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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
February 6, 2016
Scott Foley

Willy Vlautin's music frequently lacks a chorus.  With Richmond Fontaine he writes poetry of the down and out.  Vlautin's lyrics often don't rhyme, and it can be difficult to sing along to. 
I sat in the movies / Drank off a pint until I fell asleep / Until a nervous 16 year old kid / Was telling me I had to leave / I know what you abandon dies / What you leave leaves you too / I know you can't go back / If there's nothing to go back to 
 That said, there's nobody who writes like Willy Vlautin, in such a plainspoken, unadorned vernacular (perhaps Mark Kozelek, though Vlautin is a far superior storyteller).  The veteran Portland band has announced that its new You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To will serve as its tenth and final record.  Their last CD, 2011's High Country, was a largely spoken concept album, so it's especially heartening to hear more standard song structures on the new collection.  With his more recent project, the Delines, Vlautin's writing has taken on a different timbre more fitting of that outfit's country-soul vibe.  Parts of You Can't Go Back recall the band's phenomenal The Fitzgerald and Thirteen Cities, both records that could rock as effectively as they delivered Vlautin's portraits of desperation and doubt.  "Wake Up Ray" focuses on a singular moment when a pet bird is released into a snowstorm:  All I did was try to toe that line / The same line you see everyone else toe / Now all I remember is running through the snow / Looking for Little Joe as the wind blowed.  The new record simmers with these moments of parting, relationships whose expiration date has come and gone like the man in "A Night In the City" who tries his hardest not to head home after work:  Is this all there is? / Is this what life is? / A job that means nothing / A woman who sleeps right next to you / But she ain't yours at all.  The stories begin at these dead ends, be it a relationship, job or way of life.  What prevents these bleak stories from becoming indulgent is Vlautin's obvious sympathy for his characters.  It's a heavy album often played with a light hand by the quartet, along with Jenny Conlee-Drizos' keys and Paul Brainard's perfectly melancholy pedal steel.  As with Willy Vlautin's novels, there are few moments of ease, though they are there and they are fleeting.  You Can't Go Back draws Richmond Fontaine's deeply satisfying run to a close with "Easy Run":  I'll sit next to Annie / Underneath the table she'll hold my hand / And no longer will I mess up anything

* Emmylou Harris & John Prine, "Magnolia Wind" This One's For Him  (Icehouse, 11)
* Lyle Lovett, "Anyhow I Love You" This One's For Him  (Icehouse, 11)
* Guy Clark, "New Cut Road" South Coast Of Texas  (Warner, 81)
* Dori Freeman, "Go On Lovin'" Dori Freeman  (Free Dirt, 16)  D
* Lucinda Williams, "Can't Close the Door On Love" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
* Left Arm Tan, "Fading Away" Alticana  (LAT, 13)
* Luther Dickinson, "Hurry Up Sunrise" Blues & Ballads  (New West, 16)
* John Hiatt, "Love's Not Where We Thought We Left It" Master Of Disaster  (New West, 05)
* Smooth Hound Smith, "Gettin' Around" Sweet Tennessee Honey  (SMH, 16)
* Charles Bradley, "Change For the World" Changes  (DapTone, 16)
* White Denim, "Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)" Stiff  (Downtown, 16)
* Hiss Golden Messenger, "Still Life Blues" Parallelogram  (Three Lobed, 16)
* Parker Millsap, "Pining" Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Joe Pug, "Hymn #101" Nation Of Heat  (Joe Pug, 07)
* Julien Baker, "Rejoice" Sprained Ankle  (6131, 15)
* Chris Bathgate, "Big Ghost" Old Factory  (Quite Scientific, 16)
* Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Something Tamed Something Wild" Things That We Are Made Of  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Loretta Lynn, "Who's Gonna Miss Me" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)
* Wilco, "One Hundred Years From Now" Alpha Mike Foxtrot  (Nonesuch, 14)
* Harvest Thieves, "Part-Timer's Lament" Rival  (Holy Mt Sounds, 16)
* Rachel Brooke, "Ghost Of You" World's Greatest Anchor  (Brooks Robbins, 16)
* Tin Horn Prayer, "Once More" Love Will Under  (THP, 16)  C
^ Richmond Fontaine, "Let's Hit One More Place" You Can't Go Back ...  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
* Wood Brothers, "American Heartache" Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Carrie Rodriguez, "La Ultima Vez" Lola  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Pines, "Hanging From the Earth" Above the Prairie  (Red House, 16)
* Marlon Williams, "Hello Miss Lonesome" Marlon Williams  (Dead Oceans, 16)

Thursday, February 04, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 30, 2016
Scott Foley


January has proven an unusually generous month with regards to glimpses into forthcoming records.  Lots of stuff to look forward to.  As I look back, however, I haven't had the opportunity to listen from front to back to too many records yet. While I have my hunches, the final verdict on February albums by Caleb Caudle, Mount Moriah and March's Margo Price will have to wait a couple weeks.  Following are my five favorite records for the last couple weeks. 

