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Sunday, April 08, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
April 8, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I've spent the entirety of my vocational life in the book industry in some function or another.  While I know you can't judge a book by its cover, an evocative image can certainly make someone pick it up and maybe understand a little about what's inside.  I like the cover of Caitlin Canty's Motel Bouquet quite a bit.  A couple yellow roses, stems in a plastic bottle, plastic bottle in a red paper cup.  The bouquet is apparently in a vehicle, and the flowers are still as the world flies by through the window.  Canty mentions that these yellow roses were a gift, and that she drove them from motel to motel during a tour.

Much of Canty's third record speaks from the road, from motion or from stillness.  And there is so much stillness in her work.  A confessed musical minimalist, Canty is committed to the slow burn, imminently patient in letting a song unspool.  "Who" employs a very few select words to leave its impression:  Who put the song on your lips / Who put the swing in your hips / Who put the cotton in your fingertips.  That evocative line alone takes a full minute to weave.  It brings to mind "I Envy the Wind" from Lucinda Willliams, another masterful commander of space and time.  The song floats on a drone that blooms into an exquisite chamber folk, featuring Canty's unrivaled collaborators: Producer and stringman Noam Pikelny has assembled Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Paul Kowert on bass Russ Pahl on pedal steel and Josh Grange on percussion, along with some help from Gabe Witcher and Aoife O'Donovan.  Few ensembles are capable of such a moving hush.

Far and away, the most expressive instrument on Motel Bouquet is Caitlin Canty's voice.  Where lesser singers might communicate with volume or bombast, her voice is a breathy and restrained alto, remarkably low and cottony.  "Time Rolls By" presents Canty's instrument at its best: Wind rolls in / Clouds slip out / I've been sitting here a hundred years / With every breath counting the / Time rolling by slowly.  Why shout when you can whisper?  Listeners are drawn closer, leaning into every patiently delivered message.

Canty is a sensualist, an artist laid open to the world and its minor details.  It's revealed in lyrics that appeal to our every sense, like Anna Tivel but more attuned to the natural than the urban world.  Where the light falls slant/ She holds the river in her hands / November hits the ground / A blanket of yellow and brown, from "River Alone".  She's also a capable guide to the wilds of the human landscape on "Leaping Out", advising Hold your hand to your heart / Keep it from leaping out.

It's one of Motel Bouquet's more swinging tracks, loping along goodnaturedly on a ramble, but still in little hurry to reach its destination.  None of Canty's songs are so hurried that they will overlook the small things, the half-hearted empties, the hum of cars and wind or the basil gone to blossom.  Lest you think quiet and focused equals a dull listening experience, Canty and Pikelny have created a captivating collection.  Especially as pieces become familiar, we develop an appreciation for the mastery required to work on such an intricate scale.  "Take Me For a Ride" is one of the year's strongest singles, and "Scattershot" is a dark and dramatic storyboard.  At Canty's command, one line can tell an entire story:  She was a rose / In a jacked-up truck / Scratching off her luck.

This week finds us neck deep in one of the year's most frantic release cycles.  Under the pressure of so much good new stuff, we tend to neglect our usual practice of including some less new music on our playlist.  This week brings us our inaugural glimpse into Jason Boland's long awaited project.  Phil Cook's new collection is on the menu, and we'll gather 'round the campfire with Kasey Chambers and friends.

- Goodnight Texas, "Outrage for the Execution of Willie McGee" Conductor  (Cent Back Check, 18)
- Greyhounds, "Credo" Cheyenne Valley Drive  (Bud's Recording, 18)
- Bettye LaVette, "Times They Are a-Changin'" Things Have Changed  (Verve, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Don't Mean to Pry" Appreciation  (Kill Rock Stars, 18)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Whirlwind" Volunteer  (Sony, 18)
- Vivian Leva, "Bottom of the Glass" Time is Everything  (Free Dirt, 18)
^ Caitlin Canty, "Take Me for a Ride" Motel Bouquet  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Lindi Ortega, "Till My Dyin' Day" Liberty  (Shadowbox, 18)
- Bonnie Prince Billy w/Joan Shelley, "If You Ever Get To Houston" Hummingbirds & Helicopters: Benefit for South Texas  (Cinquefoil, 18)
- Shakey Graves, "Mansion Door" Can't Wake Up  (Dualtone, 18)
- American Aquarium, "Tough Folks" Things Change  (New West, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Our Friend Bobby" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)
- Bennett Wilson Poole, "Ask Me Anything" Bennett Wilson Poole  (Aurora, 18)
- Kasey Chambers & Fireside Disciples, "Campfire Song" Campfire  (Essence, 18)  D
- Motel Mirrors, "Dead of Winter Blues" In the Meantime  (Last Chance, 18)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Damned if I Do Damned if I Don't" Years  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Rod Picott, "Primer Gray" Out Past the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)
- Phil Cook, "Steampowered Blues" People Are My Drug  (Psychic Hotline, 18)  D
- Red Shahan, "Someone Someday" Culberson County  (7013 Records, 18)  D
- Western Centuries, "Far From Home" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Jayhawks, "What Would a Dreamer Do" Johnny Cash: Forever Words  (Legacy, 18)
- Ana Egge, "Dance Around the Room With Me" White Tiger  (Story Sound, 18)  D
- Son Volt, "Highways and Cigarettes" The Search: Reissue  (Transmit Sound, 18)  D
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "I Don't Deserve You (w/Sunny Sweeney)" Hard Times are Relative  (Proud Souls, 18)  D
- Ashley Monroe, "Wild Love" Sparrow  (Warner, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Roy Rogers" Restoration: Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin  (UMG, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Whistle on Occasion (w/Chuck Prophet)" Edgeland  (Yep Roc, 18)
- 6 String Drag, "Robert & Lucy" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)
- Lake Street Dive, "I Can Change" Free Yourself Up  (Nonesuch, 18)
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Extraordinary Love" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)

Here is your ROUTES-cast for this week. Sounds best when you share it with a friend, or repost it on the social media of your choice.  Or when you just keep playing it and playing it until it all comes together and starts to make sense. 

