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Sunday, February 11, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 11, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

The element of surprise is an important part of how I relate to music.  Where many listeners feast on familiarity, I crave novelty.  A release by an unknown artist can often pique my interest more than the fifth CD from a trusted act.  I mention this by way of introduction to Watching It All Fall Apart, the new collection from Fruition.  I’ve followed Fruition’s story since their early days, sharing bits and pieces of their records on R&B, commenting good-naturedly on the awkwardness of their band name.  Still, I’ve never fully fallen for them, filing them under J for “jammy, with hints of ‘grass and Americana” (see also, Elephant Revival, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth).  As early singles from their new album were released, I caught a vibe that I hadn’t necessarily connected with Fruition.  Upon hearing Watching It All in its entirety, I was surprised.  Surprised and impressed. 

You wouldn't recognize “I’ll Never Sing Your Name” or “Turn to Dust” as Fruition if you weren't forewarned.  With rumbling bass, crashing percussion and a carnival organ, "I'll Never Sing" is a Squeeze-like pop confection with dark undertones.  "Turn to Dust" is a crushing but catchy breakup song:  Watching it all fall apart / Standing side by side, letting love die / Doing nothing, nothing / It left a hole in my heart / God damn / It hurts so bad to do nothing / Such a terrible scene.  In the midst of the heartbreak, there are sugary backing vocals and a warped synth track, a bit of the psychedelia peppered throughout the record. If there's mandolin or acoustic guitar somewhere, it's buried deep and manipulated.  The best pop music has always flirted with longing and despair even while mining for sweet hooks, and Fruition's new stuff seems to honor that tradition. 

For longtime fans of classic Fruition, you’ll want to check out “FOMO” or “Lonesome Prayer”. Both uphold the downer theme, but feature a more typical vibe:  There's wasted bar girls in the basement / What am I doing here at all / I recognize that bum from facebook / She liked a picture on my wall ... You ain't missing out on nothing.  “Stuck On You” recalls something from the Revivalists, with a rootsier groove and handclap percussion.  These cuts by no means rehash previous territory, but they serve as an effective bridge to the less familiar sounds.  

Fruition has always benefited from a three-pronged songwriting approach, built around the distinct but complimentary talents of Jay Cobb Anderson, Kellen Asebroek and Mimi Naja.  As a vocalist, Naja always takes a couple leads from record to record, and her cuts always stand out for me.  On Watching It All, she holds court for two of my favorite tracks: “Northern Town” and “I Should Be (On Top of the World)”.  The former sounds like a more heart-on-sleeve edition of Neko Case, perhaps crossed with a young Bonnie Raitt.  "I Should Be" presents Naja at her most soulful, with a simple but beautiful delivery that wouldn't be out of place on a Lake Street Dive CD.  It stands a good chance to land among my favorite tunes for the year.  

Producer Tucker Martine has served as driver for several prominent projects, from the Decemberists and Laura Veirs to My Morning Jacket and Neko Case.  While he has a pretty strong sonic stamp to his style, the novelty of Fruition’s new collection cannot be entirely credited to Martine's hand.  In an early interview, the producer/engineer commented, “This isn’t a record they’ve made before.  And I don’t think it’s a record I’ve made before”.  It’s the challenge of any band that’s reached a certain level of notoriety, to continue to satisfy established fans while finding ways to reach new audiences and to scratch the occasional creative itch.  Watching It All is a great sounding record, sparking with interesting sounds and infectious melody.  The continuity between what we knew of the band and what we have here lies in the band’s trademark vocal interplay, and in their energetic instrumental work.  It's a remarkable evolution for an outfit that's always been very likable, and is now proving themselves to be musically adventurous as well.  

This Episode also debuts what will likely be a strong record from Sarah Shook, and we'll share the first new collection from Shakey Graves since his 2014 breakthrough.  We'll introduce you to Lynn Taylor & the Barflies, and we'll finally have a chance to begin our journey through 6 String Drag's really good Top of the World (see my post from a couple weeks ago).

- John Calvin Abney, "Weekly Rate Palace" Far Cries & Close Calls  (JCA, 16)
^ Fruition, "I Should Be (On Top of the World)" Watching it All Fall Apart  (LoHi, 18)
- Joshua Hedley, "Mr Jukebox" Mr Jukebox  (Third Man, 18)
- Will Stewart, "Sipsey" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Wedding Band"  Steak Night at the Prairie Rose  (M&M, 18)
- Courtney Patton, "Shove" What it's Like to Fly Alone  (Patton, 18)
- Lynn Taylor & the Barflies, "Staggered" Staggered  (Taylor, 18)  D
- Kill County, "Straight Six Ford" Year of Getting By  (Kill Co, 16)
- Ron Pope, "Master Plan" WorkTapes  (Brooklyn Basement, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Not For Money or Love" Edgeland  (YepRoc, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Earthly Justice" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)  D
- 6 String Drag, "Small Town Punks" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)  D
- Ha Ha Tonka, "Walking On the Devil's Backbone" Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South  (Bloodshot, 09)
- Ben Miller Band, "Lighthouse" Choke Cherry Tree  (New West, 18)
- Ruby Boots, "Easy Way Out" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Haley Heynderickx, "Worth It" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Marie/Lepanto, "Patient Patient Man" Tenkiller  (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- Calexico, "Dead in the Water" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Kindness of Strangers" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Hey Mama" Tearing At the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Lucinda Williams, "Drunken Angel" Car Wheels on a Gravel Road  (Mercury, 98)
- Paul Thorn, "Love Train" Don't Let the Devil Ride  (Perpetual Obscurity, 18)  D
- Shakey Graves, "Kids These Days" Can't Wake Up  (Dualtone, 18)  D
- Alela Diane, "Moves Us Blind" Cusp  (AD, 18)
- Two Dollar Pistols, "It Doesn't Matter Much To Me" Hands Up!  (YepRoc, 04)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Good as Gold" Years  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- John Prine, "Summer's End" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)  D
- Donovan Woods, "Burn That Bridge" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)  D
- Molly Parden, "Who Did You Leave For Me" single  (Tone Tree, 18)  D
- Handsome Family, "Giant of Illinois" Through the Trees  (Carrot Top, 98)

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