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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 3, 2015
Scott Foley

No fancy and highfalutin playlist this week, but thanks bunches to Tarnation's Andy D for being a pal and sitting in for me.  Gives me a chance to sneak a rare glance over my shoulder at what happened last month.


Phil Cook's Southland Mission arrived with quite the pedigree.  As a onetime participant in bands like DeYarmond Edison, Megafaun and Striking Matches, Cook has released previous solo records, but none so aptly fulfilling Cook's promise until now.   Mission is a seemingly effortless collection that belongs on the front porch alongside Charlie Parr's Stumpjumper (plus, he does a great job covering Parr's "1922").  --  The Pollies present a very welcome blend of roots rock and pop polish on Not Here, approaching the sound of later Jayhawks work.  Songs are smart, satisfying and original, fearlessly venturing far from roots rock cliche for a refreshing sound all their own.  --  Speaking of satisfying, Will Johnson's first post-Centro-Matic album gives concerned fans confidence that the bandleader has no plans for slowing his musical output as a solo artist.  Swan City Vampires surpasses expectations with a batch of songs that manages to sound both fully fleshed out and nicely off-the-cuff and intimate.  --  One of the best things I can add to my take on Alone At 3am's Show the Blood is that it prompted me to return to the band's earlier records to check that these guys were always this good.  What my explorations confirmed was that Max Fender has been gradually exploring his potential as a truly underappreciated punk/roots writer.

Col. JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers stopped by the KRFC studios this week, banjo at the ready to play a couple pieces from the band's new Southern Surreal. It's a very welcome return for the group, who have faced some personal adversity over the past couple years.  With Alternative Tentacles as their new label home, their new material sounds fresh and relevant, their sense of humor as well honed as their musical edge.  If I were a Halloween sort of guy (spoiler: I'm not), these songs would provide the perfect soundtrack, with Wilkes presiding as the unholy reverend. 

Long as we're talking about long awaited returns to form, we might as well bring up the Bottle Rockets, whose South Broadway Athletic Club is the stalwarts' finest product at least since 1997's 24 Hours a Day.  Songs like "Building Chryslers" and "Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)" immediately take their place among the band's best songs.  Fact is, I'll lend an ear to anything the B'Rox release, though 2013's reissue of their first two records reminded me of what's been largely missing since those early days.  As a workin' class band, we've never asked for much more than a good time.  South Broadway delivers that and much more. 

Too may artists who self-define as hard country simply try too hard.  At the point of his 8th studio record, Squelch, Jason Boland has earned the moniker.  With his Stragglers, Boland creates music that truly deserves to be called country, though it's absolutely ignored by the country music gatekeepers.  Admittedly, Boland's new set features cuts called "I Guess It's Alright To Be An Asshole" and "Fuck Fight and Rodeo", but nothing on Squelch smacks of desperation.  On the contrary, there's a rich, dark and genuine vein running through this music, and it sounds like nothing but country. I've reserved a space on my year end songs list for "Holy Relic Sale", and "Break 19" and "Heartland Bypass" speak a familiar language without to self parody or dumb country stereotype.  Boland generously overflows the red dirt and contemporary country boundaries on Squelch, and he deserves to be considered among the best writers of his type. 

For some reason, the contemporary country world has been paying some attention to Turnpike Troubadours' new self titled record.  It's no surprise to those of us who were paying attention to their promising Diamonds & Gasoline and the rewarding Goodbye Normal Street, but I'm way past expecting anything worthy from the mainstream.  I'll listen to "The Mercury" 100 times before giving any time to what's on country radio.  The Troubadours' hybrid of grit and grace, hook and smarts recalls the salad days of Reckless Kelly.  I'll also bring Old 97s to the table, and not only because of the new record's excellent cover of "Doreen". We're only a scant few weeks before the finish of 2015, and I'd argue that no band has surpassed expectation this year more than Turnpike Troubadours. 

Yep. As countless bloggers have pointed out before me,  Lucero's music has changed since their debut at the turn of the century.  While their early albums remain rightfully beloved, I'm in favor of growing up, exploring sounds and learning to be a better writer.  All a Man Should Do is one of the year's most satisfying collections, from Memphis horns to heavy guitars, from top to bottom. Give me Rick Steff's bar band piano, Ben Nichols' jaded romantic lyrics and vocals that walk the line between gravel and smoke.  The band on "Can't You Hear Them Howl" or "Young Outlaws" is nothing less than the perfect evolution of the naive and restless guys that gave us "Sweet Little Thing" and "Tears Don't Matter Much" more than a decade ago.  It's not the first time we've been reminded that youth is wasted on the young, but it means a lot more coming from a band many of us have grown up with. 

I'll begin our exploration of October on next Saturday's Episode, fully honoring my solemn commitment to never feature a "special Halloween show" despite the fact that the country's most sorry excuse for a holiday falls on a Saturday this year.  And by the way, get off my damn lawn! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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

I’m not an automatic Springsteen fan.  I’m more Nebraska than Darkness.  I’m more likely to go “Tunnel Of Love” than “Thunder Road”.  That said, if I were to make a list of some of my favorite rock lyrics, I’d strongly consider “Wendy let me in / I wanna be your friend / I wanna guard your dreams and visions” as among the best.  And I’m all in favor of the small town mythos, the romanticism that demands you get out now or forever hold your place at your dad’s hardware store.  “Jack and Diane”, “Night Moves”, Petty’s “The Waiting”. 

There’s a strain of roots music that fulfills a similar romantic streak.  Think Two Cow Garage, American Aquarium or Glossary.  Or Max Fender from Cincinnati’s Alone at 3am.  Now from Dayton, KY, Fender’s been at this game for nearly 20 years, though Show the Blood is only his group’s fourth full length record.  Where Springsteen’s heroes “gotta get out while we’re young”, Fender writes of folks who might have waited a bit too long.  They still dream of greener pastures, but perhaps can’t quite figure out how to reach them anymore.  In “Most Men”, Fender states “Most men / They lead quiet lives / Desperation every night”.  The music of Alone at 3am is propelled by urgent drums and close, claustrophobic electric guitar.  Fender’s working class rasp recalls some of the above bands, or perhaps a less caustic strain of Arliss Nancy, tempered somewhat by the harmonies and keys of Sarah Davis.  The abrasive punk elements are also countered by a strong sense of melody, as in the album’s opener, “Story On 6th”:  There’s a girl / Bruises on her eyes / And she sings ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’… She don’t know / There’s so much more”.  While Fender avoids unnecessarily flowery lyricism, he does allow for the occasional existential moment, such as on Show the Blood’s hardest song, “Upside”, which addresses determinism and purpose:  Tell me ‘bout the upside to this / Tell me why we exist / Tell me why I don’t quit / All this pain”.  Max Fender’s world may be cracked, but since he’s a true romantic there’s the occasional room for light.  Title aside, “I’m Dying” will be in consideration when I pull together my favorite songs for the year.  I’m not dead / But I’m dying … Maybe one day / I won’t be so broke”.  It’s hardly “Rainbow Connection”, but there’s not a song on Show the Blood that refuses to allow for some brief glimmer or spark of hope.  Hell, the collection’s closer, “Late 90s”, is unafraid to advise “Hold onto your dream / A little while longer”.  The band’s new songs succeed even to a greater extent than 2012’s strong Midwest Mess in successfully drawing together elements of Fender’s working class mythology and Alone at 3am’s roots.  

I'll be away from the mic next Saturday.  Tarnation's Andy D will be bringing his own blend of the hard stuff to the airwaves in my stead.  Please treat him well.

* Bottle Rockets, "Something Good"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Drive-by Truckers, "Primer Coat (live)"  It's Great To Be Alive!  (ATO, 15)
* Dan Baird & Homemade Sin, "Get Loud"  Get Loud  (Dan Baird, 15)  D
* Band of Heathens, "LA County Blues"  One Foot In the Ether  (BoH, 09)
* Lucero, "Throwback No. 2"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Whitney Rose, "My First Rodeo"  Heartbreaker Of the Year  (Cameron House, 15)
* Colin Linden, "No More Cheap Wine"  Rich In Love  (Stony Plain, 15)  D
* Caleb Caudle, "Bottles & Cans"  Paint Another Layer On My Heart  (This is American Music, 14)
* Ryan Adams, "Welcome To New York"  1989  (PaxAm, 15)  D
* Dave Rawlings Machine, "Last Pharaoh"  Nashville Obsolete  (Acony, 15)
* Rod Picott, "Until I'm Satisfied"  Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)
* Kill County, "Straight Six Ford"  Year Of Getting By  (Kill County, 10)
* Mount Moriah, "Calvander"  single  (Merge, 15)  D
* Blitzen Trapper, "Love Grows Cold"  All Across This Land  (Vagrant, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "Snake Eyes"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Alt Berliner Blues"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
* Black Lillies, "First Time"  Hard To Please  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Holy Relic Sale"  Squelch  (Proud Souls, 15)  D
* Kasey Chambers, "Too Late To Save Me"  Bittersweet  (Sugar Hill, 15)
* Pollies, "Jackson"  Not Here  (Single Lock, 15)
* Will Johnson, "Call Call Call"  Swan City Vampires  (Undertow, 15)
* Fernando, "Save Me"  Leave the Radio On  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
* Matt the Electrician, "Never Had a Gun"  single  (MtE, 15)  D
* Allison Moorer, "Think It Over"  Hardest Part  (MCA, 00)
* Jim Lauderdale, "Sad Bell"  Soul Searching  (Sky Crunch, 15)  D
* Gary Clark Jr, "Church"  Story Of Sonny Boy Slim  (Warner, 15)
^ Alone At 3am, "Story On 6th"  Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)  D

Thursday, September 24, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 19, 2015
Scott  Foley

So yes, thanks to all who pledged for Routes & Branches and KRFC during our Fall 2015 Membership Drive.  To be honest, we're always open to donations, and our official drive lasts thru Fri 9/25.  Your continued support means R&B won't be bumped and replaced with some less worthy sort of musical monster.

As usual, the drive means that our playlist is briefer (tho no less chill-inducing).  Lookit:  New noise from Colorado's own Yawpers, who got their start playing in our studios.  Also, I've always been of the opinion that Dave Rawlings makes Gillian Welch more fun.  And Corb Lund needs to outside encouragement to have a good time.  Plus, those first four spins focus on recipients of this year's Americana Honors and Awards.  Because americana is so hot right now ...

And speaking of hot fun, there aren't too many bands more devoted to good-time music than Bottle Rockets.  "Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)" is a 4 minute ode to the weekend, in addition to launching a hooky earworm and one of the better guitar solos you'll hear this year.  Brian Henneman and co. have been proudly sporting their blue collar brand of since the early 90s, surfing the fickle waves of the music industry's short attention span while remaining constant to their working class muse.  From their new South Broadway Athletic Club, "Building Chryslers" displays B'Rox mission as plainly as a worn cotton shirt: "He's building Chryslers / He don't care how they turn out / Thinks being union means he's here to stay".  Bottle Rockets have never set out to dazzle with lyrical calisthenics.  With such a commitment to melody and groove, it makes sense that my favorite Bottle Rockets record is 2001's sweet Doug Sahm tribute, Songs Of Sahm.  Henneman speaks from a genuine, unadorned musical vernacular that says what it means and means what it says.  And they do it all behind a wall of guitars suitable for Crazy Horse.  Follow the cord from the gritty electric strings on "I Don't Wanna Know" and you'll end up where the whole thing began, with Uncle Tupelo, Doug Sahm and the Mekons.  "Something Good" bounces by on jangly guitar and an indelible spirit.  South Broadway is simply feel good music, perfect for those time when the last thing you need from your music is another reminder of how hard the world can be:  "I love my dog / He's my dog / If you don't love my dog / That's okay / I don't want you to / He's my dog / ... Sometimes life is really just this simple".  A masterpiece of simplicity. 

* Sturgill Simpson, "Turtles All the Way Down"  Metamodern Sounds In Country Music  (High Top Mt, 14)
* Lucinda Williams, "Stowaway In Your Heart"  Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone  (Hwy 20, 14)
* Shakey Graves, "Big Time Nashville Star"  And the War Came  (Dualtone, 14)
* Mavericks, "Pardon Me"  Mono  (Valory, 15)
* Whitney Rose, "Devil Borrowed Me Boots"  Heartbreaker Of the Year  (Cameron House, 15)  D
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Doreen"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
^ Bottle Rockets, "Smile"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Supersuckers, "Georgia On a Fast Train"  Holdin' the Bag  (Acetate, 15)
* Yawpers, "Burdens"  American Man  (Bloodshot, 15)  C
* Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke, "Miles and Miles"  Bad Omen  (Tribulation, 15)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "Christ Alrighty"  Southern Surreal  (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Lucero, "Young Outlaws"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Los Colognes, "Cherry"  Dos  (Los Colognes, 15)
* Dave Rawlings Machine, "The Weekend"  Nashville Obsolete  (Acony, 15)  D
* Los Lobos, "Made To Break Your Heart"  Gates Of Gold  (429, 15)
* Magnolia Electric Co, "I've Been Riding With the Ghost"  Songs:Ohia  (Secretly Canadian, 03)
* White Buffalo, "Modern Times"  Love and the Death Of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Anderson East, "Find 'Em Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "American Heartache"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Jason Isbell, "If It Takes a Lifetime"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
* John Moreland, "Sad Baptist Rain"  High On Tulsa Heat  (Old Omens, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Washed Up Rock Star Factory Blues"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
* Spirit Family Reunion, "It Does Not Bother Me"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
* Secret Sisters, "Pocket Knife"  Put Your Needle Down  (Republic, 14)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
September 12, 2015
Scott Foley

