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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
a home for the americana diaspora
January 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

What is the sound of one man flailing?  Might sound about like your third ROUTES-cast, awaiting below.  While my first mic break was sorta recorded in mono (dunno why), I think the rest came across well.  Oh, and the second break seems to have been recorded from within a desk drawer.  Just consider it a "retro" moment, harkening back to the early days of radio ... We were able to corral new stuff from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Valerie June, and a really soulful offering from Shinyribs.  Great to hear a couple new things from Jason Eady.  And Chuck Prophet > everybody else, hands down.

Teetering on the precipitous brink of February, let's risk a quick glance back at the month past.  Aside from dragging our country to the dawn of dissolution, January really did feature a bunch of good stuff.  In the warm light of this coffeeshop, here's what I'm thinking for What's So Great About January?!!

  1. Chuck Prophet
  2. Ags Connolly
  3. Band of Heathens
  4. Split Lip Rayfield
  5. Dead Man Winter
My list features my favorite releases for the month, limited to anything I've had the privilege to hear front to back, inside out.  Because twelve months is a real long time, these opinions are subject to the fickle winds of change from season to season.  

It strikes me that too many retro country types look and sound like they're trying really hard to turn back the clock.  It can come across like a costume show, a dress-up party with a soundtrack that is a hollow estimation of the real thing.  Good thing we have folks like Ags Connolly on our side.  From England, Connolly is deeply studied in country music, but is also able to speak with authority about good songwriting.  He follows his lineage through writers like Dale Watson, Loudon Wainwright, Darrell Scott, James Hand and Ron Sexsmith, populating his 2014 debut with truly satisfying country music that nods to tradition while remaining relevant to contemporary ears.  That debut brought us excellent faire such as "When Country Was Proud" and the superb "I Saw James Hand".

The latter sort of functions as Ags Connolly's origin story, how it took a James Hand concert for him to realize what he was writing and singing was country music.  His second record is on the near horizon.  Nothin' Unexpected, with its characteristically dismissive title, finds the man growing a bit in confidence, stretching the boundaries of his sound.  "I Hope You're Unhappy" is the album's lynchpin, an indelible classic country song with a classic country "punchline".  I hope you're unhappy when you lay down at night / I hope that your new love doesn't work out at night / I hope that you're somewhere you'd rather not be, Connolly sings in the year's most appealing, most resonant baritone.  What begins as another kiss-off song, however, changes course with the refrain, I hope you're unhappy enough / To come back to me.  The deprecation, the teary beer, the perennially sad bastard demeanor; it's all a part of the songwriter's charm.

Songs like "Do You Realise That Now" add a South-of-the-border flair with accordion from the Mavericks' Michael Guerra.  The ballad also recalls storytellers like Tom Russell or Guy Clark, drawing a sturdy line to Western folk music and the cowboy tunes that have clearly influenced Ags Connolly.  While "I Suppose" is a song originally performed by Loudon Wainwright, Connolly ably applies a great country vocal phrasing that lends the song a new spirit.  But it's in the bars, the pubs and the watering holes where this genuine voice is most at home.  Like his debut's highlight, "Dim and Distant Past", "Neon Jail" and "Haunts Like This" are more engagingly upbeat.  As long as haunts like this exist / I think I'll survive.

Ags Connolly sounds as genuine and earnest as Charlie Rich or Marty Robbins, though close listeners will occasionally catch a quick glimpse of the singer's native tongue.  I've often argued that in the right hands country music can readily cross borders, and that americana music really doesn't belong to the Americans these days.  From Oxfordshire, Connolly has clearly done his homework and seems to take his craft to heart on Nothin' Unexpected.  It's a project whose talent and appeal run way deeper than pearl snap shirts and shallow Cracker Barrel trappings.  

- Chris Stalcup & the Grange, "Get You Off My Mind" Downhearted Fools  (Stalcup, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "Wish You Were Here" single  (Jinks, 17)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "Heathens" Decoration Day  (New West, 03)
- Ryan Adams, "Do You Still Love Me" Prisoner  (PaxAm, 17)
- Perry Brown, "Stable Love" Become My Blood  (This is American Music, 17)
- Nikki Lane, "Companion" Highway Queen  (New West, 17)
- Mike Henderson & Bluebloods, "When I Get Drunk" First Blood  (Dead Reckoning, 96)
- Casey James Prestwood, "Blue Lonely & Wasted" Born Too Soon  (CJP, 17)  D, C
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Love is Free" Resurrection  (GasPops, 17)  C
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Bury My Heart (w/Eric Church)" Kings & Kings  (File Under: Music, 17)  D
- Split Lip Rayfield, "This World" On My Way  (Gottstine, 17)  D
- Natalie Hemby, "Great Restoration" Puxico  (GetWrucke, 17)  D
- Otis Gibbs, "Wide Awake" Mount Renraw  (Wanamaker, 17)
- Shinyribs, "Trouble Trouble" I Got Your Medicine  (Mustard Lid, 17)  D
- Whitney Rose, "My Boots" South Texas Suite  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Great American Taxi, "All the Angels" Dr Feelgood's Traveling Medicine Show  (GAT, 17)  C
- Chuck Prophet, "Jesus Was a Social Drinker" Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "38" Let It Slide  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Valerie June, "Shakedown" Order of Time  (Concord, 17)  D
- Los Lobos, "High Places" This Time  (Hollywood, 99)
- Marty Stuart, "Whole Lotta Highway" Way Out West  (Superlatone, 17)  D
- Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough, "Mockingbird Soul" Mockingbird Soul  (BDM, 17)
- Jason Eady & Courtney Patton, "Judgment Day" Something Together  (Mt Valley, 16)  D
- Jason Eady, "Why I Left Atlanta" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)  D
^Ags Connolly, "Neon Jail" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Blaze of Glory" Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, 16)
- Son Volt, "Static" Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 17)
- McDougall, "Battle Creek March" Our New Histories  (McDougall, 10)



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