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
April 1, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Back on the chaingang folks, after last week's generous debut.  Since we took a week away from the mic, we're left with a bottleneck of new stuff for this week's Episode.

... and since we're now into April, we can officially take a backward glance at what was the first quarter of 2018.  Here are my eleven favorite releases since the turn of the year, listed in order of appearance:

First Aid Kit
HC McEntire
Mike & the Moonpies
Ruby Boots
Caleb Caudle
6 String Drag
Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats
Andrew Bryant
Courtney Marie Andrews
Great Peacock

That's right.  I said eleven.  I don't see anyone else in this basement that's gonna stop me.  This is stuff that was has already been released, and that I have had the privilege of hearing in its entirety.

Looking into the next three months, we're getting antsy about new stuff from Will Stewart, Sarah Shook, Joshua Hedley, Donovan Woods, Charlie Crockett, Trampled by Turtles, Parker Millsap, Horse Feathers, Brent Cobb, John Calvin Abney, Jason Boland and American Aquarium.  Let the games begin.


I've said it before (though not too recently), that nobody casts a wider net around the world of roots music than Routes & Branches.  You're welcome.  Eclecticism matters here, walls be damned.  John Paul Keith and Amy LaVere appreciate a broad definition of our kind of music, too, as showcased in two new projects just released on Arkansas-based Last Chance Records.

If you're unfamiliar with the solo work of either LaVere or Keith, set aside this review for a sec and track it down - maybe LaVere's 2014 Runaway's Diary, or the superb Memphis Circa 3am (2013) from John Paul Keith.  It's easier to appreciate an artist once you understand where they've been (and there's a lot to appreciate from both acts).  It's also telling that Amy LaVere played the part of Wanda Jackson in 2005's Johnny 'n June biopic Walk the Line.  Over the space of a handful of solo records, she's collaborated with folks like Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Shannon McNally, Jimbo Mathus and Will Sexton.

Back in 2013, John Paul Keith and Amy LaVere issued a widely-heralded, seven-song EP under the moniker Motel Mirrors.  For their first full-length, In the Meantime, they've added guitarist Will Sexton to the mix, creating a sticky sweet confection with a touch of roots noir.

"I Wouldn't Dream of It" introduces the outfit, a celebration of artist interplay and a dialog of talents.  Everly style vocals and a walking guitar line frame the song, a rockabilly/early rock hybrid held down by LaVere's durable upright bass line.  It's a thread that runs throughout Meantime, a reminder that the sum is greater than the parts (though the individual parts in this case are each remarkable talents).  A more upbeat "Paper Doll" walks these same floors, a rockabilly rumble driven by a tripping drumbeat and a rhythmic acoustic strum, with those harmonies that fall somewhere between Johnny 'n June and John 'n Exene.

And speaking of the Carter-Cash clan, "Loving in the Morning" finds the Motel Mirrors paying musical tribute to Johnny 'n June with an easygoing country duet.  While the instrumental arrangements through are understated, it's also perfect for the proceedings.  The image that might be generated is one of the members gathered in a comfortable room, circled around a single mic and weaving their talents.  "Dead of Winter Blues" showcases LaVere's appealing vocals, sounding like Lindi Ortega on a roots noir:  Only eight different kinds of snowflakes / Untold kinds of cold / The weather bitter, the crisp, the deadly / And the kind that you have shown

"Things I Learned" arrives with the kind of edge and attitude that make Lydia Loveless such a force.  I know boys can be cruel sings LaVere, while simultaneously exuding strength and confidence: These things I learned without you.  There's pretty and there's down and dirty on Motel Mirrors' project, from the indelible confection of "Let Me Be Sweet to You" (just enough saccharine) to the honkytonk sawdust floor weeper, "Funerals in New Orleans", In the Meantime provides more than just a momentary diversion.

But wait:  There's more!  John Paul Keith has also released his fourth solo album, Heart Shaped Shadow, also on Last Chance.  Keith's new collection serves as a fitting companion to his Motel Mirrors disc. Created to analog tape with Sexton at the producer's helm (and the guitarist's post), the project boasts an immediate appeal, like a firsthand tour through the hallowed halls of Memphis roots rock 'n soul.

Fact is, Keith's new record arrives in the wake of a "D-I-V-O-R-C-E", and though there's hardly a downer in the bunch, Heart Shaped Shadow finds him with the ladies on his mind.  If you get a call from a 901 number / Late at night when you're tryin' to sleep / ... If I were you baby / I'd just let it ring.  On "901 Number", Keith doesn't present himself as the ladies' man.  Instead, he is the long-suffering, well-meaning romeo sans Juliet.  With its very decent guitar and underlying piano work, the song is worthy of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, maybe with Hargus Pig Robbins at the keys.  Listeners hungry for more sadsack songs will want to check out "Someday Somebody's Gonna Love Me".  It's a deliciously indulgent country stroll:  I know somebody somebody's gonna need me / And then maybe I can stop needing you.

