Subscribe - enter your email below

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES 
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 11, 2015
Scott Foley

Porter is Chris Porter, who you might (or might not) know from such previous projects as Back Row Baptists, Some Dark Holler or Chris Porter & the Pollies.  A connection with fellow artist (and past R&B guest) Bonnie Whitmore lured him from his Alabama home to Austin where Porter launched a crowd funded campaign to finance the creation of what would become This Red Mountain, his first true solo record.  I would argue that you can tell enough about an artist by the company he keeps, and my musical curiosity was piqued when I came across news of Porter joining for some recent dates on John Moreland's tour.  What's more, Ms Whitmore introduced sis Eleanor Whitmore and bro-in-law Chris Masterson (of the Mastersons), who provide musical support throughout the LP.  The clincher which drove me to track down a copy of Porter's work was Will Johnson's involvement as producer. After that, it was all about the music. 

This Red Mountain is a subtle stunner, a record that I place alongside Ryan Culwell's earlier Flatlands as among the year's best.  While the aforementioned musicianship is top notch, it's Porter's remarkable ability as a writer that lifts these songs to a rarified height. 

Here's to the god of second chances / Handin' out girls with black rimmed glasses / Bringing my ass to Texas / To save me from my own. / And here's to the myth of man's redemption / Every other time I stood there wishin' / She would do the leavin' so I could put it in a song 
The title cut adds piano to the music mix, with a floating cloud of pedal steel casting its shadow upon the session.  "Hardest Healin'" features the great Jon Dee Graham on steel, along with some moving backing harmonies and Eleanor Whitmore's fiddle.  It's the rare contemporary song that wouldn't have been out of place in a Civil War diary:  "Tell them that I did my best to sing a true and honest song / Dry your eyes on my chest dear / Do not mourn or grieve me long".

Porter's "Angel" is a Townes Van Zandt-esque wristslasher about a girl who goes from finding her father hung to finally coming unhinged in a dead end trailer park, "Throwing bottles at the sky / Just to see how far they'd fly".  My current favorite track on This Red Mountain is "Harder Stuff" which is evocative of Cheryl Wheeler's gorgeous "Arrow" (about which I could write a book).  Whitmore's fiddle again speaks directly to the heart, behind Porter's mumbled drawl and a sudden rush of distorted electric guitar.

Once the proverbial needle hits the end of the record, the pure goodness of Chris Porter's This Red Mountain is difficult to pinpoint.  The man can turn a phrase as well as other young writers like Parker Millsap or John Fullbright, and his down and out portraits can sometimes even bring to mind that Van Zandt fellow for their bleak honesty.  

Next Episode, we'll be joined in studio by Tarnation's Andy D, and we'll be asking for your money.  KRFC's Spring 2015 Membership Drive will run for only 7 days (Sat thru Fri), so you'll have just one chance to make me feel all warm and valued.  And why would you pass up that opportunity?

*  Sturgill Simpson, "the Promise"  Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (High Top Mt, 14)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Hey Mama My Time Ain't Long"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Liar"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Boxmasters, "Sometimes There's a Reason"  Somewhere Down the Road  (101 Ranch, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Gasoline"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Banditos, "Still Sober (After All These Beers)"  Banditos  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  Felice Brothers, "Love Me Tenderly"  Felice Brothers  (Team Love, 08)
*  Caleb Caudle, "Another Night"  Paint Another Layer On My Heart  (This Is Amer Music, 14)
*  John Moreland, "You Don't Care For Me Enough To Cry"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Eilen Jewell, "My Hometown"  Sundown Over Ghost Town  (Signature Sounds, 15)  D
*  Charlie Parr, "Temperence River Blues"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Hiss Golden Messenger, "Blue Country Mystic"  Poor Moon  (Tompkins Square, 12)
*  Tim Barry, "Lost & Rootless"  Lost & Rootless  (Chunksaah, 14)
*  Whitey Morgan, "Waitin' 'Round To Die"  Sonic Ranch  (Whitey Morgan, 15)  D
*  Heartless Bastards, "Gates of Dawn"  Restless Ones  (Partisan, 15)  D
*  Kasey Anderson, "Like Teenage Gravity"  Let the Bloody Moon Rise  (Kasey Anderson, 12)
*  Rhett Miller, "Most In the Summertime"  The Traveler  (ATO, 15)
*  Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "Traveling Kind"  Traveling Kind  (Nonesuch, 15)
*  Kenny Knight, "America"  Crossroads  (Paradise of Bachelors, 15)  D, C
*  Jayhawks, "Settled Down Like Rain (live)"  Live At the Belly Up  (Belly Up, 15)  D
*  Great Lake Swimmers, "I Must Have Someone Else's Blues"  A Forest of Arms  (Nettwerk, 15)
*  Staves, "Teeth White"  If I Was  (Atlantic, 15)
*  Brown Bird, "Patiently Awaiting"  Axis Mundi  (Supply & Demand, 15)  D
*  Calexico, "Tapping On the Line"  Edge of the Sun  (Anti, 15)
^  Porter, "This Red Mountain"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)  D
*  Malcolm Holcombe, "Doncha Miss That Water"  RCA Sesssions  (Proper, 15)
*  Caroline Spence, "Whiskey Watered Down"  Somehow  (Caroline Spence, 15)  D
*  Sam Lewis, "Things Will Never Be the Same"  Waiting On You  (Brash, 15)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
April 4, 2015
Scott Foley

