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Thursday, March 30, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
March 30, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

The basement becomes warmer every week on Routes & Branches, my multimedia bunker here in Northern Colorado.  Think of it as an extended Living Room Tour.  Other than no commercials, no weather and no appeals for your money, it's the biggest difference between radio and our ROUTES-cast.  I edit together the songs and the mic breaks, working so that my voice sounds just like it's coming from within a soup can.  What remains constant is our dedication to sharing all this good new music, from week to week building a case for why this music matters.

This week we mark about a quarter past 2017, so it's only appropriate that we celebrate by selecting our dozen favorite releases from the past couple months.  Mostly because there's not really any one record that I want to review right now ...  Rules are that we can only include stuff I've listened to in its entirety (as opposed to anything from which I've only heard a couple songs).  Also, you can't hold me to these premature declarations.  While I'm reasonably dedicated to records that resonate with me, I'm also subject to whims, hormones and moderate winds.  These are in order of appearance.

Band of Heathens, Duende  (BoH, 1/13)  --  A tuneful and earthy followup to 2013's folked out Sunday Morning Record.  Ably re-incorporates some of the band's earlier jam sounds without losing that record's more song-based tendency.  Establishes a solid groove without being indulgent or drifting into self parody.

Dead Man Winter, Furnace  (GNDWire, 1/27)  --  Give Dave Simonett credit for creating a project that sounds nothing like Trampled By Turtles Jr.  While his day band has been evolving in a worthy direction,  Furnace smolders atop its own very personal bed of regret, self-doubt and disappointment.  Not a recipe for an immediate joy-rush, but trust me that these songs are by no means downers.  More than anything, this record reveals a promising depth to Simonett's already impressive musical vision.

Ags Connolly, Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 2/3)  --  Oh, what an expressive voice he wields, as both a writer and a singer. It's a project that's delicious both because we recognize all the familiar pieces of classic honky tonk and ameripolitan country and because Ags seems to hail from such a sincere and genuine place.  No mere retro hack can achieve these depths.  It all goes down so smooth, even when it burns a little.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fulller  Died For Your Sins  (Yep Roc, 2/10)  --  As if the veteran San Francisco troubadour hasn't already earned his right to be on any such list.  Since Green on Red's legendary 1985 Gas Food Lodging to early solo success and his later career recognition with classics like 2012's Temple Beautiful, Prophet struck nothing but true notes.  Like his collaborator Alejandro Escovedo, his storytelling abilities are inseparable from his garage rock pedigree.  Sassy, smart and shot thru with pop genius.

Romantica, Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 2/10)  --  Give Ben Kyle's new music some time;  "Let the light shine through you". The record is essentially 7 years in the making, and few of its songs are in a hurry to make an impression.  Perhaps sometime during the third or fourth listen, you'll start to appreciate the soul that illuminates Kyle's new work, the soul that can be as prevalent as the pedal steel that keens across these hymns.  Oh, and there are also a couple barn burners.  Like Rhett Miller as crossed with Josh Ritter chasing a Van Morrison jag.

Nikki Lane, Highway Queen  (New West, 2/13)  --  I suppose one surprise at this quarter-year mark is the quantity of high-profile releases that also happen to be high-quality.  As of this writing, a full five of this blogger's dozen still dwell in the top ten of americana radio.  This speaks to the integrity that continues to drive the genre, as well as the sheer quality of artists like Nikki Lane.  Bottom line: there's nothing cheap about the thrills on her third full length CD.  At some point in their maturity an artist sounds less like they're trying hard to be something and begins sounding more like an artist simply making a statement.  Nikki Lane can do contemporary country.  She can do honky tonk and early rock, and she can work a ballad as confidently as she kicks out the proverbial jams.

Ryan Adams, Prisoner  (PaxAm, 2/17)  --  Perhaps it's time for me to retire my recurring lark about how much Adams' power-pop recalls David Coverdale and Whitesnake (perhaps it's past time ...)?  At heart, it's a tribute to what's become his best received album in years.  Not coincidentally, it's also his strongest collection in years.  Too much ink has been shed about how Prisoner is a breakup record, and not enough has been said about what a brilliant singer-songwriter record it is, or about the guitar pop that pervades this thing.  I've watched several of Adams' live appearances on various late night shows, and he seems to be in such a pocket.

Son Volt, Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 2/17)  --  Speaking of living firmly in the pocket, I don't know if Jay Farrar is capable of creating a surprising album.  My response to a new Son Volt record is simply gratitude.  On Notes, we give thanks for the loud guitars and for the fact that Farrar continues to be such a reliable frontman.  Here I would advise to stick around for some of the record's more overlooked, subdued cuts for a different sort of treat.  See: "Cairo and Southern" ...

Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling (ATO, 2/24)  --  Far and away the feel good record of the year, even as Rhett & co. don't shy away from the fleeting bout with conscience. Not that they dwell overlong matters of mortality, but the accompanying lyrics sheet will confirm that Miller remains one of the smartest writers of his generation, even in the midst of a seemingly brainless burner.

William Matheny, Strange Constellations  (Misra, 2/24)  --  This debut solo record from a former Southeast Engine-eer stands as one of the year's real pleasant surprises.  Matheny's stuff is good, smart roots rock, far more accomplished than you might expect from the keyboard guy.  "Living Half To Death" can hold its own alongside anything from Two Cow Garage or Hold Steady.  "Blood Moon Singer", too.  And probably "Teenage Bones" ...

Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude  (Secret City, 2/24)  --  Track down the recent session where Mr V takes on Joni Mitchell's iconic "Case of You".  It reinforced my appreciation of the original as well as confirming my suspicion of this guy's deep soul.  Also made me revisit Prince's own brilliant cover.  More than any other favorite here, I feel like I'm still barely touching the surface of these tunes (even as I can't seem to stop playing them).  It's too simple to say that they're quiet and sparse, and doesn't say enough to praise their restraint.  At times it strikes me like Theodore Roethke set to a live keys/bass/brushed drum outfit.  I'll get back to you on this one.  In the meantime, I'll just keep letting it spin.

Will Johnson, Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, 3/24)  --  It's the record I was praying Will Johnson would make.  Some songs allow him to explore his untapped skill as a TVZ-type troubadour, while others permit him to indulge in noisy Centro-matic squall.  Like the LP's cover, Hatteras Night is a whole lotta dark, shot through with a cold but abiding little light.  It's a short story (or maybe a cinema vignette) masquerading as an album.

I'm fully aware that today's list will be blown asunder like so much dust once we get our ears on full releases from John Moreland, Jason Eady, Colter Wall, Benjamin Booker and that Isbell fellow.

- Reckless Kelly, "American Blood" Bulletproof  (Yep Roc, 08)
- Benjamin Booker, "Witness" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Spoonful" Resistance Radio: Man in the High Castle  (Sony, 17)
- Houndmouth, "15 Years" Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
- Hooten Hallers, "Charla" Hooten Hallers  (Big Muddy, 17)  D
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "One More Thing" Front Porch Sessions  (Family Owned, 17)
- Whiskey & Co, "Thread the Needle" Ripped Together Torn Apart  (No Idea, 17)
^ Band of Heathens, "Keys To the Kingdom" Duende  (BoH, 17)
- Sunny Sweeney, "Better Bad Idea" Trophy  (Aunt Daddy, 17)
- Andrew Combs, "Rose Colored Blues" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)
- Jade Jackson, "Motorcycle" Gilded  (ATO, 17)
- Justin Peter Kinkel Schuster, "Headed South" Constant Stranger  (Big Legal Mess, 16)
- Cale Tyson, "Dark Dark" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)  D
- Molly Burch, "Loneliest Heart" Please Be Mine  (Burch, 17)
- Gold Star, "St Vincent dePaul's" Big Blue  (Autumn Tone, 17)
- J Tillman, "Steel on Steel" Vacilando Territory Blues  (Western Vinyl, 08)
- Craig Finn, "God in Chicago" We All Want the Same Things  (Partisan, 17)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Hope the High Road" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)  D
- K Phillips, "Coalburner" Dirty Wonder  (Rock Ridge, 17)
- Mic Harrison & High Score, "Salt Stained Road" Vanishing South  (Mic, 17)  D
- Lyle Lovett, "White Boy Lost In the Blues" Release Me  (Curb, 12)
- Colter Wall, "Codeine Dream" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Joan Shelley, "Where I'll Find You" Joan Shelley  (No Quarter, 17)  D
- Jason Eady, "Waiting to Shine" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)
- Marty Stuart, "Air Mail Special" Way Out West  (Superlatone, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "I Want It All" Love Versus  (True North, 17)  D
- Sam Outlaw, "Bottomless Mimosas" Tenderheart  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Samantha Crain, "Wise One" You Had Me At Goodbye  (Ramseur, 17)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Resurrection Blues" There's No Leaving Now  (Dead Oceans, 12)
- Sera Cahoone, "Dusty Lungs" From Where I Started  (Lady Muleskinner, 17)  D

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