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Monday, January 26, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 24, 2015
Scott Foley

To quote Neil Young (which I do quite often):  "Live music is better.  Bumper stickers should be issued."  I spent several hours of my valuable youth poring over Mr Young's Live Rust, a classic live record, and its live/studio companion Rust Never Sleeps.  We launched into this Episode with several concert takes from recent releases, including the rare Neil Young R&B sighting.  While I'm not automatically a fan of live records, I can't deny that a couple of them played a big part in my musical childhood (thinking Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous, the Kinks' One For the Road, to cite just two ... oh, and Neil Diamond's Hot August Night, which proved that indeed there was a time when the man was cool incarnate).  It's hard to argue that Blitzen Trapper's Live In Portland will change a child's life, but at least it makes for an interesting radio bit.

In other news, it happens way too often now.  A really good band reaches the precipice of public awareness, then decides the music world would be better off without them.  Add to this heap o' sadness Lexington's Fifth On the Floor, who have released an EP, & After, calling it their "latest and last".  I'm especially fond of the duet with americana up-and-comer Lucette on the painfully sweet "Whiskey and Wine".  Here's hoping Justin Wells is only pulling a Sturgill Simpson here ...

Fortunately, BJ Barham and American Aquarium have managed to weather the road long enough to land an album that could boost them onto a more prominent national stage.  From the sounds of it, Barham's not exactly enchanted with the touring life - nearly every song on Wolves addresses being away from home, watching friends raise families, weary traveling and seeing life thru the bottom of a beer bottle.  Still, if we've learned anything over the years on R&B, it's that sometimes the hardest times generate the strongest music.  Produced by Megafaun's Brad Cook, Wolves is a great sounding record, just perfectly arranged and on that dangerous edge between professional and polished.  Despite the generous pedal steel and Memphis style keys, American Aquarium has never made a more rock sounding collection.  As a writer, Barham has never bared so raw a personal nerve than on tunes like "Southern Sadness":  "There's a certain kind of despair / It hangs heavy in the air / And everywhere I go I'll always smell the Piedmont pines / There's a Southern sadness that won't let go / Of this heart of mine".  The song even quotes Gram Parsons.  That Southern sadness permeates Wolves, from the self deprecation of "Man I'm Supposed To Be" ("Nobody's ever called me a good man / And that's all right by me")  to the sad sack "Losing Side of Twenty-Five"  ("My parents ask me how I'm doing / I hang my head and close my eyes / They say don't throw your life away / Go and get a job that pays / We love you and we know that you tried."  This isn't to say that Wolves doesn't kick it at times  -  check out the chunky style Southern rock of "Wichita Falls" or the driving ode to the band's Carolina home, "Old North State".  At the heart of the album, however, is the kind of soul searching honesty that is too often passed over for the easy "last call" cliches.  "They say home is where the heart is / It's a place I get my mail sent / A two bit room museum for the things I never get to use". 

*  Waco Brothers, "Death of Country Music (live)"  Waco Express: Live and Kickin'  (Bloodshot, 08)
*  Blitzen Trapper, "God and Suicide (live)"  Live In Portland  (LidKerCow, 14)
*  Phosphorescent, "Nothing Was Stolen (live)"  Live At the Music Hall  (Dead Oceans, 15)
*  Dr. Dog, "County Line (live)"  Live At a Flamingo Hotel  (Anti, 15)
*  Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Welfare Mothers (live)"  Rust Never Sleeps  (Reprise, 79)
*  Eilen Jewell, "Rio Grande (live)"  Live At the Narrows  (Eilen Jewell, 14)
^  American Aquarium, "Southern Sadness"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Ryan Culwell, "Piss Down In My Bones"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 14)
*  Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Let's Jump a Train"  So Delicious  (Yazoo, 15)
*  Diamond Rugs, "Voodoo  Doll"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)  D
*  Ryan Bingham, "Broken Heart Tattoos"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Lydia Loveless, "Let Me Leave"  The Only Man  (Lydia Loveless, 09)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Whistlers & Sparklers"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)  D
*  Steve Earle, "Go Go Boots Are Back"  Terraplane Blues  (New West, 15)
*  Robert Earl Keen, "Footprints In the Snow"  Happiest Prisoner: Bluegrass Session  (Dualtone, 15)
*  Vetiver, "Current Carry"  Complete Strangers  (Andrew Cambric, 15)  D
*  Gretchen Peters, "Nashville"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)
*  Ben Weaver, "Littleman"  I'd Rather Be a Buffalo  (Hymie's Record Label, 14)
*  Maggie Bjorklund, "Name In the Sand"  Shaken  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Fifth On the Floor, "Whiskey and Wine (w/Lucette)"  & After  (Fifth On the Floor, 15)  D
*  Kill County, "Broken Glass In the Sun"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 14)
*  John Calvin Abney, "Dark Horse Army"  Better Luck  (Foolish Philosophy, 15)  D
*  Cary Hudson, "Vinyl and Wine"  Town and Country  (Cary Hudson, 14)  D
*  Alabama Shakes, "I Found You"  Boys & Girls  (ATO, 12)
*  Pops Staples, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"  Don't Lose This  (Anti, 15)
*  Sixteen Horsepower, "Bad Moon Risin' (live)"  Hoarse  (Alt.Tentacles, 01)  C
*  Jason Isbell, "Tour of Duty (live)"  Live From Alabama  (Lightning Rod, 12)
*  Wanda Jackson, "Rip It Up"  Party Ain't Over  (Nonesuch, 03)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 17, 2015
Scott Foley

I'm fond of saying that I'm allergic to bluegrass.  I know of people who are tired of hearing me say that.  I lump bluegrass in with jazz as genres that are more fun to play than to hear.  But throw in some drums and some edge and you might turn those tables.  One of the most engaging concerts I ever presented as a promoter featured nothing more than Danny Barnes standing on stage with nothing more than a banjo, a dirty t-shirt and boots (plus, pants). I really enjoyed subbing for a bluegrass radio show once, airing a lot of hybridized 'grass stuff until too many listeners called asking why I wasn't playing bluegrass ...