WHAT's SO GREAT ABOUT MARCH?!!

We're not even a week into it and April already seems like it's been a long month.  We still have to put March in a box, which could prove difficult with all the quality stuff that landed on our speakers the last couple weeks.  Matter of fact, there are no fewer than 8 records deserving of some sort of mention in the space below.

At least a few songs from Houndmouth's Little Neon Limelight were released a couple months ago, with the pop perfect "Sedona" lodging itself firmly in my ears.  Under the direction of producer de jour  Dave Cobb, the quartet walks a nice line between shiny pop and soulful roots music.  Card carrying Texas music legend Ray Wylie Hubbard hasn't exceeded my expectations since 2009's awkwardly titled A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C).  His new Ruffian's Misfortune is more musically varied and lyrically imaginative than his last couple records.  William Elliott Whitmore's Radium Death also merits attention, venturing boldly into full band territory while keeping true to his Troubled-Farmer-With-a-Banjo beginnings.  Now he just sings louder about his concerns.

I can put the following in no particular order, since time will ultimately tell how it all separates out.

Great Peacock's 2013 debut EP was one of those slimline cardboard deals that never got the play it deserved simply because I rarely realized it was there.  While I only have a digital copy of their debut full length, Making Ghosts, it calls attention to itself for more than its physical dimensions.  In Routes & Branches: The Early Days, I gave much more airspace to folky guys wielding acoustic guitars.  Things have changed, and I'd like to think it takes more than a pretty beard for an artist to land on the R&B playlists.  A good deal of progress has apparently happened since that EP, as evidenced on Ghosts, from the fuller band sound to the lyrical depth.

Songs from Andrew Combs' sophomore CD have stuck in my head more than almost any other collection this year.   All These Dreams is supremely tuneful, a bit of retro country-pop that continues to surprise.  Combs' vocals are classic, as are the pitch-perfect arrangements featuring the boys from Steelism on things with strings.  True Fact:  I woke up this morning with "Foolin'" on my mind. 

Spirit Family Reunion's Hands Together features a formula that is a fool-proof ticket onto the Routes & Branches train.  Wrecked vocals, gospel fervor and an off-the-rails spirit combine for a record that more than lives up to the promise of the band's 2012 debut.  The haunted backwoods death march, "Skillet Good and Greasy", lays it out just right: slightly off tune fiddle, dusty banjo, phlegmy vocals and hollered backing vox.  And there's no reason why a tune like "All the Way Back Home" couldn't vault SFR up to Avett-like heights. 

I had mixed feelings upon hearing that lifelong independent Charlie Parr has signed to Minnesota based Red House Records.  While Red House had been instrumental in introducing contemporary folk names like Greg Brown and John Gorka to the teeming masses, their formula has changed very little over the ensuing years.  For every Pieta Brown or Dale Watson signing, there were a dozen more perfectly alright acoustic singer-songwriters.  While there are some new sounds on Parr's Stumpjumper, this is unexpected territory for the label.  To his credit, Parr compromises not one iota of his musical vision, choosing instead to rough it up just right with an edge and verve that do his songs proud. 



John Moreland's In the Throes was a once-in-a-lifetime record, and even a holy shit collection like High On Tulsa Heat will never re-generate the sort of electric emotional shock I felt upon first hearing the 2013 classic.  That said, I'm coming to recognize that purely as a collection of songs, Tulsa is a better product.  It doesn't hold me as emotionally hostage as the earlier release, but it's an easier listen.  It's musically a more mature effort.  A fellow fan and blogger tells me that there's no way to compare the two albums, and I agree.  I also recognize that it's inevitable.  Moreland is as good a writer as we have.  His ballads can rival some of Townes Van Zandt's for sheer devastation, and his band cuts strike a fine balance between lyrical smarts and sonic hooks.  As with that other record, you can't help but wonder what's next. 

