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Sunday, July 26, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
July 25, 2015
Scott Foley

If Rod Picott had written only "Tiger Tom Dixon", he'd still be worthy of our praise.  The fact that that classic has been followed by "Sinner's Prayer", "Welding Burns" and "65 Falcon" only adds to his case.  I've tended to sort Picott into the Earnest, Bearded Acoustic Songwriter bin with other talents like Jeffrey Foucault or Slaid Cleaves (with whom Picott wrote "Sinner's Prayer").  It's a pretty big bin.  With his 7th full length release, Fortune, Rod Picott manages to both meet and exceed my expectations.  As a known songwriting quantity, it's no surprise that he lays down some tremendous lyrics (though I'd argue that he's surpassed his personal record for sheer excellence with Fortune).  The welcome unexpected element comes with the collection's raw production and gritty arrangements.  Fact is, I might have trouble identifying the worn and sandpapery voice that growls throughout Fortune as Picott's if the CD jacket didn't tell me so.  The newfound gravel is especially appropriate given the heartbreak, disappointment and existential woe that permeates the new songs.  For god's sake, here's Fortune's opening salvo, on a piece called "Maybe That's What It Takes":
You could have let me fall a little softer than that
You didn't need the rag, the gasoline or the match
... and the chorus:
It's not that I ever stopped loving you
I just quit waiting for you to love me too
Jeez, that smarts.  As the man behind the Circus of Misery and Heartbreak, Picott has never plied his wares on the sunny side of the street.  Nevertheless, after the 12 wonderfully brutal songs on Fortune, it's a wonder the man's able to leave the ring under his own power.  Fortunately, like Dave Alvin or Fred Eaglesmith, Rod Picott does depressing so very beautifully:
I tried to be someone you could be proud of
But you always let me know I was not worth your love 
I drove home from the station with the CD playing, shaking my head at the plight of this poor bastard, but nodding in agreement with his hard won wisdom.  File "I Was Not Worth Your Love" alongside John Moreland's "You Don't Care For Me Enough To Cry" as among the year's bleakest moments.  Unlike Moreland's hushed delivery and sparse arrangement, Picott drives through his song on an upbeat and reckless electric guitar.  Similarly, "Elbow Grease" and the darkly sinister "Uncle John" are deceptively upbeat, similar to the shambling gutbucket arrangements of Ray Wylie Hubbard or Fred Eaglesmith.  "Drunken Barber's Hand" and "Spare Change" strike a more subtle chord, but deliver an equivalent emotional impact.  Picott's everyman has been given a raw deal, but he soldiers on with a workingman's resignation:
God's gifts they come down small
Babies and diamonds and spare change
 Also on the Episode, a couple debuts from acts that occupy the rock side of the roots equation in Blitzen Trapper and Futurebirds.  We also herald the return of Martha Scanlon, alongside members of Decemberists, Black Prairie, Dolorean and more.  Plus, since Ronnie Fauss was in the studio with me for this week's Wednesday Morning Mix (catch it alternating Wednesday mornings from 8-10am), we enjoy a great and sad song from his earlier catalog.

* Victoria Williams, "You R Loved"  Loose  (Mammoth, 94)
* Lucero, "Went Looking For Warren Zevon's Los Angeles"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Brent Best, "Aunt Ramona"  Your Dog, Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* Revivalists, "Bulletproof"  Men Amongst Mountains  (Wind Up, 15)
* Tallest Man On Earth, "Seventeen"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)
* Danny & the Champions Of the World, "This Is Not a Love Song"  What Kind Of Love  (Loose, 15)
* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "S.O.B."  Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C
* Samantha Crain, "If I Had a Dollar"  Under Branch & Thorn & Tree  (Full Time Hobby, 15)
^ Rod Picott, "I Was Not Worth Your Love"  Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)  D
* Have Gun Will Travel, "Spirit Of Discovery"  Science From An Easy Chair  (This Is American Music, 15)
* Jayhawks, "Come To the River"  Rainy Day Music  (American, 03)
* Blitzen Trapper, "Lonesome Angel"  All Across This Land  (Vagrant, 15)  D
* Honeycutters, "Me Oh My"  Me Oh My  (Organic, 15)
* Milk Carton Kids, "Shooting Shadows"  Monterey  (Anti, 15)
* Martha Scanlan, "Honey Blue"  Shape Of Things Gone Missing Shape Of Things To Come  (Up On the Divide, 15)  D
* Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Spirit Moves"  Spirit Moves  (Dualtone, 15)
* Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Sweet Disorder"  single  (Sub Pop, 15)
* Hollis Brown, "Sweet Tooth"  3 Shots  (Julian, 15)
* Futurebirds, "Twentyseven"  Hotel Parties  (Easy Sound, 15)  D
* Tift Merritt, "Shadow In the Way"  Tambourine  (Lost Hwy, 04)
* Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, "Feeling Happy"  Lost Time  (Yep Roc, 15)
* Warren Haynes w/Railroad Earth, "New Year's Eve"  Ashes & Dust  (Concord, 15)
* Anderson East, "Keep the Fire Burning"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
* Mike Coykendall, "In the Summertime"  HalfPastPresentPending  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
* Daniel Romano, "If I've Only One Time Askin'"  If I've Only One Time Askin'  (New West, 15)
* Ronnie Fauss, "Saddest Love That's Ever Been Made"  The Sun Is Shining Somewhere But Somewhere Isn't Here  (Catapult, 12)
* Steelism, "Tintagel"  The Drawing Room, Vol. 1  (Intoxicating Sounds, 15)
* Kent Goolsby & Gold Standard, "Big Old World Blues"  No Substitute For Handsome  (TOY, 15)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 18, 2015
Scott Foley

