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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 16, 2015
Scott Foley

How can a guy who explores such dark recesses be so friendly?  I talked Wendell Berry, Mark Twain and Tom Robbins with William Elliott Whitmore and Mrs Whitmore this week, and got a couple excellent live cuts from WEW as well.  We talked family farms, mortality and radium poisoning, and tried to think of another Iowa artist besides Greg Brown.  Sometimes I go into these interviews a bit reluctant to give up the airspace, but more often than not the artists prove engaging and I go all Terry Gross on them and next thing I know we've eaten up half an hour.  

But there's still good ol' recorded music to be enjoyed, and this week we shed light on new stuff from Willie & Hag, Michael Dean Damron and Dead Confederate and Diamond Rugs contributor T Hardy Morris.  Left Lane Cruiser's Dirty Spliff Blues is becoming more promising with every unleashed cut, and I flirted with the notion of giving this week's review space to a much deserved reflection on Chris Stapleton's solo debut.

Instead, I decided to rejoice in the arrival of the complete Banditos record from our fine friends at Bloodshot. Based upon my theory of the Beards Per Band ratio, the Birmingham-by-way-of-Nashville sextet demanded my attention as soon as I saw the announcement of their debut.  The collection opens like a drunk man falling down some dark stairs, a full-tilt boogie that barely clings to the rail(ing)s.  The Banditos boast a trio of vocalists, including the natural force that is Mary Beth Richardson.  Our kind of music is packed with female vocalists who are soulful, sweet, sexy or slick, but it's the rare frontwoman who crosses over into the "ballsy" territory.  On "Waitin'" or the immeasurably bluesy "No Good" Richardson more than holds her own in that tangle of beards, coming across with all the attitude and ability of Janis.  It takes a capable instrumentalist to sound as reckless as the Banditos do throughout their album.  Guitars are hard and heavy, with drums and organ pounding away like the classic 60s blues-rock outfits.  A closer listen will be rewarded with frequent banjo sightings between all those electric strings.  "Still Sober (After All These Beers)" will compete with "Jesus Would've Let Me Pick the Restaurant" for 2015's best song title, not to mention all the chooglin' and flirtin' with disaster that one would expect from a Southern rock outfit.  More trad types might find relief in tunes like "Blue Mosey #2" or "Ain't It Hard", songs that are reduced to an acoustic simmer.  "Cry Baby Cry" could cure those ills, however, with shared vocals and a boogie piano that belongs in a dusty roadhouse somewhere.  This morning I heard old rockinghorse Roger Daltrey arguing that rock music was not dead, that it could be tracked to bars and small clubs across our country on any given night.  I would agree that acts like the Banditos are part of that underground contingent keeping the garage-born spirit of rock alive.

*  Ryan Adams, "Hardest Part (live)"  Live At Carnegie Hall  (PaxAm, 15)
*  Cat Power, "Willie"  the Greatest  (Matador, 06)
*  Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, "Unfair Weather Friend"  Django and Jimmie  (Columbia, 15)  D
*  Hayes Carll, "(I'm Gonna Start) Living Again If It Kills Me"  Lowe Country  (Fiesta Red, 12)
*  Kill County, "Neighbor Dogs"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 15)
*  T Hardy Morris, "My Me"  Drownin' On a Mountain Top  (Dangerbird, 15)  D
*  Amy Black, "Tighten Up"  Muscle Shoals Sessions  (Reuben, 15)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Civilizations"  live in studio
                     "Don't Strike Me Down"  live in studio
                     "Ain't Gone Yet"  live in studio 
*  Left Lane Cruiser, "Whitebread n' Beans"  Dirty Spliff Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
*  Michael Dean Damron, "20,000 Miles"  When the Darkness Come  (MDD, 15)  D
*  Jason Isbell, "24 Frames"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Shinyribs, "Sacred & the Profane"  Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Still Drunk Still Crazy Still Blue"  Sonic Ranch  (Whitey Morgan, 15)
*  Chris Stapleton, "Tennessee Whiskey"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Great Peacock, "Desert Lark"  Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)
*  Giant Sand, "Home Sweat Home"  Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)
*  Nikki Lane, "Can't Get Enough"  All or Nothin' (deluxe)  (New West, 14)
^  Banditos, "Blue Mosey #2"  Banditos  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  Tallest Man On Earth, "Slow Dance"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Say It"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  John Moreland, "High On Tulsa Heat"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Caroline Spence, "Whiskey Watered Down"  Somehow  (Caroline Spence, 15)

