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Thursday, October 20, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
October 15, 2016
Scott Foley, Purveyor of Dust

Does punk music make sense everywhere?  Does it ring true driving down a Northern Colorado road on an uncommonly warm October dusk, heading into a massive, squashed orange moon?  Restless leaves rioting in the wake of speeding cars, patchy clouds a ridiculous cartoon pink.  I've always argued that punk is a spirit, woven through Alejandro Escovedo's stories of urban survival as much as Jack Rose's "american primitive" acoustic guitar.  Punk glints through Lydia Loveless' anxious lovesongs and you'll find it in the fingernail grit of garage-soul giant Barrence Whitfield.

Of course, sometimes punk comes in chunks, more deliberate musical gestures like Brand New Flag, the brand new record (long awaited, natch) from Two Cow Garage.  Like folk, punk is a peoples' music, a theoretic danger to the status quo and a liferaft for the huddled masses.

Songs like the funereal "I Promise" stare self-doubt and dark sentiment in the face.  But Schnabel forces his voice through the accusatory bellowing and the hellish cacaphony, "I promise I will never give up!"  Crucible and challenge are part and parcel for young people who are force fed politics and religion, kids who are lucky to trip through the gate of young adulthood with their integrity and their dreams intact.  From "A Lullaby of Sorts" (a lullaby of sorts):  "So go to sleep now / Don't you cry / We're all just doing our best not to die / So load your guns and say your prayers / Just kidding, there is no god".  It's a brutal pat on the back.

More than any other Two Cow record, writers Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney are direct about their socio-politics.  Brand New Flag is an important and unabashed product of its time.  No song (possibly no song this year) better epitomizes this focus than "Let the Boys Be Girls".  Actually released last year, it's a highwater mark for the group in terms of original music and relevant ideas.  Like the best punk songs, it will anger certain parents and serve some young people with a renewed strength of purpose:  "Cause we can listen to Slayer / Or we can get stoned / We can teach ourselves it's okay to be alone / We can start our own bands in our basements / We can break up citing creative differences / These are the things they never tell you".  The songs on the band's 7th record can simultaneously bemoan the state of our nation while positing glimpses of hope, or at least respites from the onslaught.

With their youth largely in the rearview mirror (but near enough that they don't come off as narcs or teachers with an Important Lesson to impart), Two Cow actually seem to be taking up the mantle as flagbearers and spokesmen, speaking from their own experience in hopes of reaching fellow fugitives from the battle.  Here's the title cut:  "I'm stitching up a brand new flag / From old newspapers and dirty rags / A nation of the lonely and broken / That still have something to prove / A place for everyone who's never fit in / Any single place they've ever been / So bring me your outcasts, your freaks / Your broken hearts and fools".  

It's been so long since 2CG issued their debut, '03's Please Turn the Gas Back On.  From production to writing to the addition of guitarist/writer Todd Farrell Jr, it's a different band with a different purpose. Flag is musically more diverse, with a cleaner sound courtesy, in part, of Joey Kneiser.  Micah Schnabel has morphed from a mere frontman to a poet and a unique voice among his peers.  As he acknowledges on "Beauty in the Futility":
When I was young I was too messed up to realize I wasn't very good / I was just so happy to be here so I sorta smiled and did the best I could /  Which was mostly poor imitations of my heroes / But now most of them are dead and gone / And I've finally found my voice

Finally, it came across my digi-desk while I was polishing this week's Episode that Chris Porter had been killed in an accident.  Whether a solo artist, a member of Some Dark Holler or Back Row Baptists, or with his new project, Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, Porter shone with a definite musical vision.  We'll make room for some of that stuff on next week's broadcast.

- Sturgill Simpson, "Some Days" High Top Mountain  (Thirty Tigers, 13)
- Justin Wells, "The Dogs" Dawn In the Distance  (August, 16)
- Gillian Welch, "Dry Town (demo)" Boots No. 1: the Official Revival Bootleg  (Acony, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Beauty & the Buzz" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Jack Rose, "Soft Steel Piston" Dr Ragtime & His Pals  (Three Lobed, 16)  D
- Handsome Family, "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" Nothing Left to Lose: Tribute to Kris Kristofferson  (Incidental, 03)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Wishing Well" Temper Of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Call Me Sometime" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)  D
- Jon Snodgrass, "1-2-3-4 Won't Go Down to the Basement No More" Carpet Thief 7"  (Snodgrass, 16)  C
- John Calvin Abney, "Goodbye Temporarily" Far Cries & Close Calls  (Horton, 16)
- Honeycutters, "Blue Besides" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)
- Robert Earl Keen, "Feelin' Good Again (live)" Live Dinner Reunion  (Dualtone, 16)  D
- American Aquarium, "North Texas Women (live)" Live at Terminal West  (AA, 16)  D
- Lydia Loveless, "Real" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Whiskey Myers, "Lightning Bugs & Rain" Mud  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
- Turnpike Troubadors, "Every Girl" Diamonds & Gasoline  (Onward, 10)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "You're the One" Innocent Road  (West Sound, 16)
- Flat Five, "Buglight" It's a World of Love and Hope  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "John the Gun" Heart Like a Levee / Vestapol  (Merge, 16)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "12 Bar Blues" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Dan Layus (w/Secret Sisters), "Dangerous Things" Dangerous Things  (Plated, 16)
- Bobby Bare Jr, "Sad Smile (live)" Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)  (Bloodshot, 15)
- Tami Nielson, "So Far Away" Don't Be Afraid  (Outside, 16)
- Matt Woods, "Little Heartache" How to Survive  (Last Chance, 16)
- Cory Branan, "Wayward & Down" The Hell You Say  (Chin Up, 02)j
- Barrence Whitfield & Savages, "Incarceration Casserole (live)" Audiotree Sessions  (Audiotree, 16)  D
^ Two Cow Garage, "This Little Light (edit)" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)  D

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