South San Gabriel, Centro-Matic, Overseas, New Multitudes ... I can groove to any iteration of Will Johnson you send my way.  Puts me into an immediate mellow.  If my lovely wife tolerated such a thing, I would arrange for Johnson's solo music to lullaby me to sleep at night (maybe alternating with helpings of Mark Kozelek, pre-trouble years).  The stuff on Will Johnson's new solo work, Swan City Vampires is hardly easy listening.  It's not stuff you can set beside the baby and expect her to drift off to visions of rainbow ponies.  "The Watchman" launches safely enough, on a straight piano and chunky style percussion.  Brief squalls of feedback foreshadow the musical storm to come, with Johnson's calm Neil Young croon providing the calm throughout.  Halfway through, the acoustic strumming gives way to a thick, electric buzz that threatens to overwhelm the keys.  Johnson's vocals are delivered in a layered fashion, with that creaky, party cloudy wail anchored on a lower, more stable counterpart.  Much of Vampires is built out of that storm of piano, electric guitar and voice.  "Call Call Call" is the most traditional track, sounding like a close cousin of John Murry's incredible 2014 Graceless Age release.  "You vs. Off the Cuff" is simply gorgeous:  "A stumbling through / And charging toward the finer points / To a much better you / And a much better me / And not quite as gone".  Reminds me of the cloudy poetry of Richard Buckner's Devotion + Doubt.  "(Made Us Feel Like) Kings" offers a delicate piano refrain that compliments Johnson's acoustic guitar, with lyrics that are mumbled like overheard asides.  These moments of deep intimacy largely define Swan City Vampires, which isn't to say that it's a gentle album.  On the contrary, the buzz and fret of electric guitars tends to dominate when present, and even the more hushed moments betray an intensity.  On the acoustic "Multnomah":  "27 steps to the kitchen / I stumble down and feel for the light / Friendliness is not what I'm missin' / I only wish that you would make up your mind".  On Jason Isbell's own Something More Than Free, a song called "To a Band That I Loved" pays moving, personal tribute to Johnson's work with Centro-Matic.  In his own words:  "The melodies are beautiful and memorable, and Will's voice is a complex and delicate instrument."  It's a rare music that I can listen to on repeat, never tiring of the ride.

My friend, Tarnation's Andy D will be distracting me instudio this next Episode.  We'll be poking the hamster in hopes of generating some online and phone pledges in support of KRFC, Radio Fort Collins.  Routes & Branches wouldn't be Routes & Branches without the generous contributions of Listeners Like You during our twice yearly Membership Drives.  If you enjoy and/or find inspiration in these pages, please consider supporting the work we do with your dollars.

Update: I'm late in publishing this week's Edition, meaning that your chance to pledge during Routes & Branches has passed.  You can still head to the KRFC website,  however, and click on the pretty purple Donate buttonAlso, for Fort Collins readers, check out Will Johnson's website for info on a living room concert on October 1. 

* Rocky Votolato, "This Is My Work"  Hospital Handshakes  (No Sleep, 15)
* Joe Ely, "Twistin' In the Wind"  Twistin' In the Wind  (UMG, 98)
* Joe Ely, "Southern Eyes"  Panhandle Rambler  (Rack 'Em, 15)
* White Buffalo, "Radio With No Sound"  Love and the Death Of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Ashley Monroe, "I Buried Your Love Alive"  the Blade  (Warner, 15)  D
* Kacey Musgraves, "Are You Sure (w/Willie Nelson)"  Pageant Material  (Mercury, 15) D
* Chris Stapleton, "When the Stars Come Out"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
* Johnny Cash, "Rusty Cage"  Unchained  (American, 96)
* Donnie Fritts, "Memphis Women and Chicken"  Oh My Goodness  (Single Lock, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "Building Chryslers"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Steve Earle, "Mississippi, It's Time"  single  (Fantasy, 15)  D
* Lindi Ortega, "I Ain't the Girl"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Chuck Ragan, "Vagabond"  Kindred Spirit  (SideOneDummy, 15)
* Joey Cape, "Moral Compass"  Stitch Puppy  (Fat Wreck Chords, 15)  D
* Pollies, "Jackson"  Not Here  (Single Lock, 15)  D
* Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Spirit Moves"  Spirit Moves  (Dualtone, 15)
* Possessed By Paul James, "Come To the Water"  Cold and Blind  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 15/08)
* Gary Clark Jr, "Shake"  Story Of Sonny Boy Slim  (Warner, 15)  D
* Supersuckers, "Shimmy & Shake"  Holdin' the Bag  (Acetate, 15)
* Lonesome Billies, "Y'all Never Came Out West"  It's Good To Be Lonesome  (Stay Lonesome, 15)  D
* Los Colognes, "Baby You Can't Have Both"  Dos  (Los Colognes, 15)
* Promised Land Sound, "Otherworldly Pleasures"  For Use and Delight  (Paradise Of Bachelors, 15)
* Futurebirds, "Hotel Parties"  Hotel Parties  (Early Sound, 15)
* Lydia Loveless, "I Would Die 4 U"  single  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* Rhett Miller, "Reasons To Live"  Traveler  (ATO, 15)
* Peter Case, "Pelican Bay"  HWY 62  (Omnivore, 15)  D
* Chuck Prophet, "American Man"  Let Freedom Ring  (YepRoc, 09)
* Wood Brothers, "Never and Always"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Brent Best, "Travel Again"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)

Sunday, September 06, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
September 5, 2015
Scott Foley

What does "retro" mean anyway?  And if you've embraced a "retro" sound, how does one make the choice to emulate a band like Dire Straits?  Why doesn't anybody try to sound like Ambrosia?  Who is today's England Dan & John Ford Coley?  I heard somewhere that we'll always think of the music we enjoyed at 17 years old as that time when music was good.  This certainly goes a long way to explain the amount of time I spend listening to the 70s and 80s channels on my Sirius radio ...  And the emotion I invested in listening to KC & the Sunshine Band's "Please Don't Go" on my way to the station today.