But we can't live on melancholy alone, and John Paul Keith is just as capable of the sort of R&B revue that has become Memphis' signature.  With blazing horns and plenty of organ, "Something So Wrong" reminds us that this is Keith's native language.  Songs like "Ain't No Denying" introduce workmanlike playing that stands with one foot in jazz territory.  It's a cucumber-cool cut.

"Leave Them Girls Alone" launches with some gutbucket chicken-scratch guitar, a country-fueled number setting the spirit for the remainder of Heart Shaped Shadow's eclectic Memphis menu: Well I used to light a pack up every day / Everybody thought I'd burn my life away / I dropped that nasty habit like a stone / But I just can't see to leave them girls alone.  Add the early rock 'n stomp of "Do You Really Wanna Do It" and stir well.

Taken as a whole, the work on Motel Mirrors and Heart Shaped Shadow flirts with the eclectic and tuneful rock 'n roll as practiced by Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello or Ron Sexsmith.  Between John Paul Keith, Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, there is talent and experience enough for a dozen such projects.  Just like Memphis itself, the artists speak eloquently in the language of country, rock, soul and jazz.

- Parker Millsap, "Come Back When You Can't Stay" Other Arrangements  (Okrahoma, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Slow Burn" Golden Hour  (MCA, 18)
- Ags Connolly, "Slow Burner" Nothin' Unexpected  (Sofaburn, 18)
- Vivian Leva, "Time is Everything" Time is Everything  (Free Dirt, 18)  D
- John Prine, "God Only Knows" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Border" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Hellbound Glory, "Cold Dark Summer" Streets of Aberdeen  (Black Country Rock, 18)  D
- Blackberry Smoke, "I'll Keep Ramblin' (w/Robert Randolph)" Find a Light  (3 Legged, 18)
^ John Paul Keith, "Something So Wrong" Heart Shaped Shadow  (Last Chance, 18)
- American Aquarium, "Tough Folks" Things Change  (New West, 18)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Baby I Lost My Way (But I'm Going Home)" Tearing at the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Jolie Holland, "Louisiana 1927"  Hummingbirds & Helicopters: Benefit for South Texas  (Cinquefoil, 18)  D
- Bonnevilles, "Good Bastards" Dirty Photographs  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Chase Wild Horses" Edgeland  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Anna & Elizabeth, "Ripest of Apples" Invisible Comes to Us  (Smithsonian, 18)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "It's Too Late"  El Camino  (LAT, 18)
- Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Downey to Lubbock" Downey to Lubbock  (Yep Roc, 18)
- Kelly Willis, "Back Being Blue" Back Being Blue  (Premium, 18)  D
- Will Stewart, "Dark Halls" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "The Middle" Life is Good on the Open Road  (Banjodad, 18)
- Traveller, "Hummingbird" Western Movies  (Refuge Fndtn for the Arts, 18)  D
- Charlie Crockett, "Ain't Gonna Worry Child" Lonesome as a Shadow  (Son of Davy, 18)
- National Reserve, "Standing on the Corner" Motel la Grange  (Ramseur, 18)  D
- Bonnie Prince Billy, "World's Greatest" Ask Forgiveness  (Drag City, 07)
- Bonny Doon, "I Am Here (I Am Alive)" Longwave  (Woodsist, 18)  D
- Ry Cooder, "Prodigal Son" Prodigal Son  (Fantasy, 18)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "New Ways to Fall" Years  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Buck Meek, "Ruby" Buck Meek  (Keeled Scales, 18)
- Elvis Costello, "I'll Still Love You" Johnny Cash: Forever Words  (Sony, 18)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Passing Clouds" single  (Spacebomb, 18)  D

Scott Foley,

Sunday, March 25, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 25, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Bloggers can be passionate, dedicated fans of the music we write about.  They can also be close-minded, cut-and-paste hacks, but that's a subject for another time ...  It's a personal thing.  We like what we like, and we're willing to go to bat for an artist in whom we believe, for no other reason than to help spread the gospel.  The best artists will recognize that it's a reciprocal relationship.  Regular listeners will recognize the stuff that falls into this category for me; acts I tend to review from album-to-album, to support from year-to-year.

Back in September, I began to get emails from Daniel with Left Arm Tan, each featuring a new single from the Fort Worth outfit.  Each was a musical promissory note in advance of a rumored record to be released at a later date.  And each was better than the last.  Now that full nine-song project is just over the horizon, scheduled wherever music matters on April 6.  Just as importantly, Left Arm Tan has chosen to make its new stuff available first to followers of Routes & Branches.

El Camino is the sound of a band building on what's gone before, growing in new directions to expand the reach of their sound.  Granted, Left Arm Tan's sound has been perfectly fine to date, from Jim to Thurm, Alticana and 2016's Lorene.  Those early albums introduced a fully formed groove that wed Texas roots with an aggressive edge.  More recently, the band has sharpened that sound, creating some distance between themselves and countless other workingclass acts scratching and clawing in a notoriously crowded pack.

The difference has been in the songwriting.  While I likened Alticana and Lorene to Reckless Kelly, Sons of Bill and Will Hoge, Left Arm Tan was beginning to establish itself as a roadtested act to which we could compare other up-and-comers.  Musical ideas became better defined, and arrangements were sharper and more to-the-point, with lyrics that showed some smarts and plenty of personality.  Songs like "69 Reasons", "Freedom Bus" and "Blacktop Blues" were among my year-end favorites, striking that perfect chord between melody and abandon.