Monday, May 11, 2015

home of the americana diaspora
May 9, 2015
Scott Foley

Couple posts ago, I burbled on in praise of a song that has the ability to change lives - at least mine.  From Tallest Man On Earth, "Sagres" swept my feet out from under me.  The very first time I heard it I happened to be spinning it on one of my Mix shows, basically just airing it unheard while chatting with another programmer.  My second time through "Sagres" happened later that same day.  On my ride home, I realized the relative error of my ways, that I had inadvertently broadcast the profane line that so fittingly pulled so much together for me:

It's just all this fucking doubt  

Granted, that's just one line from a lifechanging song, and one haunting song from an album that pairs perfectly with last year's Lateness of Dancers by Hiss Golden Messenger.  Both Lateness and Tallest Man's Dark Bird Is Home trade in what might carelessly be termed indie folk, created by artists who perform under aliases much larger than their given monikers.  

When the lo-fi guitar 'n voice recordings of Sweden's Kristian Matsson first reached the radar of bloggers, he was damned with a Dylan comparison.  Like most other Dylan sightings, this one was off target, focused superficially on Matsson's slightly nasal delivery and his rambling lyrical tendencies.  The sound of Tallest Man on Earth has grown over the ensuing decade, coming to incorporate a more diverse range of instrumentation and production, though still focused on Matsson's lo-fi vocals and poetically restless lyrics.  Early reports declared Dark Bird more of a full band record, and the first glimpse of "Sagres" confirmed those suspicions.  "Darkness of the Dream" gallops along like Springsteen for all the song's romantic yearning.  With a few exceptions, songs are built on a strummed or fingerpicked acoustic guitar.  Even the quieter, more pared back pieces such as "Singers" and "Fields of Home" are shaded with tape echoes and effects, grainy horns or the cloudy piano of "Little Nowhere Towns". 

Despite his increasingly crowded studio, Dark Bird remains quite a personal collection.  Matsson has intimated that parts of the record address his recent divorce, "what lead up to that and what happens after".  Beneath the production and the rapidfire delivery, Matsson's lyrics aren't always easy to discern (early, unofficial efforts on lyrics sites have been downright puzzling). When the clouds part for a line or two, the glimpses can be revelatory.  There are seemingly confessional moments such as "Little Nowhere Towns", as well as a couple genuinely optimistic passages.  The album closes on one of the latter times:  "Suddenly the day gets you down / but this is not the end / no, this is fine". 

*  Charlie Parr, "Remember Me If I Forget"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Porter, "Harder Stuff"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
*  Amy Black, "Bring It On Home"  Muscle Shoals Sessions  (Reuben Records, 15)
*  Hillstomp, "Cardiac Arrest In D"  Darker the Night  (In Music We Trust, 10)
*  Alabama Shakes, "Miss You"  Sound & Color  (ATO, 15)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Stone Blind Horses"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
*  Kristin Diable, "I'll Make Time For You"  Create Your Own Mythology  (Speakeasy, 15)
*  Lucinda Williams, "Pyramid of Tears"  Por Vida: Tribute To the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo  (Or Music, 04)
*  Jason Isbell, "24 Frames"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)  D
*  Jayhawks, "Ain't No End (live)"  Live At the Belly Up  (Belly Up, 15)
*  Calexico, "Follow the River"  Edge of the Sun  (Anti, 15)
*  Shinyribs, "Dead Batteries"  Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)
*  Allison Moorer, "Storms Never Last"  Lonesome On'ry & Mean  (Dualtone, 03)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Good Timin' Man"  Sonic Ranch  (Whitey Morgan, 15)
*  Jimmy LaFave, "Never Came Back To Memphis"  Night Tribe  (Music Road, 15)
*  Will Hoge, "They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To"  Small Town Dreams  (Cumberland, 15)
*  Dave Alvin, "Blue Wing"  King of California  (Hightone, 94)
*  Chris Stapleton, "When the Stars Come Out"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Kenny Knight, "Carry Me Down"  Crossroads  (Paradise of Bachelors, 15)  C
*  Shelby Lynne, "Sold the Devil (Sunshine)"  I Can't Imagine  (Rounder, 15)
*  John Statz, "Queen of the Plains"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  Have Gun Will Travel, "Kerosene & Candlelight"  Mergers & Acquisitions  (Suburban Home, 09)
*  Lilly Hiatt, "Somebody's Daughter"  Royal Blue  (Normaltown, 15)
*  Rhett Miller, "Lucky Star"  Traveler  (ATO, 15)
*  Giant Sand, "Man On a String"  Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)
*  Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, "Miles and Miles"  Bad Omen  (Tribulation, 15)
*  Carrie Rodriguez, "Steal Your Love"  Love & Circumstance  (Ninth St Opus, 10)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Healing To Do"  Radium Death  (ATO, 15)