It's been 30 years since Robert Earl Keen debuted with his Texas music classic No Kinda Dancer.  I'd place 1994's Gringo Honeymoon near the top of the americana heap among a small number of near perfect records.  I interviewed him around the release of 2005's What I Really Mean, and recall that Keen was sunburned as a lobster and tired.  But when he took to his acoustic his voice sounded perfect.  He can still flip the switch, and he surrounds himself with some peerless players (as the Xmas-Men, they released one of 2014's most entertaining holiday albums in Santa Is Real).  After all these years, REK has scratched that itch to release a collection of bluegrass sessions:  "My lifelong love of bluegrass taught me how to feel music as well as hear it.  I've spent countless hours banging out fiddle tunes and murder ballads with rank strangers.  We never missed a beat because we spoke only bluegrass."  For Happy Prisoner: the Bluegrass Sessions, Keen has chosen to reach back to the classics, covering material from Carter, Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the oft-celebrated Trad.  While few were begging for another take on "Long Black Veil" or "Wayfaring Stranger", this whole bluegrass racket really works for Keen, who invests the songs with that personal passion for the music that "washes over me like a wave".  There's a loose, live spark that lights the Flatt & Scruggs standard "Hot Corn Cold Corn", and Bill Monroe's "Footprints In the Snow" will please both americana and bluegrass camps.  Guests like Natalie Maines and Peter Rowan add some dimension to the sessions, and Keen's old friend Mr Lovett sounds like he's riding that wave on Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas".  My guess is that if I gave this to a hard-and-fast bluegrass snob (Andrea), they might enjoy a track or two before returning to their new Gibson Brothers record.  Keen does not fall into the tradition of high and lonesome 'grass singers (he sometimes sounds high, but rarely lonesome).  That said, as a guy who comes at it as an outsider, I can appreciate the ragged, harmony-rich run through "Old Home Place".  Keen's worn croon is exactly the bridge I need to cross over now and then.  There's an old gentleman who calls the station on an alarming basis to request some version or another of Richard Thompson's "52 Vincent Black Lightning", which has previously been visited by artists like Del McCoury, Red Molly, Greg Brown, the Mammals, Dick Gaughan, Mary Lou Lord, Beth Wood, and something called Grandpa Banana, just to cite a few.  It's a contemporary classic, but I have heard it too many times.  With Robert Earl Keen's take, however, I now have an occasional response to Old Town Jerry's calls.  In the abiding spirit of Happy Prisoner, it reflects the man's deep personal connection with the music:  "That's what we did here.  We played bluegrass in a tiny room until it shook and the music washed over us".  I can appreciate any genre that comes from this sort of passion. 

*  Gretchen Peters, "Black Ribbons"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)
*  Ryan Bingham, "Adventures of You and Me"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Sir Douglas Band, "San Francisco FM Blues"  Texas Tornado  (Atlantic, 73)
*  Dr. Dog, "Too Weak To Ramble (live)"  Live At a Flamingo Hotel  (Anti, 15)  D
*  Todd Adelman, "Devil Is For Drinking"  Highways & Lowways  (Porch Lantern, 15)  C
*  Bettye LaVette, "Worthy"  Worthy  (Cherry Red, 15)
*  New Basement Tapes, "Lost On the River"  Lost On the River  (Harvest, 14)
*  Pops Staples, "Somebody Was Watching"  Don't Lose This  (Anti, 15)  D
*  Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Ain't No Stranger"  There is a Bomb In Gilead  (Alive Ns, 12)
*  Dexateens, "Pine Belt Blues"  Red Dust Rising  (Estrus, 05)
*  Ryan Culwell, "I Think I'll Be Their God"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Cody Canada & the Departed, "Comin' To Me (edit)"  HippieLovePunk  (Underground Sound, 15)
*  Shovels & Rope, "Coping Mechanism"  Swimmin' Time  (Dualtone, 14)
*  JJ Grey & Mofro, "Every Minute"  Ol' Glory  (Provogue, 15)
*  Joe Pug, "Stay and Dance"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Richmond Fontaine, "Out of State"  Winnemucca  (El Cortez, 02)
*  Murder By Death, "Send Me Home"  Big Dark Love  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
*  First Aid Kit, "Hard Believer"  Big Black and the Blue  (Wichita, 10)
*  Tallest Man On Earth, "Tangle In This Trampled Wheat"  Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird  (Dead Oceans, 10)
*  Hiss Golden Messenger, "Brother Do You Know the Road"  Southern Grammar  (Merge, 15)
*  Gill Landry, "Just Like You"  Gill Landry  (ATO, 15)  D
*  Strange Americans, "Places II"  That Kind of  Luster  (Strange Americans, 14)  C
*  American Aquarium, "Man I'm Supposed To Be"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Lowest Pair, "Rosie"  Sacred Heart Sessions  (Team Love, 15)  D
*  Avett Brothers, "That's How I Got To Memphis (live)"  Another Day Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis  (Nonesuch, 15)  D
*  Chuck Ragan, "Survivor Blues"  While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records  (Bloodshot, 14)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 10, 2015
Scott Foley