With a name like El Camino, you'd be right to expect to be run down by a couple diesel-fueled numbers.  "Looking at the World Through a Windshield" allows the band to cut loose, to open up the throttle on a tune about a man inheriting his father's addiction to the open road.  The honky-tonk cut is about as loose as we've heard Left Arm Tan get, highlighted by a reckless pitch-perfect duel between electric guitar and pedal steel.  The CD's title track showcases the work Left Arm Tan have put into their instrumental craft: It's a long way down from Tulsa to San Antone / I let the highway sound ease my troubled soul / I've got two loves driving me home / Don't fail me now El Camino.  It's a near perfect piece, evocative of a free ride along the open road.

Much of El Camino simply finds Left Arm Tan staying in their lane, just doing it even better.  My give a damn just broke, sings Brian Lee, on a song that's delivered like a take-no-prisoners call to tattooed arms.  "Give a Damn" lays down a hard 'n heavy tribal beat, along with sharp guitars and a a watertight backing chorus, a musical force of nature that catches the listener in a hundred mile-an-hour sawdust hurricane.

You'll find a bit more dark on this CD than you might expect.  "Mistress Freedom" slinks along on a bluesy rubberband bass, sounding like nothing else the band has released to date:  Freedom ain't free / you could say she owns me ... Taking risks ain't the same as being brave.  A sold-my-soul fiery guitar solo ushers in an otherworldly gospel backing chorus.  You can also toss "Shortcut to Oblivion" and "It's Too Late" into the "darker ride" bucket.  The latter is a minor key stomp with low-strung guitar and a chorus like Buddy Holly's wicked brother:  I put the hell in this town like it's going out of style / Now it's time to get the hell out of here for a while.

It's also obvious that the band has woodshedded on those backing vocals, which populate the album like a chorus of roadside angels.  They also serve to emphasize Left Arm Tan's remarkable ear for an unforgettable melody.  With such an immediate sonic appeal, several of these new songs may drive between your ears for days. El Camino's highpoint comes with "Best I Never Had" - a tune that deserves a home on radio.  It'll certainly be around down the homestretch as one of my year-end favorites.  Not one of the record's more musically adventurous moments, it's simply what Left Arm Tan does best.  It's verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus, with pieces held in place by a wonderfully sticky melody and an arrangement that shows the band deep in their pocket.

In sharing El Camino with me, guitarist-vocalist Daniel Hines acknowledged, "We took a lot of chances and stretched the songwriting and production".  Which doesn't mean that you'll mistake the new project as a new collection of bangerz from Flaming Lips.  Left Arm Tan have just released one satisfying record after another, each more confident than the last, and every one building on and expanding upon what they do well.  And in a time when so many acts sound like so many others, it can be a thrill to follow a band that is committed to sounding like the best version of itself.

This week, instead of our usual ROUTES-cast, take a moment to appreciate El Camino.  Slide behind the wheel, find a favorite backroad, and turn it up.

...  play  -  drive  -  repeat.  I'll leave last week's ROUTES-cast attached to last week's Episode.  Thanks to Left Arm Tan for working with me.  And for making such great music that matters!  Keep your eyes open for the April 6 release.

Monday, March 19, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 18 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

In preparation for this week's piece, I returned to Courtney Marie Andrews' 2016 Honest Life (reissued in 2017 on Mama Bird Records).  It's a frequently gorgeous collection of folk and country originals, and in my review I compared her music and her hair to Joni Mitchell:  She stares out from the cover ... framed by a fringe of bangs and Joni-straight hair, maybe fresh off a walk along the streets of 1970s Laurel Canyon. There's a bit of that fabled folk-rock spirit in Andrews' voice and in her songs, though she most recently from Washington state, having just finished some work as a guitarist with Damien Jurado.

Courtney Marie Andrews has ventured far from Washington since then, embraced by fans and critics, many of whom "aren't usually fans of her kind of music".  Her victory lap finished with a Best International Artist recognition at the recent UK Americana Awards.  Advance for her new collection, May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird/Fat Possum, March 23) has built on that growing murmur, promising a good loud buzz before too long.

You're a good woman and a good friend / You got a good heart, even when it's busted and bent / Lipstick and perfume, underground queen / Wearing loneliness like a costume for the whole world to see.

Once again, Andrews writes as though she's eavesdropping from a corner table at a diner in Middle America, USA.  Sometimes the voice that echoes through these songs is her own, but more often it is that of the folks who scratch and claw and grasp to remain atop it all.  "Lift the Lonely From My Heart" portrays a struggle that takes the form of self-doubt or self-imposed isolation.  A woman asks, Can you still see the good inside me / Or do you see a shell of who I was.  Even on ballads, arrangements tend to be fuller, electric guitars are fuzzed and backing vocals are Trio-worthy.  Where earlier songs might favor trappings from 70s folk, a country vibe pervades new songs like "Took You Up", even as there are touches of gospel and soul. 

There is nothing pedestrian about Andrews' voice, which has grown from pretty and unique on Honest Life to powerful and moving on these new songs.  When her singing soars, she is as strong as she is sweet, as wise as she is wide-eyed.  Tracks like "Two Cold Nights in Buffalo" and "I've Hurt Worse" are among the loosest, most forceful songs in her catalog, even allowing for a streak of biting cynicism.  From the latter:  Being with you is like being alone ... I like when I have to call you a second time / It keeps me wondering if you are mine.

The twin towers of Andrews' new collection are the title cut and "Kindness of Strangers".  At a time when decency is hard to find in the public sphere, kindness can be revolutionary, and personal connection can be essential:  When you're trying to be tender / But instead you come off cold / When your sweetness surrenders / To the cruelness of this world.  The songs on May Your Kindness Remain aren't political in the protest sense of the term.  But Andrews does indirectly acknowledge the current state of affairs through these stories.  The title track locates some small salvation in the simple wish that we hold fast to that spark of kindness, of humanity, even as our other trappings may fade:  If your money runs out / And your good looks fade / May your kindness remain ...

