ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 1, 2020
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT FEBRUARY?!!
Always happy to move on from one month to the next. Some really high profile americana releases on the horizon, but let's allow ourselves a glimpse back at what's mattered in the past couple weeks (in order of appearance, of course):
Aubrie Sellers, Far From Home (Soundly, Feb 7)
John Moreland, LP5 (Old Omens, Feb 7)
Nathaniel Rateliff, And It's Still Alright (Stax, Feb 14)
Nora Jane Struthers, Bright Lights Long Drives First Words (Blue Pig, Feb 21)
Katie Pruitt, Expectations (Rounder, Feb 21)
Jonathan Wilson has fostered a reputation as a go-to producer and sideman of a wide range of artists, from Will Oldham and Father John Misty to Elvis Costello and Roger Waters. His own projects are lovingly constructed folk-rock gems, barefoot and breezy just like his former Laurel Canyon home. An eclectic multi-instrumentalist, Wilson is as notorious a collaborator as he is a DIY'er, deliberately stacking track after studio track like a sonic scientist in his lab. While most of his solo records follow in this free-range spirit, they're decidedly rooted in that California soil.
All this by way of saying that Jonathan Wilson's new collection bucks many of these trends. Dixie Blur was set to tape in Nashville, largely live in studio and over the period of just a handful of days. Rather than referencing the scene a couple thousand miles to the West, much of the generous fourteen song set looks East to Wilson's North Carolina childhood. Perhaps most importantly, he and co-producer Pat Sansone have populated Cowboy Jack Clement's Sound Emporium with a remarkable band of accompanists.
Even deep within his cloud of sound, Jonathan Wilson has always sounded genuine and even organic. But little in his catalog hints at the immediacy and abandon of "In Heaven Making Love". What begins as a steady gallop unspools into a full country jam with pounded piano and dancing fiddle, a sound he calls a locomotive polka thing sorta. And while nobody will mistake the session for a great lost cut from Nashville's heyday, Wilson sounds purely at home in the setting: I've been high I've been low I've been everything in between I've been trying to have a little fun / I've been delivering letters of rock and roll freedom in this carnival on the run. "El Camino Real" maintains that same party groove, especially as Mark O'Connor's fiery fiddle steps to the front of the stage.
We'll stop down for just a moment to mention what a remarkable get O'Connor was, a truly worldclass fiddle virtuoso who has lent his strings to everyone from Alison Krauss and Bela Fleck to Stephane Grappelli and the London Philharmonic. While O'Connor was initially reluctant to commit to the studio time, his rich work anchors Dixie Blur as it has so many other diverse albums since the 1970s. The same could be said for several of Wilson's compatriots on these sessions, including guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Dennis Crouch and Russ Pahl's pedal steel.
The outfit's contributions are most readily felt on some of Dixie Blur's quietest moments. Would you like to come to my house and play records / And drink the rest of this Korean tea, he invites on the evocative "Korean Tea". Wilson's voice whispers alongside piano and acoustic guitar, incorporating a bit of the psychedelia that has populated some of his earlier music. It's a lovely, unhurried piece that had its unlikely beginnings with an early band he shared with Benji Hughes. With harmonica and pedal steel, "Golden Apples" suggests a bucolic setting, even as the lyrics are more typical of Wilson's impressionistic approach: So you will find me on the ocean / With the trident of Poseidon / Charting the magnitude (imagine Charlie Pride delivering those lines). O'Connor shines especially on the melancholy "69 Corvette", recalling his earlier session work alongside Cheryl Wheeler. I still think of Carolina sometimes Wilson sings: I miss the family, I miss that feeling / I miss home. The ghosts of the past and of family haunt the song's video, memories interspersed with shots of the artist and his band in the warmth of the lived-in studio.
Most recently, Jonathan Wilson has served as Roger Waters' tour bandleader, stepping into the guitar and vocal parts once carried by David Gilmour. A deeply eclectic artist, it must be said that there's little repetition between his four full-length solo CDs. Driven by such a wandering musical attention span, it's certain that Wilson's next project will sound little like these Nashville sessions. Even if it is simply a passing flirtation, it can't be said that Dixie Blur presents him as a dress-up cowboy. Rather, the record suggests another facet of the talent that has attracted fans and fellow artists to his work. We're lucky to be along for the carnival.
