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Sunday, October 29, 2017

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
October 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Give Evan Felker four or five minutes and he'll sing you a story.  Give his band, Turnpike Troubadours a couple hours and they'll rock an audience harder than almost any other country act.  Their new collection, Long Way From Your Heart, is the sound of a tight, road-honed outfit taking that energy and professionalism into the studio for a watermark record.  

Long Way arrives in the wake of a trio of releases that began with promise (2010's Diamonds & Gasoline, 2012's Goodbye Normal Street) and found realization with 2015's self-titled CD.  Most remarkably, Evan Felker has woven throughout these songs the stories of people and places that surface from one album to another.  Like the young family walking through the smoke of the opener, "Housefire", finding an ironic freedom in the loss.

Turnpike Troubadours' songs are constructed from sturdy levels of sound, and the listener is never far from the sharp hook of a melodic moment.  Fiddle shines in the fore of nearly every song.  In the absence of fiddle there's harmonica or there's the nourishing buzz of electric guitar, or the band's newly increased commitment to pedal steel.  "Pipe Bomb Dream" and "Something To Hold On To" are steady red dirt powerhouses, while "Winding Stair Mountain Blues" arrives with a tinge of 'grass like a harder hitting Trampled By Turtles.

"Tornado Warning" might bring to mind Robert Earl Keen, while edgier moments honor the tradition of James McMurtry.  And Felker brings in cowriters like Jamie Lin Wilson, Kev Russell, Jonny Burke and John Fullbright for good measure.  But the Troubadours' most effective magic lies in their identity as a collective.  Both "Oklahoma Stars" and "Sunday Morning Paper" show more patience and maturity than anything on the band's previous releases.  The latter begins as a fingerpicked folker, before it unspools into a honky tonk revival, a heartfelt tribute to an unnamed musical hero.

"Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" may be Long Way's musical high point, offering both an imminently singable chorus and a really sweet pedal steel line.  Well I'm the same old me you know / Fucking up the status quo / Trouble all the way up to my neck.  Perhaps you don't turn to bands like Turnpike Troubadours in search of answers to life's bigger questions.  But where Isbell mines for meaning and Stapleton explores the country music archives, and while Sturgill pushes the boundaries, this band simply offers a good time well played.

Also this week, we learn that "Mapache" means "raccoon" in Spanish.  And that the California country-folk duo is exploring new strains of mellow on their full length debut.  It dawns on us that Ronnie Fauss just gets stronger as a writer, and that there is righteousness in the rough punk blues of a man with the middle name Porkchop.  And let's say that we'll plan our year-end favorite albums list for debut on the week of November 26.  'Kay?

- JD McPherson, "Crying's Just a Thing That You Do" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Flat Duo Jets, "Please Please Baby" Wild Wild Love  (Daniel 13, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "Pontiac" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Mapache, "Broken Down Cadillac" Mapache  (Spiritual Pajamas, 17)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single  (LAT, 17)
- Mary Gauthier, "Drag Queens in Limousines" Drag Queens in Limousines  (In the Black, 99)
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Bittersweet Creek" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Lee Ann Womack, "Bottom of the Barrel" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
^ Turnpike Troubadours, "Winding Stair Mountain Blues" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Jerry Jeff Walker, "Jaded Lover" Ridin' High  (UMG, 75)
- Margo Price w/Willie Nelson, "Learning to Lose" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- 23 String Band, "Long Hot Summer Day" Catch 23  (23SB, 11)
- Langhorne Slim, "House of My Soul (You Light the Rooms)" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Leif Vollebekk, "Tallahassee" single  (Secret City, 17)  D
- Wilco, "Should've Been in Love" AM  (Reprise, 17)
- Calexico, "End of the World With You" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Fallen Leaves" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Twenty-Two Years" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Pine Valley Cosmonauts, "Horses" Executioner's Last Songs Vols. 2 + 3  (Bloodshot, 03)
- Becca Mancari, "Summertime Mama" Good Woman  (Tone Tree, 17)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Trouble Is" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Be Righteous" Death & the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Joana Serrat, "Come Closer" Dripping Springs  (Loose, 17)
- Joe Henry, "Blood of the Forgotten Song" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Will I Ever Reach Laredo" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "Postcard" Ruins  (Columbia, 18)
- Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Fine and Mellow" My Dearest Darkest Neighbor  (TiAM, 13)
- Becky Warren, "Fort Sam Boys" War Surplus  (Warren, 17)
- Tim Barry, "High on 95" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)
- Jack Rose & Black Twig Pickers, "Some Happy Day" Jack Rose & Black Twig Pickers  (VHF, 09)


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