So much new stuff to like on this Episode, though this week's Best Thing Ever might be that Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats collection that we've been fiddling with for several weeks.  After a more thorough pass through the full record, it's deeply satisfying.  More groove-worthy than goofy.  We're also quite taken by Erika Wennerstrom's turn towards the light.  Where her material with Heartless Bastards could be dark and muddy (wonderfully so), her first solo album posits a more open sound, even as it rocks just as capably.

- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Sweet as John Hurt" Haw  (Paradise of Bachelors, 130
- Brent Cobb, "King of Alabama" Providence Canyon  (Elektra, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Without Applause" Appreciation  (Kill Rock Stars, 18)
- Deer Tick, "Smith Hill 2018"  single  (Partisan, 18)  D
- Neko Case, "Hell-on" Hell-on  (Anti, 18)
- Ruby Boots, "Infatuation" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Andrew Bryant, "Practical Man" Ain't it Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, 18)
- Craig Finn, "Galveston" single  (Bad Timing, 18)  D
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Letting Go" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "An Ocean" single  (Rivers/Birds, 18)  D
^ Courtney Marie Andrews, "Two Cold Nights in Buffalo" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Buck Meek, "Cannonball" Buck Meek  (Keeled Scales, 18)  D
- Caitlin Canty, "Onto You" Motel Bouquet  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Truck Full of Money" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)
- Goodnight Texas, "Keep Movin'" Conductor  (Cent Back Check, 18)  D
- Motel Mirrors, "Things I've Learned" In the Meantime  (Last Chance, 18)
- John Paul Keith, "901 Number" Heart Shaped Shadow  (Last Chance, 18)
- Matthew Ryan, "I Just Died Like an Aviator" Starlings Unadorned  (Ryan, 18)
- Hip Hatchet, "Tacoma Bound" Hold You Like a Harness  (HH, 14)
- Lindi Ortega, "You Ain't Foolin' Me" Liberty  (Shadowbox, 18)
- Chris Stapleton, "I Want Love" Restoration: Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin  (MCA Nashville, 18)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "A Little Honey" Tearing at the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News" Good Thing  (Columbia, 18)  D
- Parker Millsap, "Fine Line" Other Arrangements  (Thirty Tigers, 18)
- 6 String Drag, "Small Town Punks" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)
- John Calvin Abney, "Broken Bow" Coyote  (JCA, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Own Private Honky Tonk" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Great Peacock, "Miss You Honey" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- Audra Mae, "Lightning in a Bottle" Happiest Lamb  (SideOneDummy, 10)
- Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Ain'ta Gonna Grieve" Mermaid Ave Vol 3  (Nonesuch, 12)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 11, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Usually, I'll dedicate this space to a short personal note and an appreciation of one record that I think belongs on your radar.  This Episode, I'm going to spotlight four releases that I've already addressed in one form or another, but that deserve another bout of attention.  For coming weeks, I've got my usual longer reviews in the works for John Calvin Abney, John Paul Keith and Motel Mirrors, and American Aquarium.  I'm starting to get that drinking-from-the-firehose feeling about releases for the coming weeks, with a refreshing calendar of new stuff that verges on the overwhelming.  In addition to the couple mentioned above, I'm especially looking forward to Courtney Marie Andrews, Caitlin Canty, Will Stewart, Sarah Shook and Left Arm Tan.  Of course, for a full list of what's just over our musical horizons, just click on the link to your right: A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding the Monster.

Andrew Bryant, Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, Mar 9)
Andrew Bryant is 1/3 of the Water Liars.  Back in my first post for 2018 I celebrated this new solo record alongside Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster's collab with Will Johnson, Marie/Lepanto.  When I drew the review to his attention, he asked me to hold off on sharing more of the record until closer to the release date which had been pushed back a bit.  Now that release date has arrived, and it's once again time to heap praise upon superb songs like "Practical Man", the hammer-heavy "Robert Downey Jr's Scars" and the lovely Southern ode, "Bittersweet".  With such Southern rock riches, it's not been easy to keep Bryant's record under a bushel for the past several weeks ...

Ags Connolly, Nothin' Unexpected  (Sofaburn, Mar 9)
I made a horrible mistake whilst assembling my favorite CDs for last year.  I mistakenly thought Ags Connolly's uncommonly good trad country collection had been released the previous year.  Had I simply double checked my math, it would've landed among my ten favorites for 2017.  Fortunately, our good friends at Sofaburn Records have seen fit to formally issue Nothin' Unexpected here in the mainland (it was previously available only thru England's At the Helm label (Ags himself hails from Oxfordshire)).  Last year I crowed:  "Ags Connolly sounds as genuine and earnest as Charlie Rich or Marty Robbins ... I've often argued that in the right hands country music can readily cross borders, and that americana music really doesn't belong to the Americans these days.  Connolly has clearly done his homework and seems to take his craft to heart.  It's a project whose talent and appeal run way deeper that pearl snap shirts and shallow Cracker Barrel trappings".  I stand by my crowing.