- Angelica Garcia, "Valentina In the Moonlight" Cha Cha Palace (Spacebomb, 20)
- Peter Case, "Entella Hotel" Man With the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar (Geffen, 89)
- Waco Brothers, "Lincoln Town Car" Resist! (Bloodshot, 20) D
- John Moreland, "Terrestrial" LP5 (Old Omens, 20)
- Katie Pruitt, "Out Of the Blue" Expectations (Rounder, 20)
- Anthony da Costa, "Runaway" Feet On the Dashboard (AntiFragile, Mar 27) D
- Muscadine, "Analexis Dakota" Ballad of Hope Nicholls (Sire, 97)
- Steve Earle, "Devil Put the Coal in the Ground" Ghosts of West Virginia (New West, May 22) D
- Lowest Pair, "Too Late Babe" Perfect Plan (Delicata, Apr 24) D
- Secret Sisters, "Tin Can Angel" Saturn Return (New West, 20)
- Peter Oren, "John Wayne" Greener Pasture (Western Vinyl, Apr 24)
- Sarah Siskind, "In the Mountain" Modern Appalachia (Soundly, Apr 17)
- No Ones, "Straight Into the Bridge" Great Lost No Ones Album (Yep Roc, Mar 27)
- Crooked Jades, "Waiting City Shining (feat. Richard Buckner)" Unfortunate Rake Vol 1 (Jades, 00)
- Hailey Whitters, "Devil Always Made Me Think Twice" The Dream (Pigasus, 20)
- Lucinda Williams, "You Can't Rule Me" Good Souls Better Angels (Hwy 20, Apr 24)
- Jesse Daniel, "Bringin' Home the Roses" Rollin' On (Die True, Mar 27)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Slow Monday" Single Mothers Absent Fathers (Vagrant, 14)
- Sam Doores, "Windmills" Sam Doores (New West, Mar 13)
- Chuck Prophet, "Marathon" Land That Time Forgot (Yep Roc, May 15)
- Gabe Lee, "Emmylou" Honky Tonk Hell (Torrez, Mar 13)
- Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Dopamine Dream" Let the Lead Fly (Lower 40, 09)
- Jaime Wyatt, "Neon Cross" Neon Cross (New West, May 29) D
- Dave Simonett, "By the Light Of the Moon" Red Tail (Dancing Eagle, Mar 13)
- Jess Williamson, "Wind On Tin" Sorceress (Mexican Summer, May 15) D
- Alvin Youngblood Hart, "Porch Monkey's Theme" Start With the Soul (Ryko, 00)
- Reckless Kelly, "North American Jackpot" American Jackpot / American Girls (No Big Deal, May 22)
- Whitney Rose, "Just Circumstance" We Still Go To Rodeos (MCG, Apr 24)
- Real Estate, "Falling Down" Main Thing (Domino, 20)
- Steeldrivers, "Lonely and Being Alone" Bad For You (Rounder, 20)
Right here, every Episode we showcase just a handful of the new releases that have landed on A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding Your Monster over the past couple days. Yes, this means there's more if you click on the link. Chuck Prophet tells us that Land That Time Forgot (Yep Roc, May 15) has a lot of acoustic energy; it's a folk record even. Jess Williamson has readied her follow-up to 2018's Cosmic Wink. Sorceress will land in your mailbox on our around May 15 via Mexican Summer. Steve Earle targets Ghosts of West Virginia at people who didn't vote the way that I did. These are songs he assembled for a stage play, and they'll find their way onto your shelves May 22 courtesy of the ever-busy New West label. New West is also responsible for Neon Cross, the new collection from Jaime Wyatt. Expect vulnerable lyrics and vocal performances from the Shooter Jennings-produced record, due May 29. That same day we'll make time for Old Time Feeling from SG Goodman, former frontperson for Savage Radley. Today, you got your weekly ROUTES-cast: