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Monday, January 29, 2018

ROUTES & BRANCHES 
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
January 28, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Heading into Grammy time, we're very conscious that these days there's very little crossover between what the folks at Recording Arts recognize and what we do here at R&B hq.  If you want a glimpse at the height of our kind of music, you'll want to track down (Grammy winner) Chris Stapleton's fiery performance of "Midnight Train to Memphis" on this week's SNL, where he was joined onstage by (Grammy winner) Sturgill Simpson. Grammy has never done roots music especially well, even when they accidentally manage to celebrate a worthy artist like Isbell or Emmylou.  This year, they featured Stapleton and Emmy performing a practically anemic take on Petty's "Wildflowers" during their "people who died" segment.  Nevertheless, I'll always watch (sometimes whilst holding my nose), primarily for the cultural literacy points, but also because there are often very good live performance moments.  It either says volumes about me or about the Grammys that Patti Lupone's revisit of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" might've provided the evening's most stellar moment (though Bono's "blessed are the shithole countries" certainly merits merit).  And tell me why the puzzling partnership of Sting and Shaggy received more screentime than any other artist this year?

From where I sit, 2018 has been ushered in by a really promising batch of records, dozens of which seem to have landed in full copy form on my doorstep this week.  Pressured to select five favorites for January releases, I'd likely tag Calexico, Ronnie Eaton, First Aid Kit, Marie/Lepanto and HC McEntire.  But the year's still very young.

And February promises an even greater wealth of stuff, including Caleb Caudle's new Crushed Coins collection.  2016's Carolina Ghost was a near perfect record, liberally peppered from start to finish with songs and lyrics that stuck like velcro to the soul.  In early interviews for his new work, Caudle talks about finding inspiration in new places, and building this project around new sounds.  "We made a good, straightforward country record.  But I've done the straight-ahead things as good as I possibly could.  Now I want to do something that represents more of what I listen to and am inspired by ..."

Though Caudle intends Crushed Coins to be a departure, songs like "Empty Arms"' and "Love That's Wild" strike me as more of a progression or a stylistic evolution.  From the former:  I drove across 3 states and bought a postcard for a quarter / From an antique store beside a bar I was playing in Ft Wayne, Indiana / I scribbled down some words that you already know / As if I wrote them down and put a stamp on it / It would make it more true.  Megan McCormick's guitar effects and Greg Herndon's keys contribute an extra dimension to Caudle's soulful Southern americana, coaxing the sound closer to Hiss Golden Messenger than Jason Isbell.  "Love That's Wild" relies on Brett Resnick's sticky pedal steel line and a sweet backing vocal from Erin Rae for one of the CD's most recognizably country moments.

There is more of a confidence and a cohesiveness to Caleb Caudle's musical vision on Crushed Coins.  Beyond writing good songs, he strives for overarching messages and thematic gestures, elements that can be followed like a ribbon from song to song.  Sometimes this is accomplished by juxtaposing diverse bits.  The newfound hope of "Love That's Blind" vs the abandonment and finality of "Six Feet From the Flowers":  The tools have gone to rust / With no one left to impress / I haven't built a thing / I reach into my pocket / And hold your wedding ring.  Caudle himself has drawn the lines to define the theme as "trying to find hope in a dark place ... relying on the people and the things that you love".

To our benefit, the songwriter hasn't abandoned his generous gift for melody.  With Joshua Hedley's lovely fiddle, "Madelyn" is one of the album's strongest cuts.  Even the acoustic title track, a sad picture of domestic dis-ease, catches the ear as much as it reaches the heart:  There's no laughter in this house / Only sadness dripping from the spout / A lightbulb needs changing / Shutters that stay closed ...

Like fellow writers Andrew Combs or Robert Ellis, Caudle is challenging expectations for the trad-dependent americana genre.  Instead of drawing inspiration from more common sources, he has tagged jazz music and Miles Davis' In a Silent Way as guiding documents.  Sure, listeners will never mistake the striking "Headlights" for Miles' "Shhh", but the path an inspiration takes between the ears and the heart can be pretty personal.  As someone who thrives on purposeful novelty, these subtle differences can be nourishing.  As terrific as Carolina Ghost was, Crushed Coins is a welcome addition to Caleb Caudle's catalog.

- Sam Baker, "Broken Fingers" Pretty World  (BlueLimeStone, 07)
- Mary Gauthier, "Soldiering On" Rifles & Rosary Beads  (In the Black, 18)
- Great Peacock, "Hideaway" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- Wood Brothers, "Sparkling Wine" One Drop of Truth  (Honey Jar, 18)
- Calexico, "Dead in the Water" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Marie/Lepanto, "Simple Scenes" Tenkiller  (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- Samantha Fish, "Need You More" Belle of the West  (Ruf, 17)
- Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Let's Go to Mars" Soul Flowers of Titan  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Sadies, "Postcards" Darker Circles  (YepRoc, 10)
- Buffalo Tom, "All Be Gone" Quiet & Peace  (Schoolkid, 18)  D
- HC McEntire, "Yellow Roses" Lionheart  (Merge, 18)
- Ron Pope, "Texas Wildflower Honey" Worktapes  (Brooklyn Basement, 18)
^ Caleb Caudle, "Madelyn"  Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Bonnevilles, "Dirty Photographs" Dirty Photographs  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)  D
- JD Wilkes, "Starlings, KY" Fire Dream  (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- First Aid Kit, "Hem of Her Dress" Runes  (Columbia, 18)
- 6 String Drag, "Cold Steel Brace" High Hat  (Schoolkid, 98/18)
- Albert Lee, "Country in Harlem" Black Claw & Country Fever  (Greyscale, 91)
- Bettye LaVette, "Things Have Changed" Things Have Changed  (Verve, 18)  D
- Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, "No Mercy in This Land" No Mercy in This Land  (Anti, 18)  D
- Craig Gerdes, "Dead in a Box in Kentucky" Smokin' Drinkin' & Gamblin'  (Sol, 18)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Soul & Bones" Dogs in the Daylight (Expanded)  (Fluff & Gravy, 14/17)
- Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee, "The Dark Don't Hide It" single  (Dead Oceans, 18)  D
- Flesh Eaters, "Fistful of Vodka" Hard Road to Follow  (Atavistic, 83)
- Ben Miller Band, "Trapeze" Choke Cherry Tree  (New West, 18)  D
- Tillers, "Revolution Row" Tillers  (Sofaburn, 18)  D
- Will Stewart, "Sipsey" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)  D
- I'm With Her, "Overland" See You Around  (Rounder, 18)
- Neko Case, "Middle Cyclone" Middle Cyclone  (Anti, 09)
- Allen Toussaint, "Bright Mississippi" Bright Mississippi  (Nonesuch, 09)

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