March Came Bearing Great Gifts 

Great Peacock, Making Ghosts 
Andrew Combs, All These Dreams 
Spirit Family Reunion, Hands Together 
Charlie Parr, Stumpjumper 
John Moreland, High On Tulsa Heat 


Thanks to Tarnation's Andy D for sitting in for me this week.  I'll be back micside this Saturday, with new offerings from Brown Bird, Heartless Bastards, Whitey Morgan and gobs more. 


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 28, 2015
Scott Foley

Today KRFC celebrates 12 years as The Only Station That Matters in the Greater Fort Collins Area.  When I was 12 a middle school teacher sent a note home to my parents asking why I never took off the puffy orange coat that I wore, even on the warmest of days.  I listened to Rush and collected pencils emblazoned with football logos.  I hit someone in the head with my clarinet case.  It goes without saying that KRFC is aging far more gracefully than I was.  Happy Birthday KRFC!  I'm happy to have a home here at Radio Fort Collins. 

There is such a beautiful stillness to John Moreland when he plays.  His guitar almost resembles a ukulele against his massive body, three fingers anchored to the soundboard while the thumb and forefinger do all the work.  Moreland's eyes squeeze tight beneath the crooked brim of his everpresent trucker's hat, and the voice that finds its way out from his tangled beard is a world class country instrument.  John Moreland is not a showman.  The man who visited the Routes & Branches studios back in 2013 seemed painfully shy and uncomfortable.  And then he sang. 

As I mentioned in my June 2013 piece on John Moreland's heartbreaking In the Throes collection, nobody releases songs like the Oklahoma songwriter.  It ended up second only to Jason Isbell's Southeastern as my favorite record for the year, though I've been losing sleep over the decision ever since, and I'd be glad to call it a tie.  I've spent the past 5 days in the wake of Moreland's  High On Tulsa Heat, almost afraid to hear how he'd follow up an album that has become so personally meaningful to so many listeners like myself.  I've troubled over how to write about his new songs, what approach to take and even what picture I could use.  But eventually I had to pull the trigger and just write. 

For me,  In the Throes was anchored on the line from "Your Spell", "Well you were the queen of my condition / I was the king of the ignored".  For High On Tulsa Heat, it's all built around "I'm the kind of love it hurts to look at / But once I was enough to make you try" from the heartbreaking "You Don't Care Enough For Me To Cry".  I could quote lyrics from the tunes of Tulsa Heat for days, because Moreland has become such a master of the throwaway line.  Just as importantly, he cares about the cadence of the words, the rhythm of his language.

Moreland's two sentence liner notes state that "This is a record about home.  Whatever that is."  The people, the land, the streets and the sounds of Oklahoma ring throughout Tulsa Heat, from song titles like "Cherokee" and "Hang Me In the Tulsa County Stars" to lines like these from "Cleveland County Blues":  "My baby is a tornado in the endless Oklahoma sky / A spinning devastation singing me a lullaby". 

You could drop a line down the middle of Moreland's new collection separating the soul-baring ballads from the full band jams, with the latter taking up more of the record's real estate than on the relatively skeletal Throes.  Chunky "box of rocks" drums serve as the bed for electric guitars and even the occasional keys.  Tulsa Heat rises on its fair share of those heartland rockers, pieces that construct as much of an Oklahoma mythos as Mellencamp ever did for Indiana or Springsteen for New Jersey.  It's just that the landscape that Moreland's songs paint is a profoundly internal one.  Even the most tuneful pieces (like "Sad Baptist Rain" or the uncommonly upbeat title cut) don't necessarily boast those anthemic sing-along lyrics.  This is the sound of a man baring his soul.  It's no wonder Moreland keeps his eyes shut when he performs. 

Time will gradually decide how High On Tulsa Heat stacks up against John Moreland's earlier classic.  A week into the experience, it's my sense that the album's return to Moreland's fuller sound will earn it a wider audience, and it certainly won't hurt that there's already more promotional effort behind it than there was for the entirety of the Throes campaign.  It still remains to be seen if the mainstream can recognize and embrace such a broken and beautiful body of music, let alone a stained two-day shirt, a worn trucker's hat and hair that probably hasn't seen a comb for a good while.  I've not doubt that the folks who have already so strongly embraced Moreland's work will take the same ownership of Tulsa Heat.  "I wanna learn a new sickness / Dance around forgiveness / Darlin' won't you be my ache to please / Or are you bundled up in barlight / Clinging to a prettier disease ...

