Subscribe - enter your email below

Sunday, April 24, 2016

home for the americana diaspora
April 23, 2017
Scott Foley

Back in July of last year, I wrote in praise of Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters who had just released their 3rd record, Me Oh My.  Barely a year later, Platt and co. return to the ring with On the Ropes, produced by the songwriter herself and boasting some knockout writing (see what I did there?).  That last post opined that folks heaping praise on Kacey Musgraves might do well to turn their ears towards the Honeycutters.  Perhaps a more fitting comparison would be Lori McKenna, who has placed several of her songs on mainstream Nashville radio while maintaining her integrity as a solo artist with a golden ear for melody.  Platt writes on "Back Row": I told you once that truth is a song / Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I just want to write it / But I've been so close I could smell her breath / Like cinnamon and death, made me wonder what / I'm fighting.  On Ropes, Platt asks the hard questions and avoids easy answers, both lyrically and musically.  The pieces are familiar ones from just about any other country bar band, the pedal steel, the mandolin and guitar with touches of 'grass, gospel and folk.  Platt's writing keeps these in play while raising the Honeycutters above the overly familiar tricks and cliches of the crowded genre.  Love lost is hardly new territory, but she writes about it from a novel place:  So I thank God for all  his lesser angels / Here beside me in this bar tonight / 'Cause flannel shirts and blue jeans / And the promise of strangers / Make for a less blinding shade of white.  For every ready-4-rockin' cut like "Let's Get Drunk", there is another that will stop you in your tracks with nuance and sensitivity.  From the heartbreaking "500 Pieces":  It took four strong men to take you / Took the whole damn world to break you / Now you're living in an old hotel / Cable TV and a patchwork quilt and there's 500 pieces / Of your mind.  More common are midtempo masterpieces like the title cut or "Blue Besides", songs that betray Platt's increasingly strong ear for a sweet melody and her timeless and tasteful way with a vocal delivery.  Even her take on Leonard Cohen's ubiquitous "Hallelujah" comes across as new and interesting.  Most impressively, the classic seems completely in its element among her own worthy creations.

Fact is, I could've written about any one of several new full album arrivals this week.  Austin Lucas' Between the Moon and the Midwest might be this month's best record few people are talking about (so far).  From Fort Collins, Arliss Nancy's Greater Divides scratches that itch for the hard stuff.  And Bonnie Bishop collaborates with Dave Cobb for what promises to be a suitably soulful result.  Plus, Eric Lindell does roots, rock and soul effortlessly.   

- Benjamin Booker, "Chippewa" Benjamin Booker  (ATO, 14)
- Bonnevilles, "I've Come To Far For Love To Die" Arrow Pierce My Heart  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
- Eric Lindell, "Wrong Too Long" Matters Of the Heart  (Red Parlor, 16)
- Bonnie Bishop, "Ain't Who I Was" Ain't Who I Was  (Plan BB, 16)  D
- Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, "You're Right (I'm Wrong)" Colvin & Earle  (Concord, 16)
- Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones, "Wondering" Little Windows  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Whitehorse, "My Babe" NorthernSouth Vol. 1  (Six Shooter, 16)  D
- AA Bondy, "Mercy Wheel" When the Devil's Loose  (Fat Possum, 09)
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Honey and Smoke" Case/lang/Veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Robert Ellis, "How I Love You" Robert Ellis  (New West, 16)
- Left Arm Tan, "Daylight Redemption" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
^ Honeycutters, "On the Ropes" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Long Way To Go" 3 Pears  (Reprise, 12)
- Austin Lucas, "Ain't We Free" Between the Moon and the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Beat the Machine" El Astronauta  (Lightning Rod, 16)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "All Around You" Sailor's Guide To Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Messenger" Crusades of the Restless Knights  (Philo, 99)
- Doublewide, "One O'Clock" II  (Carhouse, 16)  C, D
- Town Mountain, "House With No Windows" Southern Crescent  (LoHi, 16)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Southeastern Son" Goodbye Normal Street  (Bossier City, 12)
- Mount Moriah, "Cardinal Cross" How To Dance  (Merge, 16)
- Al Scorch, "Everybody Out" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Phosphorescent w/Jenny Lewis, "Sugaree"  Day of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Yarn, "This Is the Year" This Is the Year  (Yarn, 16)
- Arliss Nancy, "Alluvia!" Greater Divides  (Arliss Nancy, 16)  C, D
- Simone Felice, "Morning I Get To Hell (live)" From the Violent Banks Of the Kaaterskill  (Mighty Hudson, 15)
- Denver, "Turnstyled, Junkpiled" Days Full Of Rain: Portland Tribute To Townes Van Zandt  (Woodphone, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Jealous Moon" Lovers & Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Woods, "Sun City Creeps" City Sun Eater In the River Of Light  (Woodsist, 16)
- Kevin Morby, "I Have Been To the Mountain"  Singing Saw  (Dead Oceans, 16)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

