ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 29, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
For heaven's sake. Seems we're at the end of another month. April has been a long one, with a wonderfully disorienting vacation in the middle. But it's time to showcase a couple of my favorite records from the past thirty days. These are six CDs that were released during the month, and that I've had the privilege of hearing front-to-back.
Will Stewart, County Seat
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Years
Left Arm Tan, El Camino
Old Crow Medicine Show, Volunteer
Donovan Woods, Both Ways
Charlie Crockett, Lonesome as a Shadow
Since their inception, Trampled by Turtles' "brand" has been their nitro-fueled bluegrass rave-ups. With 2012's Stars & Satellites and 2014's Wild Animals, they've challenged their reputation admirably, venturing toward less explored sonic territory. While I've never seen the stringband in concert, I imagine the crowd rising to their feet in riotous appreciation everytime they strike up one of those early favorites.
Following Wild Animals, the Turtles declared a hiatus. Members scratched other musical itches, none more public or more widely celebrated than frontman Dave Simonett's Dead Man Winter. His three (!) 2017 projects provided some of my favorite sounds for the year, with nary a rave-up to be heard. While the voice behind DMW is a familiar one, the music won't be mistaken for TbT.
But what a kick to hear Life is Good on the Open Road (Banjodad, May 4) launch with another in their arsenal of crowd pleasers, "Kelly's Bar": I was sinking like a stone in Red Wing Minnesota / In a bar called Kelly's right next to the train / It shakes the walls and you have to stop talking. The red-hot fiddle threatens to veer off the rails, dragging the banjo and guitar through the dirt. "Annihilate" applies the brakes just enough to allow the band to stretch their strings instrumentally. The secret to some of these blazers is that they can be lyrically introspective while bashing away so generously at our ears. "Blood in the Water" might be the most sinister bit of music they've set to tape, like a hellbound bluegrass take on a Dio track.
The reconvening of Trampled by Turtles at a member's cabin happened just as Tom Petty's passing was announced. As many of us did, the news inspired the band to revisit several of his records, and eventually to record this new collection. Perhaps as a result, many of the songs on Life is Good are more focused on pure songcraft, striking a satisfying balance between that earlier speed-grass and the more experimental recent stuff.
Simonett's touch as a songwriter is especially impressive on pieces like "We All Get Lonely": It's pale here and the floorboards creak / The ceiling reaches down / Started out a big bright city, now it's a small town / Everyone you never wanted to run into again / Is sitting in a bar next to each other. This more mannered stuff can be gorgeous, speaking to a depth of writing and a fearlessness in the face of melody. With the occasional ecstatic vocal harmonies, some of the album's moments wouldn't sound out of place on an earlier Avetts release. It's rare for an outfit embraced by the jam-grass throngs to apply such a deft lyrical touch, and to explore the depths of feeling found in songs like "The Middle": The wind whispers in a darkened street / Selling simple warnings to you and me / It makes me die just a little / A little every day ... Everybody on your feet!
Rafter-rousing or reflective, the songs of Life is Good on the Open Road are smart, instrumentally impressive and truly nourishing to the soul. After eight studio records (and an exceptional live document), Trampled by Turtles could easily cruise on the fumes of goodwill. Concert crowds are packed with dedicated followers - enough to fill Red Rocks here in the wilds of Colorado (July 19th this year, but secure your tickets soon!). While this new collection gives the people what they want, Simonett and company never take their musical choices for granted. It sounds like Dave Simonett and cohorts weren't ready to release another record without having a worthy message to deliver.
Maybe I've changed / Yeah baby everybody changes / And maybe you're not where you thought you would be
- Austin Lucas, "Darkness Out of Me" New Home in the Old World (LC, 11)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "A World Away" Volunteer (Sony, 18)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Shoe Boot" Tearing at the Seams (Concord, 18)
- National Reserve, "Motel la Grange" Motel la Grange (Ramseur, 18)
- I See Hawks in LA, "California Country" California Country (Western Seeds, 03)
- John Calvin Abney, "Always Enough" Coyote (Abney, 18)
- Motel Mirrors, "Things I Learned" In the Meantime (Last Chance, 18)
- Brent Cowles, "The Fold" How to Be Okay Alone (Dine Alone, 18) D
- Hellbound Glory w/Tanya Tucker, "You Better Hope You Die Young" Pinball (Junkie Edit) (Black Country Rock, 18)
- William Matheny, "Tonight and Every Night From Now On" Moon Over Kenova (Misra, 18)
- Kasey Chambers, "Goliath is Dead" Campfire (Essence, 18)
- Tim Easton, "Elmore James" Paco & the Melodic Polaroids (Campfire Propaganda, 18)
- Will Stewart, "Equality, AL" County Seat (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Freakwater, "Binding Twine" Springtime (Thrill Jockey, 98)
- Erin Rae, "Can't Cut Loose" Putting on Airs (Single Lock, 18)
- Eric Ambel w/Syd Straw, "I Waited for You" Roscoe Sampler (Ambel, 18) D
- Parker Millsap, "Let a Little Light in" Other Arrangements (Okrahoma, 18)
- Ben Danaher, "Hell or High Water" Still Feel Lucky (Soundly, 18) D
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Good as Gold" Years (Bloodshot, 18)
^ Trampled by Turtles, "We All Get Lonely" Life is Good on the Open Road (Banjodad, 18)
- Greyhounds, "Twelfth Street" Cheyenne Valley Drive (Bud's Recording, 18)
- Caitlin Canty, "Who" Motel Bouquet (Tone Tree, 18)
- American Aquarium, "World is on Fire" Things Change (New West, 18)
- Red Shahan, "Waterbill" Culberson County (7013, 18)
- Lucero, "That Much Further West" That Much Further West (Tiger Style, 03)
- Phil Cook, "Miles Away" People Are My Drug (Psychic Hotline, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Oh What a World" Golden Hour (MCA, 18)
- Band of Heathens, "Alabama" Live Via Satellite EP (BoH, 18) D
- Old 97s, "Murder (or a Heart Attack)" Fight Songs (Elektra, 99)
- M Ward, "Fisher of Men" Hold Time (Merge, 09)