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Monday, December 19, 2016


ROUTES & BRANCHES  
a home for the americana diaspora
December 17, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

With my short musical attention span, I'm like an annoying spoiled kid at Christmas.  I'm never satisfied with what I have.  I'm always looking for the next wrapped present under the tree.  While I seek treatment, let's take a look at some of the Bigger Things on the horizon for Our Kind of Music:

~ Ryan Adams, Prisoner:  2015's remake of Taylor Swift's 1989 might've provided a convenient reboot for Adams' career (if he needed one).  "Do You Still Love Me", the anthemic first single, offers some fine Bon Jovi-esque guitar powered pop, heavier than most of his self titled 2014 record or '11's restrained Ashes & Fire. Adams' new stuff was generated in the wake of his high profile divorce, and was pulled together with some help from uber-producer Don Was, as well as a brand new band.  I fully recognize that I'm a complete apologist for this guy, even as I cringe along with every interview he gives.  And while we wait for his next Heartbreaker or even a reheated Cold Roses, I'll probably accept whatever we get.  Check out this recent piece at NME, which also features a curious "interview" with YouTube sensation Lil' Bub ...  (PaxAm, Feb 17)

~ Son Volt, Notes of Blue:  Where 2013's Honky Tonk was said to be inspired by the Bakersfield sound, Jay Farrar's follow-up reportedly looks to the Delta blues for a spark.  Fact is, "Back Against the Wall" sounds like classic Farrar, and  "Lost Souls" is a touch more garage-y than we're used to from the deliberate artist.  But I'm not hearing Mississippi. To be fair, Farrar has acknowledged that the new songs are simply "inspired by the spirit".  The band has posted snippets of the album on their facebook page, a couple of which do actually favor more traditional blues chord progressions - see, f'rinstance, "Cherokee St".   The loud 'n messy guitar on both fully available tracks is a nice sign of life, and the brief "Souls" is harder and heavier than anything we've heard from Son Volt in years.  This quick piece from Garden & Gun finds Farrar mentioning a possible reissue treatment for some Uncle Tupelo as well.  In all honesty, it wouldn't be too hard at this point to pull the old band back together, would it?  (Transmit Sound, Feb 17)

~ Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator:  I've been expecting some kind of reshuffling of sounds following the success of 2014's New Orleans-inspired Small Town Heroes.  Our first glimpse, "Rican Beach" is reportedly dedicated to the protesters at Standing Rock, and features Latin percussion and a fuller production. Writer Alynda Lee Segarra has never especially shied away from speaking her mind about social justice issues.  Per Segarra, "The Navigator is you trying to make your way through a society that says you are too brown, too female, too queer, or too smart for your own good".  That said, here's hoping the new tracks steer clear enough of any overly heavy handed proselytizing. It's reportedly a concept record of sorts, which is always good news ...  You can take my life / But don't take my home / Baby it's a solid price / It comes with my bones.  (ATO, Mar 10)

~ Band of Heathens, Duende:  2013's Sunday Morning Record was a highwater mark in my appreciation of BoH.  It marked a tighter, more song-centric strategy as well as a pared down lineup.  "All I'm Asking" and "Trouble Came Early" cruise on a midtempo country-rock vibe that might recall an updated take on late period Eagles.  The guitars are chunky and there is promise of a good time with a chance of chooglin'.  "(W)e realized that at heart we're a roots rock band that loves to rock n roll".  Another jam, "Sugar Queen":  She even talks dirty when she's down on her knees to pray ... If you like a quality EPK, check out the band's good spirited piece on their YouTube channel (promise that Lil' Bub is nowhere to be seen).  (BoH, Jan 13)

~ Tift Merritt, Stitch of the World:  Of all these Bigger Things, I'm perhaps most heartened by the first couple songs from Merritt's first collection since 2012 (not counting a curious collab with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein).   Fresh from some work and some touring with Andrew Bird and with Hiss Golden Messenger, Stitch boasts both the bluesy and rambling "Dusty Old Man" and the gorgeous and timely "Love Soldiers On".  Looks like Iron & Wine's Sam Beam also gets some credits here.  I'm a great fan of Merritt's underrated early stuff:  Her EP with Two Dollar Pistols, Bramble Rose and 2004's soulful Tambourine. Here's hopin' ... (Yep Roc, Jan 27)

~ Nikki Lane, Highway Queen:  The title track to Lane's 2014 starmaking All or Nothin' is a sure thing stomper that straddles the wide divide between trad and contemporary.  A classic country story is propelled by a synthy pulse; Lane's Tanya Tucker drawl is applied to the kind of rural roots rap that the mainstream country kids like these days.  There's also the real promise of a song called "700,000 Rednecks".  It's all coproduced by beau Jonathan Tyler, following in the wake of Dan Auerbach and Dave Cobb who took the helm for her first couple records.   Despite a seemingly deep independent streak Lane boasts, You can tie her down / You can bottle lightning / But the highway queen don't need no king.  It's my bold prediction that Highway Queen will be the most celebrated of these Bigger Things in the latter days of 2017.  (New West, Feb 17)

~ Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling:  One thing these acts all have in common is that I'm immediately receptive to anything new from them.  2014's Most Messed Up was a ballsy, occasionally profane blast of electricity long absent from the 97s' repertoire.  Anybody who claims they expected adult contemporary swallow Brandi Carlile to make an appearance is lying to us.  Anybody who tells you that "Good With God" isn't an entertaining strumfest probably shouldn't be your friend.  Where do the busted angels go ... I can only hope that I'm good with god / I wonder how she feels about me.  (ATO, Feb 24)

I could go on.  I could also include bits on 2017 stuff from lesser figures like Michael Chapman, Chuck Prophet, Sadies, Scott H Biram and people called Leif Vollebekk and Mark Porkchop Holder (my father told me to always trust a man named after a fatty meat).  But here's hoping that the above will be enough to keep your motor runnin' during the cold and unforgiving months of Winter.

My tentative resolution for 2017 is to make something more of this sorry little space on the nets.  Dunno if that means podcasting, increased original content or just setting the damn thing on fire and selling the ashes.  For today, it's a rock in my shoe, a sharp poke I can't ignore.  Please won't you share my poke with friends and family during this holiday season.

Next week:  My favorite records of 2016!  Pretty sure ...

Look what I did:

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