ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
September 24, 2016
Another year, another Americana Honors & Awards Ceremony to remind me how mainstream my restless tastes can be. My three favorite records from 2015 were all well represented in Nashville this week. John Moreland took the stage for a stellar performance. Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell carted home the hardware. I've started giving some consideration to my own honors and awards list for 2016 (aka the handicapper's AMA lineup for next year). While the year's early releases continue to hold their own, stuff from the last several weeks is demanding some space as well. With a bit of prayer and clean living this should all sort itself out in the coming weeks ...
One act that already has a foot in the door for next year's accolades is Shovels & Rope. Last year's Busted Jukebox release permitted a glimpse behind the duo's curtain of influences. In addition to familiar roots quantities like Neil Young and Rodney Crowell, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst recorded covers of songs originally by Nine Inch Nails, Lou Reed and Guns n' Roses. Their new collection of originals, Little Seeds, won't be mistaken for Axl & Slash, but the duo's fifth release does make its fair share of racket. With speakers at the appropriate volume, songs like "I Know" and "Buffalo Nickel" are felt in the chest as much as in the ears. Drums demand center stage, rudely banging and crashing for attention, a perfect noise that immediately sets Shovels & Rope apart from any other americana act. Guitars are almost as in-your-face on much of the record - the solo on "Buffalo Nickel" comes across like an electric guitar being strangled with piano wire (in all the best ways).
On the other side of the nickel are quieter stunners such as "This Ride" and "St. Anne's Parade", where accompaniment is dialed way way back to create space for the phenomenon of Heart and Trent's vocals. I've already heaped praise upon the latter of those pieces, as heartfelt and soul-warming a declaration of friendship as we've heard. Regarded separately, either of Shovels & Ropes' extremes wouldn't mean as much. But it's the noise that lends the quiet such a reverence, and the acoustic songs add an extra crunch to the ragers. And the pair's vocals don't blend and weave as much as they tangle and thrive on tension. Both singers are outstanding, and in all honesty Cary Ann Hearst might be the best we have. That said, they are very rarely heard apart from one another, and attempting to catch the melody in one or the other is a fruitless task. Most importantly, few acts can shout in tune as consistently. While Hearst's voice tends to take top billing, the sound of Shovels & Rope wouldn't be the same without the storm created between voices.
Recorded in the wake of some life changing events, Little Seeds is a grounded but life affirming project, one that acknowledges the sharp edges while burrowing into the warm corners. From "This Ride":
It's like Old Yeller and Lonesome Dove / When you hate how it ends, but you can't get enough / This ride / It lifts and it give and it singles you out / It shames and it blames and forgives and it doubts / It inspires and it opens our eyes and it heals / And it coughs and it slips and it falls and it steals / Your memory, your dignity, your husbands and your mothers ...
This Episode dawns with a pair of Colorado releases, in a year hauntingly devoid of square state hitz. We continue our wooing of Angel Olsen, and praise the brothers Bielanko for cutting the crap and hooking up once more for the reissue of their classic Angels of Destruction and related tour (here's a quality Rolling Stone article).
Coffee tastes like birthday cake / And we get older with every sip I take / Days they come with price tags / Like old Air Jordans or Gangster Gold -- Marah, "Angels On a Passing Train"
- Chris Stapleton, "When the Stars Come Out" Traveller (Mercury, 15)
- Jason Isbell, "24 Frames" Something More Than Free (Southeastern, 15)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Ramon Casiano" American Band (ATO, 16)
- Carey Ott, "Nocona (High Hangin' On a Limb)" Nocona (Carey Ott, 16) D
- American Aquarium, "Nothing To Lose (live)" Live In Raleigh (Barham, 12)
- Parton, Ronstadt & Harris, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" Complete Trio Collection (Rhino, 16)
- Greensky Bluegrass, "Past My Prime" Shouted Written Down & Quoted (Big Blue Zoo, 16)
- Longest Day of the Year, "Damage Done" Seth & May EP (Mulewax, 16) D,C
- Jon Snodgrass, "1234 Won't Go Down To the Basement No More" Carpet Thief 7" (Snodgrass, 16) D,C
- Lydia Loveless, "European" Real (Bloodshot, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Heartbeat Smile" Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy, 16)
- M Lockwood Porter, "Future Ain't What It Used To Be" How To Dream Again (Black Mesa, 16)
- Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, "KC Moan" Shine a Light (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Margo Price, "Desperate & Depressed" Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man, 16)
- Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "Weight of the World" Traveling Kind (Nonesuch, 15)
- Jack Ingram, "I'm Drinking Through It" Midnight Motel (Rounder, 16)
- Todd Snider, "Ways & Means" Eastside Bulldog (Aimless, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Love In the Nuclear Edge" How To Survive (Last Chance, 16)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "Been On the Rocks" Innocent Road (West Sound, 16) D
- Dex Romweber, "Where Do You Roam" Carrboro (Bloodshot, 16)
- Angel Olsen, "Heart Shaped Face" My Woman (Jagjaguwar, 16)
- Marah, "Angel On a Passing Train" Angels of Destruction (Yep Roc, 08)
- Dexateens, "Fellowship of the Saturday Night Brotherhood" Teenage Hallelujah (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- John Calvin Abney, "Beauty Seldom Seen" Far Cries & Close Calls (Horton, 16)
- Wilco, "If I Ever Was a Child" Schmilco (dBpm, 16)
^ Shovels & Rope, "Buffalo Nickel" Little Seeds (New West, 16)
- John Prine w/Amanda Shires, "Dim Lights Thick Smoke" For Better Or Worse (Oh Boy, 16)
- Jesse Dayton, "Take Out the Trash" The Revealer (Blue Elan, 16)