I'm thinking of adding another tagline to my collection that would read, "So much good stuff".  Because it's true.  Halfway thru the week when I think I won't have too much new music to share on Saturday, the proverbial levee breaks.  It's especially true now that the Official Universal Record Release Date happens on Friday instead of Tuesday (as god intended).  This week brings debuts from Turnpike Troubadours and Promised Land Sound, as well as the beautiful and elegant James Leg.  Also, Wilco went and dropped an entire record for the price of your email address (probably worth way more than we imagine these days).

Also this week, we're thankful for "So much good stuff" from years past.  While the playlist on Routes & Branches bends decisively towards novelty, I hate a show without at least a couple backtracks.  See last week's post for some gushing about Jamie Lin Wilson's sweet new record, then join me in recalling how strong her previous outfit, the Gougers, could be.  Likewise, Shovels & Rope is/are just fine, but Cary Ann Hearst's earlier solo material can be revelatory.  Plus, the Bottle Rockets' ode to Doug Sahm is on my (long) list of underappreciated gems.

But this Episode is brought to you by the letter "S" for soul.  In this, the year of soul in americana, we've already thrilled to releases by Alabama Shakes, Andrew Combs, Leon Bridges, Anderson East and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats.  Now, from New Orleans, the borough that birthed the Deslondes, we welcome the soulful septet the Revivalists.  I have to admit that I completely blew it on their 2012 City of Sound release, so I'm especially pleased that I have yet another opportunity to embrace the band with their infectious new Men Amongst Mountains record.  The collection lands a ridiculous one-two punch with "Keep Going" and "Wish I Knew You", both tracks launching solid pop-soul hooks.  Sax sidles up to pedal steel, lifted on an altar of keys and delivered home by David Shaw's confident vocal.  Truth be told, I would expect nothing less from an album recorded in Bogalusa, Louisiana - set to sticky analog tape with participants shoehorned into a single room.  Much of the appeal of Men lies in the sheer range of sounds across the collection.  "King Of What" is a subtle acoustic number that evokes the earliest Mumford tracks.  The subsequent cut, "Stand Up" funks it all up, Shaw's delivery owing more to contemporary urban flow than to anything with strings (plus, how often do you get to enjoy a shrieking sax solo with your roots?).  "Need You" is a sultry piece that steadily unfurls into a blues rock burner.  If contemporary AAA radio knew what was good for it, a driving, tuneful track like "Bulletproof" would find a perfect home on your college and community stations alongside My Morning Jacket or Grace Potter. 

Bottom line:  You might join my dear wife in asking where all this funk 'n roots fits into what we do on R&B.  That's where "So much good stuff" comes into play.  Our broadcast casts a much wider net that any other roots-leaning program you're likely to enjoy.  Part of that's for the sake of my sanity.  I couldn't subsist on a limited diet of americana, narrowly defined.  The genre would do itself a great favor by widening its welcome to include more than the obvious purveyors of stuff that twangs.  This is why the recent presence of Alabama Shakes atop the Americana Radio charts bodes well for us all as listeners, programmers and bloggers.  The less predictable and formulaic we are, the more relevant we'll be.  Let me know if I ever fail to surprise, challenge or fulfill you. 