Hey, here's something:  I'll be spending some quality time in Pueblo next week, so Once and Future Tarnation! guy Andy D will be pulling host duties for Routes & Branches.  If you've been jonesing for the trademarked blend of country, rockabilly, punk and rock that only Andy can deliver, you'll want to tune in.  I'll still be posting right here, however, telling you What's So Great About March?!

*  Johnny & June Carter Cash, "Far Side Banks of Jordan"  Bootleg Vol. 4: the Soul of Truth  (Sony, 12)
* Spirit Family Reunion, "All the Way Back Home"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "A Thousand Deaths"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)
*  Milk Carton Kids, "Monterey"  Monterey  (Anti, 15)  D
*  Staves, "Blood I Bled"  If I Was  (Atlantic, 15)  D
*  Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O'Donovan, "Crossing Muddy Waters"  single  (Sugar Hill, 15)  D
*  John Hiatt, "Memphis In the Meantime (live)"  Hiatt Comes Alive At Budokan  (A&M, 94)
*  Charlie Parr, "Stumpjumper"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Tallest Man On Earth, "Sagres"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)
*  Andrew Combs, "Long Gone Lonely"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Pokey LaFarge, "Cairo Illinois"  Something In the Water  (Rounder, 15)
*  Whitehorse, "Baby What's Wrong"  Leave No Bridges Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)
*  Jack White, "Fly Farm Blues"  single  (Third Man, 09)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Stone Blind Horses"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
*  Steve Earle, "Goodbye (live)"  Train a Comin'  (Winter Harvest, 95)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Tennessee Love Song"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)
*  Great Peacock, "Take Me To the Mountain"  Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)
*  Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "Traveling Kind"  Traveling Kind  (Nonesuch, 15)  D
*  Ryan Culwell, "Red River"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  James McMurtry, "Ain't Got a Place"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
^  John Moreland, "Sad Baptist Rain"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  True Believers, "Rain Won't Help You When It's Over"  Hard Road  (EMI, 86)
*  Girls Guns & Glory, "Moanin' the Blues (live)"  Tribute To Hank Williams Live  (Dry Lightning, 15)
*  Boxmasters, "You'll Be Lonely Tonight"  Somewhere Down the Road  (101 Ranch, 15)  D
*  Rhett Miller w/Black Prairie, "Most In the Summer"  Traveler  (ATO, 15)  D
*  John Calvin Abney, "Cut the Rope"  Better Luck  (Bullets In the Chamber Folk, 15)
*  Elliott BROOD, "Jigsaw Heart"  Work and Love  (Paper Bag, 14)

Monday, March 23, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 21, 2015
Scott  Foley

I suppose we could attribute the relative lack of debuts this week on the fact that everyone except me was down at SXSW rubbing shoulders with one another.  With the degree of publicity and the level of artist that the festival is attracting these days, perhaps it's time to find a new venue for cutting edge, truly independent music and arts. 

Charlie Parr understands independent arts.  Even with loads of albums under his belt and a shiny new contract with Red House, the Minnesotan comes across as a humble and genuine soul.  I remember greeting Charlie as he approached the studio during a visit several months back.  He looked like just another friendly, hairy Fort Collins guy toting his worn guitar case down the alley. Most of his 12+ releases sound as though they were recorded in such a setting, with the artist settling down in a makeshift studio to share a couple new songs.  While many have noted that Stumpjumper is recorded with a band, Parr has never shied away from collaboration, whether with Black Twig Pickers, Alan Sparhawk, or Megafaun's Phil Cook who earns producer credits on the new collection.  Parr hardly sounds crowded by his backing band on songs like "Over the Red Cedar" or the title cut, while more primitive pieces like "Remember Me If I Forget" or the record's sole cover, "Delia" wouldn't sound out of place on an earlier CD.  The artist's authenticity shines through on "Evil Companion", sounding like a live studio cut, driven by a gospel piano and Parr's dobro.  A skronky sax punctuates the lines of "Empty Out Your Pockets", alongside drums, fiddle and even electric guitar.  Folks who follow my show and this blog have long known that I am far from a purist.  While I find no fault whatsoever in Charlie Parr's earlier bare bones recordings, I hear a more engaged artist on "Empty Out Your Pockets", perhaps driven into gear by the accompaniment.  His vocals are more fiery and his songs take on a new, fuller dimension - "Stumpjumper" positively unwinds into a frenzy.  A solo Parr will pass through Fort Collins this Friday March 27 at the Aggie Theater, returning in June to headline the Choice City Stomp. 