Always game for a strong new artist, January brought its fair share, beginning with our intro to Chapel Hill's Sarah Shook & the Disarmers.  With vets Eric Peterson and John Howie Jr alongside, Sidelong features moments of amateurish daring as well as a refreshingly cocky confidence.  Americana is a pretty safe musical vehicle frequently in need of some rough edges, which Shook provides in spades.  Best of all, when she discovered my vocation she wrote, "I have a shit ton of respect for librarians"  -  quite possibly the first time it's been expressed in such a cool fashion.  Feeling's mutual.

While the sound of Austin's Harvest Thieves bears a definite polish and professionalism, their debut Rival also boasts that edge.   Harvest Thieves are that smart guy at the bar; you wonder why he's there at the same time you're glad that he classes up the joint just enough.  Guitars are played hard and sharp while the unexpectedly close vocal harmonies lend it all an immediately appealing melodicism.  Harvest Thieves are one of those rare bands that seem to arrive on the scene almost completely formed, awaiting only that perfect wave to lift them to national prominence.

Aubrie Sellers provides January's cool dip in the troubling waters of mainstream country. New City Blues is proving quite the deep record, especially for a debut.  What at first sounds like a quality contemporary country collection with further listens reveals its deeper vision.  New City can be a dark place, dealing in noir not unlike Lera Lynn, with lovely, trashy guitars that mess everything up just perfectly.  File this one along with Margo Price's forthcoming CD as 2016's Brandy Clark / Ashley Monroe / Kasey Musgraves ...

Freakwater won't impress your country loving friends.  They might complain that Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin can't sing, and that the songs are depressing (plus, sometimes they don't even rhyme).  Your indie hipster friends might ask why you're listening to Hee Haw.  Fact is, I won't recommend their long awaited new Scheherazade album to anyone I don't think will get it.  To those of us who have followed the ensemble since their early 90s inception, their new songs are objects of rough hewn beauty.  For the fiercest goosebumps, try some of the quieter cuts, where Irwin and Bean harmonize unlike any other two voices on record. 

Poet Miller Williams, Lucinda Williams' father, passed away the first day of 2015.  While she works in a somewhat different medium, the daughter has definitely inherited many of the tricks of her father's trade.  The nine-plus minute "Louisiana Story" that ends disc 1 of her new Ghosts Of Highway 20 is nothing less than a biographical poem set to the elegiac guitar duo of Greg Leisz and Bill Frisell:   God knows it rains / In Louisiana / But not enough to wash away / Sins of the father.  The reverie carries onto the first track of disc 2, the title cut:   Every question, every breath / Every exit leaves a little death / In its wake and a memory / That will wander with the ghosts of highway 20.  The two pieces brilliantly dovetail, meeting where the mythological shadows the personal.  A loose and bluesy "Bitter Memory" compliments the sweeter waltz rhythms of "Place In My Heart".  Ghosts features some painfully sweet moments ("Can't Close the Door On Love"), but never more than a song away from darker, troubling moments ("Death Came", f'rinstance).  The spirit generated by Frisell and Leisz shouldn't be understated, building such a pervasive mood for Williams' meditations.  I've opined previously that there is value in any genuine musical emotion, joyful or mournful.  Williams' second double-CD collection in 2 years has some gorgeous moments on both of these fronts.  Because there's such an emotional weight to so many of the cuts, it's easy to overlook the simpler, more direct songs such as the hymnlike "If There's a Heaven" (written in memory of her father):  I've seen the face of hell / I know that place pretty damn well / But when you go, you'll let me know / If there's a heaven out there.

* Cactus Blossoms, "Mississippi"  You're Dreaming  (Red House, 16)
* Paul Burch, "Fast Fuse Blues" Meridian Rising  (Plowboy, 16)
* Jayhawks, "High Water Blues" Mockingbird Time  (Rounder, 11)
* Mount Moriah, "Baby Blue" How To Dance  (Merge, 16)
* Blitzen Trapper, "Mystery and Wonder" Mystery and Wonder  (Vagrant, 16)
* Richmond Fontaine, "Don't Skip Out On Me" You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To  (Decor, 16)
* Harvest Thieves, "Upstage On the Front Page" Rival  (Holy Mt Sounds, 16)
* Waco Brothers, "Receiver" Going Down In History  (Bloodshot, 16)
* Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Keep the Home Fires Burnin'" Sidelong  (Disarmers, 15)
* Devil Makes Three, "Hand Back Down" I'm a Stranger Here  (New West, 13)
* Javier Escovedo, "Beaujolais" Kicked Out Of Eden  (Saustex, 16)
* Jon Dee Graham, "Big Sweet Life" Summerland  (New West, 99)
^ Lucinda Williams, "Bitter Memory" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
* Anderson East, "Learning" Southern Family  (Elektra, 16)
* Lake Street Dive, "I Don't Care About You" Side Pony  (Nonesuch, 16)
* Malcolm Holcombe, "Papermill Man" Another Black Hole  (Gypsy Eyes, 16)
* Buddy Miller w/Jill Andrews, "Come Early Morning" Cayamo Sessions At Sea  (New West, 16)
* Rachel Brooke, "Delilah" World's Greatest Anchor  (Brooks Robbins, 16)
* Chuck Ragan, "Gathering Wood" Flame In the Flood  (Ten Four, 16)  D
* John Moreland, "You Don't Care For Me Enough To Cry" High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
* Freakwater, "Number One With a Bullet" Scheherazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
* Hackensaw Boys, "Content Not Seeking Thrills (Ain't You)" Charismo  (Free Dirt, 16)  D
* Brothers Comatose, "City Painted Gold" City Painted Gold  (Swamp Jam, 16)  D
* Caleb Caudle, "Broken Hallelujah" Carolina Ghost  (This Is American Music, 16)
* Carrie Rodriguez, "Z" Lola  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Hayes Carll, "Love That We Need" Lovers & Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Gram Parsons, "Sleepless Nights" Sleepless Nights  (Warner, 76)
* Parker Millsap, "Tribulation Hymn" The Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D

Saturday, January 30, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
January 23, 2016
Scott Foley

Nearly every music blog has a "blogroll" - a list of sites recommended by the blogger.  Mine is just to the right over there.  I try to keep it current, actually using it myself as my launch pad for daily excursions across the web.  That's where I unearth most of the music I debut (D) on R&B.  F'rinstance, the newly revived Nine Bullets introduced me to the Harvest Thieves, an Austin outfit with roots in the band Guns of Navarone (another one I learned about from a former Nine Bullets writer).

Harvest Thieves' full length debut trades in a strain of somewhere between Old 97s and the Avett Brothers.  I supposed last year brought us some quality from acts like Turnpike Troubadours and the Banditos, but it's a welcome sound that's not entirely easy to find these days.  Harvest Thieves seem old enough to have absorbed some life lessons, but their sound is decidedly youthful and just this side of irreverent.  Balance this with a veteran swagger and confidence, as well as a truly good sounding record.  In addition to boasting a great title, "Bob Dylan's 78th Hangover" lays out the band's agenda:  Restless drums drive fiddle and guitar, with sweet three part harmonies.  "Your Damn Vanity" continues the pace, a song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early 97s record:  I've exhausted my every effort / To beat the shit out of this dead horse.  Pieces such as "Least Of These" and "I Killed Laura Palmer" lean a bit more on the acoustic side of the equation, with the latter opening with a lilting banjo and evolving into classic rock-worthy guitar squall.  From the former:  As it turns out / I don't have the purest heart.  Harvest Thieves are also capable of some unexpected elements, such as the airy keyboards of "Talk Of Surrender" or the perfect female harmonies on tunes like "Predestined Arrangement". Despite the band's polish and production elsewhere, "Upstage On the Front Page" lays down a nice and messy garage stomp.  This sort of looseness contributes an appealing element of the band's sound, coming across like friends who are serious enough about it to care about writing good songs, but who can also enjoy the ride. 
Hell is half full of sinners and spies
The other half's full of men who don't try

