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Friday, November 04, 2016

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
October 29, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

There was this line by Charlie Parker, 
Somewhat work remembering:
If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn
Chances are you'll never be reborn
                                                    -  David Dondero

I aired NRBQ and David Dondero today, a pair of artists rarely acknowledged in roots music circles.  Heck, I don't think I've ever played NRBQ on R&B, and I imagine Dondero's only seen the light of day maybe 3 or 4 times.  "Defying expectations" is one of the keys to the charter of Routes & Branches (note to self: create a charter), so I'd like to think we can justify fitting more than the obvious in our 120 minutes of weekly airtime.  I'd argue that often the best stuff hides between the lines.  This is why I advise that for best results, listen to the show every week, and listen loud.

Also this week, I've been toting around Jonny Fritz's new record for far too long without giving it a taste.  I'm not good at quirky, but given the fact that it arrives bearing the imprimatur of Jim James and the Goldsmith brothers from Dawes, I took the dive.  Jamestown Revival seem to have raised their game a notch, and I hadn't heard about K. Phillips until mere hours before the broadcast.  I think Bonnie Whitmore has made a strong statement by calling her new album Fuck With Sad Girls, not to mention by creating some really satisfying roots pop.  And I believe I've narrowed down my year end favorites list to a preliminary 25.  I shall stare at the list for the next couple weeks before sharing.

Had to know I'd be writing up Alejandro Escovedo's Burn Something Beautiful one of these weeks.  Whether with True Believers, Rank & File or as a solo veteran, no artist has more thoroughly and successfully explored the full range of musical expression possible in roots music.  He's also proven himself a worthy collaborator over the years, pairing with Stephen Bruton, Jon Dee Graham, John Cale, Chuck Prophet or Tony Visconti for worthy results.  Burn Something certainly rises to these lofty standards, a true pooling of talents with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, along with contributions from John Moen, Kurt Bloch, Corin Tucker, Kelly Hogan and Steve Berlin.  With guitars just this side of rude, and some of Escovedo's most relevant writing in years, it's nothing less than a rebirth.

At 65 years old, Alejandro Escovedo has earned the right to take a look back.  There's a vein of nostalgia to pieces like "Farewell To the Good Times" and the instantly endearing "Heartbeat Smile", but it's tempered by the immediacy and edge of the collection.  I'll mention that guitar again here, fiercely blazing on "Horizontal" or "Johnny Volume" and dominating the mix on the bluesy "I Don't Want To Play Guitar Anymore".  On the latter, Escovedo wonders aloud if he has anything left to say after such a career:  "When I was a young man / I made a lot of noise / Messed up every which way / Was all search and destroy ... Lately I can't stand the sound of my own voice".  It's a curious stance, given the urgent spark igniting the record.  "Luna de Miel" and "Shave the Cat" are pure energy and attitude, driven by a garage spirit that's powered Escovedo's music since the Nuns.

Alejandro Escovedo has never been beholden to melody or easy hooks.  His work has betrayed a consistent urban edge, appealing more with power and personality than earworms or pretty chords.  Burn Something explores the artist's more melodic skills without sacrificing that punk brutality.  "Sunday Morning Feeling" features chimes, and the backing vocals provided by Hogan and Tucker are a heavenly counterpart to Escovedo's familiar drawl.  "Heartbeat Smile" is one of my favorite songs of the year, as tuneful as 2008's "Always a Friend", perfectly balanced between loose guitars and those sweet pitch perfect vocals.  It's a bright spot on a record that seems to find Alejandro Escovedo pondering his relevance.  With friends like these supporting his masterful vision, it might not be quite time for him to put down that guitar.

- Luke Roberts, "Untitled Blues" Sunlit Cross  (Thrill Jockey, 16)
- Kent Eugene Goolsby, "Great Confessor" Temper of the Times  (KEG, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Call Me Sometime" War Surplus  (Warren, 16)
- Tim Easton w/Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Black Flag Blues" Highway Prayer: Tribute to Adam Carroll  (Eight30, 16)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Ready To Die" Silver Tears  (New West, 16)
- Neko Case, "I Wish I Was the Moon" Blacklisted  (Bloodshot, 02)
- Jonny Fritz, "Fifteen Passenger Van" Sweet Creep  (ATO, 16)  D
- Jack Grelle, "Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down" Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down  (Big Muddy, 16)
- Jamestown Revival, "Company Man" Education Of a Wandering Man  (Republic, 16)  D
- Vandoliers, "Hank" Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, 16)
- Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, "Been On the Rocks" Innocent Road  (West Sound, 16)
- Robert Earl Keen, "Shades Of Gray (live)" Live Dinner Reunion  (Dualtone, 16)
- Emmylou Harris, "Boulder To Birmingham (live)" Life & Songs Of Emmylou Harris  (Blackbird, 16)  D
- NRBQ, "I Found a Love" Ludlow Garage 1970  (Sundazed, 06)
- Girls Guns & Glory, "Empty Bottles" Love and Protest  (GGG, 16)
- K. Phillips, "Hadrian" Dirty Love  (KPhillips, 16)  D
- M Lockwood Porter, "Charleston" How To Dream Again  (Black Mesa, 16)
- Esme Patterson, "Not Feeling Any Pain" Play Each Other's Songs  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Ryan Adams, "Amy (live)" Live After Deaf  (PaxAm, 12)
- Two Cow Garage, "This Little Light" Brand New Flag  (Last Chance, 16)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Ain't No Stranger" There Is a Bomb In Gilead  (Alive Naturalsound, 12)
^ Alejandro Escovedo, "Heartbeat Smile" Burn Something Beautiful  (Fantasy, 16)
- Bonnie Whitmore, "Fuck With Sad Girls" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Starlet & Dog, 16)
- Paul Cauthen, "Hanging Out On the Line" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- David Dondero, "Rothko Chapel" Simple Love  (Team Love, 07)
- Amanda Shires, "Pale Fire" My Piece Of Land  (BMG, 16)
- John Doe, "Heartless" Forever Hasn't Happened Yet  (YepRoc, 05)
- Fred Eaglesmith, "Pontiac" Lipstick Lies & Gasoline  (Razor & Tie, 97)

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