6 String Drag, Top of the World  (Schoolkids, Mar 9)
This North Carolina band deserves at least as much accolades as Bottle Rockets, though 6 String Drag dissembled before their impact could be appreciated.  I reviewed a 20th anniversary reissue of their nourishing High Hat record back in January, a couple months prior to their brand new set seeing the light of day.  I wrote: "The bottom line here is that Top of the World is more than a simple blast from the genre's past ... Their new record announced that 6 String Drag are a contemporary band, creating relevant music and evolving in interesting ways".  Kenny Roby is too skilled a writer to relegate to the insurgent country museums.

Matthew Ryan, Starlings Unadorned  (bandcamp)
Back in May of last year, I spilled some digital ink rhapsodizing about Matthew Ryan's remarkable Hustle Up Starlings.  During a year that brought a groundswell of notable releases, the record earned the #7 spot on my favorites list.  I fell hard for the collection's noisy grace, and declared it the most worthy thing in Ryan's long and generous catalog.  Now there's this: "A Collection of Acoustic Versions, Demos & Previously Unreleased Songs".  But Starlings Unadorned doesn't simply apply a strummy acoustic guitar to these tremendous songs.  Rather, the recordings reintroduce them by stripping away all that buzz and leaving them stark, bare and wonderfully vulnerable.  Even in the wake of my love for the studio work, these new sessions present the songs in such a warm and human light that it's almost like an entirely different album.  New arrangements reveal hidden nuances to familiar pieces, and the unreleased songs like "Lonesome Flare" and "Oh Despair" are a great extension to the original project.

^ 6 String Drag, "Never Turn My Back on You Again" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Chase Wild Horses" Edgeland  (Yep Roc, Mar 30)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Let Me Down Easy (w/Amanda Shires)" Find a Light  (3 Legged, 18)
- Luke Winslow-King, "Leghorn Women" Blue Mesa  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- John Calvin Abney, "Every Now and Then" Coyote  (Abney, 18)
- Haley Heynderickx, "Drinking Song" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Tall Black & Bitter" Soul Flowers of Titan  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Dixie Avenue" Volunteer  (Sony, 18)
- Joshua Hedley, "I Never (Shed a Tear)" Hey Mr Jukebox  (Third Man, 18)
^ Ags Connolly, "Haunts Like This" Nothin' Unexpected  (Sofaburn, 18)
^ Matthew Ryan, "Lonesome Flare" Starlings Unadorned  (Ryan, 18)  D
- John Paul Keith, "Leave Them Girls Alone" Heart Shaped Shadow  (Last Chance, 18)  D
- Motel Mirrors, "I Wouldn't Dream of It" In the Meantime  (Last Chance, 18)  D
^ Andrew Bryant, "Bittersweet" Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, 18)
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Twisted Highway" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy" Golden Hour  (MCA, 18)
- Ryley Walker, "Telluride Speed" Deafman Glance  (Dead Oceans, 18)  D
- Neko Case, "Hell-on" Hell-on  (Anti, 18)  D
- Caleb Caudle, "Empty Arms" Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Horace & the Trophy" Don't Skip Out on Me  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Without Applause" Appreciation  (Kill Rock Stars, 18)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "I've Hurt Worse" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Simone Felice, "The Fawn" The Projector  (New York Pro, 18)
- Greyhounds, "No Other Woman" Cheyenne Valley Drive  (Bud's Recording Service, 18)
- Bettye LaVette, "Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" Things Have Changed  (Verve, 18)
- Paul Thorn, "You Got to Move" Don't Let the Devil Ride  (Perpetual Obscurity, 18)
- Brent Cobb, "King of Alabama" Providence Canyon  (Elektra, 18)  D
- Ashley Monroe, "Paying Attention" Sparrow  (Warner, 18)
- Parker Millsap, "Fine Line" Other Arrangements  (Okrahoma, 18)  D
- Will Stewart, "Mine is a Lonely Life" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)

Monday, March 05, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 4, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

All of a sudden I'm purchasing vinyl again.  When I was a young music lover, I would buy LPs with just about every allowance (plus a few Marvel comics).  When I left for college, I took a couple hundred records with me.  Demonstrating award-worthy judgment, that year I traded in nearly every album for money to buy cassette tapes.  As an absolute dead end investment, I believe most of those cassettes are still boxed in the cold dark garage.  As my kids grow older, they've each been fascinated with these big black CDs.  My daughter has more John Entwistle and Ringo Starr vinyl than your stoner uncle, and my youngest son is apparently keeping Eminem in business with his LP purchases.  Whenever I take him to the local stores (try Twist & Shout in Denver), I'll pick up something.  This is stuff for which I already have CDs or MP3s, and I can stream every single one of them online.  Just yesterday I invested in a copy of Townes Van Zandt's classic Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas - I wouldn't have spent money for this if it had been available in CD format (or cassette).  I don't buy other peoples' used and stinky stuff, albums that bear their teeth marks or gatefold sleeves that are hanging on by a tiny string of cardboard.  So each purchase means I'm out around $25 dollars or more for something I can't use for my ROUTES-cast, something I have to get up and turn over after five or six songs.  The sound quality is questionable, and I can't listen to it at the coffee shop while I'm preparing my blog.  Still, it appeals to the materialist in me, the guy who loves to run his fingernail along the plastic wrap, remove the LP and set the needle to play.


Sometimes the better a band gets the more direct their music becomes.  With increased confidence, there is less pressure to earn one's stripes by dancing around a musical point.  While Gran Pavo Real (Ropeadope, Mar 30) is only Great Peacock's second full-length, the collection reveals an evolution and a sure-footedness to the songs of Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd.