Monday, May 04, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 2, 2015
Scott Foley


For today's post, we'll pair a Saturday setlist with a quick recap of what happened while we were watching things turn to Spring.  Whereas March made it difficult for us to pare stuff down to just five fine releases, the month of April felt a bit tame by comparison. Debuted enough stuff, but I never like to declare my undying allegiance to an album until I've had time to live with the entire album for a week or two.

Now that we're officially one-third into 2015: The Year, the real jewels are starting to distinguish themselves from the pretty baubles.  If I was forced to generate a list of these priceless gems (in no particular order, of course), it might include selections such as Andrew Combs, John Moreland, Ryan Culwell, Charlie Parr and Americana Aquarium.  Stuff that's not worn out its welcome after repeated playings.  Will any of the following April records join this rarefied company?  As me later. 

It's always a worthwhile event when Joey Burns and John Convertino release a new set.  As Calexico, they have been making an uncompromising blend of Southwestern americana, indie rock and Mexican folk since they emerged from the shadow of Giant Sand in the mid 90s.  Edge of the Sun fits firmly in the more direct groove established since 2006's Garden Ruin.  Extra dimension comes from guests including former collaborators Neko Case and Sam Beam, as well as lesser known quantities like the Greek band Tikam and experimental Latin indie force Gaby Moreno.

I listened more to Brown Bird's Axis Mundi in April more than anything else, trying to get my ears around the duo's final statement.  Arriving in the wake of David Lamb's 2014 passing from leukemia, the songs are bold and ultimately affirming despite working with a dark musical palette.  Partner MorganEve Swain collected fragments and song ideas left by Lamb and arrayed them into a striking tribute to the too-brief tenure of Brown Bird.  With heavier electric guitars and percussion and lyrics that flirt and spar with mortality, it won't necessarily provide the soundtrack for your next dinner party, but it has definitely earned a slot in this year's R&B rotation. 

Dwight Yoakam might no longer have the element of surprise on his side, though his Second Hand Heart satisfies as much as almost anything he's done in the past decade.  While it's not the heralded return to Yoakam's iconic "cowpunk" days, it's a lively collection with enough edge and artistry to dispel any arguments that the man is cruising on yesterday's vapors.  His turbo-fueled romp thru "Man of Constant Sorrow" gets by on good nature alone, and Yoakam's stranglehold on pop-country hooks hasn't loosened a bit. I would also put in a good word for Yoakam as an underrated balladeer as evidenced on more restrained moments like "V's of Birds".

Similar to John Moreland, Philippe Bronchtein loads every lyric on Hold You Like a Harness with poetic worth and personal meaning.  As Hip Hatchet, he trades in the tales of a flawed romantic, driven by 75%  honorable intent but often as not greeting the dawn with regret and self doubt.  Bronchtein's fingerpicked guitar and strong smoky tenor speak strongly of their folk origins, though the pedal steel, fiddle and the lyrical edge speak more of unpaved parking lots, sketchy hotels and two-lane backroads than coffee houses.  "Man, I can't commit for shit / But damn can I act and pretend".

Chris Porter is the reason I keep listening to album after album.  I trust that the hours I spend previewing all that "pretty good" music will eventually pay off with an experience like This Red Mountain.  No doubt, I expected strong stuff from John Moreland's release, and in all honesty I wasn't ambushed by the strength of Dwight Yoakam's new record.  What feeds me is dropping in a CD or clicking on a file and having years of low expectations blown aside like cobwebs. While Porter isn't an entirely new quantity for me, his earlier work didn't prepare me for the impact of cuts like the title track or "Hardest Healin'".  Surrounded by  a supporting cast that would be the envy of any larger label artist, Porter sidesteps the Grand Musical Statement in favor of a slow, simmering impression.  Then it dawns:  Damn. 