*  John Moreland, "High On Tulsa Heat"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Rev Petyon's Big Damn Band, "We Live Dangerous"  So Delicious  (Shanachie, 15)
*  JD McPherson, "It's All Over But the Shouting"  Let the Good Times Roll  (Rounder, 15)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "No Mess"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)
*  M Ward, "One Hundred Million Years"  Hold Time  (Merge, 09)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Don't Strike Me Down"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "Skillet Good & Greasy"  Hands Together  (SPF, 15)
^  Charlie Parr, "Temperence River Blues"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Great Peacock, "Broken Hearted Fool"  Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Black Gold"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Diamond Rugs, "Killing Time"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)
*  Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Total Destruction To Your Mind"  Rock & Roll Is a Beautiful Thing: Alive Natural Sound 20th Anniversary  (Alive Natural Sound, 15)
*  South San Gabriel, "Senselessly"  Dual Hawks  (Misra, 08)
*  American Aquarium, "Who Needs a Song"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Minus 5, "In the Ground"  Dungeon Golds  (Yep Roc, 15)
*  Lilly Hiatt, "Jesus Would've Let Me Pick the Restaurant"  Royal Blue  (Normaltown, 15)
*  Gill Landry, "Fennario"  Gill Landry  (ATO, 15)
*  Lone Bellow, "Diner"  Then Came the Morning  (Descendant, 15)
*  Hayes Carll, "Little Rock"  Little Rock  (Hwy 87, 04)
*  Joe Pug, "If Still It Can't Be Found"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Pokey LaFarge, "Wanna Be Your Man"  Something In the Water  (Rounder, 15)
*  Malcolm Holcombe, "I Never Heard You Knockin'"  RCA Sessions  (Proper, 15)  D
*  Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield, "Roman Candle"  Sing Elliott Smith  (Ramseur, 15)
*  Great Lake Swimmers, "A Bird Flew Inside the House"  A Forest of Arms  (Nettwerk, 15)
*  Sam Lewis, "Reinventing the Blues"  Waiting On You  (Brash, 15)
*  Ryan Bingham, "Top Shelf Drug"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Dark & Dirty Mile"  Dark & Dirty Mile  (Proud Souls, 13)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Bad On Fords"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
*  Lucinda Williams, "Sweet Side (live)"  Live @ the Fillmore  (Lost Hwy, 08)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 14, 2015
Scott Foley

I think it would be cool if, as we enter the later years of our lives, we could put together mixes of the tunes that have defined us.  Then, when we shuffle off this mortal coil our friends and family could play that mix and remember us.  Certainly there's a fortune to be had in this idea ...?  In my case, it seems most years drop 1 or 2 songs that could qualify for my Death Mix (little trademark sign here).  Last year was a bit on the slow side, but the year before brought me Phosphorescent's transcendent "Song For Zula", which would certainly land on my Mix.  This year is a mere 2.5 months old, but I've already tagged one cut as a near certain long-lister.  Tallest Man On Earth's "Sagres" actually had me pondering putting an end to my perennial quest for the Next Great Thing.  The tune caught me off guard during what has been the longest week ever, dropping the lyrical bomb, "It's just all this fucking doubt ...".  I've been living with that phrase ever since, actually using a screen shot of it as the wallpaper for my cell phone.  Sure, the song sounds like an updated take on Springsteen's "My Hometown" (which isn't an entirely dumb song to crib if you're going to crib).  But like Matthew Houck's delivery of "Zula", "Sagres" rides on Kristian Matsson's broken and world-weary voice.

This week we opened the door for John Moreland's new High On Tulsa Heat record, a single that features a gritty, rocking full band sound.  We were also pleased to feature a 20 Year anniversary collection of rarities and outtakes from Alive Natural Sound Records, a double gatefold LP to be released on Record Store Day 2015.  Like another recent anniversary release from Bloodshot, this one features a generous collection of artists, from Left Lane Cruiser and Lee Bains III to Bloodhounds and Black Keys.

I've mentioned before how gospel plays a role in the R&B rotation as it meets with some of these other genres.  Even if lyrics aren't immediately recognizable as such, the musical structures of many of these bands owes a degree of debt to the genre.   The six piece Spirit Family Reunion trades in elements of 'grass, country, folk and country, but is largely driven by a pervasive gospel spirit throughout their second full length, Hands Together.  The appeal of the Brooklyn acoustic band can be followed back to their roots as a street busking act.  Songs like "Put Your Hands Together When You Spin the Wheel" demonstrate that tight but freewheeling sound that is found as well in Old Crow Medicine Show or Felice Brothers.  A line can be drawn between two distinct halves of Hands Together.  The first half is characterized by chugging rhythms, Avett-esque banjo, harmonies and singalong choruses readymade for the congregation:  "I'm gonna fill my heart with love / Until it almost breaks my heart / No more bitter feelings that keep driving us apart".  The sandpaper vocals of Nick Panken recall the early Felice Brothers on pieces like "Skillet Good and Greasy", with its slightly off-the-rails fiddle and harmonica. "It Does Not Bother Me"  finds the band's gospel spirit displayed to its full potential. 

