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Monday, February 04, 2019

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 3, 2019
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

by Bridgette Aikens

Back in August of 2017, I chose to review two projects from a couple of bands who were new to Routes & Branches. I wrote: Let’s talk about Noise. Thick guitars battling against heavy drums, a buzz that reaches from edge to edge, with all the spaces colored in. I want my music to make noise, to push against the quiet until there’s nowhere to go but deeper into the static. I think I used to write better than I do now …

Anyhow, those bands, William the Conqueror and Blank Range, really have little in common beyond their appeal. They’re both releasing new projects this winter, both maturing nicely into their groove, each worth your while. Since 2017’s Marooned With the Treasure, Blank Range have spent a good deal of time on the road, working with acts as diverse as Margo Price, Spoon, Tyler Childers and Death Cab. It’s a lineup that speaks well to the Nashville quartet’s range of influence and appeal, reaching from cosmic americana to power pop.

One of the appeals of Marooned lay in that unpredictability. Like Blitzen Trapper, Blank Range will occasionally unspool into the “cosmic” side of the equation. Like Deer Tick, they remain in touch with their garage roots, and throw in Matthew Logan Vasquez’s Delta Spirit for their ability to cast a sharp pop hook. To their credit, on In Unison their musical vision is honed and the band’s collective identity comes into greater focus.

This “unison” can’t be easy for an outfit that allows each of its contributors to follow their respective muse. Guitarists Jonathan Childers and Grant Gustafson share vocal turns, along with bassist Taylor Zachary. Drummer Matt Novotny is a writer as well. Gustafson’s “Gutters” bears a drunky Replacements-esque buzz. Close on that song’s heels is the undeniable Big Star appeal of Zachry’s sticky “Change Your Look”. Consider the latter an early candidate for my favorite songs list in ten months, cruising by like a sleek pop Camaro in just over two minutes.

What could be a distracting diversity of perspective actually comes across more cohesively. “Career” recalls a young Ryan Adams, while there is country ease to “Lonely II”: I may not be the man you had in mind / But I can be your consolation prize / For spending only one less lonely night. With its Stones-y guitars and subtle keys, “Proximity” dangles another of those dangerous pop hooks. “Radio” splits the difference with a stuttering tempo and soulful backing vocals. 

Where Marooned might’ve reached too far for lyrical profundity, the songs of In Unison stay closer to home. Lyrics are uniformly smart and focused, conveying the earned wisdom of young adulthood. As “Change Your Look” catches you up, the song prescribes a change of outlook and self-definition as a cure for what ails you: Untie the noose / Put down the gun / You can change your look. Even as Gustafson acknowledges his inspiration in Hermann Hesse, “Proximity” never tangles its message in philosophizing: I fall in love with proximity / I only have eyes for what’s in front of me

Blank Range reportedly spent a couple more days in the studio for their self-produced sophomore record, though the band shared a common commitment to a live and unadorned vibe. That directness pays off throughout In Unison, exhibiting an instrumental confidence and a thematic unity. What presented as promise on their debut is close to fruition on their follow-up. That immediate appeal that drew our attention on Marooned is rewarded on the easy charm of Blank Range’s new collection.

- Caroline Spence, "Long Haul" Long Haul  (Rounder, May 3)- Reed Foehl, "American Miles" Lucky Enough  (Foehl, 19)  D
^ Blank Range, "Proximity" In Unison  (Sturdy Girl, 19)
- Jim White, "Still Waters" Wrong-Eyed Jesus  (Luaka Bop, 07)
- Mandolin Orange, "When She's Feeling Blue" Tides of a Teardrop  (Yep Roc, 19)
- Lula Wiles, "Shaking As It Turns" What Will We Do  (Smithsonian, 19)
- John Paul White, "My Dreams Have All Come True" Hurting Kind  (Single Lock, Apr 12)
- Amelia White, "Said It Like a King" Rhythm of the Rain  (White-Wolf, 19)
- Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, "Last Song I Will Write" Jason Isbell & 400 Unit  (Southeastern, 09)
- Deer Tick, "Bluesboy" Mayonnaise  (Partisan, 19)
- GA-20, "Naggin' On My Mind (feat. Luther Dickinson & Charlie Musselwhite)" single  (Colemine, 18)  D
- Yola, "Love All Night (Work All Day)" Walk Through Fire  (Easy Eye, Feb 22)
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Colorado" QCNH  (Lightning Rod, Mar 1)
- Lucero, "Kiss the Bottle" Basement Tapes  (Liberty & Lament, 00)
- M Lockwood Porter, "Dream Is Dead" Communion In the Ashes  (Black Mesa, Mar 29)  D
- Hayes Carll, "Times Like These" What It Is  (Dualtone, Feb 15)
- Leyla McCalla, "Heavy As Lead" Capitalist Blues  (McCalla, 19)  D
- Twain, "Young God (gotta lotta feeling)" New Miami Sound EP  (Keeled Scales, 19)  D
- David Ramirez, "Dancing and Vodka" Apologies  (Sweetworld, 12)
- Chatham County Line, "Think I'm In Love" Sharing the Covers  (Yep Roc, Mar 18)
- William Tyler, "Man In a Hurry" Goes West  (Merge, 19)
- Richard Thompson, "Backlash Love Affair" Rumor and Sigh  (Capitol, 91)
- Michael Chapman, "Truck Song" True North  (Paradise of Bachelors, Feb 8)
- Ryan Bingham, "Pontiac" American Love Song  (Axster Bingham, Feb 15)
- Avett Brothers, "Neapolitan Sky" single  (Republic, 19)  D
- Iron & Wine, "Passing Afternoon (demo)" Our Endless Numbered Days (Deluxe Edition)  (Sub Pop, Mar 22)  D
- Patty Griffin, "Where I Come From" Patty Griffin  (PGM, Mar 8)
- Boo Ray, "20 Questions" Tenessee Alabama Fireworks  (Boo Ray, Feb 15)
- John Calvin Abney, "In Such a Strange Town" Far Cries and Close Calls  (JCA, 16)
- Josh Ritter, "Old Black Magic" Fever Breaks  (Pytheas, Apr 26)  D

As February dawns, we're gifted this week with new records from Deer Tick, Reed Foehl (backed by Band of Heathens), and Cale Tyson, with an EP exhibiting more of an indie folk vibe.  Next week, keep an eye open for the release of records from Sean McConnell and British guitar mentor Michael Chapman.  We'll enjoy CDs in their entirety from Mercury Rev, paying tribute to Bobbie Gentry, as well as the first solo project in years from Jason Ringenberg. You'll find more of this name-dropping nonsense on the link to your right: A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster.

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