* Warren Haynes w/Railroad Earth, "Coal Tattoo"  Ashes & Dust  (Concord, 15)
* Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, "Unfair Weather Friend"  Django & Jimmie  (Sony, 15)
* T Hardy Morris, "Quieter (When I Leave Town)"  Drownin' On a Mountaintop  (Dangerbird, 15)
* David Ramirez, "That Ain't Love"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
* Phil Cook, "1922"  Southland Mission  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* HoneyHoney, "Big Man"  3  (Rounder, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "I Don't Want To Go Home"  Songs Of Sahm  (Bloodshot, 01)
* Jason Isbell, "Something More Than Free" Something More Than Free (Southeastern, 15)
* Jamie Lin Wilson, "Just Like Heartache"  Holidays & Wedding Rings  (JLW, 15)
* Gougers, "Riding In a Lincoln Continental With Sylvia Plath"  Long Day For the Weathervane  (Gougers, 07)
* Cary Ann Hearst, "Eastern Continental Divide"  Lions & Lambs  (CAH, 11)
* Sam Outlaw, "Love Her For Awhile"  Angeleno  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Anderson East, "Satisfy Me"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
* Lee Barber, "Singing Boy Preacher"  Missing Pages  (Lee Barber, 15)
* James Leg, "Up Above My Head"  Below the Belt  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)  D
* Left Lane Cruiser, "Whitebread & Beans"  Dirty Spliff Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Kasey Chambers, "Hell Of a Way To Go"  Bittersweet  (Sugar Hill, 15)
* Richmond Fontaine, "Polaroid"  Post To Wire  (El Cortez, 03)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Down Here"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)  D
* Brent Best, "Career Day"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* Wilco, "Where Do I Begin"  Star Wars  (dbPm, 15)  D
* Rayland Baxter, "Mr Rodriguez"  Imaginary Man  (ATO, 15)
* Promised Land Sound, "She Takes Me There"  For Use and Delight  (Paradise of Bachelors, 15)  D
* Iris Dement, "From An Airplane"  Trackless Woods  (Flariella, 15)
* Dale Watson, "Burden Of the Cross"  Call Me Insane  (Red House, 15)
* Honeycutters, "Texas '81"  Me Oh My  (Organic, 15)
* Rod Picott, "Elbow Grease"  Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)  D
* Ryan Bingham, "Broken Heart Tattoos"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
July 11, 2015
Scott Foley

Mainstream media types are touting Kacey Musgraves as a gutsy antidote to what passes for today's mainstream country.  Bottom line as I see it:  Musgraves' apple doesn't really fall too far from that mainstream tree.  More about her new Pageant Material record below.  For now, just know that the knowledge and awareness of those media types can be pretty limited.  They need only cast their radar a bit wider to discover smart, articulate female country artists like Jamie Lin Wilson or the Honeycutters' Amanda Anne Platt who aren't on those Big Labels, but who are truly among the iconoclasts of their sort of music.

I first admired the work of Jamie Lin Wilson during her stint as the co-frontperson of the Sidehill Gougers, soon to be abbreviated to just the Gougers.  She later earned a buzz with Kelley Mickwee and Savannah Welch as a Trisha. Holidays & Wedding Rings is the first full length to present Wilson as a solo artist, and the first that really shines a light on her as an deserving writer.  Where mainstream country often cruises on clever turns of phrase and sly lyrical winks, Wilson's best songs take the long way 'round.  Her duet with Wade Bowen, "Just Some Things" is as plain and as sturdy as a big red barn, nothing boastful or fancy but iconic in its eloquence.  Her cowriters are champions of that same plainspoken lyricism, folks like Jon Dee Graham, Owen Temple and Adam Hood.  Wilson's voice brings to mind singers who demonstrate an effortless soul such as Tift Merritt or even Linda Williams' homespun mastery (of Robin & Linda fame).

Writer Amanda Anne Platt plies her trade beneath the Honeycutters marquee.  Songs from Me Oh My, that North Carolina outfit's third full length,  are built around musical hooks that would make a more veteran artist jealous.  The opening track, "Jukebox" allows Platt to showcase her versatile voice perfectly paired with Matt Smith's pedal steel.  There's certainly more of a full band focus on Me Oh My, which compliments Platt's bolder delivery. The Honeycutters inject their country with flashes of 'grass and honky tonk, with tasteful touches of piano, mandolin or even trumpet.  The proof lies in Platt's slower tunes like "Texas '81" or the sweet title cut.  Without the support of a driving rhythm or bright instrumentation, she stands alone relying solely on her confidence and ability as a writer and singer. 

And the good news is that there's nothing wrong at all with the one that's garnering all the attention.  On her sophomore release, Kacey Musgraves is a masterful writer who knows exactly what musical buttons she's pushing. The quasi-rap moments, the litany of more-country-than-thou ingredients, those disarmingly clever turn of phrase that hold up entire songs.  Musgraves even knows when to drop a sly reference to weed or tolerance of alternative lifestyles, the stuff that largely defines her as an edgy fringe dweller in the uber-conservative bubble that mainstream country has become.  It's exactly this wily poking of the beloved mainstream box that identifies her as a really good writer.  Beyond that, Pageant Material impresses with its overall ease of delivery.  Where chart humping acts like Florida Georgia Line or Eric Church (who I do respect as a writer) rely on the flash and boom of over-the-top production and desperate performance, Kacey Musgraves comes across as supremely confident and even relaxed, never in a hurry to drop her chorus or push the needle beyond the red. 