There is a certain strain of americana whose gentle and earnest spirit allows it to masquerade as folk.  Think artists like Nancy Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Robin & Linda Williams or Rosanne Cash.  They're each capable of tremendous writing, but often lack the edge that I need to assuage my restless spirit.  Plus, I'm a hipster.  Anyhow, I'd add to this list Gretchen Peters, who was incidentally just inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame largely on the strength of songs that were made hits by mainstream acts like Martina McBride and Patty Loveless.  I've always admired Peters' writing, to the point where she joined me for an Episode a couple year ago.  Peters' new album, Blackbirds, raises the bar for her solo work, as well as providing a definite edge and a dimension of darkness.  More than this, Gretchen Peters' voice opens up to sound like an entirely new instrument, almost like a Kate Bush for the roots crowd. 

Peters' excellent Blackbirds is just one of the many forthcoming 2015 releases targeted in this Episode.  There's also an unexpected shot from Nashville by way of West Texas -  Ryan Culwell's Flatlands lands via Lightning Rod on March 3.  Culwell issued his debut back in 2006, then disappeared into a world of laboring as "a cow bile cooker, roof salesman, server, mover, air conditioner delivery man, sports radio editor, telemarketer and roustabout".  Those dirty hands and cracked fingernails make a music that's deeply rooted in the blue collar world of his Texas home:  "Take me back where I can see / Miles of dirt in front of me / Summer's hot and winter's mean / There ain't nothin' in between / The earth can break a man / But here I'll take my stand / I'll climb my mountains out in the flatlands".   Culwell's voice comes across like a cross between Jimmy LaFave and John Fullbright, and he shares their respective way with a lyric: Folks with lined faces, dead-end jobs and a conflicted relationship with the small town where they were born, likely the very same place they will die.  This is the territory of our best writers, names like Isbell, Moreland and Caudle.  It's the devil haunted Ray Wylie Hubbard that comes to mind on the gritty, gutbucket "I Think I'll Be Their God":  "Well I think I'll be a preacher / It's the good book that I love / I'm 'a preach my altar call to the dirt / Save anybody who comes up".  It's a push/pull relationship between Culwell's people and their land, the dirt from which they draw their living:  "She's cleanin' red dirt / Off the life he's brought her".  There are few sweet moments to balance out the bitter, tunes like "I Will Come For You" or (believe it or not) "Piss Down In My Bones", which adds gospel to the equation.  Early last year it was Parker Millsap's self-titled record that largely helped to set the tone for the year's first quarter.  For 2015, that bar might be set by Ryan Culwell. 

*  Silver Jews, "Honk If You're Lonely"  American Water  (Drag City, 98)
*  Holy Ghost Electric Show, "Highway Towns"  Great American ...  (This Is Amer Music, 14)
*  Glossary, "Rutherford County Line"  How We Handle Our Midnights  (TIAM, 03)
*  American Aquarium, "Wolves"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Scruffy the Cat, "Love Song #9"  The Good Goodbye  (Omnivore, 14)
*  Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be"  Down To Believing  (E1, 15)
*  Flatlanders, "Way We Are"  Hills and Valleys  (New West, 09)
^  Ryan Culwell, "Flatlands"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)  D
*  Bloodhounds, "Wild Little Rider"  Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 14)
*  Cody Canada & Departed, "Inbetweener"  HippieLovePunk  (Underground Sound, 15)  D
*  4H Royalty, "She Only Karaokes To the Dan"  single  (4H Royalty, 15)  C, D
*  Gretchen Peters, "When All You Got Is a Hammer"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Sedona"  single  (Houndmouth, 15)
*  Legendary Shack Shakers, "Dump Truck Yodel"  single  (Arkam, 15)  D
*  Pine Hill Haints, "7 On a Pair Of Dice"  Magick Sounds Of ...  (K, 14)
*  Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Let's Jump a Train"  So Delicious  (Yazoo, 15)  D
*  Lucinda Williams, "Lake Charles"  Car Wheels On a Gravel Road  (Island, 98)
*  Vic Chesnutt, "Lucinda Williams"  West of Rome  (Texas Hotel, 91)
*  Roger Alan Wade, "Things I Been Blamed For"  Bad News Knockin'  (Knoxville, 15)
*  Jamey Johnson, "Alabama Pines"  single  (Big Gassed, 15)  D
*  Ryan Bingham, "Fear and Saturday Night"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Small Houses, "Seventeen In Roselore"  Still Talk Second City  (Cottage, 15)  D
*  Eilen Jewell, "Everywhere I Go (live)"  Live At the Narrows  (Eilen Jewell, 14)  D
*  Tim Barry, "Older and Poorer"  Lost & Rootless  (Chunksaah, 14)
*  Matthew Ryan, "A Song To Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come)"  Boxers  (Blue Rose, 14)
*  Townes Van Zandt, "Where I Lead Me"  Sunshine Boy  (Omnivore, 13)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 3, 2015
Scott Foley

Wrapping up my year-end lists, I recently aired my favorite Colorado releases for 2014.   Incidentally, of the Square State stuff on this Episode's playlist, both Todd Adelman and Longest Day of the Year were released a bit too late to be on this year's list. 

