ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
January 7, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Okay okay okay. What better way to spend nearly two weeks' vacation than to clear over 1,000 CDs out of the basement? And add to that carving out a podcasting bay, replete with Fancy New Mic and Laptop That Doesn't Buzz Incessantly When In Use. Friends, we're on our way to that online broadcast for which I've been reaching over the past several weeks. Since dropping off the face of terrestrial radio. While I'm not 100% functional at present, I'm fixin' to piece together a 2 hour-ish sample next week for your timeless and repeated streaming enjoyment. It's no Kandinsky, but ...
Always happens this time of year, after holiday shows (never happened in 2016) and favorites shows and leaving your radio dial, those new and forthcoming releases collect in the shadows like so much dead spiders in the basement. This week, we explore some of that promising stuff, including releases by perennials like Son Volt, Old 97s and Nikki Lane. As well as stellar bits by less familiar artists such as Jaime Wyatt and Mark Porkchop Holder.
For today, we'll sharpen our focus a smidge on a British acoustic guitarist who released his first record just after I was born. From the always worthy Paradise of Bachelors label, Michael Chapman's new release is called 50 (marking a half-century of his career, rather than his 76 years on the planet). Chapman's stated influences feature a who's who of artists who have never set foot on the R&B stage, but whose shadows fall long over many of the contemporary types we do play: Broonzy, Django, Jansch, Wes Montgomery. A great 2012 tribute disc from Tompkins Square drew contributions from the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger, Black Twig Pickers, Lucinda Williams and more. While critics shoehorn him into the Brit-folk tradition, the guitarist follows his own lineage to the roots of jazz and blues. Collaborators on 50 run the gamut from Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn to fellow eclectic acoustic slingers like Nathan Bowles, applying themselves to new pieces as well as reimagined work from Chapman's generous, underappreciated back catalog.
Michael Chapman calls this his "American record". My sense is that this means producer Gunn has rounded some of Chapman's sharper, eccentric edges, surrounding his still remarkable guitar work with this capable army of contributors. Which is fine, since these noisy, evocative collaborations like "Spanish Incident" and "the Prospector" are rough hewn glories. Chapman's acoustic is still quite present, and listeners can hear the grain and the warm knots of his well aged voice. "Incident" adds a full band, from Bowles' raw and frailed banjo to a soulful bass, followed by the droning chime of Gunn's electric. The downplayed backing vocals of fellow longtime British artist Bridget St. John provide a hearty grounding for the songs. "Sometimes You Just Drive" takes a more subtle approach, but also boasts that electric buzz and drone, along with the resonant strain of ghostly supporting vocals.
It's on moments such as "Memphis In Winter" or "Falling From Grace" that Chapman's guitar and time battered voice stand relatively alone against a starker arrangement. There's a touch of the apocalyptic in these tunes, well grounded in the stuff of daily life but sneaking an occasional glance beneath it all. Especially as we're looking to draw a meaningful bow on a lifetime, issues of friendship, change and meaning are given lead. From "Memphis": "They say that Jesus saves, but I see none of that down here. I just see people with the hunger. I see people with the fear." "Falling From Grace" is a gorgeous reflection, made more poignant by the inclusion of piano and fleeting pedal steel. "I'm beginning to feel like that man in the park that can make the kids cry and the dogs start to bark. He's lonely by day and no better by dark; don't you know he's just lost and lonely?"
Feel free to file Chapman's 50 alongside younger "american primitive" sorts like Daniel Bachman or Glenn Jones. I'm by no means a guitar wonk, and I'm much more taken by a melody or a turn of phrase than by rapidfire picking. Beneath Gunn's admirable production work, it's just Michael Chapman and his acoustic guitar. "That Time of Night" finds the man at a tender and vulnerable impasse. "You know I don't scare easy, but I do get scared when it's that time of night". Strip away the atmospherics and you still have a moving work of art.
* Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Bible Days" With Blasphemy So Heartfelt (Polymer, 08)
* Charlie Parr, "I Ain't Dead Yet" I Ain't Dead Yet EP (Red House, 16)
* Mark Porkchop Holder, "My Black Name" Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
* Gasoline Lollipops, "Love Is Free" Resurrection (GasPops, 17) D
* Kelly Pardekooper, "Least I'm Not Alone" City at Night (Pardekooper, 16)
* Jaime Wyatt, "Wishing Well" Felony Blues (Wyatt, 07) D
* Son Volt, "Back Against the Wall" Notes of Blue (Transmit Sound, 17)
* Rodney Crowell, "It Ain't Over Yet" Close Ties (New West, 17) D
* Whitey Morgan, "Buick City" Whitey Morgan & the 78s (Bloodshot, 08)
* Nikki Lane, "Jackpot" Highway Queen (New West, 17)
* Old 97s, "Good With God" Graveyard Whistling (ATO, 17) D
* Miranda Lambert, "To Learn Her" Weight of These Wings (Vanner, 16)
* Dead Man Winter, "This House is On Fire" Furnace (GNDWire, 17)
* Sadies, "It's Easy (Like Walking)" Northern Passages (YepRoc, 17)
^ Michael Chapman, "Memphis In Winter" 50 (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
* Ryan Adams, "To Be Without You" Prisoner (PaxAm, 17)
* Justin Townes Earle, "A Desolate Angel Blues" Yuma (Bloodshot, 07)
* Mando Saenz, "Home Again" Highway Prayer: Tribute to Adam Carroll (Eight30, 16)
* Hayes Carll, "Faulkner Street" Trouble in Mind (UMG, 07)
* Scott H Biram, "Long Old Time" Bad Testimate (Bloodshot, 17) D
* Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Bellbottoms" Dirty Shirt Rock 'n' Roll (Majordomo, 10)
* Gillian Welch, "Go On Downtown (Revival Outtake)" Boots No. 1 (Acony, 16)
* Blue Rodeo, "I Can't Hide This Anymore" 1000 Arms (TeleSoul, 16)
* Bash & Pop, "Never Wanted To Know" Anything Could Happen (Fat Possum, 17)
* Charlie Musselwhite, "Christo Redemptor" Stand Back (Vanguard, 89)