I'd hazard a guess that the genre's legends like Loretta, Tammy or Dolly would cast their votes with Wilson, Platt or even Musgraves as successors to their awesome lineage before acknowledging the work of country "crossover" successes like Taylor Swift or Miranda Lambert.  As you might have recognized, I'm no purist.  I appreciate irreverence as much as the next music snob, but acts like Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton can challenge the country traditions without absolutely making a mockery of it.  As a pretentious and opinionated blogger, I would challenge reviewers with 100 times my audience to do their job and extend their collective awareness to encompass truly deserving artists like Jamie Lin Wilson and Amanda Anne Platt.  Let's not pretend that our best and brightest artists are the ones who rise to the lofty levels of popular awareness upon piles of promotional money and Big Label boostering. 

*  Fox St., "Justified"  Authentic Western Style  (Fox St, 15)  C
*  Anderson East, "Find 'Em Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
*  Revivalists, "Wish I Knew You"  Men Amongst Mountains  (Wind-Up, 15)
*  Leon Bridges, "Twistin' and Groovin'"  Coming Home  (Capitol, 15)
*  Jason Isbell, "Children Of Children"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Jessica Lee Wilkes, "Grooves Too Shallow"  Lone Wolf  (Free Dirt, 15)
*  Danny & the Champions Of the World, "Sound Of a Train"  What Kind Of Love  (Loose, 15)
*  Kent Goolsby & Gold Standard, "Beast Of Bourbon"  No Substitute For Handsome  (TOY, 15)  D
*  Mike Coykendall, "East Of Cheney"  HalfPastPresentPending  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)  D
*  Steelism, "the Serge"  The Drawing Room, Vol. 1  (Intoxicating Sounds, 15)  D
*  Kasey Chambers, "I'm Alive"  Bittersweet  (Sugar Hill, 15)
*  Chuck Ragan, "Justice and Fair Shake"  Kindred Spirit  (SideOneDummy, 15)
*  Lee Barber, "Coffee At Night"  The Missing Pages  (Lee Barber, 15)
*  David Ramirez, "Harder To Lie"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
*  Richard Thompson, "Fork In the Road"  Still (Deluxe Ed)  (Beeswing, 15)
^  Honeycutters, "Jukebox"  Me Oh My  (Organic, 15)
*  Banditos, "Golden Grease"  Banditos  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Still Drunk Still Crazy Still Blue"  Sonic Ranch  (El Paso, 15)
*  Legendary Shack Shakers, "Fishwhistle Boogie"  Believe  (Yep Roc, 04)
*  Warren Haynes w/Railroad Earth, "Company Man"  Ashes & Dust  (Concord, 15)  D
*  Hip Hatchet, "Hold You Like a Harness"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)
*  Milk Carton Kids, "Shooting Shadows"  Monterey  (Anti, 15)
*  Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "I Need Never Get Old"  Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C
*  State Champion, "There Is a Highlight Reel"  Fantasy Error  (Sophomore Lounge, 15)
*  GospelbeacH, "Sunshine Skyway"  Pacific Surf Line  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)  D
*  Beachwood Sparks, "Tarnished Gold"  Tarnished Gold  (SubPop, 12)
*  Lera Lynn, "A Church In Ruins"  True Detective  (Harvest, 15)  D

Monday, July 06, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
July 4, 2015  ('merica!)
Scott Foley

Last week's post took a guess at some of the finest stuff 2015 has had to offer to date.  Did I forget things?  Of course I forgot things.  Houndmouth's second release, Little Neon Limelight strikes a sweet balance between roots and pop elements.  And Honey Honey's aptly titled 3 merits the attention paid to Shovels & Rope as another duo capable of Great and Loud Things.  Plus, why didn't I include Dwight Yoakam's umpteenth near-perfect collection, Second Hand Heart?  Hint: DY is so consistently good that we tend to take him for granted.  We also owe a deep bow of gratitude to Howe Gelb and Giant Sand for assuring that our kind of music remains interesting, eclectic and ... well, good and weird.

As is my tradition, I choose to celebrate July 4th with a set of theme-free music (well, there is that Rev. Peyton thing).  A closer examination of the playlist below will confirm that Dave Alvin's "Fourth of July" does not make an appearance.  There's a fair chance that R&B is the sole american-ish broadcast where this is the case.  You're welcome  (Sure, it's a great song, but I've always prided myself for only being predictable around Christmastime ...).  Instead, this Episode simply celebrates the great diversity that is Routes & Branches - waving the star spangled flag of all things good and gritty.  New material from the uber-soulful Anderson East, as well as more New Orleans music from the Revivalists.  And two (2) cuts from that young Isbell fellow.