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

I've mentioned frequently here how my musical attractions vastly overflow the parameters set by this program and its accompanying blog.  Matter of fact, if I had to appoint an artist who most effectively defined my musical life since Scott: The Early Days, I'd easily select Prince.  I'm confident that I've never played a second of Prince as a dj, and I've only peripherally paid attention to anything he's put out since the early 90s.  But my heart still stirs with the line "I guess I should have known / By the way you parked your car sideways / That it wouldn't last."  1984's Purple Rain was no cinematic achievement, but it was the 2nd R-rated movie I saw (after Conan), and The Kid was largely responsible for the subsequent long-bangs-n-mullet with eyeliner look that I favored during my first couple years in college.  On a deeper level, Prince was everything I looked for in music.  He was a performer and a musician who was driven by raw instinct, catching and riding waves of emotion that transcended era and genre, gender and taste.  His recorded output was hit or miss over the past decade or so, but every live cut that was accidentally, fleetingly allowed onto the web showed him to be as nasty and fiery as he was during his glory days.  Prince's 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, capped by a transcendent  "Purple Rain" (in the rain!), left me in a puddle.  People are damning 2016 for taking so many great artists from our midst, but I'm always of the mind that death is a requisite part of any life; it's the precondition for accepting the gift and responsibility and the burden of existence.  I'm not sad that Prince and Bowie are gone.  They had lived a variation on a long and successful life.  What gives me pause is the passing of my own youth, remembering leaving the theatre in Grants Pass, Oregon, awash in the revelation of "Darling Nikki" and "Let's Go Crazy" and Lake Minnetonka.  Playing pinochle with my brothers and my father as "When Doves Cry" debuted over the radio, realizing for the first time the brilliance and balls of producing a funk track with no bass, and my father confessing that I made him laugh.  It reminds me again that for me music is inseparable from deeply personal emotion.  What I play on R&B is good stuff, but I find it difficult to believe that somewhere it's changing the life of a boy playing cards with his father.

Back to my usual music reviews next week.  And enjoy Saturday's broadcast, featuring new stuff from Arliss Nancy, Austin Lucas, Bonnie Bishop and more.  And, god willing, something that might just move you to grow out your bangs ...

- James McMurtry, "Comfort's Just a Rifle Shot Away" Dreamer: Tribute to Kent Finlay  (Eight 30, 16)  D
- William  Elliott Whitmore, "Lee County Flood" Song of the Blackbird  (Southern Music, 06)
- Al Scorch, "Lost At Sea" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Lover Of the Sun" Paging Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Whiskeytown, "Faithless St" Faithless St  (Outpost, 96)
- Caleb Caudle, "Broken Hallelujah" Carolina Ghost  (TiAM, 16)
- Elizabeth Cook, "Methadone Blues" Exodus Of Venus  (Thirty Tigers, 16)  D
- Dave Insley, "Call Me If You Ever Change Your Mind" Just the Way That I Am  (Insley, 16)
- Town Mountain, "Southern Crescent" Southern Crescent  (LoHi, 16)  D
- Christopher Denny, "If the Roses Don't Kill Us" If the Roses Don't Kill Us  (Partisan, 14)
- Bo-Keys, "Cold Cold Heart" Heartaches By the Number  (Omnivore, 16)  D
- John Doe, "My Darling Blues Skies" Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Hard Working Americans, "It Runs Together" Rest In Chaos  (Melvin, 16)
- I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In the House, "King James" Mayberry  (Last Chance, 13)
- Margo Price, "Four Years Of Chances" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Keep It Between the Lines" Sailor's Guide To Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- Honeycutters, "Back Row" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)
- Chuck Ragan, "What We Leave Behind" Flame In the Flood  (Ten Four, 16)
- Michaela Anne, "Luisa" Bright Lights and the Flame  (Kingswood, 16)  D
- Rodney Crowell, "Fate's Right Hand" Fate's Right Hand  (DMZ,  03)
- Trevor Sensor, "Pacing the Cage" Texas Girls & Jesus Christ  (Jagjaguwar, 16)
- Chris Pureka, "Betting On the Races" Back In the Ring  (Sad Rabbit, 16)
- Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop, "One Way To Pray" Love Letter For Fire  (Sub Pop, 16)
- Felice Brothers, "Aerosol Ball" Life In the Dark  (Yep Roc, 16)  D
- Avett Brothers, "Ain't No Man" True Sadness  (Republic, 16)  D
- Jolie Holland, "Buckskin Stallion Blues" Days Full Of Rain: Portland Tribute To Townes Van Zandt  (Woodphone, 16)  D
- Ryan Adams, "Locked Away (Outtake)" Heartbreaker (Deluxe Edition) (PaxAm, 16)  D
- Tim Barry, "Church Of Level Track" Rivanna Junction  (Suburban Home, 06)