1)  Ark Life, Dream of You and Me
2)  You Me & Apollo, Sweet Honey
3)  Tennis, Ritual In Repeat
4)  Strange Americans, That Kind of Luster
5)  Reed Foehl, Lost In the West
6)  Esme Patterson, Woman To Woman
7)  Deadwood Saints, 6th Street and Trinity
8)  Musketeer Gripweed, Floods and Fires
9)  Birch Street, Birch Street
10) Matt Mahern, Test of Time In Music City

While it's a hoot to assemble these lists, it's also great to be on the other side, looking forward to what 2015 might have for us in the wings.  This Episode starts with a piece from the sort of record I hope to find more of in the year to come.  It was largely a surprise when it arrived on my radar back in 2013 and sounded like little else on my CD shelves.  Listening to Murry's Graceless Age on my way to the station, I was reminded of the album's edge, poetry and heart.

Hey, Ryan Bingham is back.  It's not that 2012's Tomorrowland was necessarily a disappointing collection.  It was angry, it was dark and it was loud.  The chorus from the CD's debut single went, "Guess who's knockin' on the door / Guess who's knockin' on the door / Guess who's knockin' on the door / It's me motherfucker, I'm knockin' on the door ... "  Hardly Shakespeare (or even Hag).  It's just that Bingham spent much of his first three records proving that he was a far better lyricist.  "Weary Kind" -  "Southside of Heaven"  - "Depression" -  "Dylan's Hard Rain"  -  some of the strongest americana tunes since the turn of the millennium.  This makes Bingham's 5th record, Fear and Saturday Night, land like a sweet kiss.  Fact is, I'll never blame an artist for trying something new, and there's no grace in making the same safe album over and over.  Strong songs like "Nobody Knows My Trouble" and "Broken Heart Tattoos" fit comfortably alongside earlier offerings from Bingham's catalog:  Mid-tempo country-leaning americana, sung in his worn and phlegmy drawl.  The revelations on Fear fall to either side of these, being either sad bastard ballads or abrasive rockers.  Of the latter, "Top Shelf Drug" stands out as both edgy and eloquent, not coming across as desperate to prove its fire.  "Adventures of You and Me" does an admirable job both echoing and paying homage to the Sahm/Augie/Flaco and Fender lineup, even down to the "Uno/Dos/Tres/Quatro" countdown.  For ballads, the stirring "Snow Falls In June" recalls "Weary Kind" in spirit and melody.  The album's heart beats in the title track, which best illustrates the record's themes:  "I don't fear nothin' except for myself / So I'm gonna go out & raise me some hell ..."  It's a curious sentiment where Bingham acknowledges his demons, but also recognizes that he might be powerless against them.  Reportedly written in an airstream trailer secluded in the California mountains, the songs betray that kind of self examination a settling of accounts in the wake of a rough couple of years.  Partway through nearly every tune on Fear and Saturday Night, an electric guitar leaps into the mix, sounding like the musical equivalent of a match being struck.  The solos stir up the songs' heat and the pervading sense of danger and dis-ease, accomplishing much of what Bigham's previous album sought to do without the desperation. 

Next Episode, we'll set the stage for some of the promising releases of the early year, including a glimpse into new collections by the likes of Legendary Shack Shakers, Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, Cody Canada and more. 

*  John Murry, "Penny Nails"  Graceless Age  (Evangeline, 13)
*  Shovels & Rope, "After the Storm"  Swimmin' Time  (Dualtone, 14)
*  Joe Pug, "If Still It Can't Be Found"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Justin Townes Earle, "Looking For a Place To Land"  Absent Fathers  (Vagrant, 15)
*  Blitzen Trapper, "Shine On (live)"  Live In Portland  (LidKerCow, 14)  D
*  Liz Vice, "Pure Religion"  There's a Light  (Deeper Well, 14)
*  Leon Bridges, "Better Man"  single  (Leon Bridges, 14)
*  Bettye LaVette, "Unbelievable"  Worthy  (Cherry Red, 15)  D
*  Allison Moorer, "Down To Believing"  Down To Believing  (E1, 15)
*  Eliot Bronson, "New Pain"  Eliot Bronson  (Saturn5, 14)
*  Barr Brothers, "Give the Devil Back His Heart"  Barr Brothers  (Secret City, 11)
*  Gillian Welch, "Honey Now"  Hell Among the Yearlings  (Acony, 98)
*  Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes, "Deathwish Country"  Black Coffee  (Lachlan Bryan, 14)  D
*  M Lockwood Porter, "Restless"  27  (M Lockwood Porter, 14)
*  Strange Americans, "Blood Is Gold"  That Kind of Luster  (Strange Americans, 14)  C
*  Todd Adelman, "Ghost Train"  Highways & Lowways  (Porch Lantern, 14)  C
*  Roger Alan Wade, "Yellow House In the Country"  Bad News Knockin'  (Knoxville, 15)
*  Lisa LeBlanc, "You Look Like Trouble"  Highways Heartaches & Time Well Wasted  (Bonsound, 14)
*  Wilco, "I'm the Man Who Loves You (live)"  Alpha Mike Foxtrot  (Nonesuch, 14)
*  Frazey Ford, "You Got Religion"  Indian Ocean  (Nettwerk, 14)
*  Longest Day of the Year, "Last Gray Day"  Carapace  (Mulewax, 15)  C
*  Cale Tyson, "Borrowed Love (To Go)"  Cheater's Wine  (Cale Tyson, 14)
^  Ryan Bingham, "Snow Falls In June"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Whitehorse, "Sweet Disaster"  Leave No Bridge Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)
*  Gretchen Peters, "Blackbirds"  Blackbirds  (Scarlet Letter, 15)  D
*  Deep Dark Woods, "Red Red Rose"  Jubilee  (Sugar Hill, 13)
*  Horse Feathers, "Old Media"  So It Is With Us  (Kill Rock Stars, 14)
*  Cracker, "Get On Down the Road"  Berkeley To Bakersfield  (429, 14)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 27, 2014
Scott Foley

