ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
August 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Let's talk about Noise. Thick guitars battling against heavy drums, a buzz that reaches from edge to edge, with all the spaces colored in. I want my music to make noise, to push against the quiet until there's nowhere to go but deeper into the static. New records by William the Conqueror and Blank Range have arrived just in time to chase away the hush.
William the Conqueror hail from Cornwall in England, though you'd be forgiven for triangulating their origin somewhere between Memphis, Texas and Nashville. Frontman Ruarri Joseph shrugged off the income and security of a major label offer to embrace the fickle muse of garage chemistry alongside drummer Harry Harding and bassist Naomi Holmes. Their full-length debut, Proud Disturber of the Peace, exhibits the kind of loud and loose roots amalgam that you've always wished Kings of Leon or Black Keys made.
There is a Yardbirds inspired rattle to "Did You Wrong", an edgy guitar bite just this side of punk and a timeless blues vocal delivery. "In My Dreams" extends that blues vibe in a darker and more sinister direction, like the Sadies with a rock in their shoe. The groove grows and unspools, becoming more anthemic and more insistent with every verse. While Joseph's solo projects bore the stamp of a contemporary folk singer-songwriter, Proud Disturber tips the balance towards a tuneful and confident garage rock.
There is a lovely blitz of guitars on "Tend to the Thorns", finding WtC at their most melodic. It's a blues-inspired rock that wouldn't sound out of place on a Heartless Bastards release. What sets the band apart is their ability to cool the flames to an appealing smolder on pieces like "Pedestals", giving lead to their country and folk influences: Some would say I'm beginning to crack / Playing no regrets on twisted frets / With the sun down on my crooked back. It stands as Joseph's most accomplished lyrical moment.
Like William the Conqueror, Blank Range preceded the release of their debut full-length with a series of shorter projects. Whereas WtC borrowed from the blues palette to complete their sound, Blank Range look to 70s country-rock and Southwestern hues (I'd use the phrase "cosmic country" if it hadn't become a bit of a cartoon cliche). Marooned With the Treasure finds Brad Cook in the producer's chair, fostering a cohesive spirit from an album that's about as eclectic as Proud Disturber.
The organ and vocal of "Opening Band" might bring to mind THE Band, a rusty and soulful bit of drawling roots rock with an immediately familiar appeal. Vocal duties are shared between a couple members, contributing to the overall variety - one of the voices recalls Deer Tick's John J McCauley after a throat lozenge ... "Ember in the Ash" is a stoney, lo-fi campfire number, with pedal steel and keys playing the part of crickets and cicadas. It's one of a handful of tracks shrouded by a touch of psychedelic haze, a'la Futurebirds.
Quieter pieces like "The Season" or "Crimson Moon" provide a tasteful change of pace, slowing the tempo to a simmer for a subtly impressionistic effect. At the opposite point of the compass, Marooned finds its highlight in the driving, My Morning Jacket-esque "Seemed Like Word Got Around". Heavy guitars and thumping drums propel the song, building to a satisfying but too-short guitar rave.
In doing a bit of research for this piece, I came across an unexpected video of Blank Range performing "I'd Rather Go Blind". While they don't achieve Etta James levels (or even Beyonce levels), the moment does demonstrate the outfit's musical cohesiveness, as well as the uncredited soul that burbles beneath their debut.
Butwaittheresmore. An epic Episode also drops a new gem from Turnpike Troubadours (who currently sit at the #9 spot on iTunes' advance orders chart, rubbing shoulders with bedazzled names like Taylor Swift, P!nk and Demi Lovato). Ron Pope's excellent new record boasts some impressive writing, as well as one of my recent favorite acoustic ballads. Also, great to receive the news of Ronnie Fauss' pending collection. Our first look into the record is a really satisfying midwest rocker featuring Ben Kweller.
- Drive-by Truckers, "Primer Coat (live)" This Weekend's the Night (ATO, 15)
- Yawpers, "Mon Nom" Boy in a Well (Bloodshot, 16) C
- Dead Man Winter, "Travels With Charley" Careful It's Loaded (GNDWire, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Bondurant Women" TX Jelly (New West, 17)
- Bohannons, "Heart Go West" Luminary Angels (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Lucifer & the Fallen Angels" Tell the Devil ... (Bordello, 17)
- Shovels & Rope, "Shank Hill St" O' Be Joyful (Dualtone, 13)
- David Ramirez, "Stone Age" We're Not Going Anywhere (Sweetworld, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Illinois" Small Believer (Fluff & Gravy, 17) D
- Charlie Parr, "LowDown" Dog (Red House, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Branding Iron" After You've Gone (Last Chance, 17) D
- Elliott BROOD, "The Fall" Ghost Gardens (Paper Bag, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Brokedown Luck" Goodnight Rhonda Lee (Single Lock, 17)
- Bobby Bare Jr, "Things I Didn't Say" From the End of Your Leash (Bloodshot, 04)
^ Blank Range, "Seemed Like Word Got Around" Marooned With the Treasure (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Lukas Nelson, "Just Outside of Austin" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (Concord, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Stick Around" Work (Brooklyn Basement, 17) D
- Tyler Childers, "Tattoos" Purgatory (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "Footsteps" Joseph Childress (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Arizona" Rule 62 (Six Shooter, 17)
- Alex Williams, "More Than Survival" Better Than Myself (Big Machine, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Saginaw Paper Mill" Last of the True (Normaltown, 17) D
- Lucinda Williams, "Six Blocks Away" This Sweet Old World (Hwy 20, 17) D
- Paul Thorn, "Heart With 4 Wheel Drive (live)" Hammer & Nail Live (Perpetual Obscurity, 17) D
- J Roddy Walston, "You Know Me Better" Destroyers of the Soft Life (ATO, 17) D
^ William the Conqueror, "Tend to the Thorns" Proud Disturber of the Peace (Loose, 17) D
- Smog, "Cold Blooded Times" Knock Knock (Drag City, 99)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "The Housefire" Long Way From Your Heart (Bossier City, 17) D
- Iron & Wine, "Bitter Truth" Beast Epic (Sub Pop, 17)
- Patty Griffin, "Ohio" American Kid (New West, 13)