ROUTES & BRANCHES
home for the americana diaspora
September 24, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Reckless Kelly? Will Hoge? How 'bout Left Arm Tan?! I'll be honest here. There's not another artist or band making better tuneful red dirt country at this point. The Fort Worth guys' announcement that they'll be releasing a series of singles over the next several months lands like an eagerly awaited package on my musical doorstep. I ripped it right open and set it to repeat on my way to work this morning. With its steady chugging rhythms, its perfect "Seven Bridges Road" harmonies and its call to seize the day, "El Camino" is just what I need to head into the Fall months. What's next guys?
Think I seriously considered reviewing at least a dozen records this week, from Elliott BROOD's uncommonly satisfying Ghost Gardens to David Ramirez's bold and unexpected new collection. I tried my hand at the beautiful reunion of Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, and even gave some thought to Ron Pope's unjustly overlooked August release, Work. But I won't commit to a piece if I don't have anything to add to the conversation. It's not enough to simply call it "good", or even to resort to hollow praise (a'la "he's the real deal"). While these are some worthy albums, stuff that might even compete for a spot on my year end favorites list, it took me awhile this week to settle on a project with which I felt some traction as a writer.
Back when I did artist interviews for radio, I would often ask what my guest was listening to in the lushly appointed tour vehicle. The response could prove less satisfying if the artist's tastes were more pedestrian, or if they just played NPR on repeat. In the best case, the answer could be revelatory, permitting a glimpse behind the creative curtain. MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger recently posted a Spotify playlist featuring stuff that is "honest and deep in a way that we need right now," from Lonnie Mack to Mance Lipscomb, Emmylou Harris and Bettye Lavette. Amen and amen.
Every week here on R&B, I assemble my own take on "what we need right now". Lately, I couldn't imagine pulling together such a hymnal without Hiss Golden Messenger's Hallelujah Anyhow. It's been a remarkable run for MC Taylor & co., from 2014's elegiac Lateness of Dancers to last year's Heart Like a Levee, and now this soul-filled, rainbow riddled hallelujah. Reaching back to the early HGM records, the progression has been uniquely rewarding, evolving from a more internal and contemplative vibe to more open and expressive one.
Hallelujah also changes vantage somewhat from previous CDs. Where Lateness and Levee dwelt on concerns of house and home and relationship, these new songs are focused more on our interface with the larger world. It's not the "political" record some are calling it, but songs like "Jenny of the Roses" certainly acknowledge the darkening skies: I've never been / Afraid of the darkness. / It's just a different kind of light. Even in the shadow of that dark, bright horns and choruses and gospel blessed piano insure that this is the most consistently upbeat music in Hiss Golden Messenger's catalog.
"Domino (Time Will Tell)" rides on a Stones-y guitar riff, a hearty roots rocker driven by many of the same folks who contributed generously to the last couple HGM offerings. Taylor has explained that the song loosely addresses the ironies of the touring experience, as well as being a musical homage to occasional muse Van Morrison. Old SGs and cigarette smoke / Wouldn't trade it for nothing / In this whole wild world. Featuring brothers Brad and Phil Cook, guitarman Josh Kaufman, and background vocals from Tift Merritt and John Paul White, the collection's full band arrangements can be infectiously soulful.
Even when MC Taylor's more pastoral threads are showing, the band's sound is stirring. "John the Gun" is a full scale reworking of a piece on the Vestapol disc of extras from the Levee sessions. A carefree walking guitar line meets up with the full band, working into a jazzy groove replete with noodling sax. The heartfelt "Gulfport You've Been On My Mind" forces a degree of fuzz into the electric guitar, and cruises to a close on an amplified harmonica.
Taylor can weave a poetically satisfying lyrical line when you least expect it. That said, the tunes on Hallelujah tend to be more about the catching the wave rather than spinning a story. If there is a theme throughout the record it might be in the hesitantly hopeful "When the Wall Comes Down": It's a beautiful world but painful, child / ... But while I'm here / I'm gonna sing just like a songbird.
In all honesty, I'll admit that I've listened to Taylor's ridiculously rich playlist this week almost as much as I've listened to Hallelujah Anyhow. Perhaps the highest praise I could offer these new originals would be to plant them in the midst of these other inspirations. Link Wray could segue into "Domino (Time Will Tell)", Los Lobos would be followed by "Jaw", and it only makes sense that Van Morrison might give way to "When the Wall Comes Down". It all fits. It all matters. Give me a fiddle and a flattop guitar / Give me the gospel of the jukebox ...
^ Hiss Golden Messenger, "Gulfport You've Been On My Mind" Hallelujah Anyhow (Merge, 17)
- Ron Pope, "Someday We're All Gonna Die" Work (Brooklyn Basement, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Whitehouse Road" Purgatory (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Tim Barry, "Running Never Tamed Me" High on 95 (Chunksaah, 17)
- Willie Watson, "Leavin' Blues" Folksinger Vol. 2 (Acony, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "If All I Was Was Black" If All I Was Was Black (Anti, 17) D
- Kacy & Clayton, "A Certain Kind of Memory" Siren's Song (New West, 17)
- The Americans, "Right Stuff" I'll Be Yours (Loose, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Gone" TX Jelly (New West, 17)
- Chase Fifty-Six, "Mary Jane" Alatoona Rising (DirtLeg, 10)
- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single (LAT, 17) D
- Elliott BROOD, "Till the Sun Comes Up Again" Ghost Gardens (Paper Bag, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "All Kinds of People" Trinity Lane (New West, 17)
- William the Conqueror, "In My Dreams" Proud Disturber of the Peace (Loose, 17)
- Deer Tick, "SMF" Deer Tick Vol. 2 (Partisan, 17)
- Arliss Nancy, "Front Seat" Simple Machines (AN, 13) C
- Hellbound Glory, "Empty Bottles" Pinball (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" Long Way From Your Heart (Bossier, 17)
- Jarrod Dickenson, "Take It From Me" Ready the Horses (Decca, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "Wildflower Blues" Wildflower Blues (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "About a Bruise" Beast Epic (Sub Pop, 17)
- Joe Henry, "Believer" Thrum (Edel, 17) D
- Flat Duo Jets, "Pink Gardenia" Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13, 17) D
- White Buffalo, "Robbery" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights (Unison, 17)
- Bermuda Triangle, "Rosey" single (BT, 17) D
- Lee Ann Womack, "Hollywood" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone (ATO, 17)
- Langhorne Slim, "Old Things" Lost at Last Vol. 1 (Dualtone, 17) D
- Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Offa My Hands" Sorry is Gone (ATO, 17)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Blackland Farmer" Welder (Thirty-one Tigers, 10)
- Charlie Parr, "Sometimes I'm Alright" Dog (Red House, 17)