Peppered this Episode with a couple New Year themed tunes,  none of which seem especially optimistic.  I generally launch into a new year with a certain amount of eagerness with regards to new releases, having put my lists for the old year behind me.  The dearth of releases this time of year also gives me the opportunity to focus on some strong releases that didn't quite make the cut, great stuff from Lydia Loveless, Tim Barry and Bloodshot records. 

We've also been gifted recently by some fine new Colorado releases, represented here by folks like longtime Yonder Mountain String Band-er Jeff Austin, Nederland's Todd Adelman, and Jim Dalton (who works with Roger Clyne, Railbenders and Hickman Dalton Gang).  Denver's Strange Americans issued on of 2014's biggest steps forward with That Kind of Luster, which brings to mind elements of more recent Son Volt.  Incidentally, I've adjusted my previously announced plans, and will play some of my favorite Square State music from 8-10am (MT) on Monday 12/29. 

Other promising debuts this Episode include a stellar new tune from Joe Pug's forthcoming record, and an uncharacteristically gritty bit from Allison Moorer.  We also wrangle a couple outliers in Roger Alan Wade and Joey Allcorn, and enjoy what could be an early candidate for the album of early 2015 from American Aquarium. 

Which leaves me to talk about Justin Townes Earle, issuing the companion piece to last year's excellent Single Mothers.  Appropriately termed Absent Fathers, the record was initially intended as a double album, which would've competed with Lucinda Williams' Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone for the year's worthiest double release.  Mothers ended up as my 9th favorite of the year.  After enjoying both records,  I really can't see a line between the two.  Fathers' songs might be a touch more upbeat, and Mothers strikes me as perhaps more personal, but both find JTE in a comfortable place.  New songs like "Call Ya Momma" and "Round the Bend" are representative of his recent explorations of a more contemporary country-soul sound.  As with Lucinda, there are plenty of heartbreakers, downbeat pieces like "Least I Got the Blues" or the beautiful "Looking For a Place To Land" which augment Earle's fragile but expressive vocals with some sweet pedal steel.  Logistics might be the strongest argument as to why the albums were released 4 months apart.  Just for fun, I listened to them on a "random" setting, with their respective songs blending perfectly from one to the next.  I can also attest that this is a perfect way to pass a snowbound afternoon in the early winter. 

Day and Night / Change and uncertainty / What can I say / What will I have to show / Will I be remembered for the love I made / And everything I've stolen  / Now the sun is going down / and I'll be damned if it don't look like snow ...

*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "New Year's Eve At the Gates of Hell"  Grifter's Hymnal  (Bordello, 12)
*  Low Anthem, "Champion Angel"  Oh My God Charlie Darwin  (Nonesuch, 09)
*  Lydia Loveless, "Wine Lips"  Somewhere Else  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  M Lockwood Porter, "Different Kind of Lonely"  27  (MLP, 14)
^  Justin Townes Earle, "Round the Bend"  Absent Fathers  (Vagrant, 15)
*  Dead Volts, "Late Again"  We Are Already Dead  (Twang N Bang, 14)
*  Jim Dalton, "Have a Drink On Me"  single  (Dalton, 14)  C, D
*  Todd Adelman, "Cold Mississippi Blues"  Highways & Lowways  (Porch Lantern, 14)  C, D
*  Charlie Robison, "New Year's Day"  Good Times  (Dualtone, 04)
*  Strange Americans, "Le Central"  That Kind of Luster  (Strange Americans, 14)  C
*  American Aquarium, "Wolves"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)  D
*  Drive-by Truckers, "Women Without Whiskey"  Southern Rock Opera  (Lost Hwy, 01)
*  Patterson Hood, "Rising Son"  Killers and Stars  (New West, 04)
*  Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be"  Down  To Believing  (E1, 15)  D
*  Whitey Morgan, "Another Wine"  Grandpa's Guitar  (Whitey Morgan, 14)
*  Roger Alan Wade, "Things I Been Blamed For"  Bad News Knockin'   (Johnny Knoxville, 14)  D
*  Joey Allcorn, "South Montgomery Blues"  Nothing Left To Prove  (Blue Yodel, 14)  D
*  Carolyn Mark, "Last To Know"  While No One Was Looking  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Lone Bellow, "Fake Roses"  Then Came the Morning  (Descendant, 15)
*  JD McPherson, "Let the Good Times Roll"  Let the Good Times Roll  (Rounder, 15)
*  Jeff Austin, "What the Night Brings"  Simple Truth  (YepRoc, 15)
*  Tim Barry, "No News From the North"  Lost & Rootless  (Chunksaah, 14)
*  Joe Pug, "If Still It Can't Be Found"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)  D
*  Hurray For the Riff Raff, "Little Black Star"  Look Out Mama  (Loose, 11)
*  Bottle Rockets, "Another Brand New Year"  Brand New Year  (New West, 99)
*  Districts, "4th & Roebling"  Flourish & a Spoil  (Fat Possum, 15)
*  Robert Earl Keen, "Wayfaring Stranger"  Happy Prisoner: Bluegrass Sessions  (Dualtone, 15)
*  Slaid Cleaves, "New Year's Day"  Wishbones  (Rounder, 04)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 20, 2014
Scott Foley

So this is Christmas ...  

