ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
December 10, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
This week, we inch ever closer to Christmas. Not 100% (yet), but I was hoping to provide enough here at least to stir your ho ho ho. For those in denial, there's non-holiday cheer from Hurray for the Riff Raff, Black Joe Lewis, from Charlie Parr and Ryan Adams and more. So much New Stuff on the horizon that I'm not able to shoehorn in my typical jingle shit. But snow falls here in sunny CO, and there is wassail on the air.
And there's even Miranda Lambert. Yes. I find it curious how as americana programmers we turn a blind eye towards whatever is embraced by the country mainstream. Granted, sometimes that's merited. When, for instance, the music is Not Good. There's enough of that going around, for sure, but good music is good music. And Miranda's 6th record, Weight of These Wings, is good stuff.
It's been called her breakup album, landing in the wake of her split with that guy from The Voice. But let's be honest, name me one album that's not about love, loss and resentment. Lambert unnecessarily names the two discs that compose Weight "The Nerve" and "The Heart". And whereas most double record sets are padded with generous filler, there's not a lot of that among these 24 tunes.
Most importantly, as a standard bearer for The Mainstream, Lambert makes very few nods to current country trends. I'll throw just 3 songs in this basket, including the sorta faux off-the-cuff goofiness that is "Pink Sunglasses". Otherwise, it seems at least one curious touchstone for Weight is Emmylou's 1995 collab with Daniel Lanois, Wrecking Ball. Producer Frank Liddell pads much of the noise here with thick drums, guitar and reverb like I like. "Ugly Lights" cruises atop thick bluesy molasses, replete with a nice early rock guitar solo. I still go and stay too late / And be the girl bartenders hate / The one that doesn't need another one ... One of the collection's stronger cuts, "Runnin' Just In Case" takes its time building on a deep electric pulse, atmospheric and haunted with distant backing vox.
Lambert leaves her stamp on nearly every one of these cowrites, sharing a byline with names like Foy Vance, Ashley Monroe, Jack Ingram, Brent Cobb, Mando Saenz and current beau Anderson East. It's safe to say that her imprimatur is a tough swagger and a sassiness (not a word I believe I've ever used here), sparked by an almost punkish girl power that ignites even the most vulnerable tracks. A collaboration with East, "Pushin' Time" is a barebones acoustic reflection addressing a reluctance to leap back into the relationship fray: Sometimes love acts out of spite / And good things happen over night / Can't take it slow 'cuz you and I / Are pushin' time.
New songs like "Covered Wagon", "Six Degrees of Separation" or "Bad Boy" may garner the radio spins, but my investment on Weight of These Wings is with more unexpected pieces like gorgeous ballad "To Learn Her". A truly classic vocal, a Hargus "Pig" Robbins piano solo, and some perfect pedal steel pulled down from the trad country attic combine to reveal Lambert's roots as a dedicated "Keeper of the Flame".
"I've Got Wheels" is another moment that echoes some of Emmylou Harris' 90s work, even if Miranda Lambert is a much different vocalist. It's also another cut that embraces the pervasive theme of travel and escape. Always on the move, she recognizes both the liberation and the letdown that come from living out of a perennially packed suitcase. "Nobody ever taught me how to stay," she explains on one track. Sure, the restless life takes its toll on relationships, but it'll doubtlessly provide the artist with another massive bestseller at year's end. And she's not really apologizing for her choices, because sometimes the road provides a good excuse for avoiding commitment. As Lambert explains on "Runnin' Just in Case": Happiness ain't prison / But there's freedom in a broken heart. Trust me and give Weight of These Wings a try.
- matt pond PA, "In Winter" Winter Lives (131 Records, 16)
- Drag the River, "Fleeting Porch of Tide" You Can't Leave This Way (Xtra Mile, 08) C
- Gillian Welch, "455 Rocket (Outtake)" Boots No. 1 (Acony, 16)
- Becky Warren, "Dive Bar Sweetheart" War Surplus (Warren, 16)
- Ryan Adams, "Do You Still Love Me" Prisoner (PaxAm, 17) D
- Kelly Pardekooper, "You Don't Say" City At Night (Pardekooper, 16) D
- X, "In This House That I Call Home (live)" Live at the Whisky a Go-Go (Elektra, 88)
- American Aquarium, "Lonely Ain't Easy (live)" Live at Terminal West (AA, 16)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Christmas In Prison" Acoustic Christmas (Amazon, 16)
- Mount Moriah, "Baby Blue (Garage Demo)" Calvander - single (Merge, 15)
- Charlie Parr, "I Ain't Dead Yet" I Ain't Dead Yet (Red House, 16) D
- Michael Chapman, "Sometimes You Just Drive" 50 (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Luke Roberts, "Untitled Blues" Sunlit Cross (Thrill Jockey, 16)
- Derailers, "Jingle Bells" Connect Set - EP (Palo Duro, 06)
- Dead Man Winter, "Destroyer" Furnace (GNDWire, 17) D
- Band of Heathens, "All I'm Asking" Duende (BoH, 17)
- Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Rican Beach" The Navigator (ATO, 17) D
- Son Volt, "Back Against the Wall" Notes of Blue (Transmit Sound, 17) D
^ Miranda Lambert, "Runnin' Just in Case" Weight of These Wings (Vanner, 16) D
- Mavericks, "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down (live)" Best of Sessions at West 54th (Sony, 01)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "My Black Name" Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound, 17) D
- Black Joe Lewis & Honeybears, "PTP" Backlash (BJL, 17) D
- Sallie Ford, "Get Out" Soul Sick (Vanguard, 17) D
- Kelly Hogan & Pine Valley Cosmonauts, "Papa Was a Rodeo" Beneath the Country Underdog (Bloodshot, 00)
- Paul Thorn, "Rose City" Best of Paul Thorn (Perpetual Obscurity, 16) D