It's near impossible to overlook the retro influence of Nashville's Los Colognes on their sophomore record Dos.  Early Dire Straits is all over the sextet's sound, from Jay Rutherford's reedy drawl to those indelible guitar lines. Despite the fact that every review I've found has pointed out that Knopflerian elephant in the room, the appeal of Los Colognes lies more in the cool, removed spirit of their songs.  To quote the band's own assessment: 
" ... it’s an earnest collection of songs centered around where we are at as people in our 30’s in a band. We still work crappy service industry jobs. We still haven’t figured out love.  We still don’t know when the Cubs will win the Series. But we press along, excited for tres, cuatro, cinco and beyond.”
What makes songs like "Baby You Can't Have Both" and "Backseat Driver" so effective, in part, is that there's little these days that draws from that cool, satisfying stream of 70s country rock.  Los Colognes' breezy jam grooves sometimes ring like a younger, more focused Grateful Dead, with slide guitar, keys and rhythms chugging just enough to stay on the tracks.  While Dos features definite, pure americana moments, the overall vibe owes more to the pop and rock side of their musical equation, as evidenced by the bright keyboards of "Take It" or the angular guitars that drive "All That You Know".  Moments like the smooth "Hard To Remember" recall contemporary acts like Dawes, whose retro country draws from a Northern California locale.  But spend some time with the southern boogie of "Cherry" and you'll understand why they've earned a spot in my R&B rotation.  Moments like this, I hear more of a direct line from Los Colognes to seminal stuff like Flying Burrito Brothers than I hear in most of the other bands that I play that deliberately trace their lineage to those roots.  It's also what I think makes R&B unique in the universe of roots leaning radio. 

Also this Episode, we enjoy the return of Los Lobos after an absence of more than five years.  And Donnie Fritts has been missing for longer than some listeners have been alive.  Under the production of John Paul White, our first glimpse of his Oh My Goodness features guitar from Jason Isbell and backing vocals from John Prine.  And a second strong song from Supersuckers' Holdin' the Bag (this one a duet with Lydia Loveless) raises our hopes for a welcome return to form. 

* Patty Griffin, "Gunpowder"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Arliss Nancy, "Vonnegut"  Wild American Runners  (Black Numbers, 13)  C
* Drag the River, "Shaky Ground"  We're All Criminals Here: a Tribute To Uncle Tupelo  (Chapel, 15) D, C
* Uncle Tupelo, "Sandusky"  March 16-20, 1992  (Blue Plate, 92)
* White Buffalo, "Chico"  Love & the Death Of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Dave & Phil Alvin, "Please Please Please"  Lost Time  (Yep Roc, 15)
* Los Lobos, "Too Small Heart"  Gates Of Gold  (429, 15)  D
* Deslondes, "Time To Believe In"  Deslondes  (New West, 15)
* Ana Egge, "Dreamer"  Bright Shadow  (Parkinsong, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Weight Of the Gun"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
* Neko Case, "Soulful Shade Of Blue"  Tigers Have Spoken  (Anti, 04)
* Will Johnson, "(Make Us Feel Like) Kings"  Swan City Vampires  (Undertow, 15)
^ Los Colognes, "All That You Know"  Dos  (Theory 8, 15)  D
* Damn Quails, "Oklahoma Blue"  Out Of the Birdcage  (Damn Quails, 15)
* Donnie Fritts, "Tuscaloosa 1962"  Oh My Goodness  (Single Lock, 15) D
* Drunken Prayer, "Echo Of a Heavy Slamming Door"  Devil & the Blues  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
* Fernando, "Kingdom Come"  Leave the Radio On  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
* Supersuckers, "I Can't Cry (w/Lydia Loveless)"  Holdin' the Bag  (Acetate, 15)
* Leon Bridges, "River"  Coming Home  (Sony, 15)
* Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Full Moon In a Daylight Sky"  Under the Savage Sky  (Bloodshot, 15)
* James Leg, "Dirty South"  Below the Belt  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Benjamin Booker, "Always Waiting"  Benjamin Booker  (ATO, 14)
* Martha Scanlan, "Shape Of Things Gone Missing ..."  Shape Of Things Gone Missing ...  (Up On the Divide, 15)
* Lucero, "I'm In Love With a Girl"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Bird Hunters"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "Down To the Bone"  Southern Surreal  (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Joe Fletcher, "Florence Alabama"  You've Got the Wrong Man  (Joe Fletcher, 14)
* Jamie Lin Wilson, "Nighttime Blues"  Holidays & Wedding Rings  (JLW, 15)
* Phil Cook, "Ain't It Sweet"  Southland Mission  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Samantha Crain, "Kathleen"  Under Branch & Thorn & Tree  (Full Time Hobby, 15)
* Wilco, "Poor Places (live)"  Kicking Television  (Nonesuch, 06)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
August 29, 2015
Scott Foley