A lot of people who like a lot of music don't much care for holiday music, and I get it.  I'll admit that there's a trainload of bad seasonal stuff out there, and that's what we're most subject to on radio, tv and in stores.  I see it as my mandate to take a left turn at "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (still a great Christmas original from a sweet scene in a generally fine picture) and trip thru the kudzu of the internets to find the worthy bits.  As with my non-holiday fare, it's not enough to be obscure, but the mistletunes with which I emerge also must earn their keep as good music.

This year brought a frequently fine compilation from the folks at Amazon, All Is Bright, and New West's holiday blend of the old and new in An Americana Christmas.  Frequent tourmates Blind Boys of Alabama and Taj Mahal exceeded expectations with a collection that is both original and meaningful.  And Over the Rhine continues their streak of peerless winter (re: depressing) song - I can't recall the last year I didn't play one of their tracks on my Holiday Show.  Clinging to the runners of my musical sleigh, as they have for years, are the former Mr and Mrs Steve Earle with their unrivaled statement of seasonal purpose, "Nothing But a Child".   I'll actually features new tunes from both their 2015 releases on next week's R&B Episode.   

More than any other holiday, on Christmas we are asked to feel warm and fulfilled on demand, and ofttimes that's just not possible.  There's a great deal of clutter and noise to distract us from this kernel of meaning at the heart of it all - but for me it's there.  I spent the great majority of my vocational life in the retail sector, reminded that Christmas was a'comin' by the increasing lines and the mounting frustration of the shoppers.  For all it was, that hubbub served as an Advent calendar of sorts for me.  Now that I've departed that realm, it's not necessarily as easy to tell the time, but it's also a far more relaxing season. 

Sometimes we cast judgment on the season, mistaking all that sparkle and crowding for the point of it all.  It's my experience that the noise of Christmas can serve as both a door and a wall - capable of either blocking you from that kernel of peace or ushering you towards its warmth.  With my weekly two hours of airtime, it's never my intention to do the former, to be part of the Noise.  On the contrary, my hope is that the musical choices I've made will at least serve as a quality soundtrack to another Saturday afternoon.  At best, I hope to be part of the ceremony that ushers you into the best that the season has to offer. 

"I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get."  ~  Del Griffith 

*  Jamey Johnson w/Secret Sisters, "Mele Kalikimaka"  Christmas Song EP  (Bag Gassed, 14)  D
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Santa Can't Stay"  Come On Christmas  (Reprise, 97)
*  Corb Lund, "Just Me and These Ponies"  An Americana Christmas  (New West, 14)
*  Mother Merey & Black Dirt, "Run Rudolph Run"  Noise To the World  (Converse, 13)
*  Xmas-Men, "Have a Holly Jolly Xmas"  Santa Is Real  (Rosetta, 14)
*  Walt Wilkins, Josh Grider & Drew Kennedy, "If We Make It Through December"  single  (3 Amigos, 14)  D
*  Love Tractor, "Linus and Lucy"  Before and After Christmas  (Fundamental, 06)
*  Jimmy Reed, "Christmas Present Blues"  In the Christmas Groove  (Strut, 09)
*  JJ Grey & Mofro, "Santa Claus, True Love and Freedom"  Ol' Glory  (Provogue, 15)  D
*  Mavericks, "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"  Christmas Cookies  (MCA, 01)
*  Over the Rhine, "First Snowfall"  Blood Oranges In the Snow  (Great Speckled Dog, 14)
*  Eleven Hundred Springs, "Christmas Is a Time To Say I Love You"  Light Connected  (Kirtland, 12)
*  Houndmouth, "Blue Christmas"  All Is Bright  (Amazon, 14)
*  Nick Lowe, "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day"  Quality Street  (Yep Roc, 13)
*  JD McPherson, "Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)"  single  (Rounder, 12)
*  Tom VandenAvond, "South Texas Christmas"  Tom VandenAvond  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 05)
*  Norah Jones, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"  single  (Blue Note, 12)
*  Blue Rodeo, "Jesus Christ"  A Merrie Christmas To You  (Warner, 14)  D
*  Grant Farm, "Christmas Time's a-Coming"  An East Nashville Christmas  (PhBalanced, 12)  C
*  Laura Gibson, "Silver Bells"  Walker In a Winter Wonderland  (Pink Smoke, 13)
*  Mark Kozelek, "2,000 Miles"  Sings Christmas Carols  (Caldo Verde, 14)  D
*  Vic Chesnutt & Liz Durrett, "Somewhere"  Somewhere Compilation  (Liz Durrett, ??)
*  Blind Boys of Alabama & Taj Mahal, "Do You Hear What I Hear"  Talkin' Christmas  (Sony, 14)  D
*  Bobby Womack, "White Christmas"  Tradition  (Capitol, 99)
*  Anthony Hamilton w/ZZ Ward, "Away In a Manger"  Home For the Holidays  (RCA, 14)  D
*  Nikki Lane, "FaLaLaLaLove Ya"  An Americana Christmas  (New West, 14)
*  Vintage Trouble, "Soul Noel"  single  (Ty Taylor, 13)
*  Ron Sexsmith, "Maybe This Christmas"  Winter's Night Vol 2  (Nettwerk, 03)
*  Marc Cohn, "Coldest Corner in the World"  single  (Marc Cohn, 14)  D
*  Lucinda Williams, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  All Is Bright  (Amazon, 14)
*  Steve Earle & Alison Moorer, "Nothing But a Child"  to: Kate  (Western Beast, 05)

Finally, please join me on Monday, 12/22 as I share some of my favorite songs of 2014, from the americana world and beyond.  And if we don't cross paths until next Saturday, have yourself a merry little Christmas, however you're able to define it.