ps.  Lest you question whether a bridge can be built between this kind of stuff and Prince's music, here's an excerpt from a piece Patterson Hood wrote about him for Paste magazine: 

His brain became a musical melting pot of different styles and varied influences, yet all of his songs were unmistakably Prince. The funk of James Brown and the rock of Jimi Hendrix mixed with Joni Mitchell’s wordplay and Curtis Mayfield’s social commentary. Influences as varied as The Beatles, The Stylistics, Funkadelic, Brill Building formulaic pop and ’70s art-rock all meshed together into an otherworldly musical stew. His mixing of gospel with carnal sexuality took what Ray Charles had done a quarter of a century earlier to some higher plane. In my favorite Prince song, 1983’s masterpiece single, “Little Red Corvette,” he took the tired old rock-’n’-roll-car-song cliché to such grand heights, it was the greatest single of the entire decade. Every note of the song, from its minimalist opening to its transcendent guitar solo was picture-perfect and has yet to be improved upon.

Guess good music is just good music ...

Friday, April 15, 2016

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

Here's a little something to make us all feel a bit older.  Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the band X.  Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun, More Fun In the New World.  An almost unprecedented 4-record run from 1980 to 1983 that still sounds fresh and even dangerous at times.  John Doe launched a solo career soon after the dissolution of his marriage with Exene Cervenka, and has been consistently cool ever since (even through his cover of Dolly's "I Will Always Love You" for the Bodyguard  -  look it up).  Doe's new album, The Westerner, marks his first new studio record since 2011's The Keeper.  Produced by Giant Sand's eclectic Howe Gelb, Doe calls it his "psychedelic soul record".  That dry desert sound is nowhere more present than in "Alone In Arizona", built on shuffling drums, scratchy guitar, wayward accordion and a good helping of spacey wah-wah.  Even in his earliest days playing foil to Exene, Doe always wielded one of the strongest voices in punk music.  Listen to the effort he invests in "Trail of Time" on the debut Knitters record.  On Westerner, he spars with Debbie Harry and Chan Marshall.  "Get On Board" is an altar call of sorts, driven by deep soul organ, reverb guitar and urgent rhythms:  You might get to choose when you get on board / But you gotta get on board this train.  "Go Baby Go" recalls the artist's edgier days, with Harry's contribution harkening back to Doe's previous partner.  Boasting gratuitous use of cowbell, "Drink Of Water" strikes a balance between tuneful americana and sharper punk influences.  In some ways, it's the collection's slower cuts such as "Sunlight" and "Sweet Reward" that showcase Doe as a better lyricist and singer than he's typically given credit for.  They also best reflect the dust dry desert spirit that pervades the sessions.  Coinciding with the album release, John Doe will also issue a book that serves as an oral history of So.Cal punk during the years 1977-1982, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of LA Punk.  Dear DaCapo Press:  You could do worse than to send a copy my way ...

Also this week, Hearty Gracias to everyone who supports Routes & Branches and KRFC during our twice yearly Membership Drives.  If you missed out on the opportunity to pledge during the drive, good news is that we'll still be more than happy to take your money via the station's state of the art website.