First things firstWhite Buffalo (aka Jake Smith) is known for his fearsome beard and his gruff, darkly uncompromising (as featured in your favorite episodes of Sons of Anarchy).  Smith's 5th record, Love and the Death of Damnation, maintains that Triple-H-meets-Eddie-Vedder spirit while adding new shades throughout.  You can find a great primer on all things White Buffalo at this link, where the fine folks at Ernie Ball are sharing a series of shorts called "Capturing the White Buffalo".  The ten sessions show Smith's workmanlike commitment to expand the borders of his musical repertoire.  Damnation boasts more upbeat cuts like "Dark Days" or "Modern Times", which are also more tuneful than almost anything that White Buffalo has previously released.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are gorgeously gritty ballads such as "Radio With No Sound" and "Last Call To Heaven".  Both pieces highlight the deep and honest romantic streak, as well as a baritone delivery that can caress as effectively as it slays during the rockers.  Romantic or not, Smith is no bullshitting Romeo, as evidenced on "Home Is In Your Arms", where his sweet talk consists of "Your love is a motherfuckin' revelation / And I'm just lookin' for a fillup station / To fill your  heart / Just hoping it starts".  On "Go the Distance", he woos with "You're not just my woman / You're a piece of ass".  Nevertheless, White Buffalo bears the marks of a real poet of the common man.  "Life ain't nothing like a railroad track / It'll lead you there but don't lead you back".  On the mariachi border story, "Chico", he paints this masterpiece:  "I kick in the door at the Casa de Nada / He swings from the fan like a busted pinata / With no candy prize".  The album's final volley.  "Come On Love, Come On In" is an unexpectedly soulful gospel number, replete with organ, horns and a choir.  Most importantly, it showcases Jake Smith's deeply emotive delivery.  Always a strong singer he reaches new heights from the 2:25 moment to the song's finale, where he gets his Joe Cocker on for the good of all music.  It's why gospel music done right can wield such power, even for listeners without a shred of traditional religious dedication.  Music saves.  White Buffalo saves.  God bless Jake Smith.


August drags on like a bad death scene from an early western.  August is the C minus of months.  You like humidity?  How 'bout bugs?  Got a thing for dry grass, uncomfortably warm nights, or sweltering cars?  Panting dogs, chilled soup, fetid stagnant water, cleaning filthy barbecue grills?  Have I got a month for you!  On top of it all, my vocational life chose August as a suitable time to explode, from a nonstop parade of hiring and training at the library to a wholesale station relocation at KRFC.  When time permitted, new music arrived like a clean, cold washcloth to the face in August.

This month's cool breeze included a blast of garage soul from longtime Boston frontman Barrence Whitfield & the Savages.  Under the Savage Sky is rude, loud and just right.  Anderson East's Delilah marks another satisfying product from the hand of uber-producer Dave Cobb.  Seems everything Cobb touches these days turns to soul (see debut Corb Lund single below).  East is by no means a mere vehicle, however, blessed with a classic golden voice and material to match.

It just makes sense that this is the moment for an artist like Langhorne Slim & the Law.  Now that the Mumfords and Avetts have made the world safe for spirit-filled acoustic music, a record such as The Spirit Moves can blaze a straight path to the hearts of the unwashed masses.  2012's Way We Move showed moments of such crowd pleasing energy, and Langhorne Slim's new selection finally gathers all the promise evident since his 2004 debut.  There's enough banging drums, urgent vocals and friendly punk drive to start a love riot.  

I've been following Austin singer-songwriter David Ramirez for a good long time.  He's been one of those hard touring, under the radar performers who's almost seemed too busy for success.  Ramirez's new Fables is reportedly the product of stepping back, pulling off the road, and taking some time to create a product worthy of his vast talents.  I believe I've played "Harder To Lie" more than just about any other song this year, a gem of writing that reflects Ramirez's quiet, understated way with a lyric.  Nothing here will immediately hit you over the head.  Nothing rocks too hard or builds too high.  By your third or fourth listen, however, you'll be able to see through all that quiet to find an artist who is ripe for discovery.  For all I crowed about fellow Texan Ryan Culwell earlier this year, David Ramirez just might be my Culwell for the second half of 2015. 

It's not Fernando Viciconte's fault that he's not as well known as Alejandro Escovedo or Chuck Prophet.  His first new release in almost 5 years probably won't change that, though it does cement his status among Those That Know as one of our foremost urban/roots rockers.  As mentioned in last week's posting, the fact that Peter Buck contributes throughout Leave the Radio On should be enough of an imprimatur to open some doors.  If it's still not enough, try setting the needle down on songs like the Calexico-leaning "So Loud" or the cliche-free of "Kingdom Come" for another argument for why Fernando belongs on your music device of choice.  