Ho  ~

Sunday, December 14, 2014

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
December 13, 2014
Scott Foley


Every year is a good year for music.  You just have to know where to look.  As with past years, my Favorites for 2014 are a mix of stuff that's been given a good deal of radio attention nationally and stuff that has flown under all but the most discerning radars.  There are artists whose releases have perennially shown up on my lists and others who were unknown to me in January.  As always, I'm blessed and honored to be able to continue broadcasting R&B from the KRFC studios, where I also serve as Music Director (that's right, I'm paid to juggle music).  Over the past couple years, this blog has become an essential part of Routes & Branches, inseparable for me from the broadcast itself.  One of my musical resolutions for 2015 is to include a podcast for those who are unable to tune in on Saturdays.  Watch this space, as they say. 

1.  Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music  (Hilltop Mt, 5/13)
Despite my Routes & Branches tagline, looking down my list there is a lot that is only tangentially linked to country music, if at all.  Sturgill Simpson, however, stands for all that I love about the genre.  If you're not paying attention to the lyrics of "Turtles All the Way Down," it's as classic and traditional a vocal delivery as you're bound to find.  "Long White Line" is pure honky tonk.  But then there's the incredible instrumental freakout which closes "It Ain't All Flowers," or the left-field cover of When In Rome's 1980s hit "The Promise".  Metamodern Sounds is not only firmly rooted in the immediately recognizable traditions, it has arguably preserved the genre during a time when what passes for mainstream country has largely unmoored it from its past. 
2.  Delines, Colfax  (El Cortez, 4/29)
My initial taste of the Delines created a desperate feeling in me.  The melancholy country-soul of  "I Won't Slip Up" announced the arrival of something that would change my year.  A longtime fan of Richmond Fontaine, I also happened to be reading Willy Vlautin's most recent novel, The Free.  Vlautin teamed with members of the Damnations, Decemberists and his day band to create this subtly moving monster.  As sung by Amy Boone, Vlautin's hard luck stories take on a new beauty.  Between his two bands and his writing career, I lose sleep these days worrying that Vlautin can't keep this up for long ... 
3.  Hiss Golden Messenger, Lateness of Dancers  (Merge, 9/09)
MC Taylor's work has never been as accessible, or as eloquent as it is on Lateness.  It is a deeply personal record, both for me and for Taylor, I imagine.  Like Joe Henry's Invisible Hour (celebrated below), it seems such a carefully arranged document, with lyrics so poetic that they stand on their own.  It's no coincidence that Taylor borrowed/stole the title of the album from Southern laureate Eudory Welty.  The looseness of HGM's November appearance on Letterman was revelatory (and, incidentally, proved that nobody supports worthy music like Dave).  
4.  Hurray For the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes  (ATO, 2/11)
I'm far from the first to note that Hurray's Alynda Lee Segarra is one of the most interesting figures in roots based music. Segarra set the stage for Heroes by paying tribute to her predecessors on 2013's understated My Dearest Darkest NeighborHeroes wouldn't have been the same without that earlier touchstone.  While the record's moments are engaging, I would argue that the more defining moments come with less direct pieces like "St. Roche Blues" or "Body Electric". 
5.  Benjamin Booker, s/t  (ATO, 8/19)
Booker landed in my CD player with a bang.  I played it over and over, knowing that I had found something that could largely define my 2014 musical experience.  Why not connect the dots between blues and gospel?!  Then let's shred it up by dragging it through the garage with a good dose of punk!  
6.  Old 97s, Most Messed Up  (ATO, 4/29)
Here's a vote for vulgarity.  Hooray for profanity, for immaturity and good loud fun!  After so many years on the scene, I don't think that anyone would have argued that Old 97s every really fully lost the youthful thread that runs from their earliest music.  Nevertheless, the abandon on Most Messed Up is so refreshing, and it's simply reassuring that the guys can still rock out like college idiots when needed. 
7.  Christopher Denny, If the Roses Don't Kill Us  (Partisan, 8/05)
Christopher Denny's voice is the most unique sound on this year's list.  I've jokingly compared it to "Jiminy Cricket as crossed with Jimmie Dale Gilmore," though the truth is that Denny's soulful croon serves his songs well.  The personal struggles that defined the seven years between his debut and this sophomore album serve to strengthen the urgency of his work.  There's a deep romanticism here as well, grounded in country and soul, as well as gospel.  
8.  Nikki Lane, All Or Nothin'  (New West, 5/06)
This is The One That Stuck Around for 2014.  Of course, the immediate impression was strong and positive.  With edge and appeal aplenty, producer Dan Auerbach has helped Lane come into her own.  As the year progressed, repeated plays revealed new depths and nuances to Lane's songs.  Front to back, there are more unforgettable tunes on All Or Nothin' than on any other collection on this list.  
9.  Justin Townes Earle, Single Mothers  (Vagrant, 9/09)
