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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
February 8, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Was a time I'd say that I prefer my roots music cut with a dose of rock.  Nowadays, I seem to be correcting for that indiscretion.  In other words, I'll take a tall glass of rock with a touch of roots, please.  Thinking Centro-Matic, Roadside Graves, American Aquarium, Glossary, Southeast Engine.  William Matheny has served as a keyboard and utility guy with the latter, Southeast Engine from The Other Athens (Ohio), a band that also gave us Adam Remnant and Adam Torres. Turns out Matheny's the high card in that suit, as demonstrated on his unexpectedly full full-length, Strange Constellations.  I say unexpected, because who would imagine the keyboard guy would reveal such a wickedly evolved sense of a lyric?

Think a rootsier Craig Finn, or maybe even a Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello hybrid, with a bit of a country pedigree.  Constellations finds Matheny perched precariously on the ridge rise between youth and adulthood, taking a long look over his shoulder and speaking from a tentative maturity.  He says of the agit punk rave "29 Candles", "It took three decades to write, but it only takes three minutes to hear".  The same could be said of the record as a whole, packed with perfectly paced blasts of smart, middle-of-the-plate rock 'n roll.

Wisdom comes with age (I'm not the first to say that), and it seems that there are few really good songs focusing on what wise choices we made in our youth.  Matheny indulges in this perennial regret on songs like "Teenage Bones".  Piano pairs with chimey guitar as he sings, "I used to walk to your house in the summertime / Let the car wash spray get me wet / Leave my shoes by the door / And sit all day on your floor / And say things I'd one day regret".

Strange Constellations also acknowledges the rickety ladder of experience we cling to on our climb to adulthood.  "God's Left Hand" features some of the record's most rewarding Southern rock guitar, along with a touch of high shelf keyboarding.  Matheny recognizes the balance between focusing on the immediate work at hand while wanting to keep track of our bigger picture goals.  "This ribbon I'm threading / Is never gonna turn to gold"  he sings.  And elsewhere, "I was crawling through the seconds / While I was racing through the years".

No need to worry that the record is just another self indulgent "look how far I've come" sesssion.  Turns out William Matheny has a bit of a pedigree, hailing from a family that boasts a longtime romance with the music industry.  This is addressed on one of the tunes that shines a light on a different side of the singer, "My Grandfather Knew Stoney Cooper".  Closer to pure country than most of the alt. pieces on the record, the song paints a loving portrait of Matheny's forebear:  "He hung up his belt on the bedpost / And laid his badge down in the bottom drawer / Then his dead left hand made him break up the band / And drag his cane across the floor".  A similar deft country hand is played on songs like "Funny Papers".

The heart of Strange Constellations lies with songs like the hard hitting "Blood Moon Singer", or the masterful "Living Half to Death".  Hammered drums propel the latter tune, defined by those Craig Finn-y lyrics focusing on youthful indiscretion:  "I used to go out to parties / Stand in the kitchen and stuff / Man I could talk until the morning / But I'd never say very much / I used to rave about insight / But I should've kept it to myself / Cause I understood nothing / When I was living half to death".

Also on this Episode, we enjoy a look at the evolution of Andrew Combs.  Hip Hatchet raves against recent political developments, and Romantica returns with some words about Mr Gram Parsons.  Below the playlist, you'll want to give a spin to this week's ROUTES-cast, replete with regular interruptions and The Sounds of My Basement.  Please enjoy with your loved ones.

- Calexico w/Iron & Wine, "Prison on Route 41" He Lays in the Reins  (Overcoat, 05)
- Tift Merritt, "Eastern Light (feat. Sam Beam)" Stitch of the World  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Why I Left Atlanta" Jason Eady  (Eady, 17)
- Cory Branan, "Imogene" Adios  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Split Lip Rayfield, "Drunk and Sad" On My Way  (Gottstine, 17)
- Townes Van Zandt & Doug Sahm, "Two Girls" Texas Rain  (TVZ, 01)
- Andrew Combs, "Dirty Rain" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)  D
- Ags Connolly, "Haunts Like This" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
- James Hand, "In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox" Truth Will Set You Free  (Rounder, 06)
- Shinyribs, "Ambulance" I Got Your Medicine  (Mustard Lid, 17)
- Alabama Shakes, "Be Mine" Boys & Girls  (ATO, 12)
- Hip Hatchet, "Hellhound in the House" Hellhound in the House  (HH, 17)  D
^ William Matheny, "(I Pray) You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone" Strange Constellations  (Misra, 17)  D
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Bitter and Low (w/Fantastic Negrito)" Kings & Kings  (File Under: Music, 17)
- Old 97s, "All Who Wander" Graveyard Whistling  (ATO, 17)
- JP Harris & Kelsey Waldon, "If I Were a Carpenter" Why Don't We Duet In the Road  (Demolition & Removal, 17)
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "We Deserve a Happy Ending" Front Porch Sessions  (Family Owned, 17)  D
- Perry Brown, "Patchwork" Become My Blood  (This is American Music, 17)
- Valerie June, "Two Hearts" Order of Time  (Concord, 17)
- Cowboy Junkies, "Horse in the Country" Black Eyed Man  (BMG, 92)
- John Craigie, "Broken" No Rain No Rose  (Craigie, 17)
- Band of Heathens, "Road Dust Wheels" Duende  (BoH, 17)
- Casey James Prestwood, "Beer Tear Saturday Night" Born Too Soon  (CJP, 17)  C
- Romantica, "Cecil Ingram Conor" Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 17)  D
- Joe Purdy, "Maybe We'll All Get Along Someday" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sharp Cutting Wings" Happy Woman Blues  (Smithsonian, 80)
- Michael Chapman, "A Spanish Incident (Ramon &  Durango)" 50  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Bash + Pop, "Anything Could Happen" Anything Could Happen  (Fat Possum, 17)
- Angelica Garcia, "Orange Flower" Medicine for Birds  (Warner, 16)

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