Next week's Episode we'll return you to your regularly scheduled programming (with an apparent foot of snow in the forecast).  We'll stretch out once more to accommodate our usual 26-ish tunes, including new cuts from Felice Brothers, Avett Brothers and Hard Working Americans Brothers.  Until then, please relive this week's show with some help from the following playlist:

- Townes Van Zandt, "Who Do You Love" Sunshine Boy  (Omnivore, 13)
- John Moreland, "Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore" In the Throes  (Last Chance, 13)
- Hard Working Americans, "Opening Statement" Rest In Chaos  (Melvin, 16)
- Loretta Lynn, "Everything It Takes" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Take 'em Away" OCMS  (Nettwerk, 04)
- Jayhawks, "Dust of Long Dead Stars" Paging Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Sturgill Simpson, "In Bloom" Sailor's Guide To Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- Courtney Barnett, "New Speedway Boogie" Day Of the Dead  (4AD, 16)
- Dave Insley, "Win Win Situation For Losers" Just the Way That I Am  (Insley, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Love That We Need" Lovers & Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Sarah Borges, "Tendency To Riot" Good and Dirty  (Dry Lightning, 16)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Don't Skip Out On Me" You Can't Go Back ...  (Fluff & Gravy, 16)
- Slobberbone, "Lumberlung" Bees & Seas: Best of Slobberbone  (New West, 16)
- Jeffrey Foucault, "Des Moines" Salt As Wolves (Blueblade, 15)
- Parker Millsap, "Pining" Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Lucero, "Sometimes" Women & Work  (ATO, 12)
- Cowboy Junkies, "Jesus Is Coming Soon" God Don't Never Change  (Alligator, 16)
- White Denim, "Real Deal Momma" Stiff  (Downtown, 16)
- Mavis Staples, "Love and Trust" Livin' On a High Note  (Anti, 16)
- Patterson Hood, "Back of a Bible" Murdering Oscar  (Ruth St, 09)
- Austin Lucas, "Pray For Rain" Between the Moon and the Midwest  (Last Chance, 16)
^ John Doe, "Drink of Water" The Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Everybody Loves Me" Bourbonitis Blues  (Bloodshot, 99)

Thursday, April 07, 2016

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

I've been populating these pages since 2008 (no need to look at those early efforts, really, though they're there should you feel the need).  To this point, I don't know that I've ever reviewed a Jayhawks record.  I suppose one reason for this oversight is that there have only been two releases since then: The Louris/Olson collab Ready For the Flood in 2008 and 2011's Mockingbird Time.  Despite this fact, I wouldn't hesitate to place the Jayhawks among the pantheon of artists whose music has defined our program.  Hidden away in some dusty drawer somewhere are years' worth of playlists from my very earliest radio broadcasts in Oregon, and I'm confident Louris and co. are among those seminal shows.

Of course, the Jayhawks' Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass are considered by any roots music aficionado as dynamic founding documents with regards to roots music.  While not necessarily on the same level, I would also stand firmly behind both Smile and Rainy Day Music as world class recordings.  Even these "second tier" releases feature classic roots pop moments such as "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" or "Stumbling Through the Dark".  Jayhawks' ninth studio release, Paging Mr. Proust, continues to plead a strong case for Gary Louris as a top shelf writer of pure pop songs.  Fronting a pared down quartet of Grotberg, O'Reagan and Perlman, Louris waves the flag of breezy, primary pop colors on immediate 'hawks hits like "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces" or "The Devil Is In Her Eyes".  It could be argued that the group has been more rock than roots since Mark Olson's first departure following Green Grass.  Proust is sonically the most eclectic collection of his career, from the sloppy buzz guitar that perfectly disrupts several cuts to unexpected avant funk groove achieved on "Ace".  If only for the sake of a fresh approach, it's a bright idea to enlist Northwest uber producer Tucker Martine and REM's Peter Buck to help chart the musical course.  Aside from Louris' indelible stamp, familiar Jayhawks elements crop up enough to prevent this from being too much of a departure:  The quartet's sweet harmonies, Louris' fondness for literary namedropping, and the occasional whiff of a roots riff on pieces like "Dust Of Long Dead Stars".  Jayhawks have always been more Big Star than Drive-by Truckers, less a polished Son Volt than a  more grounded Wilco.  Paging Mr. Proust shouldn't necessarily be held alongside the band's '92 and '95 masterpieces for judgment, but should rather be appreciated for keeping their sound relevant and alive for another couple years.