There's nothing showy to Single Mothers, nothing as catchy as "Harlem River".  Instead, Earle goes for the slow burn, the more subtle approach, putting his retro stuff on the back burner in favor of a more contemporary, soulful sound.  I look forward to the January release of Earle's companion piece, Absent Fathers 
10. Shakey Graves, And the War Came  (Dualtone, 10/06)
Yes.  Me and everyone else.  After two low key self-releases, I eagerly anticipated Alejandro Rose-Garcia's full fledged debut.  With contributions from Colorado's Esme Patterson, its long awaited arrival exceeds expectations.  Songs add new shades to the Shakey Graves sound, proving that he's more than a one dimensional busker.  Having said that, my hope is that future records remain well rooted in his lo-fi past.  
11. Caleb Caudle, Paint Another Layer On My Heart  (This Is American Music, 6/24)
I put North Carolina's Caudle in a similar category as John Moreland, with whom he toured in 2014.  Brilliant with a turn of phrase, he's a songwriter in the classic tradition who deserves a breakout moment about now.   "Come On October" and "Missing Holidays" are songs for the ages. 
12. Tweedy, Sukierae  (dbPm, 9/19)
With two Wilco retrospectives and this double solo record, Jeff Tweedy is apparently responsible for no fewer than 8 CDs worth of music in 2014.  The revelation here is how natural it all sounds, freed from the studio trickery and more experimental noise of his day band.  Tweedy has long been an excellent writer, but it's never sounded so basic, personal and direct as on Sukierae.  
13. Lucinda Williams, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone  (Hwy 20, 9/30)
With Lucinda, Justin Townes Earle and Delines, 2014 was a year I was thirsty for country-soul.  Like the late JJ Cale (whom Williams honors here with a patient cover of "Magnolia"), her music can be Memphis incarnate.  Especially on the country numbers, she demonstrates that her worn and ragged voice is still capable of such expression.  Down Where the Spirit is a generous record, but never indulgent, with every cut earning its place.  
14. Ryan Adams, s/t  (PaxAm, 9/09)
As much as the mainstream media rides Adams for some of his more ill advised public moments, I can never seem to shake his music.  While he remains elusive and overly prolific, he's also reached such a consistent level of songcraft on his "official" releases.  Most impressively, Adams does it all without straining to achieve the Big Statement.  Songs like "Gimme Something Good" are immediate and seemingly effortless.  
15. Cory Branan, No Hit Wonder  (Bloodshot, 9/19)
Let's hope this self-deprecating gem doesn't mark the end of Branan's attempts at being taken seriously as a writer.  Shot through with both humor and classic storytelling, Wonder stands as Branan's most consistent collection to date.  More focused than Todd Snider (but who's not?), with hooks almost as sharp as Rhett Miller.  
16. Joe Henry, Invisible Hour  (Worksong, 6/03)
 Such beautiful and evocative work, self-produced and pared to its essence.  It's almost as though Henry has drifted into a genre all his own over the past decade.  More than any other album on this list, Invisible Hour is pure poetry.  
17. Robert Ellis, Lights From the Chemical Plant  (New West, 2/07)
I've pegged Ellis as a potential game changer for records to come.  A bright songwriter, he makes unexpected choices, and adds textures to his music uncommon to most americana.  My hope is that he'll continue to evolve in challenging directions.  Ellis also branched out as producer in 2014, behind the boards for Whiskey Shivers' new release.  
18. Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy  (ATO, 7/01)
"Dearly Departed Friend" will compete for my Favorite Song of 2014.  It's OCMS' strongest record since their debut a decade ago.  Always sharp musicians, here they buckle down and prove themselves to be worthy writers as well.  
19. Elliott BROOD, Work and Love  (Paper Bag, 10/20)
Once fond of incorporating bits of Canadian history in their songs, the BROOD boys keep things closer to home on this one, with tunes about getting older and raising kids.  While that doesn't immediately say "good time record",  the trio's tuneful blend of roots pop has matured in a great direction. 
20. Bloodhounds, Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 11/04)
Another band from East L.A.  This one seems to make more noise, do more drugs and have more fun.  It's garage music at its finest, with echoes of blues, pop and punk.  One of my favorite surprises of the year.  
21. JP Harris & Tough Choices, Home Is Where the Hurt Is  (Cow Island, 9/23)
22. Fire Mountain, All Dies Down  (This Is American Music, 5/20)
23. Hard Working Americans,  s/t  (Melvin, 1/21)
24. Sons of Bill, Love and Logic  (Thirty Tigers, 9/30)
25. Parker Millsap, s/t  (Okrahoma, 2/04)
26. Otis Gibbs, Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth  (Wanamaker, 8/19)
27. Rosanne Cash, River and the Thread  (Blue Note, 1/14)
28. John Fullbright, Songs  (Blue Dirt, 5/27)
29. Whiskey Shivers, Whiskey Shivers  (Self, 9/23)
30. Joe Fletcher, You've Got the Wrong Man  (Wrong Reasons, 10/06)

Next Saturday, please join me for my annual R&B holiday show - music that's both seasonally and musically relevant.  Looking forward, I think I'll actually be airing a wide selection of my favorite songs on KRFC's Monday Mix on December 22 (8-10am Mountain Times), and my Colorado favorites on Monday, January 5 during those same hours.  I'll post both my Songs and Colorado lists on this blog soon after they air.