Oh, and don't forget that William Elliott Whitmore will be joining me for an instudio set 'n chat around 4:30 (mt) Saturday, May 16.  Until such time, I will be over-listening and over-researching Mr Whitmore's oeuvre until I'm fairly overflowing with fanboy enthusiasm.

*  AJ Roach, "Sears & Roebuck Suit"  Revelation  (Waterbug, 06)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Gravel Road"  Ashes To Dust  (Southern, 05)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "South Lee County Brew"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)
*  John Moreland, "Hang Me In the Tulsa County Stars"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "V's of Birds"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Waitin' 'Round To Die"  Sonic Ranch  (Whitey Morgan, 15)
*  Lindi Ortega, "Tell It Like It Is"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)  D
*  Will Hoge, "Guitar or a Gun"  Small Town Dreams  (Cumberland, 15)  D
*  Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, "You Can't Say We Didn't Try"  Traveling Kind  (Nonesuch, 15)
*  Staves, "You Don't Call Me Anymore"  If I Was  (Atlantic, 15)
*  Brown Bird, "Adolescence"  Axis Mundi  (Supply & Demand, 15)
*  Hip Hatchet, "Travel Map"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)
*  Shinyribs, "Sacred & the Profane"  Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)  D
*  Andrew Combs, "Month of Bad Habits"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Amy Black, "Tighten Up"  Muscle Shoals Sessions  (Reuben, 15)  D
*  Sam Lewis, "Love Me Again"  Waiting On You  (Brash, 15)
*  Jimmy LaFave, "Trying To Get Back To You"  Night Tribe  (Music Road, 15)  D
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "Put Your Hands Together"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  Chris Stapleton, "Nobody To Blame"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Sarah Gayle Meech, "Little Black Hole"  Tennessee Love Song  (SGM, 15)
*  Rhett Miller, "Kiss Me On the Fire Escape"  The Traveler  (ATO, 15)
^  Porter, "This Red Mountain"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
*  Darrell Scott, "Country Music I'm Talking To You"  10: Songs of Ben Bullington  (Full Light, 15)  D
*  Richard Thompson, "Beatnik Walking"  Still  (Beeswing, 15)  D
*  Giant Sand, "Hurtin' Habit"  Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)
*  Eilen Jewell, "Worried Mind"  Sundown Over Ghost Town  (Signature Sounds, 15)
*  Jim White, "Still Waters"  Wrong-Eyed Jesus  (Luaka Bop, 97)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

home of the americana diaspora
April 25, 2015
Scott Foley

This Episode started off pretty hard.  New, manic songs from Alabama Shakes, Lee Bains III and Left Lane Cruiser laid into the first hour like a buzzsaw.  While we eventually settled into a more familiar americana groove, debuts from Giant Sand and Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke assured that the only predictable thing on R&B is the unpredictable. 

Tethered to the cure
I focus on the pain
Transformation comes
Tempered by the flame
And if this flesh should fail
Devour me from within
And then my soul prevail
Free to roam again  

Heck of a way to start an album ... Morganeve Swain is half of the Rhode Island duo Brown Bird.  With David Lamb, she built an uncompromising sort of folk music, with roots as deep in american music as in the sounds of Middle Eastern and Eastern European cultures.  Lamb succumbed to leukemia in 2013, in the wake of two excellent Brown Bird releases, 2011's Salt For Salt and 2013's Fits of Reason.  The duo continued to create music during his treatment, and Swain saw the sessions to their completion with the release of Axis Mundi.  

Though Lamb began work on several of these pieces prior to his diagnosis, it’s nearly impossible not to listen to songs like the opener, "Focus", in the shadow of his passing.  Likewise, it’s remarkable that Swain pursued these fragments to their conclusion with the help of friends and family.  Especially given the dark nature of the project – it's not a feel good record, but a document that was made under the steady gaze of Lamb's last days.  Axis Mundi provides us the exceedingly rare opportunity to hear from the front lines of mortality, the words of a man looking death in the eyes, like a boxer pausing mid-round to record his reflections.  