- James Hunter Six, "Satchelfoot" Hold On!  (DapTone, 16)
- John Prine, "Storm Windows" Souvenirs  (Oh Boy, 00)
- Bonnevilles, "Arrow Pierce My Heart" Arrow Pierce My Heart  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
- Esme Patterson, "Feel Right" We Were Wild  (Grand Jury, 16)  D
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Devils Look Like Angels" Between the Ditches  (SideOneDummy, 12)
^ Jayhawks, "Devil Is In Her Eyes" Paging Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Yarn, "This Is the Year" This Is the Year  (Yarn, 16)  D
- Slobberbone, "Trust Jesus" Bees & Seas: Best of Slobberbone  (New West, 16)
- Parton Ronstadt & Harris, "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind (alt)" Complete Trio Collection  (Rhino, 16)  D
- Sturgill Simpson, "In Bloom" Sailor's Guide To Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- John Doe, "Sunlight" Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Robert Ellis, "Drivin'" Robert Ellis  (New West, 16)  D
- Phosphorescent w/Jenny Lewis, "Sugaree" Day of the Dead  (Stats & Brackets, 16)  D
- Cory Branan, "Darken My Door" Mutt  (Bloodshot, 12)
- Jason Isbell, "God Is a Working Man" Southern Family  (Elektra, 16)
- Margo Price, "Tennessee Song" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Dave Insley, "Drinkin' Wine and Staring At the Phone" Just the Way That I Am  (Dave Insley, 16)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "Blacktop Blues" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Best Kept Secret" Case/lang/Veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Honeycutters, "Blue Besides" On the Ropes  (Organic, 16)  D
- Hackensaw Boys, "You Want Me To Change" Charismo  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Houndmouth, "Penitentiary" Houndmouth  (Rough Trade, 12)
- Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, "You're Right (I'm Wrong)" Colvin & Earle  (Concord, 16)  D
- Hard Working Americans, "Opening Statement" Rest in Chaos  (Melvin, 16)  D
- Eric Lindell, "Since June" Matters of the Heart  (Red Parlor, 16)  D
- Michael Kiwanuka, "One More Night" Love & Hate  (Polydor, 16)  D

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
March 26, 2016
Scott Foley

Careful listeners of Routes & Branches surely noticed that this week's program was a rebroadcast of a quality show from a couple months ago.  Word around the station had it that I got more calls than when I'm actually broadcasting live.  Hmm.  I had to work at my other job on Saturday, so I went in early (early) Friday morning to prerecord a new show.  I spent more than two hours in the studio, pretending to be a dj to the best of my abilities.  I saved the file, but when I went back to preview it, there was nothing there.  Hence, the "greatest hits" broadcast ...

Which only means that next week we'll be jamming more new stuff than usual into your two hours, including debuts from Hard Working Americans, Robert Ellis, Michael Kiwanuka and a 3-disc collection of Dead covers featuring every quality artist in the known universe, including Phosphorescent.  We'll also enjoy the year's most curious cover:  Sturgill Simpson taking on Nirvana with the Dap Kings horn section.  Does it work?  Spoiler: It works.

The old sundial on the lawn reminds me that we're just about a quarter of the way through 2016 already.  Where has the time gone?!  When will the damn snow melt so that we can see the grass again?  Usually as the month draws to a close I'll feature my five favorite recordings from the past several weeks.  This week, however, I thought I'd try this:


Specifically, let's talk songs.  I'm much more of an album guy, but I already spend more than my fair share of time focusing on my favorite records.  Instead, here are my favorite americana, and roots music tunes from January thru March.

^ 1. Margo Price, "Hands of Time" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  
Prediction: At year's end Price's "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" will sit at or near the top of dozens of favorites lists.  For me, this album opener is the collection's true gem, a sentiment cemented by her heavenly performance this week on Conan.  A vocal delivery for the ages, an arrangement that bundles countrypolitan, honky tonk and contemporary "cosmic country" into an origin story worthy of Loretta, Hag, Tanya or Sturgill.  All I wanna do / Is make a little cash / Cause I've worked all the bad jobs / Busted my ass. / I wanna buy back the farm / And bring my mama home some wine / Turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time.  

2. Mount Moriah, "Baby Blue" How To Dance  
A close second, this one also follows its thread back to the classic country writers, though it also keeps one foot in the spooky shadow world of contemporary indie folk.  Here is where I argue that there are few voices more capable of bridging this musical span than Heather McEntire.  In just the six words of the refrain, she generates a whirlpool of melancholy:  Are you gonna let me win?  

