featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 22, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Back again after stepping away from the mic for a trip to Hawaii, where the music of UB40 was playing from more speakers than you might expect. While I was away, the page for A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster just disappeared. Apologies for the absence. I believe I have brought it back up to date.
A vacation creates the opportunity for a healthy break from stuff, a reset that might fill the ruts and give new perspective. That, and the fact that it allows a build-up of new stuff just begging to be shared. See below for new musical experiences from Tim Easton, Jeffrey Foucault and Sons of Bill. There's also something from Arthur Buck, the new project combining the talents of Joseph Arthur and Peter Buck.
Nearly every new record is accompanied by a press release, and nearly every blog post cribs from that press release. This isn't good or bad, it's just a fact. For Routes & Branches, I write about my relationship with music. I try to write from my individual experience, using my own words. This is one of the reasons this will be the only piece written in praise of John Calvin Abney's new Coyote album that doesn't mention his recurring role as a sideman and collaborator for an artist whose work I have admired greatly. The work of every artist should be appreciated on its own merits, rather than for its tangential relationships.
Coyote (Black Mesa, May 18) is John Calvin Abney's third record, following close on the heels of 2016's Far Cries and Close Calls. I opined that it was, "a record that ranges from bright and brash sunlight to overcast and introspective ... simply engaging at the the most genuine level, appealing to our love of a true tune well constructed". Huh.
A writer's music can be changed by the stuff of real life, and Abney has apparently experienced quite a bit of that in the past couple years. Coyote opens with "Always Enough": Pushing towards paradise on blacktop and tar / Wondering if my soul it matched my scars.
More than other Oklahoma singer-songwriters, Abney doesn't couch his work in red dirt or Texas country. Rather, with its piano and strings and with his Elliott Smith-like vocal, the record incorporates a healthy shot of dreamy pop. "Always Enough" is a fitting example of the beautiful noise that Abney can make. Arrangements are deliberate and thoughtful, never struggling to shake any vestiges of roots, but simply replicating the sounds in his head.
Another roots-pop gem, "Every Now and Then" might bring to mind Gary Louris and his Jayhawks. Like much of Coyote, it paints a picture of a restless man, set adrift by circumstance and simply floating from city to city in the company of his thoughts and reflections. Push the hair out of your face / Empty the lonely from your head / I guess the worst of best intentions / Could tell you to quit while you're ahead. The song adds organ and electric guitar to the fray. There's nothing like a barnburner here, as midtempo songs are given space to unfold, Abney unhurried in making his impression.
Roots are nearer the surface in songs like "Sundowner", a languid longing waltz polished with pedal steel and fiddle. It's one of a couple beautiful acoustic-oriented cuts that speak to the fragility and intimacy of a life on the road. "Get Your House in Order" is Coyote's most directly americana moment, even with its programmed drums and box of rocks percussion. The bluesy shuffle showcases a nice bit of electric twang riding loose in the pocket. I looked into the mirror / And I could've sworn / I saw a little calm in the eyes of that storm / Roll like a river right out of bed.
Like recent stuff from Andrew Combs or Caleb Caudle, there's an impressive confidence to Coyote, as evidenced by a willingness to range across vast musical territories which serve as destinations and ruts for other artists. During a time when John Calvin Abney is receiving some recognition for his work as a collaborator, reviewers would do well to check out the music he's making between the bars.
Northwest whispers / Southwest speaks / The Northeast calls / And the Southeast peaks / But every highway has a voice and a dust / They ain't callin' me Mama / They're callin' for us
- Neko Case, "Bad Luck" Hell-on (Anti, 18)
^ John Calvin Abney, "Get Your House in Order" Coyote (JCA, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "We All Get Lonely" Life is Good on the Open Road (Banjodad, 18)
- Kelly Willis, "Only You" Back Being Blue (Premium, 18)
- Jeffrey Foucault, "Blood Brothers" Blood Brothers (Tone Tree, 18) D
- Charley Crockett, "Goin' Back to Texas" Lonesome As a Shadow (Son of Davy, 18)
- Sons of Bill, "Believer/Pretender" Oh God Ma'am (Tone Tree, 18) D
- Ryley Walker, "Opposite Middle" Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans, 18)
- Karen Jonas, "Gospel of the Road" Butter (Jonas, 18) D
- Blackberry Smoke w/Amanda Shires, "Let Me Down Easy" Find a Light (3 Legged, 18)
- John Prine, "When I Get to Heaven" Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy, 18)
- Goodnight Texas, "Laramie" Conductor (Cent Bank Check, 18)
- Erin Rae, "Putting on Airs" Putting on Airs (Single Lock, 18) D
- Parker Millsap, "Other Arrangements" Other Arrangements (Okrahoma, 18)
- Juanita Stein, "Forgiver" Until the Lights Fade (Nude, 18) D
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Over You" Years (Bloodshot, 18)
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Right Where I Began" Hard Times Are Relative (Proud Souls, 18)
- Left Arm Tan, "Give a Damn" El Camino (LAT, 18)
- Joshua Hedley, "Weird Thought Thinker" Mr Jukebox (Third Man, 18)
- Brent Cobb, "Morning's Gonna Come" Providence Canyon (Elektra, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Life the Lonely From My Heart" May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird, 18)
- Jim James, "Just a Fool" Uniform Distortion (ATO, 18) D
- Arthur Buck, "I Am the Moment" Arthur Buck (New West, 18) D
- Donovan Woods, "Burn That Bridge" Both Ways (Meant Well, 18)
- Dead Tongues, "Won't Be Long" Unsung Passage (Psychic Hotline, 18) D
- Ruen Brothers, "All My Shades of Blue" All My Shades of Blue (Ramseur, 18) D
- Luke Winslow-King, "Chicken Dinner" Blue Mesa (Bloodshot, 18)
- Tim Easton, "Broken Hearted Man" Paco & the Melodic Polaroids (Campfire Propaganda, 18) D
- Chuck Ragan, "Do You Pray" Feast or Famine (SideOneDummy, 07)
- Milk Carton Kids, "One More For the Road" All the Things That I Did & All the Things That I Didn't Do (Anti, 18) D