ROUTES & BRANCHES
it's our kind of music
November 12, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Every year I manage to generate a list of my favorite songs of the year. This year that'll happen by December 31. While every year brings its assortment of really good songs, it's so rare that any of them will achieve the status of the classics that define periods of our respective lives. It makes me genuinely sad that I will never ever hear songs like "So. Central Rain" or "Love Will Tear Us Apart" or "Here Comes Your Man" for the first time. Which is why I tend to react to songs like these with melancholy or despair and great longing. Looking back on my favorite songs from past years - Justin Wells' "The Dogs", "Sagres" by Tallest Man on Earth, Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula", etc - I remain fond of 'em all, but ... I suppose time will tell.
It's simply not possible to hear Chris Porter's new record outside the shadow of his passing last October at the age of 36. Earlier reviews have plumbed lyrics for heartfelt final messages, or have sought to make Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You a Grand Final Statement, wrapping up Porter's perspective on life, the universe and everything. Others hazard the guess that this new project would've vaulted Chris Porter into the roots music stratosphere, had he lived to reap those rewards. Fact is, Don't Go was incomplete at the time of his death. We have little idea how it might have sounded were he able to see it through. Fortunately, a team of friends and admirers completed the CD in his honor. As with his previous solo album, Will Johnson serves as producer for the new stuff Once again, the Mastersons back him up, and this time he's also joined by John Calvin Abney and Shonna Tucker.
Whereas Red Mountain was more of a singer-songwriter record, dealing with Porter's move from Alabama to Austin, Don't Go often paints with a hammer, coming across as a full band project. "East December", "Stoned in Traffic" and "Shit Got Dark" hit hardest. Porter sounds more like a bandleader than a guy with a guitar. Hence the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes. This migration to a fuller, more complete sound largely defines the new work.
"Bittersweet Creek" and "Your Hometown" occupy a middle-ground, heartland roots rockers with a more personal appeal. Every hometown's got a broken-hearted bitter old man that gave up boxing / Took a job at the strip mine digging up bars / Knocked her up and moved back home. There's more of a roughness to Porter's voice on these new songs, a weariness and cynicism that find expression in a jagged edge. In releasing the reins a bit, he comes across as a looser, more confident artist.
There is a vulnerable beauty to "Go On and Leave Me": Go on and leave me / I'm only bringing you down / I hope you find a spot where the lights are hot / And draw a crowd. While the synths burbling beneath it all are unexpected at first, they eventually take their place as part of the noise, building to a hail of growling guitars and drums. That desperation also surfaces on "Don't Hang Up Virginia", my favorite track on the collection since I heard it months ago. Don't hang up Virginia / I swear this time I'll hang around / Long enough to meet your Mom / Help her take her Christmas decorations down.
We owe Cornelius Chapel Records and the band a debt of gratitude for finishing Don't Go Baby, and for releasing it almost exactly a year after Chris Porter's death. These are simply good songs, played by a band dedicated to assuring his final work is heard and appreciated. They take what could've ended at a roadside cross in 2016 and create a living, breathing, document, a testament to a man's abundant talent and an honorable cap to his too-short life.
He was 6-feet-5 and weighed maybe 150 pounds. He was all arms and legs, and when he drank his face went bright red; he was a cartoon character, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It was impossible for him to talk and not use his hands ... long arms flailing, wrists and hands twirling and exclaiming and providing physical punctuation for whatever story he was telling. - Jon Dee Graham, Bitter Southerner
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- JD McPherson, "Bloodhound Rock" Undivided Heart & Soul (New West, 17)
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- Parker McCollum, "Memphis Rain" Probably Wrong (McCollum, 17)
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