3. Caleb Caudle, "Piedmont Sky" Carolina Ghost  
I watched the cardinal dust the night off its wings / My soul was shattered til I heard that red bird sing.  There's not a song on this list that makes a good noise sound so effortless.  From the burbling organ to the pedal steel fills and the short keyboard break that verges on cheesy, Caudle trades in musical ideas that are so familiar as to be taken for granted.  A decade of hot and heavenly summers / Waiting on an angel to call my number.  

4. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Something Real" Something Real  
I try to avoid using the word "boogie", though I think I'll have to use the "B" word in praise of the title cut of Lukas Nelson's new collection.  Is this chooglin'?  Because I've sworn off that word, too.  Vocally, Lukas has never sounded more like his pa.  Musically, he's never sounded more like his own man.  

5. Harvest Thieves, "Bob Dylan's 78th Hangover" Rival  
Here's the best Trampled by Turtles song never recorded by TbT.  It's a song that could be plunked onto a midperiod Old 97s LP without missing a beat.  The three part harmonies owe as much to the high lonesome sound of bluegrass as they owe to the lonesome, high sound of the Avetts.  And sometimes you really can tell a good song by its title.  

6. Freakwater, "Asp and the Albatross" Scheherazade  
While I'm very much a lyrics guy, I have no idea what this song is about.  For now, let's just say it's about how the voices of Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin can weave, soar, crack and battle like none other.  

7. Lucinda Williams, "Can't Close the Door On Love" Ghosts of Hwy 20  
The older Lucinda grows, the less she enunciates.  The less she enunciates, the more she breaks my heart.  This understated teardrop is as sweet as anything she's recorded, on a brilliant but often brilliantly abrasive 2-disc collection.  No current artist does country-soul as well as Lucinda.  

8. Donovan Woods, "On the Nights You Stay Home" Hard Settle Ain't Troubled 
Woods puts such a soft touch on this one, never over emoting when a whisper will do.  I know you wonder if I sleep alone / On the nights you stay home.  Paranoia, jealousy, infidelity, it's not the feel good jam of the quarter-year. Per Mr Woods:  "I was trying to make a song about dreadful, ruinous jealousy that might make you dance a bit".

9. Richmond Fontaine, "Wake Up Ray" You Can't Go Home ...  
Is there a better song about a domestic dispute that ends in a finch escaping into a snowstorm?  Willy Vlautin's offering is certainly in the top 5.  All I remember now is running through the snow / Looking for Little Joe / As the wind blows.  It's the highwater mark of a record that stands as the pinnacle of Richmond Fontaine's career.

10. Parker Millsap, "Morning Blues" Very Last Day  
I'm not afraid of empty / I'm afraid of all alone.  This is a simple acoustic blues, garnished with some fiddle, mando, and a performer emptying his bag of vocal tricks.  Since I'm only allowing myself one song per artist, I'll remark that you could just as easily switch this one out with Millsap's more Louisiana flavored gem, "Pining".  Or the manic album opener, "Hades Pleads". 

11. Aubrie Sellers, "Loveless Rolling Stone" New City Blues  
Yeah, I added a number 11 to my top 10.  In the "battle round" I couldn't decide between Parker and Aubrie, so I put them both through to the next round.  Whereas the year is full of roots artists efforting a more contemporary sound, I'd argue that nobody this year has been more successful that Ms Sellers.  It's too bad the keys are swingin' off the steering wheel tonight / It's too bad that I had to say goodbye.  

Next week I'll be back, fumbling around live on air.  I believe the following week you'll have the opportunity to express your appreciation for Routes & Branches and KRFC in a monetary fashion during our Spring Membership Drive.  If you'd like to "prime the pump", head to the station's website and drop a dime or two to get us started.  If R&B does well, I promise not to use the word "chooglin'" for at least another year ...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 19, 2016
Scott Foley