It's not until "How I Long To Take That Ride" that the service cools to a relative simmer  "Let me touch the hand of a righteous man / Let me hear them clear and loud / I have waited round for the glory bound / How I long to join that crowd".   "Once Again" allows a rare lead vocal from banjo player Maggie Carson, much a part of Spirit Family's sound, but typically as a harmonizer.  As a frontperson, Carson's homespun delivery recalls Catherine Irwin of Freakwater.   If the raucous early moments are designed to rouse the spirit, this latter period is a call for reflection and self-analysis.  Even "Wait For Me", encourages soul searching with its profane chorus "Wait for me / Sweet destiny / I'd move if I could find the fuckin' door".

This isn't to say that Grandma and Grandpa will want to shelve Hands Together alongside their Gaither Family LPs.  The point is that the beauty of our kind of music lies in the gray areas, where genres cross pollinate and the dark night of the soul brings us to our knees and to revival.  Spirit Family Reunion won't tell you what to believe, but they'll definitely make you feel. 

*  Southern Culture On the Skids, "Smiley Yeah Yeah Yeah"  Mojo Box  (Yep Roc, 04)
*  Great Peacock, "Making Ghosts"  Making Ghosts  (This Is American Music, 15)
*  Steve Earle, "Tennessee Kid"  Terraplane  (New West, 15)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Watermelon and Root Beer"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)
*  Ryan Culwell, "Piss Down In My Bones"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Asleep At the Wheel w/Jamey Johnson, "Brain Cloudy Blues"  Still the King  (AatW, 15)  D
*  Gourds, "Omaha"  Shinebox  (Sugar Hill, 01)
*  Trout Steak Revival, "Colorado River"  Brighter Every Day  (TSR, 15)  D, C
*  John Moreland, "High On Tulsa Heat"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)  D
*  Lindi Ortega, "Tell It Like It Is"  single  (Last Gang, 15)  D
^  Spirit Family Reunion, "Wake Up Rounder"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  Charlie Parr, "Stumpjumper"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Ha Ha Tonka, "Walking On the Devil's Backbone"  Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South  (Bloodshot, 09)
*  Andrew Combs, "Slow Road To Jesus"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Bloodhounds, "La Couahuila"  Rock & Roll Is a Beautiful Thing  (Alive Natural Sound, 15)  D
*  Natalie Prass, "Your Fool"  Natalie Prass  (Spacebomb, 15)
*  Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "I Follow Rivers"  Sea Songs  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Kill County, "Bad Gasoline"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 15)
*  Simon Joyner, "You Got Under My Skin"  Grass Branch & Bone  (Woodsist, 15)
*  Lilly Hiatt, "Off Track"  Royal Blue  (Normaltown, 15)
*  Sam Lewis, "3/4 Time"  Waiting On You  (Brash Music, 15)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Healing To Do"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)
*  Mark Olson & Creekdippers, "How Can I Send Tonight"  December's Child  (Dualtone, 02)
*  Mavericks, "The Only Question Is"  Mono  (Valory, 15)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Whistlers & Sparklers"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Minus 5, "Hold Down the Fort"  Dungeon Golds  (Yep Roc, 15)  D
*  6 String Drag, "Kingdom of Gettin' It Wrong"  Roots Rock 'n Roll  (Royal Potato Family, 15)
*  James McMurtry, "These Things I've Come To Know"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  John Statz, "One Way Opens"  Tulsa  (John Statz,  15)  C

Monday, March 09, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES 
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
March 7, 2015
Scott Foley

I am camped out beside my mailbox, checking hourly for the imminent delivery of the Banditos' debut record from Bloodshot Records.  I don't want to seem desperate here, but I'm desperate here to hear what could rival last year's Bloodhounds for off-the-rails entertainment.  To quote CMT:  "these mothers can choogle" (I don't know if I've ever choogled ...). 