* Chuck Ragan & the Comaraderie, "You and I Alone (live)" Winter Haul Live  (Ten Four, 16)
* John Murry, "Southern Sky" Graceless Age  (Evangeline, 13)
* eXcavators, "If the Good Lord's a Good Ol' Boy" eXcavators  (Rusty Knuckles, 16)
* Loretta Lynn, "Everything It Takes" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)
* Hayes Carll, "The Love That We Need" Lovers & Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Tift Merritt, "Trouble Over Me" Bramble Rose  (Lost Hwy, 02)
* Green River Ordinance, "Maybe It's Time (Gravity)" Fifteen  (GRO, 15)
* Ryan Adams, "If I Am a Stranger" Cold Roses  (Lost Hwy, 05)
^ Harvest Thieves, "Bob Dylan's 78th Hangover" Rival  (Holy Mt Sounds, 16)  D
* Freakwater, "Bolshevik and Bollweevil" Scheherazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
* Spirit Family Reunion, "Put the Backseat Down" No Separation  (SFR, 12)
* Dylan LeBlanc, "Cautionary Tale" Cautionary Tale  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Aoife O'Donovan, "Stanley Park" In the Magic Hour  (Yep Roc, 16)  D
* Blitzen Trapper, "I Am a Man Of Constant Sorrow" Mystery and Wonder  (Vagrant, 16)  D
* Willy Tea Taylor, "Chickamauga" Knuckleball Prime  (Blackwing, 15)
* Quiet Hollers, "Midwestern" Quiet Hollers  (Quiet Hollers, 15)
* Andrew Bryant, "Do What You Love" This Is the Life  (Sleep, 15)
* Margo Price, "About To Find Out" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
* Songs:Ohia, "Farewell Transmission" Magnolia Electric Co.  (Secretly Canadian, 03)
* Smooth Hound Smith, "Stopgap Woman Blues" Sweet Tennessee Honey  (SHS, 16)
* M Ward, "Confession" More Rain  (Merge, 16)
* Rachel Brooke, "Ghost Of You" World's Greatest Anchor  (Brooks Robbins, 16)  D
* Cactus Blossoms, "No More Crying the Blues" You're Dreaming  (Red House, 16)
* Lucinda Williams, "Dust" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
* Robbie Fulks, "Alabama At Night" Upland Stories  (Bloodshot, 16) D
* Two Cow Garage, "All Sins Forgiven" Please Turn the Gas Back On  (Suburban Home, 03)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 16, 2016
Scott Foley

When I am heralded into heaven, I expect my angels will sound like Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean of Freakwater.  I thought I might have to wait until that glorious moment to hear their otherworldly harmonies again, since the last Freakwater record, Thinking Of You was released a decade ago.  Scheherazade marks only their 8th full length since their 1989 debut, and it's released on Bloodshot Records after a lifelong allegiance to the Thrill Jockey label.  Voices like Bean's and Irwin's only get richer and more interesting with time, as demonstrated on the new record's slower tracks such as the country flavored waltz, "Number One With a Bullet" or the curiously named "Bolshevik and Bollweevil".  What Freakwater has always done better than almost anyone is to draw a splendid line between the Carter Family and punk, incorporating the spirit of both without irony or cliche.  Fuzzy electric guitar is as prominent throughout the collection as the trad fiddle.  Songs like "Asp and the Albatross" or "Velveteen Matador" occupy the album's lane, while "What the People Want" and "Skinny Knee Bone" are more backroads folk.  For its range and its energy, Scheherazade comes across as Freakwater's strongest release at least since 1999's End Times.  It's the perfectly flawed sound that has fueled Routes & Branches since its inception, embracing both the edge in genuine folk and country music and the possible beauty in the spirit of punk. 

Also here is a brief but stirring Water Liars revival, including a look into Andrew Bryant's solo record that I apparently missed a year ago.  Ever wonder what a Loretta Lynn/Todd Snider/Elvis Costello hybrid might sound like?  Wait no further.  Loretta can apparently still write and sing like an angel.  And it's been 30 years since the Brothers Escovedo collaborated with Jon Dee Graham on the seminal True Believers record.  Of course, Alejandro went on to become one of the key artists in our kind of music, called No Depression's Artist of the Decade for the 1990s and played a whole bunch on Routes & Branches.  Javier struggled with personal demons and releases his second solo effort soon, Kicked Out Of Eden