It's been a good 6 years since an album by Austinite Lee Barber crossed my proverbial desk.  Thief and Rescue earned some strong spins on R&B back in 2009.  When Barber recently contacted me regarding a followup,  I greeted the album gladly ... then let it rattle around in my Bag of Musical Wonder for a couple weeks.  My bad.  After a reminder email from the artist, I made a point of feeding it into the CD player on my way to the station.  I'm quoted on Barber's site saying that Thief is "understated but excellent" (really a pretty vanilla quote as far as quotes go ...).  Good news is that Lee Barber's Missing Pages finds the artist remaining both "understated" and "excellent" (to quote myself).  With a decidedly light touch on production and arrangement, the new songs are given generous space within which to resonate, similar to a jazz record.  Even on the CD's heaviest cut, the bluesy "Singing Boy Preacher", there is such a separation between the fuzz guitars, sloppy drums and Lou Reed-flat vocals:  "There ain't a lot of conversation / Between a butcher and a hog".  Like Joe Henry, Barber's songs ring with a romanticism and musical confidence more typical of a veteran comfortable in his skin.  "Don't Talk" features a sweet duet with Sahara Smith who, along with Dana Falconberry, provides backing vocals throughout the collection.  The coffeeshop blues of "Fall Away" demonstrates the humor and restraint of Richard Thompson, with an electric guitar on the brink of distortion but brushed with a gentle hand.  "Coffee At Night" is a close backwoods cousin to "Whiter Shade of Pale" (which is itself borrowed from Bach) in its loose recklessness and tuneful progression:  "A matchbook kiss / A telephone number on a grocery list / You didn't call ...".  Once again, it's Lee Barber being both understated and excellent - bringing to mind Austin royalty like Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham.  Missing Pages is a an album created by a musical impressionist, a work that is playful and held together by splashes of mood and color.

*  Jason Isbell, "Life You Chose"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Jason Isbell, "How To Forget"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "15 Years"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Reckless Kelly, "Stayed Up All Night Again"  Good Luck & True Love  (No Big Deal, 11)
*  Deslondes, "I Fought the Blues and Won"  The Deslondes  (New West, 15)
*  Kasey Chambers, "Too Late To Save Me"  Bittersweet  (Sugar Hill, 15)
*  Jackie Greene, "Silver Lining"  Back To Birth  (Yep Roc, 15)
*  Rhett Miller, "My Little Disaster"  the Traveler  (ATO, 15)
*  Avett Brothers, "When I Drink"  the Gleam  (Ramseur, 06)
*  Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Changes"  the Spirit Moves  (Dualtone, 15)
*  Hollis Brown, "Highway 1 (w/Nikki Lane)"  3 Shots  (Hollis Brown, 15)
*  Son Volt, "Roll On"  American Central Dust  (Rounder, 09)
*  Anderson East, "Satisfy Me"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)  D
*  Honey Honey, "Bad People" 3  (New West, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Dreams Of Clay"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Drive-by Truckers, "Love Like This"  Pizza Deliverance  (New West, 99)
*  Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band, "St Nick On the 4th In a Fervor"  While No One Was Looking  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Revivalists, "Keep Going"  Men Amongst Mountains  (Wind-Up, 15)  D
*  John Moreland, "White Flag"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Samantha Crain, "Big Rock"  Under Branch & Thorn & Tree  (Full Time Hobby, 15)
*  Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Hesitating Beauty"  Mermaid Avenue  (Elektra, 98)
*  T Hardy Morris, "Starting Gun"  Drownin' On a Mountaintop  (Dangerbird, 15)
^  Lee Barber, "Singing Boy Preacher"  Missing Pages  (Lee Barber, 15) D
*  Madisons, "So Long West Texas (edit)"  No One's Ever Gonna Know Your Name  (Madisons, 15)  D
*  Daniel Romano, "I'm Gonna Teach You"  If I've Only One Time Askin'  (New West, 15)
*  Iris Dement, "Listening To Singing"  Trackless Woods  (FlariElla, 15)
*  Old Crow Medicine Show, "Hard To Tell"  OCMS  (Nettwerk, 04)
*  Honeycutters, "Me Oh My"  Me Oh My  (Organic Records, 15) D

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
June 27, 2015
Scott Foley


Yes, we're halfway through this great experiment called 2015. Please allow me to lean back and stroke my chin thoughtfully as I reflect upon my 20 favorite records of the year to date.  In order of appearance, of course. 