Like all of Brown Bird's releases, the songs of Axis Mundi establish a dialog between the diverse elements of Swain and Lamb's music.  "Bannermen", "Blood From the Tree" and "Ephraim" are built upon Swain's fiddle and a frantic, driving percussion.  Pieces such as "Patiently Awaiting" and "Raging Squall", on the other hand, give us a more of a prog-folk sound.  The commons elements drawing the songs together are David Lamb's electric guitar and the duo's unreal harmonies.  The more exotic tunes are eventually corralled into more familiar territory by the dark electric buzz, and often the more familiar offerings can be lent a touch of mystery when the world music elements are introduced.

"Focus", that opener, comes across like a hymn, with Lamb's repeated mantra gradually entwined with Swain's countersong.  There is an understandable undercurrent of spiritual searching throughout Axis Mundi, a term indicating the meeting point of the spiritual and the temporal.  Despite the circumstances surrounding the record's creation, it's by no means an "odds 'n sods" gathering of leftovers.  Swain has ushered into being a fully realized work, a complete musical statement that serves as a progression from Fits of Reason.  In the months since Lamb's passing, Swain has toured with Devil Makes Three, and has released music under the moniker The Huntress.  

Brown Bird's last album draws to a close with the sweet and innocent statement of MorganEve Swain's "Tortured Boy", a tune she wrote for Lamb early in their relationship.  Streaming from the midst of the darkness and doubt that came before, the song strikes like a bright bolt through gray clouds.  Brown Bird was a true musical partnership, leaving us with a too brief but fulfilling body of work.   

We can find paradise in the midst of this hell
If we tilt our heads just right
And let our shackles go 

*  Uncle Tupelo, "Before I Break"  No Depression  (Columbia, 90)
*  Great Peacock, "Broken Hearted Fool"  Making Ghosts  (This is American Music, 15)
*  Pokey LaFarge, "Cairo, Illinois"  Something In the Water  (Rounder, 15)
*  Alabama Shakes, "The Greatest"  Sound and Color  (ATO, 15)
*  Shouting Matches, "Gallup, NM"  Grownass Men  (Middle West, 13)
*  Rick Steff, "Rick's Booogie, Pt 2"  Rick's Booogie  (Archer, 13)
*  Kristin Diable, "Time Will Wait"  Create Your Own Mythology  (Speakeasy, 15)
*  Swamp Dogg, "Total Destruction To Your Mind"  Total Destruction To Your Mind  (Alive Naturalsound, 70)
*  Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Sweet Disorder"  single  (Sub Pop, 15)  D
*  T Model Ford & Gravelroad, "Someone's Knocking On My Door"  Rock & Roll Is a  Beautiful Thing  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
*  Left Lane Cruiser, "Tres Borrachos"  Dirty Spliff Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)  D
*  Shinyribs, "East TX Rust"  Well After Awhile  (Nine Mile, 10)
*  Jason Isbell, "Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings"  Beck Song Reader  (Capitol, 14)
*  Eilen Jewell, "Hallelujah Band"  Sundown Over Ghost Town  (Signature Sounds, 15)
*  Simon Joyner, "You Got Under My Skin"  Grass Branch & Bone  (Woodsist, 15)
*  Porter, "Hardest Healin'"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
*  Tom VandenAvond w/Larry & His Flask, "Jackrabbit, Arizona"  Endtimes  (Hillgrass Bluebillly, 14)
*  Hip Hatchet, "Coward's Luck"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)
*  Anna Tivel, "Five Dollar Bill"  Before Machines  (Fluff & Gravy, 14)
*  Giant Sand, "Man On a String"  Heartbreak Pass  (New West, 15)  D
*  Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, "If the Beasts Should Hunt Us"  Bad Omen  (Tribulation, 15)  D
^  Brown Bird, "Patiently Awaiting"  Axis Mundi  (Supply & Demand, 15)
*  John Moreland, "American Flags In Black & White"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Patty Loveless, "Crazy Arms"  Sleepless Nights  (Time Life, 08)
*  Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell, "No Way Out of Here"  Sing Into My Mouth  (Black Cricket/Brown Records, 15)  D
*  Chris Stapleton, "When the Stars Come Out"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Shelby Lynne, "Paper Van Gogh"  I Can't Imagine  (Rounder, 15)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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

Great Thanx to all who helped Routes & Branches just about triple our show goal for KRFC's Spring 2015 Membership Drive.  Thanks also to Tarnation's Andy D, who sat in with me, helping me pitch and heaping occasional scorn upon my musical choices. Your kind show of support assures that they won't change the door locks on me, and that R&B will be greenlighted for another season.  H'rah!

