Rockingham (Barham, 16)
- Jack Ingram, "I'm Drinking Through It" Midnight Motel (Rounder, 16) D
- Justin Wells, "The Dogs" Dawn In the Distance (August, 16)
- Shelby Lynne, "Lonesome" Identity Crisis (Capitol, 03)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Rookie Dreaming" Honest Life (Mama Bird, 16)
- Handsome Family, "Tiny Tina" Unseen (Handsome Family, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Purple Rain" Swimmin' Pools Movie Stars (Sugar Hill, 16)
- Luke Winslow-King, "I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always" I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always (Bloodshot, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Dufresne" Greater Divides (Arliss Nancy, 16) C
- Shovels & Rope, "St Anne's Parade" Little Seeds (New West, 16)
- Elliott BROOD, "Garden Rivers" Mountain Meadow (Six Shooter, 09)