Justin Townes Earle  (1/13, Vagrant)
Ryan Bingham  (1/20, Axster Bingham)
American Aquarium  (2/3, American Aquarium)
Kill County  (2/16, Kill County)
James McMurtry  (2/24, Complicated Game)
Andrew Combs  (3/3, Coin)
Ryan Culwell  (3/3, Lightning Rod)
Porter (3/10, Porter)
William Elliott Whitmore  (3/27, Anti)
Spirit Family Reunion  (4/14, SFR)
Alabama Shakes  (4/21, ATO)
John Moreland (4/21, Old Omens)
Charlie Parr  (4/28, Red House)
Chris Stapleton  (5/4, Mercury)
Banditos  (5/12, Bloodshot)
Tallest Man On Earth  (5/12, Dead Oceans)
Deslondes  (6/5, New West)
Jason Isbell  (6/17, Southeastern)
Leon Bridges  (6/19, Columbia)
Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats   (8/21, Stax)

I'll tag Ryan Culwell or Porter as the year's biggest surprises thus far, followed closely by Banditos (docked a surprise point for being on the Bloodshot label, from whom excellence is never a surprise).  Alabama Shakes and John Moreland followed up career defining records with admirable grace, as did Jason Isbell.  Big Names from our genre like McMurtry, Bingham and Earle (Jr) exceeded my expectations.  And long awaited discs from Leon Bridges and Colorado's Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats cemented the deal with soul.  Chris Stapleton saved country music from itself (plus, I just previewed Kasey Musgraves sophomore release in full, and consider me impressed). It's all just plain good, and if I can look forward to 20 equally impressive records for the second half of 2015, I'll be a content programmer.

*  Steve Earle, "Hard-Core Troubadour"  I Feel Alright  (Warner, 96)
*  Steve Earle, "Acquainted With the Wind"  Terraplane  (New West, 15)
*  Richard Thompson, "She Never Could Resist a Winding Road"  Still  (Beeswing, 15)
*  Lindi Ortega, "Ashes"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
*  David Ramirez, "Harder To Lie"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)  D
*  Brent Best, "Queen Bee"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
*  Chris Stapleton, "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Jessica Lee Wilkes, "Something's Goin' On"  Lone Wolf  (Free Dirt, 15)  D
*  Honey Honey, "Big Man"  3  (Rounder, 15)
*  Charlie Parr, "Temperance River Blues"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Eilen Jewell, "Pages"  Sundown Over Ghost Town  (Signature Sounds, 15)
*  Deslondes, "Low Down Soul"  Deslondes  (New West, 15)
*  Sam Outlaw, "Ghost Town"  Angeleno  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Andrew Combs, "Month of Bad Habits"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, "World's In a Bad Condition"  Lost Time  (Yep Roc, 15)  D
*  Leon Bridges, "Flowers"  Coming Home  (Capitol, 15)
^  Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Howling At Nothing"  Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C
*  Samantha Crain, "Elk City"  Under Branch & Thorn & Tree  (Full Time Hobby, 15)
*  Jason Isbell, "To a Band That I Loved"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Centro-Matic, "To Unleash the Horses Now"  Distance and Clime  (Idol, 01)
*  Water Liars, "Let It Breathe"  Water Liars  (Fat Possum, 14)
*  T Hardy Morris, "My Me"  Drownin' On a Mountain Top  (Dangerbird, 15)
*  Left Lane Cruiser, "Heavy Honey"  Dirty Spliff Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
*  Heartless Bastards, "Black Cloud"  Restless Ones  (Partisan, 15)
*  Giant Sand, "Every Now and Then"  Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)
*  Giant Sand, "Brand New Swamp Thing"  Blurry Blue Mountain  (Fire, 10)
*  Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, "Miles and Miles"  Bad Omen  (Tribulation, 15)
*  Daniel Romano, "If I've Only One Time Askin'"  If I've Only One Time Askin'  (New West, 15)  D
*  JD McPherson, "Everybody's Talking 'Bout the All-American"   Let the Good Times Roll  (Rounder, 15)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 20, 2015
Scott Foley

Anytime I'm gone from the mic for a couple weeks, I inevitably return with too many new things to air.  This week, "too many new things" includes a Warren Zevon tribute from Lucero, Have Gun Will Travel's concept album about Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, and former Slobberbone and Drams-man Brent Best.  Also, please don't make me wait too long to hear the rest of Nathaniel Rateliff's new Night Sweats project.  

Almost exactly at the halfway point through "Children Of Children" on Jason Isbell's new Something More Than Free, there is an unexpected drum crack, which ushers in a rain of gorgeous strings.  The strings are pushed aside after a couple measures by a rude cloud of guitar noise, backed by thundering drums.  It's the biggest sound Isbell has ever created, and it cuts a line between his stellar career to date and what's to come. 