Who knows?  Maybe country music wants to be saved after all.  Fact is, most of the Kacey Musgraves, the Ashley Monroes, even the bestselling Loretta Lynns are garnering more attention from americana radio than from country.  But what do we make of Chris Stapleton's armload of country awards, especially without any mainstream radio play to speak of?  The newest name in this litany is Nashville's Margo Price, whose Midwest Farmer's Daughter is just released on Jack White's Third Man Records label.  The record opens with "Hands of Time", one of the year's most worthy singles to date:  "When I rolled out of town / On the unpaved road / I was fifty seven dollars / From being broke".  Just this side of thirty years old, perhaps some of the details of this hard luck tale come from Price's own story.  With lush strings balanced by retro-sounding twang 'n groove, "Hands" sounds simultaneously age-old and absolutely relevant.  Price is far from a shrinking violet, spending nearly half of Daughter in the honky tonk.  "This Town Gets Around" and the stellar "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" blow from the speakers smelling of stale beer and too much smoke.  "Hurtin'" will justifiably earn a place on several of the year's best-of lists, with lines that flirt with cliche but always rise just enough above:  "I've been ridin' high on low expectation".  The cut that most pushes Daughter's musical envelope might be "Tennessee Song", whose biggest risk lies in not necessarily tapping into those deep classic country wells.  With her name on the credits of nearly every song here, Margo Price proves herself a country writer who should be gratefully embraced by the powers behind her genre.  Midwest Farmer's Daughter offers yet another generous lifeline to mainstream country's drowning masses.  Americana crowds have already grabbed ahold as they did with Brandy Clark and Sturgill Simpson.  "I killed an angel on my shoulder / With a fifth of Evan Williams / When I found out / You were never comin' home".

Fewer debuts this Episode than we've had all year (though we received a goodly number of full copies of stuff we've already debuted).  Like everything on the Alive Natural Sound label, the two Irish lads behind The Bonnevilles make more than their share of nasty noise between them.  We also heard a darker, sinister take on a tune from last year's American Aquarium release, inspired by the Walking Dead storyline.  Plus, we managed to sandwich five of the most legendary country music voices of all time into our final two songs.

- Charlie Parr, "Funeral Road Blues" 1922  (House of Mercy, 03)
- Freakwater, "Skinny Knee Bone" Scheharazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Love Is So Easy" Lovers and Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Don't Be Against Me" Charismo  (Free Dirt, 16)
- Sons of Bill, "This Losing Fight" Sirens  (Thirty Tigers, 12)
- Mount Moriah, "How to Dance" How to Dance  (Merge, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Comeback Kids" Paging Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Donovan Woods, "On the Nights You Stay Home" Hard Settle Ain't Troubled  (Meant Well, 16)
- Sarah Borges, "Purple GTO" Good and  Dirty  (Dry Lightning, 16)
- Oh Susanna, "Greyhound Bus" Short Stories  (Outside, 07)
- Slobberbone, "Whiskey Glass Eye" Bees and Seas  (New West, 16)
- Palace Music, "Work Hard/Play Hard" Viva Last Blues  (Drag City, 95)
- Jason Isbell, "God Is a Working Man" Southern Family  (Elektra, 16)
^ Margo Price, "About To Find Out" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Bonnevilles, "Electric Company" Arrow Pierce My Heart  (Alive Natural Sound, 16)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "Freedom Bus" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
- Chris Pureka, "Holy" Back In the Ring  (Sad Rabbit, 16)
- Harvest Thieves, "Part-Timer's Lament" Rival  (Holy Mt Sound, 16)
- American Aquarium, "Wolves (Revisited)" single  (American Aquarium, 16)
- Old 97s, "Big Brown Eyes (live)" Alive and Wired  (New West, 05)
- Grant-Lee Phillips, "Smoke and Sparks" The Narrows  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Lake Street Dive, "Hell Yeah" Side Pony  (Nonesuch, 16)
- Son Volt, "Tear Stained Eye" Trace: 20th Anniversary  (Rhino, 15)
- Lydia Loveless, "Wine Lips" Somewhere Else  (Bloodshot, 14)
- Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones, "Never Knew You Loved Me Too" Little Windows  (Cooking Vinyl, 16)
- Malcolm Holcombe, "Another Black Hole" Another Black Hole  (Gypsy Eyes, 16)
- Pines, "Where Something Wild Still Grows" Above the Prairie  (Red House, 16)
- Parton, Ronstadt & Harris, "Lover's Return" Trio II  (Rhino, 98)
- Loretta Lynn w/ Willie Nelson, "Lay Me Down" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
March 12, 2016
Scott Foley