* Andrew Bryant, "My Own Saving Grace" This Is the Life  (Sleep, 15)
* Water Liars, "Ray Charles Dream" Water Liars  (Fat Possum, 14)
* Water Liars, "Let It Breathe" Water Liars  (Fat Possum, 14)
* Caleb Caudle, "Piedmont Sky" Carolina Ghost  (This Is American Music, 16)
* Joey Kneiser, "For the Good Life" The Wildness  (This Is American Music, 15)
* Marlon Williams, "Hello Miss Lonesome" Marlon Williams  (Dead Oceans, 16)  D
^ Freakwater, "Velveteen Matador" Scheherazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
* John Doe & Exene Cervenka, "Sound Of Coming Down" Singing and Playing  (Moonlight Graham, 12)
* Jeffrey Foucault, "Hurricane Lamp" Salt As Wolves  (Blueblade, 15)
* Tom VandenAvond w/Larry & His Flask, "55 Sullivan Place" Endtimes  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 14)
* Kelly Hogan & Nora O'Connor are Lady Parts, "Me Myself and Wine" Bloodshot Six Pack To Go  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Waco Brothers, "Had Enough" Going Down In History  (Bloodshot, 16)
* Aubrie Sellers, "Loveless Rolling Stone" New City Blues  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
* Brennen Leigh, "My Baby Is a Tramp" Sings Lefty Frizzell  (Brennen Leigh, 15)
* Luther Dickinson, "Up Over Yonder" Blues & Ballads  (New West, 16)
* Holmes Brothers, "You're Good For Me" Promised Land  (Rounder, 97)
* Drive-by Truckers, "Primer Coat (live)" It's Great To Be Alive!  (ATO, 15)
* Reckless Kelly, "American Blood" Bulletproof  (Yep Roc, 08)
* eXcavators, "World Coming To An End" The eXcavators  (Rusty Knuckles, 16)  D
* Chuck Ragan & the Camaraderie, "Nomad By Fate (live)" Winter Haul Live  (Ten Four, 16)  D
* Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Sidelong" Sidelong  (Disarmers, 15)
* Smooth Hound Smith, "Forever Cold" Sweet Tennessee Honey  (SHS, 16)
* Pines, "Aerial Ocean" Above the Prairie  (Red House, 16)
* Chris Knight, "Another Dollar" Heart Of Stone  (Drifter's Church, 08)
* Miranda Lambert, "Sweet By and By" Southern Family  (Low Country Sound, 16)
* Loretta Lynn, "Everything It Takes" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)  D
* Richmond Fontaine, "Wake Up Ray" You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
* King Mud, "Keep It Out Of Sight" Victory Motel Sessions  (Alive Natural Sound, 15)
* Ron Pope & the Nighthawks, "Hell Or High Water" Ron Pope & the Nighthawks  (Brooklyn Basement, 15)
* Buddy Miller w/Elizabeth Cook, "If Teardrops Were Pennies" Cayamo Sessions At Sea  (New West, 16)
* Javier Escovedo, "It Ain't Easy" Kicked Out Of Eden  (Saustex, 16)  D

Thursday, January 14, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
January 9, 2016
Scott Foley

Another Episode, another 16 debuts.  Is it too much new stuff for one show?  Yes, I think you're right.  But it's what I do, and as I mentioned during my broadcast, my habit is to introduce new records over the span of several weeks, allowing us all an opportunity to become familiar with the artist or the album.  And speaking of New Stuff, please check out my new page called What's Next?!! A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding the Monster.  Just click on the link below my popular posts to the right.

In the meantime, please find me another broadcast that features Dr. Dog, Mavis Staples, Ship Thieves and Shovels & Rope in the same breath.  The louder, more indie-focused material from Dr. Dog, White Denim and Ship Thieves (formerly Chris Wollard & Ship Thieves) provided a nice stylistic departure, and Matthew Logan Vasquez brought us the Delta Spirit-ual blend of perfect pop and roots from his first full length solo record.

Closer to home, several blogs have posted lists of forthcoming roots records to watch for in early 2016, and Aubrie Sellers appears on many of those.  It's always been my conviction that you can tell a lot about an artist by their touring company, and Sellers has shared the stage with folks like Chris Stapleton, Hayes Carll and John Moreland. It also happens that she is the daughter of one time mainstream country star Lee Ann Womack.  On her debut CD, New City Blues, Aubrie Sellers trades in a darker shade of country, guitars buzzing and coats pulled tight against the cold.  The opener, "Light Of Day" launches with noir guitars that wouldn't have been out of place backing a scene during the first season of True Detective. "Sit Here & Cry" and "Just To Be With You" take a hard driving approach, heavy drums and reckless guitars with Sellers demonstrating more edge than most mainstream sorts show in an entire career.  One might wonder if she's railing against those mainstream vixens on the latter track:  "Up down left right all I see / Is little lost girls playing make believe / Oh it must be fun / Faking smiles at everyone / All you are is a paper doll ..."  Similar to Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Sellers writes or cowrites her songs and is never afraid to explore the dark side of country music. But don't misunderstand, New City Blues fits snugly in the country tradition on pieces such as "Losing Ground", which could've held its own on one of Mrs. Womack's early collections.  Rather than fish for an apt comparison among her country contemporaries, I might draw a line to longtime genre expats like Allison Moorer.  That's an especially apparent on a song like "Loveless Rolling Stone", pairing indelible guitar work with a smart lyrical approach. 