As you'll recall, Isbell's Southeastern defined 2013 for me - a moving, visceral collection of personal songs, appropriately recorded sans his 400 Unit backing band.  Southeastern producer Dave Cobb has returned, and so has much of Isbell's band, including Mrs Isbell, Amanda Shires on fiddle and vocals.  Something More isn't necessarily louder, per se.  "If It Takes a Lifetime", for instance, will likely garner a Best Song nod for next year's Americana awards.  A good natured ramble, it connects Isbell to the Guy Clark lineage:  "A man is the product of all the people that he ever loved".  Both "Flagship" and the title cut tread relatively familiar workin' class territory, too.  To date, it's what Jason Isbell has done so well.   

Reports have quoted Isbell that Something More Than Free is a more optimistic, forward-looking collection compared to Southeastern, which earned him an armload of Americana Music Awards for Artist, Album and Song of the Year.  “[I'm] trying to explain relationships between people and relationships with an individual and his or her past, and the sort of things you trade in to be happy the older you get — I think that’s a big concern on this record.”  Forward-thinking, yes.  Perhaps not happier.  Where "Flagship" allows a hopeful glance into a couple's possible future, "How To Forget" counters with self-doubt in the wake of an ex's biting dismissal:  "Was I good to you? Was it hell? Was it fun? Did you think I was the one? Was I good to you?".  "Life You Chose" even goes so far as flirting with the fantasy of reconnecting with an early flame:  "Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you? ... Just tonight I realized I am still in your backseat / And nothing I've had since has meant a thing to me".  

Something More Than Free is focused on a future-distant point, but largely haunted by the past.  Where we come from, and why we're no longer there; the undeniable pull of memory and identity.  Songs like "24 Frames" dwell on that line between our yearning for the past and the lure of the future's shining promise.  The single is one of the album's gems:  "You thought God was an architect, now you know / He's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow".  "To a Band That I Loved" is a tremendous and personal ode to Centro-Matic:  "Somehow I'm still out here seeing your faces ..."  No matter how far or how successfully we've moved on, our strings remain tangled with what's gone before.  

Back to "Children Of Children".  It's a song that begins in sepia tones of the small town past.  Isbell's masterful lyrics soon betray that these memories are fraught with guilt and regret, as the tune's early acoustic guitar reveals glimpses of the storm of sound to come.  The electric guitar, the grit and the noise crop up here and there throughout the masterful collection, presenting Isbell as an artist who will become larger than the genre that has embraced his work to date.   

I’ve lived with the record for about a week, to the point where “that new CD smell” has faded a bit.  My relationship with an album is not entirely unlike that with a sweetheart  (wrote the blogger who’s been married for 25+ years): the initial novelty and euphoria, the subsequent “getting to know you” period, and the gradual settling, familiarity and recognition.  I return to this page to confidently announce that I think this is the real thing.  Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free might just be a masterpiece.

*  Tallest Man On Earth, "Fields Of Our Home"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)
*   Rocky Votolato, "Sparks Of Recovery"  Kindred Spirit  (SideOneDummy, 15)
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "All the Way Back Home"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  Kristin Diable, "Time Will Wait"  Create Your Own Mythology  (Speakeasy, 15)
*  Jackie Greene, "Trust Somebody"  Back To Birth  (Yep Roc, 15)  D
*  Danny & the Champions Of the World, "Clear Water"  What Kind Of Love  (Loose, 15)
*  Deslondes, "Out On the Rise"  the Deslondes  (New West, 15)
*  Fox Street, "Long Road Home"  Authentic Western Style  (Fox St, 15)  C
*  Alabama Shakes, "Miss You"  Sound and Color  (ATO, 15)
*  Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "S.O.B."  Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C
*  Shinyribs, "Baby What's Wrong"  Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)
*  Sam Outlaw, "Ghost Town"  Angeleno  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Banditos, "The Breeze"  Banditos  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  T Hardy Morris, "Young Assumption"  Drownin' On a Mountain Top  (Dangerbird, 15)
*  the Arcs, "Stay In My Corner"  Your Dreamily  (Nonesuch, 15)  D
*  Joe Ely, "Long Snake Moan (live)" Live Shots  (UMG, 80)
*  Old Man Luedecke, "Early Days"  Domestic Eccentric  (True North, 15)  D
*  Phil Cook, "Great Tide"  Southland Mission  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
*  Iris Dement, "Like a White Stone"  Trackless Woods  (Flariella, 15) 
*  Lucero, "Went Looking For Warren Zevon's Los Angeles"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)  D
*  Two Cow Garage, "Continental Distance"  single  (Last Chance, 15) 
*  Have Gun Will Travel, "Spirit Of Discovery"  Science From An Easy Chair  (This Is American Music, 15)  D
^  Jason Isbell, "Children Of Children"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15) 
*  Brent Best, "Queen Bee"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)  D

