ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
September 9, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Back in my radio days when we paid closer attention to the Colorado music scene, Matt Hoffman and Strange Americans were among my favorite square state artists. Even when Matt's supportive father began calling the radio station daily to request his son's music - wouldn't we all like a father with that kind of dedication to Junior's career? Last fall, Hoffman began releasing his music under the New Mexican moniker, hearkening back to the days when his grandfather served as proprietor of Hoffman's Melody Shop in Alomogordo. Now he's looking to make some bigger noise with the national debut of Take It On Our Shoulders (Sep 28).
Hoffman himself is responsible for most of the sounds on his new collection, collaborating with pedal steelist Jeff Rady and a couple studio wizards who lend the songs a spirit that is both intimate and wide-open as the vistas of the Southwest. Like much of what we share here on R&B, the New Mexican songs bear the warm fingerprints of characters looking to make an honest life in light of our present circumstances. Tell me now / When it's over / Are the broken hearts gonna fix each other.
"Sold It Back" sets the tone for Take It On Our Shoulders, establishing that warm electro-acoustic groove with dusty strings and high-soaring pedal steel. Consider the close-in immediacy of Hiss Golden Messenger triangulated with the cinematic scope of Calexico - a space on the smudged and torn map that's well-removed from the noise of the nearest city.
Rady's pedal steel gleams brilliantly across the surface of "Two Hearted", a nod to Hemingway's Michigan wilderness. In contrast to his work with Strange Americans, these New Mexican songs bring Hoffman's voice to the front of the mix, adding the static of a sandy shuffle beneath it all.
Don't overlook a couple of the quieter bits towards the latter half of the CD. "Half Empty" and "Letters" remind me of fellow Coloradan Nathaniel Rateliff, during his introverted singer-songwriter days. The former is mesmerizing in its build, a keening drone underlying Hoffman's acoustic strum until the song briefly erupts. "Letters" features the record's strongest vocal, along with a beautifully lilting refrain punctuated by the fuzz of electric guitars and sleighbells.
A generation from now (if that's what it takes), we may glance back at these times and decide that it wasn't our strong stances or our arguments and opinions that saw us through to the calmer waters. Instead, I imagine it'll be the stories like those Matt Hoffman tells on his new album, accounts of decent people navigating the rough spots because it's all they could do. New Mexican offers the antidote of good music about real people, a moving account of life during wartime.
- Charlie Parr, "Where You Gonna Be" When the Devil Goes Blind (Level Two, 10)
- Shemekia Copeland, "Smoked Ham and Peaches" American Child (Alligator, 18)
- John Hiatt, "Over the Hill" Eclipse Sessions (New West, 18)
- Kevin Gordon, "One Road Out (Angola Rodeo Blues)" Tilt & Shine (Crowville, 18)
- Ben Dickey, "Let Me Ride In Your Big Cadillac" Blaze: Original Cast Recording (Light in the Attic, 18)
- Kristina Murray, "Strong Blood" Southern Ambrosia (Loud Magnolia, 18)
- Devil Makes Three, "Deep Down" Chains Are Broken (New West, 18)
- Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "What Am I Supposed to Do" Hard Times & White Lines (Morgan, 18)
- Pontiac Brothers, "Big Black River" Big Black River (Lolita, 85)
- Cake, "Reincarnation" King of the Road: Tribute to Roger Miller (BMG, 18)
- Sarah Borges & Broken Singles, "Get As Gone Can Get" Love's Middle Name (Blue Corn, 18)
- Will Hoge, "Stupid Kids" My American Dream (Edlo, 18)
- Stryker Brothers, "Fort Worth Was a Fabulous Waste of Time" Burn Band (Scriptorium Rex, 18)
- Jamie Lin Wilson, "Being Gone" Jumping Over Rocks (JLW, 18)
- Gibson Brothers, "Lay Your Body Down" Mockingbird (Easy Eye, 18) D
- Adam Remnant, "Sourwood" Sourwood (Anyway 18)
- John R Miller, "Holy Dirt" Trouble You Follow (Emperor, 18)
- Joe Purdy, "Brown Suits and Cadillacs" Last Clock on the Wall (Mudtown Crier, 09)
- Scott H Biram, "Chickens" Messenger: Tribute to Ray Wylie Hubbard (Eight 30, 18) D
- Larry & His Flask, "Ellipsis" This Remedy (Xtra Mile, 18)
- Becky Warren, "We're All We Got" Undesirable (Warren, 18)
- Hillstomp, "Cardiac Arrest in D" single (Fuzzmonster, 09)
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Dirty Swerve" Poor Until Payday (Family Owned, 18)
- JP Harris, "JP's Florida Blues #1" Sometimes a Dog Barks at Nothing (Free Dirt, 18)
- Doug Paisley, "Drinking With a Friend" Starter Home (No Quarter, 18) D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Heart and Mind" single (Fat Possum, 18) D
- Phosphorescent, "Christmas Down Under" C'est la Vie (Dead Oceans, 18)
- Black Joe Lewis & Honeybears, "Handshake Drugs" Difference Between Me & You (BJL, 18) D
- Pollies, "Hold On My Heart" Transmissions (TiAM, 18)
- Son Volt, "Exurbia" Okemah & the Melody of Riot Reissue (Transmit Sound, 05) D
This week brings a striking new single from Courtney Marie Andrews, whose May Your Kindness Remain was one of our early year favorites. Black Joe Lewis presents a dirty take on Wilco's "Handshake Drugs". And we dig a bit further into forthcoming projects from Kristina Murray, JP Harris, Whitey Morgan and more. See also, an unexpectedly satisfying single from bluegrass' Gibson Brothers, whose November Mockingbird is produced by Dan Auerbach.