On this blog I've frequently referenced my appetite for loose, reckless music.  There's nothing like the rush of being taken for a violent ride and barely holding on.  That said, I also have a soft space in my musical heart for the well maintained, polished and produced vehicle of bands like Reckless Kelly, Sons of Bill or Left Arm Tan.  No need to worry, there's dust aplenty on that Fort Worth quintet's sprawling 18-song opus Lorene.  It's in the bass of "Gonna Find Me a Rock" or the electric guitar that tears into the relatively restrained "Brass On Burgundy".  Otherwise, Lorene is a lovingly polished jewel, or maybe a whole treasure chest of them.  Produced by frequent Old 97s helmsman Salim Nourallah, there is such a precision and separation to the recording, a painstaking professionalism that's rare for a young band.  The opener, "Gonna Find Me a Rock", is a relentlessly good natured ramble, propelled by an unflagging optimism and an earworm chorus. "Break Even" is Left Arm Tan's strongest story song on Lorene, a family table set for a father who hasn't returned from war.  It's the strain of heartland roots rock that might've garnered radio play for an artist who knows people. 97s' guitar man Ken Bethea joins a tongue-in-cheek "Freedom Bus", sharing the mic with fellow Texan Walt Wilkins.  A tune that at first blush seems a rousing call to inclusion reveals upon closer listen a biting sarcasm and social commentary: "Freedom bus / O freedom bus / Spread your glory on all of us / But mainly me".  Across the palette of 18 songs, Lorene generously paints the musical corners with choruses that hook the ear and careful arrangements that range from tastefully restrained americana to all out roots rock anthems.  From the chiming pedal steel of "Blacktop Blues" to the straightforward melodic rock of "Daylight Redemption", Left Arm Tan offers mature blue collar Texas country at its finest

While there are no new tracks to be had, I think the universe is a better place with the announcement of Bees and Seas: the Best of Slobberbone.  Sure, their four records sit on my basement shelves, but this gives me the excuse to revisit the brilliance of "Whiskey Glass Eye", "Little Drunk Fists", "Lumberlung' and "Trust Jesus".  Such an essential document following the thread from early to today's americana singer-songwriters.

Also this Episode, at 83 years old Loretta Lynn is in such great voice on Full Circle, the first in what promises to be a series of releases with John Carter Cash providing the Rick Rubin to Loretta's Johnny Cash.  And we enjoy a promising new cut from Margo Price's forthcoming CD - and it's no accident that I played these tracks back-to-back.

- Wilco, "One Sunday Morning (live)" single  (Dbpm, 12)
- Blasters, "Just Another Sunday" Hard Line  (Slash, 85)
- Sarah Borges, "Tendency to Riot" Good and Dirty  (Dry Lightning, 16)
- Waco Brothers, "Going Down In History" Going Down In History  (Bloodshot, 16)
- Greyhounds, "Devil's Eyes" Change of Pace  (Ardent, 16)
- Mavis Staples, "Don't Cry" Livin' On a High Note  (Anti, 16)
- M Ward, "Slow Driving Man" More Rain  (Merge, 16)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Brace For Impact (Live a Little)" Sailor's Guide to Earth  (Atlantic, 16)
- Chris Pureka, "Back in the Ring" Back in the Ring  (Sad Rabbit, 16)
- White Buffalo, "Modern Times" Love & the Death of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
- Roosevelts, "Peaches" Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn  (Roosevelts, 16)
- Case/lang/Veirs, "Atomic Number" Case/lang/Veirs  (Anti, 16)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Georgia" Something Real  (Royal Potato Family, 16)
- Parker Millsap, "Heaven Sent" Very Last Day  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Loretta Lynn, "Wine Into Water" Full Circle  (Sony, 16)
- Margo Price, "Hands of Time" Midwest Farmer's Daughter  (Third Man, 16)
- Hayes Carll, "Magic Kid" Lovers & Leavers  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Al Scorch, "Everybody Out" Circle Round the Signs  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
- Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Central Daylight Time" Apprentice to Ghosts  (Lower 40, 12)
- Slobberbone, "Little Drunk Fists" Bees and Seas: Best of Slobberbone  (New West, 16)  D
- John Doe, "Go Baby Go" The Westerner  (Cool Rock, 16)
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Something Tamed Something Wild" Things That We Are Made Of  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Chuck Ragan, "What We Leave Behind" Flame in the Flood  (Ten Four, 16)
- Robbie Fulks, "Sweet As Sweet Comes" Upland Stories  (Bloodshot, 16)
^ Left Arm Tan, "Take Me Out" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
- Split Lip Rayfield, "Hundred Dollar Bill" Should Have Seen It Coming  (Bloodshot, 04)
- Caleb Caudle, "Carolina Ghost" Caroline Ghost  (This is American Music, 16)