2015's Making Ghosts was one of my favorite records for that year.  Songs like "Broken Hearted Fool" and the title track struck a perfect chord, working with an americana sound that was decidedly Southern and richly melodic.  Those qualities are most readily on display with new tracks like "Hideaway" and "One Way Ticket".  The former features both some great guitar and a bit of classic organ thrown in for great measure.  "Ticket" offers a quieter ride, built on a fine vocal and a memorable chorus:  I'm a rolling stone / Yeah, I can't sit still / I'm a one-way ticket, headed straight down hill / I'm a back row Baptist with stories to tell / Got a one-way ticket to keep me out of hell.  This is classic Southern americana, very well played and as praiseworthy as anything else that's been released this year.

Even while striking these familiar notes, Gran Pavo Real finds the Nashville quartet embracing more of the region's blues and gospel influence.  "Heartbreak Comin' Down" is a piano-driven blues number, with a blazing Blount Floyd guitar solo.  "Rattlesnake" adds a rocking swagger, punctuated by bursts of guitar and a soaring chorus.  Both "Take Me Down" and "Oh Deep Water" are darker, gospel tinged tracks.

Rock 'n roll isn't advanced algebra, and artists like Ryan Adams and Justin Townes Earle are masters at pushing aside the pretension and simply playing a good song.  On pieces like "Miss You Honey", Great Peacock lean in that direction, taking the shortest line from the song through the ears and into the heart.  Gran Pavo Real strengthens the band's game by both paring back and by drawing from a deeper musical well.

We're also looking at a fine surprise EP from rocker Margaret Glaspy, whose 2016 Emotions & Math record merited far more play than I gave it.  Kacey Musgraves returns with a couple really good songs, including the superb "Space Cowboy", and I'll listen to just about anything Lake Street Dive releases.  Finally, something tells me we'll be spilling some digital ink on John Calvin Abney's new Coyote CD real soon.

- Ruby Boots, "I Am a Woman" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Best Seat in the House" Find a Light  (3 Legged, 18)
- Buffalo Tom, "Lonely Fast & Deep" Quiet & Peace  (Schoolkids, 18)
- Charley Crockett, "Lil' Girl's Name" Lonesome as a Shadow  (Son of Davy, 18)
- Yawpers, "Replace Me" Capon Crusade  (Yawpers, 12)
- Sue Foley, "Gaslight" Ice Queen  (Stony Plain, 18)
- Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, "Found the One" No Mercy in This Land  (Anti, 18)
- Bonnevilles, "Dirty Photographs" Dirty Photographs  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)
- Ry Cooder, "Shrinking Man" Prodigal Son  (Perro Verde, 18)  D
- Margaret Glaspy, "Before We Were Together" Born Yesterday EP  (ATO, 18)  D
- John Prine, "Knockin' on Your Screen Door" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)
- Sonny Smith, "Pictures of You" Rod For Your Love  (Easy Eye, 18)
- Laura Veirs, "Watch Fire (w/Sufjan Stevens)" The Lookout  (Raven Marching Band, 18)
- Jayhawks, "Settled Down Like Rain" Hollywood Town Hall  (American, 92)
- Ryan Adams, "Baby I Love You" single  (PaxAm, 18)
^ Great Peacock, "Heartbreak Comin' Down" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- Ashley Monroe, "Hands on You" Sparrow  (Warner, 18)  D
- Tom T Hall, "Spokane Motel Blues" Rhymer & Other Five & Dimers  (Mercury, 73)
- Courtney Patton, "Devil's Hand" What it's Like to Fly Alone  (Patton, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy" Golden Hour  (UMG, 18)  D
- William Matheny, "Moon Over Kenova" Moon Over Kenova  (Misra, 18)  D
- Sons of Bill, "Bad Dancer" Love & Logic  (Gray Fox, 14)
- John Calvin Abney, "Every Now & Then" Coyote  (Abney, 18)  D
- Marlon Williams, "Party Boy" Make Way for Love  (Dead Oceans, 18)j
- Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Billy the Kid & Geronimo" Downey to Lubbock  (YepRoc, 18)  D
- John Doe, "Hotel Ghost" Year in the Wilderness  (YepRoc, 07)
- Lake Street Dive, "Good Kisser" Free Yourself Up  (Nonesuch, 18)  D
- Drivin' & Cryin', "Honeysuckle Blue" Mystery Road  (Island, 89)
- Rod Picott, "Coal" Out Past the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)
- Langhorne Slim, "Rebel Side of Heaven" Langhorne Slim  (Kemado, 08)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 25, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

As January drew to a close, I tagged the following five releases as my favorites for the month:  Calexico, Ronnie Eaton, First Aid Kit, Marie/Lepanto and HC McEntire.  Since our February days are numbered, I'd add these to my month-to-month list:  Caleb Caudle, Fruition, Mike & the Moonpies, Richmond Fontaine and Ruby Boots.  You might note that these are in alphabetical order.  March threatens new stuff from 6 String Drag, Andrew Bryant, Courtney Marie Andrews, Great Peacock and more.

And Haley Heynderickx.  She happens to be the third Portland area artist I've reviewed this year, and is poised to release her debut full-length, I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird, Mar 2).  While all music is derivative at some level, the sounds Heynderickx makes with little more than voice and guitar are refreshingly different.

Haley Heynderickx can do pretty.  The record's lead-in, "No Face" is a brief but gorgeous acoustic piece:  Tell me what's wrong / Is it the bridge of my nose / Or the back of my skin / Is it the pull of my hips that you couldn't let in / Is it the bridge between worlds that makes you feel alone / I wish that I had known ... The acoustic playing is precise, and the voice is both human and heavenly, mesmerizing but too quickly passed.  Try the closer , "Drinking Song" for another more buttoned-up picture of the artist.  The slightly tipsy, waltz-time acoustic is like Alela Diane during her Pirate's Gospel days.