Great Thanx to Lilly Hiatt for the best song title of the week in "Jesus Would've Let Me Pick the Restaurant".   The rest of Royal Blue ain't too bad either, an edgier effort compared to her debut.  I have to admit that I was torn between writing this week about Spirit Family Reunion's excellent Hands Together, Sam Lewis' soulful new collection or about Sarah Gayle Meech.  On any other given week, these albums would've blown away the competition ...

However, when Great Peacock's full length debut landed in my e-box my decision was suddenly made for me. If you're already somewhat familiar with the Nashville band you might be picturing That Guy In a Poncho about now.  I wasn't even aware that they made ponchos anymore, but bandmember Blount Floyd is apparently well connected, as I don't know that I've come across a picture where he's not rocking the comfortable accessory.  Sartorial preferences aside, Floyd and more nattily attired Andrew Nelson compose the core of Great Peacock on Making Ghosts.  Whereas their 2013 EP boasted a definite Laurel Canyon country-rock vibe, the new batch of songs is not what I expected.  Most songs feature a full band as well as a larger, more crowd friendly sound.  A couple tunes ("Take Me To the Mountain" and "Desert Lark") were featured on that earlier EP, and "Tennessee" originally saw the light of day around Thanksgiving.  According to the band's site, "It's a pop record ... with folk tendencies."  The tight Floyd/Nelson harmonies that largely define the Great Peacock sound shine brightly throughout, especially on songs like the title track and the strummy "Summer Song".  Making Ghosts is deeply rooted in Southern soil, though there is also a "heartland" vibe on pieces like the title track, with electric guitars, keys and anthemic spirit:  "Lay me down / There beneath the Southern ground / The church bells will make the sound" - Think 90s Springsteen, Scarecrow-era Mellencamp or anything Petty.  Great Peacock's radio-ready maturity brings to mind another LP on This Is American Music's label - last year's Fire Mountain.  The collection's most tuneful offering, "Broken Hearted Fool", rides on a languid wave of pedal steel, just expert enough to seem effortless.  Making Ghosts goes down easy, but it never takes the easy way out.  Americana doesn't have to sound like it was recorded in your mom's basement.  These songs can be as comfortable as an old (green) poncho, and are just the thing to wrap yourself in as winter turns in fits and starts to spring.

*  Diamond Rugs, "Thunk"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)
*  Delta Routine, "On a Saturday Night"  You and Your Lion  (Delta Routine, 15)
*  Magnolia Electric Co., "Leave the City"  What Comes After the Blues  (Secretly Canadian, 05)
*  Wooden Wand, "Don't This Look Like the Dark"  Farewell Transmission  (Rock the Cause, 14)
*  Houndmouth, "Black Gold"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Lilly Hiatt, "Jesus Would've Let Me Pick the Restaurant"  Royal Blue  (Normaltown, 15)
*  Girls Guns & Glory, "Rockin' Chair Money (live)"  Tribute To Hank Williams Live  (Dry Lightning, 15)
*  Andrew Combs, "Nothing To Lose"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Sam Lewis, "Things Will Never Be the Same"  Waiting On You  (Brash, 15)
*  Shannon McNally, "Love In the Worst Degree"  Small Town Talk  (Sacred Sumac, 13)
*  Simon Joyner, "Nostalgia Blues"  Grass Branch & Bone  (Woodsist, 15)  D
*  Townes Van Zandt, "Flyin' Shoes"  Flyin' Shoes  (Fat Possum, 78)
*  Deslondes, "Fought the Blues and Won"  the Deslondes  (New West, 15)
*  JJ Grey & Mofro, "Every Minute"  Ol' Glory  (Provogue, 15)
*  Alabama Shakes, "Gimme All Your Love"  Sound and Color  (ATO, 15)
*  Banditos, "Cry Baby Cry"  Banditos  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
*  Jayhawks, "Take Me With You (When You Go)"  Hollywood Town Hall  (American, 92)
*  Great Lake Swimmers, "I Must Have Someone Else's Blues"  A Forest of Arms  (Nettwerk, 15)
*  Vetiver, "Loose Ends"  Complete Strangers  (Andy Cambic, 15)
*  Joe Pug, "Windfallen"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be"  Down To Believing  (E1, 15)
*  Walt Wilkins & the Mystiqueros, "Trains I Missed"  Diamonds In the Sun  (Palo Duro, 07)
^  Great Peacock, "Broken Hearted Fool"  Making Ghosts  (This Is American Music, 15)  D
*  John Calvin Abney, "Stepladder"  Better Luck  (Bullets In the Chamber, 15)
*  Hip Hatchet, "Coward's Luck"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)
*  Violent Femmes, "Love Love Love Love Love"  Happy New Year  (Violent Femmes, 15)  D
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Tennessee Love Song"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)