Nathaniel Rateliff would've been just fine to continue with his successful stream of solo releases.  Both 2010's debut, In Memory Of Loss and 2013's Falling Faster Than You Can Run sound like absolutely nothing in your record collection.  Instead, the burly, bearded Denver fellow surrounded himself with a chaingang of friends for one of the most satisfyingly soulful blasts of the year.  Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats has actually caught the easily distracted national ear for their clapping and stomping ode to withdrawal, "S.O.B."  Go deeper into the record, though, for cuts like the dusty, lilting "Wasting Time" or "Trying Hard Not To Know" with its infectiously chugging rhythmic hooks if you're already reaching your satiation point for the single.   

I don't know why Lindi Ortega's Faded Gloryville has hit me harder than any of the Canadian artist's earlier efforts (all 3 of which earned places on my year-end lists).  Perhaps it's because in the years following her 2011 national debut, she's largely outgrown her caricature.  The boots, the veil, the makeup - they might've been the ladder on which Ortega climbed to prominence, but the substance behind it all was strong enough to shine through the foundation.  Lindi has take what might initially have been "retro" nods to rockabilly, honky tonk and trad country and made them her own.  Beneath the veil, she is nothing less than one of the stronger writers of her americana generation.  

* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Shake"  Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C
* Anderson East, "Keep the Fire Burning"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
* Drunken Prayer, "What's Gonna Happen"  Devil and the Blues  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)
* Honeycutters, "Jukebox"  Me Oh My  (Organic, 15)
* Justin Townes Earle, "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now"  Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now  (Bloodshot, 12)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Easton & Main"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "Mud"  Southern Surreal  (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Rod Picott, "Drunken Barber's Hand"  Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Faded Gloryville"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Slobberbone, "To Love Somebody"  Slippage  (New West, 02)
* Rayland Baxter, "Young Man"  Imaginary Man  (ATO, 15)
* David Ramirez, "Harder To Lie"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
* Watkins Family Hour, "King Of the 12 Ounce Bottles"  Watkins Family Hour  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Patty Griffin, "Rider Of Days"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Kevin Gordon, "GTO"  Long Gone Time  (Kevin Gordon, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Weight Of the Gun"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)  D
* Fernando, "Burned Out Love"  Leave the Radio On  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)  D
* Yawpers, "Deacon Brodie"  American Man  (Bloodshot, 15)  C, D
* Drive-by Truckers, "Made Up English Oceans (live)"  It's Great To Be Alive!  (ATO, 15)
* Old 97s, "Desperate Times"  Hitchhike to Rhome  (Old 97s, 94)
* Delines, "Gold Dreaming"  Scenic Sessions  (El Cortez, 15)  D
* Will Johnson, "Call Call Call"  Swan City Vampires  (Undertow, 15)  D
* Joe Ely, "Southern Eyes"  Panhandle Rambler  (Rack 'Em, 15)
* John Moreland, "Good Book"  Earthbound Blues  (Memorial, 11)
* Will Hoge, "Woman Be Strong"  Man Who Killed Love  (Will Hoge, 06)
^ White Buffalo, "Come On Love, Come On In"  Love and the Death Of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Cox Family, "Good Imitation Of the Blues"  Gone Like the Cotton  (Rounder, 15)
* Brent Best, "Queen Bee"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* Have Gun Will Travel, "Goodnight Sweet Chariot"  Science From An Easy Chair  (This Is American Music, 15)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 22, 2015
Scott Foley

I've been in the book industry forever.  One thing I've learned is that, while you can't necessarily judge a book by its cover, you can definitely make someone pick that book up with the right jacket.  Likewise, there are some publishers that I simply trust more than others.  I'll ignore a book that's published by X Publisher, and take a second look at a book from Y Publisher.  I feel the same way about music.  I might pay relatively little attention to something released by one label, while paying extra attention to a record from a label with a stronger catalog.

Which brings us to a trio of albums just released by Portland's Fluff & Gravy Records (motto:  "Trust Your Label"  -  indeed).  To date, Fluff & Gravy have launched collections by artists like Jeffrey Martin, Hillstomp, Anna Tivel and more.  This Summer, we get stuff from Mike Coykendall, Drunken Prayer and Fernando Viciconte.  Boom!

Perhaps you've heard of a 90s San Francisco area act called the Old Joe Clarks?  Certainly you're familiar with M Ward?  Blitzen Trapper?  She & Him?  The commonality between these bands and others is veteran instrumentalist, writer and producer Mike Coykendall (please, for the love of americana, say "kir-ken-doll").  While his stuff with other artists might be relatively conventional, Coykendall's solo work challenges those boundaries with music that can be edgy, daring and unconventional - consider this a compliment.  Like a musician in a sandbox, he refuses to respect boundaries or to make safe choices.  Blues bump into country, and rock rubs shoulders with psychedelic sounds, while Coykendall simply sounds like he's having a great time in the studio. 