* Maria McKee, "Barstool Blues" Peddlin' Dreams  (Eleven Thirty, 05)
* Maxwell Mud, "Heavy Soul" Maxwell Mud  (Maxwell Mud, 15)  C
* Luther Dickinson, "Devilment" Blues & Ballads  (New West, 16)
* Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Keep the Home Fires Burnin'"  (Disarmers, 15)
* Flat Duo Jets, "Southern Drums" Red Tango  (Norton, 96)
* Paul Burch, "Girl I Sawed In Half" Meridian Rising  (Plowboy, 16)  D
* Arliss Nancy, "Coals" New American Runners  (Black Numbers, 13)  C
* Dr. Dog, "Bring My Baby Back" Psychedelic Swamp  (Anti, 16)  D
* White Denim, "Holda You (I'm Psycho)" Stiff  (Downtown, 16)  D
* Quiet Hollers, "Aviator Shades" Quiet Hollers  (Quiet Hollers, 15)
* Ship Thieves, "Middle Man" No Anchor  (No Idea, 16)  D
* Margo Price, "Desperate & Depressed" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
* Smooth Hound Smith, "Stopgap Woman Blues" Sweet Tennessee Honey  (SHS, 16)  D
* Dylan LeBlanc, "I'm Moving On" Cautionary Tale  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Julien Baker, "Good News" Sprained Ankle  (6131 Records, 15)  D
* Caleb Caudle, "Steel & Stone" Carolina Ghost  (This Is American Music, 16)
* Cactus Blossoms, "Stoplight Kisses" You're Dreaming  (Red House, 16)  D
* Lucinda Williams, "Ghosts Of Highway 20" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
* Trace Adkins, "I'm No Angel (live)" All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman  (Rounder, 14)
* Green River Ordinance, "Maybe It's Time (Gravity)" Fifteen  (GRO, 16)  D
* Ron Pope & the Nighthawks, "Southern Cross" Ron Pope & the Nighthawks  (Brooklyn Basement, 15)  D
* Mavis Staples, "High Note" Livin' On a High Note  (Anti, 16)  D
* Chris Bathgate, "Calvary" Old Factory  (Quite Scientific, 16)  D
* Matthew Logan Vasquez, "Personal" Solicitor Returns  (No Label, 16)  D
* Shovels & Rope w/Butch Walker, "Bullet Belt" Busted Jukebox Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 15)
* Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones, "I Thought That We Said Goodbye" Little Windows  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)  D
* Malcolm Holcombe, "Sweet Georgia" Another Black Hole  (Gypsy Eyes, 16)  D
^ Aubrie Sellers, "Losing Ground" New City Blues  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Cicada Rhythm, "Dirty Hound" Cicada Rhythm  (Normaltown, 15)

Thursday, January 07, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 2, 2016
Scott Foley

I don't know of any bloggers who make a living writing about music.  By definition, it's a labor of love, and make no mistake about it, it is a labor.  I also don't know too many bloggers who wholeheartedly embrace writing about records.  Let's face it, there's only so many ways you can say, "Damn, this is pretty good".  Every once in a while, maybe a couple times per year, I catch a creative wave and produce something of which I feel especially proud.  Mostly, it's just degrees of, "Oh well.  I'll just publish this and we'll see what happens next week".

That said, I love this little corner of the web I've woven, and I'm proud of the small but ever growing community of folks that land here regularly to see what I'm up to.  Typically, I leave the station Saturday evenings full of good intent which spoils to stress and guilt as the days progress and I don't get my weekly post published.  Once that hurdle is cleared, the emotional roller coaster shudders to life once again for another thrill ride.  While it's apparently all I can do to honor this weekly posting schedule, I want to do much more with my blog, from longer original pieces to interviews, sound files, calendars and god knows what else.

Behind the curtain, I carry a full time job as a managing librarian at a small but mighty public library in Colorado.  I've also been functioning (more or less) as Music Director of KRFC, the station from which Routes & Branches originates every week.  Plus, I manage the CD section for a small independent bookstore in Oregon.  And I'm tired.  Music is my passion, and I need to enjoy it, even to thrive on it and to be fueled by music.  Increasingly, it is my job, my obligation, my stress and my albatross.

It's staring to feel like soon, I'll be stepping down as Music Director, as well as retreating from my long distance bookstore position.  I hope to immerse myself in the more focused universe of my weekly broadcast and in a fuller, more robust iteration of this blog.  I still won't be making any money from it.  Matter of fact, I'll be bringing in less money as a result of bowing out from my other paid responsibilities.  Nevertheless, it'll foster a happier relationship with the things I truly love to do.  What's your part in this as a reader and/or a listener?  How can you help?  Well, a reasonable contribution to KRFC as you're able certainly wouldn't hurt.  Along with that, I'd ask that you help spread the word if you look forward to my weekly broadcast or my regular blog.  Share stuff via your own sites, tell a friend, or issue bumper stickers.  If you're an artist I support on Routes & Branches, feel free to check all of the above.  In a perfect world, it's a mutual appreciation society, not a soliloquy or a monologue.  It's a dialog between a growing community and the music we love.  While other bloggers I've admired have experienced a similar crisis of conscience and have understandably chosen to shutter up their respective blog, I hope the end of 2016 will find Routes & Branches a thriving destination.