Friday, March 06, 2015

ROUTES & BRANCHES  
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
February 28, 2015
Scott Foley

Greg Brown was a gateway artist to folk music for me.  I believe it was a cassette copy of In the Dark With You that ushered me in in the wake of the title cut, "Slept All Night With My Lover"  and "Who Do You Think You're Fooling".  Soon enough, I was a concert promoter in Oregon, where Mr B was a recurring figure on the scene, often accompanied by longtime guitarist and producer Bo Ramsey.  Bo showed up at the KRFC studios this week, on the arm of Greg's youngest daughter, Pieta.  I asked her some good questions, but not the potentially touchy one I really wanted to pose ("Say Pieta, how did you end up hitched to Uncle Bo ... ?").  Nevertheless, she is a talented writer who vastly overflows her reputation as a contemporary folk singer-songwriter. 

Some tempting glimpses into a couple of the year's most promising releases:  Tallest Man On Earth, William Elliott Whitmore and Hip Hatchet, each broadening their previously more intimate sound.  I'm entertaining Hiss Golden Messenger-esque expectations for each of these Spring arrivals.

Producers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson have previously worker with quality artists like Justin Townes Earle, Caitlin Rose, Steelism and Laura Cantrell.  Matter of fact, it was Rose who introduced her producers to her tourmate, Nashville's oft-heralded Andrew Combs.  Back in 2012, I had added my voice to the chorus of praise which greeted Combs' debut full length, Worried Man.  If I remember correctly, I likened his smoothly romantic americana to a young Ryan Bingham.  What a difference a couple years and some effective collaborators can make.  It's not that the songwriter has changed directions with his excellent new All These Dreams.  You can catch hints of the soulful countrypolitan groove here and there on the earlier disc, but the previously tentative musical ideas are given glorious full reign on Dreams.  As a singer, Combs' sandier edge continues to evoke Bingham, but now there's a more suave, buttery quality that brings to mind BJ Thomas or even Harry Nilsson (Lehning actually worked with Thomas on a recent project).  The instrumental duo of Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum Jr (Steelism), back Combs up throughout, laying down such an evocative, vaguely retro groove on guitar and pedal steel, respectively.  "Ain't it funny how you learn to pray / When your blues skies turn to gray / When there's nothing left to say" he sings on "Rainy Day Song".  "Laughing ain't a pleasure / till you know about crying", sounding every bit like a classic country rock arrangement.  "Nothing To Lose" is built atop Cullum's perfect steel, as well as percussion that wouldn't sound out of place on 70's a.m. country radio.  Melancholia is the pervading sentiment on All These Dreams, broken only for soul searching songs like the piano-based "Slow Road To Jesus".  Andrew Combs' new collection more than fulfills his earlier promise, with the sort of mature, original musical statement that could lift a guy onto the popular radar. 

*  Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, "Dive For the Pearl"  Seasonal Hire  (Thrill Jockey, 15)
*  Farrar Johnson Parker James, "Careless Reckless Love"  New Multitudes  (Rounder, 12)
*  Pieta Brown, "Wondering How"  live in studio
*  Pieta Brown, "No Not Me"  live in studio
*  Mavericks, "Stories We Could Tell"  Mono  (Valory, 15)
*  Girls Guns & Glory, "Moanin' the Blues"  Tribute to Hank Williams Live  (Dry Lightning, 15)  D
*  Kill County, "7 Billion Broken Hearts"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 15)
*  Delta Routine, "Gone Again"  You and Your Lion  (Delta Routine, 15)  D
^  Andrew Combs, "Slow Road To Jesus"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Sugar Bowl"  I Never Thought It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Allison Moorer, "Tear Me Apart"  Down To Believing  (EOne, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "The Big Time"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Gill Landry, "Take This Body"  Gill Landry  (ATO, 15)
*  James McMurtry, "She Loves Me"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Whitehorse, "Sweet Disaster"  Leave No Bridge Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)
*  Hip Hatchet, "Coward's Luck"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)  D
*  Leon Bridges, "Lisa Sawyer"  Coming Home  (Capitol, 15)
*  Tallest Man On Earth, "Sagres"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)  D
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Healing To Do"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)  D
*  Magnolia Electric Co, "Whip-Poor-Will"  Josephine  (Secretly Canadian, 09)
*  American Aquarium, "Losing Side of Twenty-Five"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Watermelon and Root Bear"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)  D
*  John Statz, "Tulsa"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  Sam Lewis, "3/4 Time"  Waiting On You  (Brash Music, 15)  D