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Monday, May 28, 2018

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
May 27, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

At the close of every month we make a practice of mentioning our favorite records of the past couple weeks.  As May melts into June, here are my top five for the previous month, in order of appearance:

Trampled by Turtles
Parker Millsap
Brent Cobb
John Calvin Abney
Jason Boland

And in another thirty days or so, we'll be at the halfway point of 2018, highlighting our favorites for the first six months of the year.

So back to that list.  We've already paid some due review respect to TbT and Abney.  The second half of 2018 would have to be seriously packed with musical goodness to prevent Brent Cobb's Providence Canyon from contention for our year-end list.  2016's Shine On Rainy Day introduced the Georgia songwriter to the masses, riding an easygoing vibe and fluent in classic country vernacular.  Extensive touring, prominent award nominations and a spot on the Routes & Branches favorite albums list have chased away neither that leisurely Southern drawl nor Cobb's pitch-perfect ear for the spoken rhythms of his homeland.

If anything, that genuine geographic rootedness has grown stronger on songs like "Mornin's Gonna Come":  Crooked old barefoot shovin' it across the outdoor dancefloor / Like you ain't got no sense / His new girlfriend's found her a pretty good fella / I guess that she's into rednecks.  That sort of rapidfire "flow" is not uncommon in mainstream country, but it sounds more authentic spoken in Cobb's unadorned twang.  These new songs are once again produced by cousin Dave Cobb and released on his Low Country Sound label.  While the elder Cobb's producer's stamp can be indelible, it's to his credit that he's seen fit to use his powers for good on Providence Canyon, supporting the songs with tasteful restraint.  Even with the credits betraying a crowded writers' room (no fewer than 14 writers are cited, in addition to Brent himself), there's a great appeal to the easygoing spirit of the collection.

Many of Cobb's new tunes reside in that same shady country-soul sweet spot occupied by classics like Prine or Cale, or fellow Georgian Larry Jon Wilson.  "Providence Canyon" lands us in the rural South, accompanied by some sentimental pedal steel and a precise acoustic/electric balance.  Like much of the CD, the title track speaks to Home - leaving it, longing for it, returning to it.  From the melancholy "Come Home Soon":
God it's been so long since I've felt at home / I've forgotten what it feels like to be alone / Anywhere / And I'm scared / I might forget who I am too / If I don't come home soon
 Cobb himself has acknowledged that "the idea of providence inspired the whole record: The idea of a safe haven.  A sacred something".  There are darker moments on Providence Canyon when the fears of straying too far are given rein.  The blinding symptoms of addiction even threaten the collection's abiding peaceful easy feelin'.

It's been stated that those more laid back moments came earlier in the writing process, with more gritty, humid grooves arriving later in hopes of generating a sound more suitable to touring alongside Chris Stapleton.  The electric guitars of "Ain't a Road Too Long" are punctuated by pounded piano and soulful organ. The early single is sanctified by the backing vocals of Kristen Rogers, a welcome presence on many of the songs.  That more edgy, extroverted spirit can also be heard on "Sucker for a Good Time" or the outlaw rocker ".30-06".

But even those more muscular moments sound genuine, and dwell on the same sentimentality as the quieter tracks.  It's to Cobb's credit that one of the strongest cuts on the record, "King of Alabama" doesn't drift into maudlin or vengeful territory.  Instead, the song about the murder of a touring friend is more of a good-hearted tribute to his legacy:  Some people calculate moves / He never had a thing to prove / He just let the wind take him where it may / It's a damn shame the way things go.

Providence Canyon is what I'm looking for from an established artist.  Brent Cobb has found his writerly voice, and simply trusts his instrument.  The new collection finds him getting better at what he's already good at, not stretching for the sake of novelty or losing traction in an effort to attract new ears.  It's one of the most authentic sounds in our kind of music, an artist who's digging in his heels for a long and rewarding career.

- Jason Isbell, "Super 8"  Southeastern  (Southeastern, 13)
- Amanda Shires, "Leave it Alone"  To the Sunset  (Silver Knife, 18)
- National Reserve, "Motel la Grange" Motel la Grange  (Ramseur, 18)
- Sam Lewis, "When Come the Morning" Loversity  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Sadies, "Walking Boss" Pure Diamond Gold  (Bloodshot, 99)
- Israel Nash, "Rolling On" Lifted  (Desert Folklore, 18)  D
- Rodney Crowell, "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" Acoustic Classics  (Crowell, 18)  D
- Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Downey to Lubbock" Downey to Lubbock  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Erin Rae, "Can't Cut Loose" Putting on Airs  (Single Lock, 18)
^ Brent Cobb, "Ain't a Road Too Long" Providence Canyon  (Elektra, 18)
- Phil Cook, "Deeper Kind" People Are My Drug  (Psychic Hotline, 18)
- Gretchen Peters, "Lay Low" Dancing With the Beast  (Scarlet Letter, 18)
- Justin Townes Earle, "What Do You Do When You're Lonesome" Good Life  (Bloodshot, 08)
- Parker Millsap, "Other Arrangements" Other Arrangements  (Okrahoma, 18)
- Dead Tongues, "Won't Be Long" Unsung Passage  (Psychic Hotline, 18)
- Lucero, "For the Lonely Ones" Among the Ghosts  (Liberty & Lament, 18)
- Nude Party, "Records" Nude Party  (New West, 18)
- Jayhawks, "Everybody Knows" Back Roads & Abandoned Motels  (Sony, 18)  D
- Arthur Buck, "Forever Waiting" Arthur Buck  (New West, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Broken Beak" Appreciation  (Kill Rock Stars, 18)
- Ryley Walker, "22 Days" Deafman Glance  (Dead Oceans, 18)
- American Aquarium, "One Day At a Time" Things Change  (New West, 18)
- Karen Jonas, "Gospel of the Road" Butter  (Jonas, 18)
- Romantica, "Dear Caroline" Outlaws  (Romantica, 18)
- Paul Cauthen, "Resignation" Have Mercy EP  (Lightning Rod, 18)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Casino Lights" The Fitzgerald  (El Cortez, 05)
- Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis, "Wild Wild Wild" Wild Wild Wild  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Cody Canada & the Departed, "Lipstick" 3  (Underground Sound, 18)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Pretty Horses" single  (Reprise, 18)  D
- Kelly Joe Phelps, "Doxology" Roll Away the Stone  (Ryko, 97)

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