Anyhow, music-wise we've collected quite the array of debuts this week, some from artists who are frequent residents of past year-end favorites lists.  I may shriek like a little girl when I'm privy to the first Richmond Fontaine record in five years in its entirety.  With Dave Cobb at the helm and artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell on the mic, Southern Family promises to be the biggest allstar event of the early americana year.  Lucinda sounds to be in perfect form for the first record issued on her own label.  And Caleb Caudle's followup to 2014's Paint Another Layer On My Heart is the best thing I've heard all year ...


I never expect Lydia Loveless.  My first listen to her 2011 Indestructible Machine broke my heart in all the right places.  If not a once-in-a-lifetime record, it at least set a high water mark for on my program.  All I can say is thank god for Sarah Shook.  Her first widely released record with the Disarmers, Sidelong, scratches some of those same deep itches.  At times Shook's delivery communicates such a genuine spirit and a sharp edge.  I break out in a rash when I come across music that's dishonest, music that uses cliches and catchprases to gain traction.  While she sometimes applies a curious, Johnny Cash-like bleat/vibrato, and yes there is a song called "Fuck Up", Shook never reaches too desperately to shock and the attitude is hard earned.  The members of Shook's band, the Disarmers, arrive with their own pedigree.  Guitarist Eric Peterson cut his teeth with bands like the dBs and Flat Duo Jets, and John Howie Jr deserves high praise for some of his timeless writing with Two Dollar Pistols and his current Rosewood Bluff (curiously, Howie's on drums here).  

Sidelong launches with the chug 'n spit rhythms of "Keep the Home Fires Burnin'", its most worthy cut.  Like Maria McKee's earliest stuff with Lone Justice, it's a nitro-fueled nod to early country. The title track dials back the twang in favor of a more restrained roots rock groove.  It also stands as the "best case scenario" of what Shook might be capable of in the future.  Other songs are more upbeat or more tough, but "Sidelong" boasts a more satisfying depth and maturity.  Where Lydia Loveless gave us "Steve Earle", Sarah Shook counters with her own clever name dropper, "Dwight Yoakam":  She said he likes to make love when he's smokin' / And he don't walk around like he's broken / And he sings just like Dwight Yoakam.  I don't know enough about Shook to assume anything about the fact that the sweetheart who left her for this guy is another woman.  Chalk it up to just another potentially interesting facet to the artist.  And about that "Fuck Up" song.  It's actually a more nuanced song than the title might suggest.  It's exemplary of the thin chalk line that Sarah Shook walks between bad girl and artist, with the latter taking the upper hand on Sidelong

* Black Twig Pickers w/Jack Rose, "Some Happy Day" Jack Rose & the Black Twig Pickers  (VHF, 09)
* Vic Chesnutt, "Wallace Stevens" North Star Deserter  (Constellation, 07)
* Kelly Hogan, "Ways Of This World" I Like To Keep Myself In Pain  (Anti, 12)
* Patterson Hood, "Come Back Little Star" Heat Lightning Rumbles In the Distance  (ATO, 12)
* Tin Horn Prayer, "All Good Wayfaring Sons" Love  Will Under  (Tin Horn Prayer, 16)  C, D
^ Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Dwight Yoakam" Sidelong  (Disarmers, 15)  D
* Waco Brothers, "Had Enough" Going Down In History  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
* Buddy Miller w/Nikki Lane, "Just Someone I Used To Know" Cayamo Sessions At Sea  (New West, 16)
* Luther Dickinson, "Up Over Yonder" Blues & Ballads  (New West, 16)  D
* Steeldrivers, "Midnight Train To Memphis" Steeldrivers  (Rounder, 08)
* John Paul White, "Simple Song" Southern Family  (Low Country Sound, 16)  D
* Chuck Ragan, "Flame In the Flood"  single  (Ten Four, 14)
* Avett Brothers, "Rejects In the Attic (live)" Live, Vol. 4  (Republic, 15)  D
* Birch Street, "Take Me Home" Birch Street  (Birch St, 14)
* Charles Bradley, "Changes" Changes  (DapTone, 16)  D
* Lucinda Williams, "Dust" Ghosts Of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)  D
* Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Hard Life" Master and Everyone  (Drag City, 03)
* Phosphorescent, "Last Thing I Needed (First Thing This Morning)" To Willie  (Dead Oceans, 09)
* Margo Price, "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)  D
* Brennen Leigh, "What You Gonna Do Leroy" Sings Lefty Frizzell  (Brennen Leigh, 15)
* Laura Cantrell, "Poison In Your Heart" Kitty Wells Dresses  (Diesel Only, 11)
* Aubrie Sellers, "Loveless Rolling Stone" New City Blues  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
* Caleb Caudle, "Piedmont Sky" Carolina Ghost  (This Is American Music, 16)  D
* Hiss Golden Messenger, "Wish I Had Not Said That" Parallelogram  (Three Lobed, 15)  D
* Richmond Fontaine, "Wake Up Ray" You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To  (El Cortez, 16)  D
* Head Cat, "Big River" Fool's Paradise  (Rock-a-Billy, 06)
* Hailey Whitters, "Low All Afternoon" Black Sheep  (Carnival, 15)
* King Mud, "Back It Up" Victory Motel Sessions  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)  D

