ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 8, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
I've spent the entirety of my vocational life in the book industry in some function or another. While I know you can't judge a book by its cover, an evocative image can certainly make someone pick it up and maybe understand a little about what's inside. I like the cover of Caitlin Canty's Motel Bouquet quite a bit. A couple yellow roses, stems in a plastic bottle, plastic bottle in a red paper cup. The bouquet is apparently in a vehicle, and the flowers are still as the world flies by through the window. Canty mentions that these yellow roses were a gift, and that she drove them from motel to motel during a tour.
Much of Canty's third record speaks from the road, from motion or from stillness. And there is so much stillness in her work. A confessed musical minimalist, Canty is committed to the slow burn, imminently patient in letting a song unspool. "Who" employs a very few select words to leave its impression: Who put the song on your lips / Who put the swing in your hips / Who put the cotton in your fingertips. That evocative line alone takes a full minute to weave. It brings to mind "I Envy the Wind" from Lucinda Willliams, another masterful commander of space and time. The song floats on a drone that blooms into an exquisite chamber folk, featuring Canty's unrivaled collaborators: Producer and stringman Noam Pikelny has assembled Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Paul Kowert on bass Russ Pahl on pedal steel and Josh Grange on percussion, along with some help from Gabe Witcher and Aoife O'Donovan. Few ensembles are capable of such a moving hush.
Far and away, the most expressive instrument on Motel Bouquet is Caitlin Canty's voice. Where lesser singers might communicate with volume or bombast, her voice is a breathy and restrained alto, remarkably low and cottony. "Time Rolls By" presents Canty's instrument at its best: Wind rolls in / Clouds slip out / I've been sitting here a hundred years / With every breath counting the / Time rolling by slowly. Why shout when you can whisper? Listeners are drawn closer, leaning into every patiently delivered message.
Canty is a sensualist, an artist laid open to the world and its minor details. It's revealed in lyrics that appeal to our every sense, like Anna Tivel but more attuned to the natural than the urban world. Where the light falls slant/ She holds the river in her hands / November hits the ground / A blanket of yellow and brown, from "River Alone". She's also a capable guide to the wilds of the human landscape on "Leaping Out", advising Hold your hand to your heart / Keep it from leaping out.
It's one of Motel Bouquet's more swinging tracks, loping along goodnaturedly on a ramble, but still in little hurry to reach its destination. None of Canty's songs are so hurried that they will overlook the small things, the half-hearted empties, the hum of cars and wind or the basil gone to blossom. Lest you think quiet and focused equals a dull listening experience, Canty and Pikelny have created a captivating collection. Especially as pieces become familiar, we develop an appreciation for the mastery required to work on such an intricate scale. "Take Me For a Ride" is one of the year's strongest singles, and "Scattershot" is a dark and dramatic storyboard. At Canty's command, one line can tell an entire story: She was a rose / In a jacked-up truck / Scratching off her luck.
This week finds us neck deep in one of the year's most frantic release cycles. Under the pressure of so much good new stuff, we tend to neglect our usual practice of including some less new music on our playlist. This week brings us our inaugural glimpse into Jason Boland's long awaited project. Phil Cook's new collection is on the menu, and we'll gather 'round the campfire with Kasey Chambers and friends.
- Goodnight Texas, "Outrage for the Execution of Willie McGee" Conductor (Cent Back Check, 18)
- Greyhounds, "Credo" Cheyenne Valley Drive (Bud's Recording, 18)
- Bettye LaVette, "Times They Are a-Changin'" Things Have Changed (Verve, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Don't Mean to Pry" Appreciation (Kill Rock Stars, 18)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Whirlwind" Volunteer (Sony, 18)
- Vivian Leva, "Bottom of the Glass" Time is Everything (Free Dirt, 18)
^ Caitlin Canty, "Take Me for a Ride" Motel Bouquet (Tone Tree, 18)
- Lindi Ortega, "Till My Dyin' Day" Liberty (Shadowbox, 18)
- Bonnie Prince Billy w/Joan Shelley, "If You Ever Get To Houston" Hummingbirds & Helicopters: Benefit for South Texas (Cinquefoil, 18)
- Shakey Graves, "Mansion Door" Can't Wake Up (Dualtone, 18)
- American Aquarium, "Tough Folks" Things Change (New West, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Our Friend Bobby" Both Ways (Meant Well, 18)
- Bennett Wilson Poole, "Ask Me Anything" Bennett Wilson Poole (Aurora, 18)
- Kasey Chambers & Fireside Disciples, "Campfire Song" Campfire (Essence, 18) D
- Motel Mirrors, "Dead of Winter Blues" In the Meantime (Last Chance, 18)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Damned if I Do Damned if I Don't" Years (Bloodshot, 18)
- Rod Picott, "Primer Gray" Out Past the Wires (Welding Rod, 18)
- Phil Cook, "Steampowered Blues" People Are My Drug (Psychic Hotline, 18) D
- Red Shahan, "Someone Someday" Culberson County (7013 Records, 18) D
- Western Centuries, "Far From Home" Songs From the Deluge (Free Dirt, 18)
- Jayhawks, "What Would a Dreamer Do" Johnny Cash: Forever Words (Legacy, 18)
- Ana Egge, "Dance Around the Room With Me" White Tiger (Story Sound, 18) D
- Son Volt, "Highways and Cigarettes" The Search: Reissue (Transmit Sound, 18) D
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "I Don't Deserve You (w/Sunny Sweeney)" Hard Times are Relative (Proud Souls, 18) D
- Ashley Monroe, "Wild Love" Sparrow (Warner, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Roy Rogers" Restoration: Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (UMG, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Whistle on Occasion (w/Chuck Prophet)" Edgeland (Yep Roc, 18)
- 6 String Drag, "Robert & Lucy" Top of the World (Schoolkids, 18)
- Lake Street Dive, "I Can Change" Free Yourself Up (Nonesuch, 18)
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Extraordinary Love" Sweet Unknown (Partisan, 18)
Here is your ROUTES-cast for this week. Sounds best when you share it with a friend, or repost it on the social media of your choice. Or when you just keep playing it and playing it until it all comes together and starts to make sense.