ROUTES & BRANCHES
it's our kind of music
December 13, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Yeah. Sorta missed my target this week - aimed for Sunday but barely hit Wednesday. O well. It's a busy time of year, and work and headspace and family and insert your favorite excuse here. But now we're here and it's time for another Episode, another ROUTES-cast and another quality review.
Damn. Of all the stuff I had to leave off my year-end favorites list, no regrets have been more persistent than Jeffrey Martin's One Go Around (Fluff & Gravy, Oct 13). When I was building the list, I thought I had to choose between Martin and Anna Tivel's equally shattering Small Believer (Fluff & Gravy, Sep 29). I've mentioned how the Portland songwriters are frequent road companions, and how their respective records compliment one another so perfectly. Fact is, I haven't stopped listening to either, so I gotta write about One Go Around by way of apology. To shake the ghosts.
I don't know a lot / But I think we only get one go aroundAs with Tivel's work, very little on Jeffrey Martin's collection rises beyond a rustle. Electric guitars are favored over acoustic, but backed sparingly by piano, percussion and little else. Martin delivers his wisdom in a voice not unlike early Nathaniel Rateliff, a gruff, tired instrument not looking to impress with its prowess but just hoping to connect. A perfect vehicle for telling stories across a small table, tales of men hoping against hope or pushing wearily against the dark. From "Poor Man": I'm not a bad man / I'm a poor man sinking. Martin's narrator, an asphalt man just like his daddy, breaks his back during the day only to shoulder the burden of counting dimes and sleepless nights as his home provides little stability.
Like Noah Gunderson or David Ramirez, Jeffrey Martin's songs can prove ethereal and even fleeting, though they're caked through with the grime and the dirt of our daily labors. It's loosely a poetry of the working man, though shot through with stunning turns of phrase.
You used to make me go to church / Every Sunday in the evening / Say that god was for men like me / Who swore they didn't need him / And now all this sin I don't believe in / Is heavy on my backThere's a melancholy romanticism here as well, on pieces like the lovely "Surprise, AZ" or "Thrift Store Dress", featuring Anna Tivel on violin. It emerges in the chord changes and the sticky melodies that underly Martin's songs. On the latter, he is the weary touring bard, playing songs for strangers in towns that aren't ours. His focus is maintained by the companionship of a touring partner, At night you sing to parts of me that I haven't ever seen. Like so many other troubadours, Martin is conflicted by the wandering life, drawn to the song of stability and a house that can't be moved.
One Go Around works as well in the folk music vernacular, offering songs in the key of struggle and stories that sing to the heart. Both "What We're Marching Toward" and "Hand on a Gun" are protest pieces, and the striking "Billy Burroughs" turns the story of William S Burroughs and his dead lover into a chilling folk ballad with the refrain, Baby sit still and close your eyes / It's only the price of a good time.
I still hold that Jeffrey Martin provides the perfect chaser to the music of Anna Tivel. And retrospect will always humble me with my ever changing sentiments about this music I love. One Go Around is the writer's third release, finding Martin adding new dimension and depth to his stunning work. It has undoubtedly earned a spot among my favorites for the year, a stirring collection that delivers moment after moment of remarkable poetry.
He grew up in a house in the valley / With a daddy who was one long cigarette
Also on this Episode, we continue to paint the town red 'n green with the most original and overlooked holiday music of the season. Even as 2017 trips and stumbles towards the darkened finish line, we are drawn forward by the promise of bright new music in the form of Caleb Caudle and Jim White. John Moreland shines alongside Shovels & Rope on the version of "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain" that you've been looking for ever since Willie stole the tune from Roy Acuff. And on the near horizon we are drawn by strains from Marie/Lepanto, featuring a dream duo of Will Johnson and Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster. Amen and amen.
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Baby It's Cold Outside" single (Concord, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Overtime" Witness (ATO, 17)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Mustangs" Soul Mining (Ellenburg, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "No Time For Crying" If All I Was Was Black (Anti, 17)
- Wood Brothers, "River Takes the Town" One Drop of Truth (Honey Jar, 18)
- Tom Waits, "Little Rain" Bone Machine (UMG, 92)
- Will Hoge, "Thoughts & Prayers" single (Edlo, 17)
- Jim White, "Silver Threads" Waffles Triangles & Jesus (Loose, 18) D
- Kristina Murray, "How Tall the Glass" single (Murray, 17)
- Joel Patterson, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar (Bloodshot, 17) D
^ Jeffrey Martin, "Surprise, AZ" One Go Around (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Just Say It Now" Letters Never Read (Blue Hen, 17)
- Robert Ellis & Courtney Hartman, "Old Time River Man" Dear John (Refuge Fndtn, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "McDowell Road" First Cigarette (Blaster, 17)
- Shovels & Rope, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (w/John Moreland)" Busted Jukebox Vol. 2 (New West, 17) D
- Parker McCollum, "South of the City Lights" Probably Wrong (McCollum, 17)
- Minus 5, "Your Christmas Whiskey" Dear December (Yep Roc, 17)
- Marie/Lepanto, "Inverness" Tenkiller (Big Legal Mess, 18) D
- Margo Price, "Heart of America" All American Made (Third Man, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Tornado Warning" Long Way From Your Heart (Bossier City, 17)
- Hellbound Glory, "Six Strings Away" Pinball (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Steve Earle, "NYC" El Corazon (Warner, 97)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" Acoustic Christmas (Amazon, 17)
- Caleb Caudle, "Open Arms" Crushed Coins (Cornelius Chapel, 18) D
- Langhorne Slim, "Never Break" Lost at Last Vol. 1 (Dualtone, 17)
- Left Arm Tan, "Mistress Freedom" single (LAT, 17) D
- Emmylou Harris, "May This Be Love" Wrecking Ball (Nonesuch, 95)
- Alela Diane, "Emigre" Cusp (Diane, 18) D
- JD Wilkes, "Walk Between the Raindrops" Fire Dream (Big Legal Mess, 18) D
- Ags Connolly, "I Hope You're Unhappy" Nothin' Unexpected (At the Helm, 16)