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
December 26, 2015
Scott Foley

For this Episode, I played some of my favorite americana, and roots music songs from 2015.  It's actually a complimentary show to my favorite albums list from two weeks ago, since some of the songs on that playlist would definitely qualify as favorites.  After flailing weakly against the idea, I've decided to attempt the following:


1. Tallest Man On Earth, "Sagres"  ^
2. Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "S.O.B"
3. Kasey Chambers w/Bernard Fanning, "Bittersweet"
4. Chris Stapleton, "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore"
5. Kristin Diable, "Time Will Wait"
6. Jason Isbell, "The Life You Chose"
7. Yawpers, "Faith and Good Judgment"
8. Joe Pug, "If Still It Can't Be Found"
9. John Moreland, "Sad Baptist Rain"
10. White Buffalo, "Come On Love, Come On In"
11. Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Holy Relic Sale"
12. Turnpike Troubadours, "The Mercury"
13. Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Lucinda's Room"
14. Will Hoge, "Guitar Or a Gun"
15. Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be"
16. American Aquarium, "Southern Sadness"
17. Joey Kneiser, "To My Younger Self"
18. Bottle Rockets, "Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)"
19. Alone At 3am, "I'm Dying"
20. Charlie Parr, "Temperance River Blues"

Fact is, I have a beef with hardcore music types who can't or don't make year end lists.  I've done it since I was a preteen, listening to Casey Kasem (yes, I did) and filling a page with my own top 20 every week, replete with marginal illustrations.  I recall that Chicago's "Color My World", for instance, inexplicably held the top spot for several weeks in succession. No Peter Cetera on this playlist, but some songs that provided the soundtrack to my year.  Words can't communicate how much I'm looking forward to getting started on collecting stuff for next year. 

* Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be" Down To Believing  (E1, 15)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "The One The Got Away" Southern Surreal  (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Dwight Yoakam, "Second Hand Heart" Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
* Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Bad On Fords" Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
* Honeycutters, "Jukebox" Me Oh My  (Organic, 15)
* Joe Pug, "If Still It Can't Be Found" Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
* Have Gun Will Travel, "True Believers" Science From An Easy Chair  (This Is American Music, 15)
* Natalie Prass, "My Baby Don't Understand Me" Natalie Prass  (Spacebomb, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "Snake Eyes" Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* HoneyHoney, "Bad People" 3  (Rounder, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)" South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Alone At 3am, "I'm Dying" Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)
* Giant Sand, "Hurtin' Habit" Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)
* White Buffalo, "Come On Love, Come On In" Love and the Death of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Incarceration Casserole" Under the Savage Sky  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, "Miles and Miles" Bad Omen  (Tribulation, 15)
* Kristin Diable, "Time Will Wait" Create Your Own Mythology  (Speakeasy, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Weight Of the Gun" Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
* Shinyribs, "Donut Taco Palace" Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)
* Iris DeMent, "Listening To Singing" Trackless Woods  (Flariella, 15)
* Rhett Miller, "Most In the Summertime" Traveler  (ATO, 15)
* Rod Picott, "I Was Not Worth Your Love" Fortune   (Welding Rod, 15)
* Anderson East, "Find Em Fool Em & Forget Em" Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
* Will Hoge, "Guitar Or a Gun" Small Town Dreams  (Cumberland, 15)
* Kasey Chambers, "Bittersweet" Bittersweet  (Sugar Hill, 15)
* Patty Griffin, "There Isn't One Way" Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Whistlers & Sparklers" I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Holy Relic Sale" Squelch  (Thirty Tigers, 15)