Sometimes I miss the Northwest.  It's not that I don't appreciate the snow drifting on the pink Spring blooms.  As I've said before, when you've been so long in one place you'll spend the rest of your life either trying to get back or to stay away.  Philippe Bronchtein hails from Portland, and as Hip Hatchet he makes great songs out of Northwest resources on his second record, Hold You Like a Harness.  The low, heavy clouds are in his resonant mahogany tenor, and the days and days of rain dampen the spirits of Bronchtein's overcast stories.  There's a song on the album that says, "The cars look like crying / In this Oregon rain ..."  There is a definite romantic streak in songs like "Ladies Night" or "Travel Map", though there's little sun in the forecast for Hip Hatchet, a man whose thoughts are as often shaded by the guilt and "depravity" he carries. 
Use my back
As a travel map
You could dig your fingers in the places
You would like to go
Hold You Like a Harness sometimes sounds like a deep woods cabin, with the warmth of acoustic instrumentation and a rustic, close-in production.  There is often fiddle, pedal steel and piano beneath Philippe Bronchtein's fingerpicking, and even an occasional churchly organ.  "Coward's Luck" is the collection's fullest piece, with a self conscious eye keeping love at a distance.
And oh I grow cold
As I spread apart my toes
Try to grip the ground
As my shoulders implode
 Hip Hatchet's songs have seen a lot of mileage, creased and torn travel maps like the one in "Tacoma Bound": 
The highway's only lonesome
If you've got nowhere to go
I'm headed north Tacoma bound
To see an angel that I know
But it all comes back home to the indelible stamp of Bronchtein's voice, a classic folk instrument that can communicate an almost charming shyness as readily as a self-directed anger and frustration.  It's a sound akin to Stan and/or Garnet Rogers, or Bill Staines, the voice of a laborer and the ear of a great songwriter.  Truth be told, it doesn't always rain in the Northwest. 

*  Geraldine Fibbers, "Fancy"  What Part of Get Thee Gone Don't You Understand  (Sympathy For the Record Industry, 97)
*  Chris Stapleton, "Traveller"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Man of Constant Sorrow"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "It Won't Hurt"  Guitars Cadillacs Etc Etc  (Reprise, 86)
*  Whitey Morgan & the 78s, "Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore"  Sonic Ranch  (Whitey Morgan, 15)
*  Boxmasters, "Piece of the Sky"  Somewhere Down the Road  (101 Ranch, 15)
*  Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Bad On Fords"  Ruffian's Misfortune  (Bordello, 15)
*  Porter, "Hardest Healin'"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
*  John Moreland, "Sad Baptist Rain"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
*  Drive-by Truckers, "Outfit"  Decoration Day  (New West, 03)
*  Charlie Parr, "Empty Out Your Pockets"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Jayhawks, "I'm Down To My Last Cigarette (live)"  Live At the Belly Up  (Belly Up, 15)
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "All the Way Back Home"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  William Elliott Whitmore, "Trouble In Your Heart"  Radium Death  (Anti, 15)
*  Kristin Diable, "Time Will Wait"  Create Your Own Mythology  (Speakeasy, 15)  D
*  Diamond Rugs, "Live and Shout It"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)
*  Lucero, "Tears Don't Matter Much (live)"  Live From Atlanta  (Liberty & Lament, 14)
*  Banditos, "Still Sober (After All These Beers)"  Banditos  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  Trampled By Turtles, "Wait So Long"  Palomino  (Banjodad, 10)
^  Hip Hatchet, "Tacoma Bound"  Hold You Like a Harness  (Hip Hatchet, 15)
*  Calexico, "Woodshed Waltz"  Edge of the Sun  (Anti, 15)
*  Allison Moorer, "Like It Used To Be"  Down To Believing  (E1, 15)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, 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

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
April 4, 2015
Scott Foley


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.