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A home for the americana diaspora
June 6, 2015
Scott Foley

My soul's a lion's den 
There ain't  no place to hide 
Heart's an engineer 
Out on his last ride

A couple years ago I made space on my radar for an act called the Tumbleweeds, fronted by Sam Doores.  Now beneath a far stronger marquee, the Deslondes drop their heralded self-titled debut on New West Records. Mr Doores is just one of the 5 writers and 4 vocalists who fuel the collective's New Orleans country-soul.  Along with bassman Dan Cutler, Doores has previously moonlighted with fellow N'Orleans artist Alynda Lee Segarra in Hurray For the Riff Raff.  As a patchwork woven of so many musical visions, the record jumps from early rock influences to honky tonk, Doug Sahm-inspired country and even gospel touches.  A degree of the Deslondes' charm comes from their loose, streetcorner spirit, like hobo buskers with an electric guitar who just happen to have de-trained for a quick trackside performance.  The record's retro compass also comes across in its consistently thin production, sounding at times like something harvested from the Woody Guthrie archives.  The Deslondes are at their best when they're under the influence of that Louisiana country-soul.  The lazy bar band opener "Fought the Blues and Won" is built upon a Fats Domino style piano roll, while "Real Deal" finds guidance under the star of Doug Sahm.  The backslider gospel of "Those Were (Could've Been) the Days" recalls sometimes touring partners Spirit Family Reunion:  "I ain't drunk darlin' / I just been drinking ".  The Deslondes comes to a close on a hidden gem, the piano ballad "Out On the Rise", whose bluesy Sunday morning groove and unexpected clarinet solo could've been overheard from a second story window in the band's Holy Cross neighborhood home.  

Lots of other strong material this Episode, including another glimpse into the Chuck Ragan /Rocky Votolato split EP, and some hard stuff at the hands of Left Lane Cruiser and Barrence Whitfield.  Onetime Gouger and Trisha, Jamie Lin Wilson brings us her debut solo record, and there's some deep down soulful material from Honey Honey and Danny & the Champions. 

Next Episode, you'll be kept company by Tarnation's Andy D, who will be sitting in for me.  Please treat him well, and I'm told he'll do the same for you. 

*  Porter, "Natural Disaster"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
*  John Moreland, "Heart's Too Heavy"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  James McMurtry, "Copper Canteen"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Leeroy Stagger, "Something Beautiful"  Dream It All Away  (Rebeltone, 15)
*  Chuck Ragan, "Before Dust"  Kindred Spirit  (SideOneDummy, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Liar"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Lydia Loveless, "Bad Way To Go"  Indestructible Machine  (Bloodshot, 11)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Down By the River"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
*  Left Lane Cruiser, "Tres Borrachos"  Dirty Spliff Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
*  Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Incarceration Casserole"  Under the Savage Sky  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
*  Chris Stapleton, "Parachute"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "That Hardwood Floor"  Jimmie Dale Gilmore  (Hightone, 89)
*  Jamie Lin Wilson, "Just Like Heartache"  Holidays & Wedding Rings  (JLW, 15)  D
*  Yonder Mt String Band, "Ever Fallen In Love"  Black Sheep  (Frog Pad, 15)  C, D
*  Ben Miller Band, "Prettiest Girl"  Any Way Shape or Form  (New West, 14)
*  Chatham County Line, "Love I Found"  Tightrope  (Yep Roc, 14)
*  Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, "It's Only Money"  Django and Jimmie  (Sony, 15)
*  Michael Dean Damron, "20,000 Miles"  When the Darkness Come  (MDD, 15)
*  Hollis Brown, "Sandy"  3 Shots  (Hollis Brown, 15)
*  Amy Black, "Please Don't Give Up On Me"  Muscle Shoals Sessions  (Reuben, 15)
*  Levon Helm, "You Better Move On"  Imus Ranch Record  (New West, 08)
*  Honey Honey, "Back to You"   3  (Rounder, 15)  D
*  Richard Thompson, "Broken Doll"  Still  (Beeswing, 15)
^  Deslondes, "Those Were (Could've Been) the Days"  the Deslondes  (New West, 15)
*  Old 97s, "Big Brown Eyes"  Too Far To Care  (Elektra, 97)
*  Danny & the Champions of the World, "This Is Not a Love Song"  What Kind of Love  (Loose, 15)  D
*  Ryan Adams, "New York New York (live)"  Live At Carnegie Hall  (PaxAm, 15)
*  Dawes, "Somewhere Along the Way"  All Your Favorite Bands  (HUB, 15)  D