ROUTES & BRANCHES
it's our kind of music
October 23, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
At the risk of opening the door to nostalgia, it was just about a year ago that I left radio for the without-a-net environs of a web-only service. I'm generally content with how The Experiment is progressing. I feel the reviews have become more thoughtful, the music is increasingly consistent, and the host ... well, he'll get it right eventually. The plan is to continue pressing ever forward, trying new things and honing my edge, while never abandoning our noble creed to serve you with the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music. My initial concern upon leaving radio was maintaining my radar for the new stuff without labels, promoters and artists throwing it all at me via the US Mail. Turns out the challenges are more about discipline, time and quality assurance - I may have to pay a bit more, but the music's no problem. More than anything, I just want to become a better writer and a more engaging host.
This Episode we'll be touching base with Jeffrey Martin and his new project, a suitable companion to his Fluff & Gravy labelmate Anna Tivel's own recent record. We lasso a wild wild vintage performance from Flat Duo Jets that makes us wonder if anyone is still making noise like that. And we're grateful to Hellbound Glory for continuing to balance humor, edge and pure songwriting quality.
I comment during this week's ROUTES-cast (see below) that Travis Meadows' lifestory is about as captivating as any music he could make. A cancer survivor and amputee, a former evangelist, a one-time junkie, a writer to the mainstream country stars, Meadows can be forgiven if it's taken him awhile to produce the follow-up to 2011's Killin' Uncle Buzzy. Without being indulgent or becoming mired in the confessional, Meadows has channeled that lifetime of hard lessons and moments of victory into the imminently satisfying First Cigarette.
Meadows allows himself some introspection on the record's title track: A little more content with / Who I am than who I was ... I can look at my reflection and see hope. His unexpectedly agile vocal recalls Rodney Crowell, perhaps as crossed with the timeworn grit of Malcolm Holcomb. The song slinks along at a cool removed pace, never releasing the spring or cutting loose, an ode to Meadows' one remaining vice. The need for satisfaction / Leaves me so unsatisfied.
Meadows selects his writing partners wisely, pairing with Drew Kennedy, Lori McKenna and David Ramirez at points throughout the collection. "Pontiac" finds him collaborating with McKenna and producer Jeremy Spillman. Like most of the record, the midtempo number is framed by loose electric guitar and the singer's expressive delivery. "Pontiac" dispenses hard won wisdom, placing value in setbacks and recognizing that character comes from experience: And I hope you get your heart broke / At least once before you fall in love / I hope you wind up flat broke / At least once before you have enough ... I hope you keep the Pontiac.
Producer Spillman has been behind the board for his share of shiny Nashville hits, serving with Trace Adkins, Lee Ann Womack and Eric Church. On First Cigarette, he wisely applies a lighter touch, allowing the humanity and natural grain of Travis Meadows' work to show. "Sideways" is a soulful number that acknowledges our inheritance, the things we carry forward from who we were to who we are. In Meadows' case, that's the bridge-burning anger that flows through his veins: I have moments when I act just like my father / The only man that ever broke my heart.
Elsewhere, songs like "Underdogs" and "Long Live Cool" simply allow Meadows to explore the ragged roots rock that propels him in all its bluesy glory. "Pray For Jungleland" is the album's warm heart, and one of my favorite tunes of the last several month. With a chorus that I just can't shake, it's a perfect slice of middle America in the tradition of Springsteen. It's driven by the rhythms and schemes of contemporary country hits, but displays more passion than a pile of Luke Bryan tailgate bangers. Her in those tight jeans / Wearing out the Dairy Queen / Waiting on Springsteen / Stereo blastin', too much magic to understand. It's the singer's genuine passion that raises "Jungleland" above the country music fray, coaxing his cracked voice to its limits. "Pray For Jungleland" is a potentially year-defining single for me, a seemingly carefree and nostalgic ode to the Endless Summer that stands out on a record that also reminds us of our possibility for redemption and second chances.
- William the Conqueror, "Did You Wrong" Proud Disturber of the Peace (Loose, 17)
- GospelbeacH, "Sad Country Boy" Another Summer of Love (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Still Rollin'" Claw Machine Wizard (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Your Hometown" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Night David Bowie Died" Trinity Lane (New West, 17)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan & Lilly Hiatt, "Walls" single (Tasjan Hiatt, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "Bitter Truth" Beast Epic (Sub Pop, 17)
- Becca Mancari, "Waiting So Long" Good Woman (Gold Tooth, 17) D
- Bermuda Triangle, "Suzanne" single (Bermuda Triangle, 17) D
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Baby's Got New Plans" Thirteen Years (New West, 94)
- Chris Stapleton, "Millionaire" From A Room: Vol. 2 (Mercury, 17) D
- Margo Price, "Don't Say" All American Made (Third Man, 17)
- Derek Hoke, "Right Kind of Woman" Bring the Flood (Little Hollywood, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Why I Left Atlanta" Jason Eady (Old Guitar, 17)
- Flat Duo Jets, "Wild Wild Lover" Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Oklahoma Stars" Long Way From Your Heart (Bossier, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Come Over" Boy Crazy & Single(s) (Bloodshot, 17)
- Hellbound Glory, "Vandalism Spree" Pinball (Black Country Rock, 17)
- J Roddy Walston & the Business, "Numbers" Destroyers of the Soft Life (ATO, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Lovers on the Run" Letters Never Read (Dori, 17)
- Eilen Jewell, "Nothing in Rambling" Down Hearted Blues (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Thrift Store Dress" One Go Round (Fluff & Gravy, 17) D
- Anna Tivel, "Illinois" Small Believer (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
^ Travis Meadows, "Sideways" First Cigarette (Blaster, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "You Don't Scare Me" Rule 62 (Six Shooter, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Wild and Blue" This Sweet Old World (Hwy 20, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Eliza Jane" We're Not Going Anywhere (Sweetworld, 17)
- Tom Vandenavond, "So Long to the Traveling Kind" You Ought to Know These By Now (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 17) D
- Frazey Ford, "When We Get By" single (Arts & Crafts, 17) D
- Blitzen Trapper, "Dance With Me" Wild & Reckless (LKC, 17)