Then we have "Bug Collector".  Again, Heynderickx anchors the cut with classical fingerpicking, but something's amiss:  There's a centipede naked in the bedroom / And you swear to god the fucker's out to get you ...  The harplike guitar is soon joined by trombone and strings and an undercurrent of studio noise.  Still pretty, but there is a waver, a dis-ease in her voice that leads one to believe everything is not necessarily okay.

This is what Haley Heynderickx does on her debut full-length.  A Filipina by heritage, and raised in a traditionally religious family, she comes to folk music as an outsider.  She is a guitarist who calls both Hendrix (Jimi) and Leo Kottke influences, as well as a "primitive" folk artist like Vashti Bunyan.  There is a lure and a beauty to her music, but much of the appeal and the originality comes from the inherent quirk.

In performance videos and in interviews, she comes across as both vulnerable and dangerously certain of herself.  With a voice that can range from beautiful to unhinged, Heynderickx's rawness can seem fragile as well as cathartic.  "Worth It" launches with a bluesy electric and the singer's elastic cooing.  Skittering drums skip in and out of the track until they run away with it.  She sings "So put me in a line / Add another line / Soon you'll have a box and you can put me inside / Put me in a box boy / Put me in a box boy / And call me anything you want".  As the eight-minute-plus song unspools, so does your tidy impression of Haley Heynderickx.  And maybe your sense of what passes for beautiful will be challenged, too.

She vastly overflows our original folk labels, incorporating jazz phrasing to her guitar and vocals.  She's called it "doom folk".  With all these qualifiers, it's fortunate she also wields a quick and barbed sense of humor that prevents her from drifting into self-serious pretension.  She calls one of her pieces "Untitled God Song":  God is just a busy mother / Trying to balance all the chaos around her.  The song is a flight of fantasy, picturing the divine as she creates the bright sunset by forgetting to dim her headlights.  Her guitar playing is more adventurous here, as the arrangement also becomes busier and more ambitious.

But above all Haley Heynderickx's art is beautiful and challenging and different.  Attempts at comparison are fleeting, but might include Alynda Lee Segarra for her outsider strength, or Valerie June for both embracing her genre and toying with it.  She is an understated but eclectic guitarist, and it is especially engaging to witness her depart from more traditional stylings.  The same might be said for Heynderickx as a vocalist.  There can be a stream-of-consciousness appeal to her lyrics at times, as witnessed on "Oom Sha La La":  I'm throwing out the milk / The olives got old / I'm tired of my mind getting heavy with mold / I need to start a garden / I need to start a garden / I need to start a garden ...  Her voice cracks as she abandons composure, briefly shouting the repeated line manically like Courtney Barnett raised on folk.

Heynderickx says that she has already begun writing for her next collection, reportedly working with songs that flirt with a new direction.  As an artist who courts her muse with such playfulness and fearlessness, it's probably best to suspend any preconceptions of what might be next.

Also this week, Heartless Bastard Erika Wennerstrom continues to impress as she slowly reveals her new solo record.  Caitlin Canty brings us a dark and tempestuous piece from a record I am tempted to give some review time. We celebrate the return of Simone Felice, as we  hail Charlie Crockett as one of the more provocative young country traditionalists entering onto the scene.

- William Elliott Whitmore, "Not Feeling Any Pain"  Field Songs  (Anti, 11)
- Shelby Lynn & Allison Moorer, "Strange Angels" Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James  (Sylvan Songs, 18)
- Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee, "Dark Don't Hide It" single  (Dead Oceans, 18)
^ Haley Heynderickx, "Untitled God Song" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Coolin' Out (w/Lucius)" Tearing at the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Let's Go to Mars" Soul Flowers of Titan  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Greyhounds, "No Other Woman" Cheyenne Valley Drive  (Bud's Recording, 18)  D
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Twisted Highway" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)
- Long Ryders, "Prairie Fire" Two Fisted Tales  (Island, 87)
- Wade Bowen, "Compass Rose" Solid Ground  (Bowen, 18)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Steak Night at the Prairie Rose" Steak Night at the Prairie Rose  (Mike, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Earthly Justice" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Caitlin Canty, "Scattershot" Motel Bouquet  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Patty Griffin, "Useless Desires" Impossible Dream  (ATO, 04)
- Charlie Crockett, "I Wanna Cry" Lonesome as a Shadow  (Son of Davy, 18)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "May Your Kindness Remain" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Burn That Bridge" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)
- Rod Picott, "On the Way Down" Out Past the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)
- Simone Felice,"The Projector" The Projector  (New York Pro, 18)  D
- John Prine, "Summer's End" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)
- Will Stewart, "Heaven Knows Why" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Pieta Brown, "Mercury" Mercury  (Red House, 11)
- Andrew Bryant, "Bittersweet" Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Kelly's Bar" Life is Good on the Open Road  (Banjodad, 18)
- Courtney Patton, "Red Bandanna Blue" What it's Like to Fly Alone  (Patton, 18)
- Jeff Hyde, "Norman Rockwell World" Norman Rockwell World  (Hyde, 18)
- Fruition, "Northern Town" Watching it All Fall Apart  (LoHi, 18)
- Lynn Taylor & Barflies, "Slave to a Fool" Staggered  (Taylor, 18)
- Molly Parden, "Sail on the Water" single  (Tone Tree, 18)
- John Moreland, "Break My Heart Sweetly" In the Throes  (Ftnwsngs, 13)