Morgan Christopher Geer is Drunken Prayer. On his 4th release, Devil & the Blues, Geer plays alongside luminaries from bands like Reigning Sound, Sadies and Freakwater.  As opposed to Coykendall's work, the songs of Drunken Prayer tend to play closer to tradition, while demonstrating a sardonic wit that leads to songs like "Johnny Paycheck's Cocaine" and "Captain and Tennille" (see also "The Champagne Of Tears").  There's plenty of lyrical poetry here, too, on cuts like "Echo Of a Heavy Slamming Door" and the unexpectedly introspective "Love Looks Like a Master".  Much more common are the Good Time Numbers such as the loose romp, "What's Gonna Happen".  Guitars are rude and sloppy and vocals threaten to leave the rails, spiced with the occasional horn and bar ready keys.  Even as Geer name drops god and the devil throughout, it's a collection that opts for a good time over any profound and serious message. 

Fernando Viciconte has been on my musical radar for years.  As a former (and, I'm sure, a future) Oregon resident, I have been spinning the Portland legend's street smart rock songs since the 1997 Windows release.  Fernando has steered clear of the recording studio since 2011's fantastic True Instigator, though he returns with a doctor's note excusing the absence on account of surgery to address a throat condition.  As heard on Leave the Radio On, Fernando's songs are actually short stories set to music, not unlike Alejandro Escovedo's classic early work.  As a listener, I've always harbored a fondness for artists like Los Lobos, Doug Sahm or Escovedo who drip Latin colors onto their palette.  Mariachi flavored horns burst into "El Interior", and a South-of-the-border mandolin augments a handful of tracks.  Guests include Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, members of Richmond Fontaine and that Coykendall guy.  Where Drunken Prayer's stuff provides the perfect soundtrack for an evening of deliberate misbehavior, there is a darkness and gravity to Fernando's songs, dripping with heavy guitar and even bits of psychedelia with Viciconte's voice echoing deep into the mix.  Radio is rarely "easy listening", rather it seems to be a project driven by a very personal musical compass.  "The Freak" is a raggedly beautiful anthem with a pure pop heart, and the pedal steel and strummed acoustic "Kingdom Come" is as close as the record comes to tradition.  Instead, Fernando chooses to  dodge any preconceptions with a far reaching, ambitious collection and a much fuller sound and vision that we might have anticipated. 

Towards the end of the year, when I'm compiling my favorites lists, I'll typically also comment on praiseworthy labels for that year.  My early guess is that Fluff & Gravy will take its place on the proverbial podium alongside other indies like Alive Naturalsound and This Is American Music when the confetti falls.

Incidentally, this week's Episode marked my first R&B broadcast from KRFC's Home In Exile; our temporary studios whilst our permanent  home is being reduced to rubble and rebuilt like the phoenix from the ashes.  Dunno if that makes any difference for my site, but it's certainly thrown my week into a tailspin.  Hence, the fact that I never did get around to posting last week.  So much good stuff ...

* Hiss Golden Messenger, "Southern Grammar"  Lateness Of Dancers  (Merge, 14)
* Leon Bridges, "Flowers"  Coming Home  (Sony, 15)
* Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Life's a Bell"  Spirit Moves  (Dualtone, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Run Down Neighborhood"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Mercury"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
* Lucero, "Can't You Hear Them Howl"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Damn Quails, "Just a Little While"  Out Of the Birdcage  (Damn Quails, 15)  D
* Phil Cook, "Anybody Else"  Southland Mission  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Tallest Man On Earth, "Little Nowhere Towns"  Dark Bird Is Home  (Dead Oceans, 15)
* Wussy, "Teenage Wasteland"  Attica!  (Shake It, 15)  D
* Freakwater, "Wild and Blue"  Dancing Under Water  (Thrill Jockey, 97)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "One That Got Away"  Southern Surreal  (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Blitzen Trapper, "All Across This Land"  All Across This Land  (Vagrant, 15)
* GospelbeacH, "Mick Jones"  Pacific Surf Line  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Jason Isbell, "To a Band That I Loved"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
* Supersuckers, "Holdin' the Bag"  Holdin' the Bag  (Supersuckers, 15)  D
* Son Volt, "Loose String"  Trace  (Warner, 95)
* Alone at 3am, "I'm Dying"  Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)  D
* Mary Gauthier, "Sorry You're Sick"  Cold & Bitter Tears: Songs Of Ted Hawkins  (Eight 30, 15)  D
* David Ramirez, "How Do You Get 'Em Back"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Wasting Time"  Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C, D
* Watkins Family Hour, "Hop High"  Watkins Family Hour  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "Singin' To Strangers"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Jolie Holland, "Amen"  Escondida  (Anti, 04)
* Joe Ely, "Cold Black Hammer"  Panhandle Rambler  (Rack 'Em, 15)  D
* Bottle Rockets, "Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* Ana Egge, "Fifth Of July"  Bright Shadow  (Parkinsong, 15)
* Delines, "Wichita Ain't Far Away"  Colfax  (El Cortez, 14)