ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
September 23, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
There's a whole lot of pretty good music out there. From week to week, I'll come across mention of new stuff from unfamiliar artists that's perfectly adequate. I pay it a quick listen, just in case, then plow it under and move on to the next blog. Despite the fact that we're 100% committed to the spirit of musical discovery, we're just as dedicated to making sure that the music we feature holds up with regards to quality. It only makes sense.
Bells and whistles go off when we find a new artist who checks all the right boxes. I believe I first became aware of Kristina Murray when she handed me her Unravelin' CD back in 2013. Something in the originality of her delivery or the maturity of her writing spoke to me. Back then, Murray was a Colorado resident and her debut record landed near the top of my square state favorites for the year. I eagerly anticipated her inevitable star-turn, the follow-up when the remainder of the world would catch up with me in my appreciation.
But many cold and cruel winters would follow before she resurfaced, this time as a Nashvillian. Murray was tagged by JP Harris in 2017 as a duet partner on "Golden Ring", and hopes were kindled with the release of an excellent single, "How Tall the Glass" later last year. Finally, several weeks ago a new full-length was announced, along with the release of her first single from the project, "Lovers & Liars". Five years after we drew your attention her way, I can finally say, "See?! I told ya!"
Kristina Murray's Southern Ambrosia fully lives up to expectations. I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't let a guy who was born in New Jersey (me), raised in Oregon (me) and settled in Colorado (yes, me) define the South for you. Nevertheless, I hear a confidence and authenticity in songs like that debut single. There's a fair amount of attitude as well, spit through a bluesy harmonica solo and lyrics that leave little doubt: "I saw a three-legged dog two times in one week / And I'm tellin' you brother that's some kinda sign / At this point it's too late to start again / So I'll just keep catchin' up and stayin' a little behind".
Unravelin' spoke primarily in a country vernacular, and there are many such moments on this new collection as well. "Made in America" paints a picture of the artist forged out of red clay and Georgia rain, striking a satisfying balance between acoustic and electric, especially when those guitars growl to life. In less skillful hands the song could've been just another simplistic flag-waving anthem. Kristina Murray was raised in Atlanta, however, and can speak of her affection for the place without giving the South a pass for its less palatable features.
Southern Ambrosia, per the artist, focuses on "the duality of the Southern thing". Murray's new songs alternate between more personal stories and truths about other people. She commits fully to the country-rock story-song of "Ballad of Angel and Donnie", fueled by slippery pedal steel and nitro guitars: Three can keep a secret if two are in the ground / That's how you keep a secret from comin' back around / He threw his 44 mag on the seat in the back. One of the CD's strongest moments, the roots rocking "Slow Kill" strikes out against an American dream that never seems to come true.
Much of what sets this new collection apart from Murray's debut is her emerging confidence as a songwriter, especially as heard on some of the album's more measured tracks such as "Strong Blood". She lets the humidity of the South seep into her delivery on the inventory of life as seen from the kitchen window: Eatin' a cling peach / Over the kitchen sink / Southern ambrosia. It's a lovely work that brings to mind the eloquent drawl of Gillian Welch, fully embracing her inheritance. "Pink Azaleas" completes this picture of home, from Amazing Grace from a hymnal page / Taped to the fridgerator door to Sunday drink of vodka and tomato juice with salt on the rim. Like a calling card reminding us of her deep roots, Murray also dives into the true-to-trad "Tell Me", sounding not unlike a long lost Patsy Cline cut.
It's a collection that's driven by that intangible something that's missing from all those other "pretty good" records. Perhaps it's an uncommon depth of feeling, or an ease of movement across a range of roots music. Whatever the reason, it seems Kristina Murray has done her homework over the past five years. She's put her heart on vinyl in a bold and vulnerable way that few more experienced artists can, and established herself as a voice to trust in the years to come.
- Adam's House Cat, "6 O'Clock Train" Town Burned Down (ATO, 18)
- Larry & His Flask, "This Remedy" This Remedy (Xtra Mile, 18)
- New Mexican, "Broken Horse" Take It On Our Shoulders (Hoffman, 18)
- John Howie Jr, "I Don't Feel Like Holdin' You Tonight" Not Tonight (Howie, 18)
- Dawn Landes, "Why They Name Whiskey After Men" Meet Me at the River (Yep Roc, 18)
- JP Harris, "Hard Road" Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing (Free Dirt, 18)
^ Kristina Murray, "Slow Kill" Southern Ambrosia (Loud Magnolia, 18)
- Rev Horton Heat, "Whole New Life" Whole New Life (Victory, 18) D
- Those Darlins, "Red Light Love" Those Darlins (Oh Wow Dang, 09)
- William Elliott Whitmore, "Bat Chain Puller" Kilonova (Bloodshot, 18)
- John R Miller, "Whale Party" Trouble You Follow (Emperor, 18)
- Philippe Bronchtein, "Me & the Moon" Me & the Moon (Bronchtein, 18) D
- Malcolm Holcombe, "New Damnation Alley" Come Hell or High Water (Gypsy Eyes, 18)
- Kasey Musgraves, "Kansas City Star" King of the Road: Tribute to Roger Miller (BMG, 18)
- Black Joe Lewis & Honeybears, "Some Conversations You Just Don't Need to Have" Difference Between Me & You (BJL, 18)
- Cat Power, "Stay" Wanderer (Domino, 18)
- Cedric Burnside, "Death Bell Blues" Benton County Relic (Single Lock, 18)
- Tom Waits, "Take It With Me" Mule Variations (Anti, 99)
- Goshen Electric Co, "The Gray Tower" single (Secretly Canadian, 18) D
- Iron & Wine, "Autumn Town Leaves" Weed Garden EP (Sub Pop, 18)
- Shemekia Copeland, "Wrong Idea" America's Child (Alligator, 18)
- Billy Bragg, "Levi Stubbs' Tears" Talking With the Taxman About Poetry (Cooking Vinyl, 86)
- Dirty River Boys, "Mesa" Mesa Starlight (DRB, 18)
- Colter Wall, "Thinkin' on a Woman" Songs of the Plains (Young Mary's, 18)
- Rhett Miller, "Total Disaster" The Messenger (ATO, 18) D
- Calexico, "Trigger" Black Light (Quarterstick, 98)
- Rosanne Cash, "She Remembers Everything" She Remembers Everything (Blue Note, 18) D
- Jeff Tweedy, "Some Birds" WARM (dBpm, 18) D
- Gregory Alan Isakov, "Dark Dark Dark" Evening Machines (Dualtone, 18)
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Steal My Shine" Poor Until Payday (Family Owned, 18)
This week we finally get to scratch around a bit further with Adam's House Cat. Patterson Hood recorded new vocals for these archival pre-DbT tracks. Rhett Miller drops his first single from a "less safe" solo CD. Cat Power performs a very sweet piano take on a Rihanna smash. And you might remember Philippe Bronchtein as the man behind Hip Hatchet. Most of all, Goshen Electric Co. finds Strand of Oaks' frontguy Tim Showalter pairing with the remaining members of Magnolia Electric Co. to record a couple 2002 Jason Molina cuts. A tour will reportedly ensue.