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Monday, March 23, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 21, 2015
Scott  Foley

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 14, 2015
Scott Foley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 09, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 7, 2015
Scott Foley

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 06, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 28, 2015
Scott Foley

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 28, 2015
Scott Foley


I debuted the first single from James McMurtry's Complicated Game way back in November, pondering whether the cut's processed beatz and newfound slickness might mark a new and refreshing chapter for a writer who might be due for a bit of an overhaul.  Alas, in meeting the new McMurtry we realize that he's somewhat like the old McMurtry.  Still, I appreciate the writer's decision to take a holiday from political rants in order to refocus on the everyday (fun fact: I'm not especially fond of politically oriented songs).  McMurtry is an almost peerless lyricist, though he's a limited vocalist, and his arrangements lack diversity.  Nevertheless, my jury is still open regarding Complicated Game.  "Copper Canteen",  "Ain't Got No Place" and "These Things I've Come To Know" are classic McMurtry, in all the best ways.

While we've only been treated to one track from Charlie Parr's Red House debut, "Over the Red Cedar" is a promising glimpse of the April release.  And who's in the mood for an extended acoustic instrumental indulgence?!!  On Seasonal Hire, the eclectic Steve Gunn capably pairs with the Black Twig Pickers for an entrancing dip into Appalachian folk sounds, as paired with exotic modalities and drones.  Who says americana has to always sound like Steve Earle?  I'll be spinning the second cut from Dwight Yoakam's Second Hand Heart this week, and I'm eager to access the complete second LP from Spirit Family Reunion, too.  Incidentally, this Saturday we'll also try to shoehorn in debuts from Tallest Man On Earth, William Elliott Whitmore, Hip Hatchet and more and more and more.

February brought us something new and different from Nashville artist Natalie Prass.  The past week or so saw Ryan Adams endorsing Prass by covering her music and inviting her onstage in England.  Prass and producer Matthew E. White inject such heartbreak in songs like "My Baby Don't Understand Me" and "Your Fool", a pitch perfect return to the country-soul of Dusty Springfield or Shelby Lynne (channeling Dusty).  While it's evident that Natalie Prass certainly bears the stamp of White's Spacebomb production, the lush strings aren't enough to hide her songwriterly skills.

Like McMurtry, Raul Malo and the Mavericks certainly know their pocket, and they stick to it like glue on their first album in a couple years, Mono.  But let's face it, there are few more engaging vocalists than Malo, and there's hardly a more consistently fun band on record.  Absolutely nothing new to see here, but that works just fine on tunes like the automatic classic "All Night Long" or "What Am I Supposed To Do".

Cosmetics, Diamond Rugs' second record, comes across as tighter and more complete than their 2012 debut.  Problem is, I loved that album's loose chaos.  Fortunately, resulting songs like "Couldn't Help It" and "Killin' Time" retain much of the supergroup's original charm.  Boasting members from Deer Tick, Los Lobos, Black Lips and more, the sum here is just about what you'd hope for. 

Wrinkle Neck Mules have made 7 albums in their 15 years, culminating in the appropriately titled I Never Thought It Would Go This Far.  Recorded live to tape, the quintet's songs are reckless but smart.  The 'Mules make the sort of lyrically driven that's rare these days, when most artists err either on the side of folkin' it up or dumbing it down with gratuitous references to weed, women and whiskey.

February also brought Kill County's Broken Glass In the Sun in all its full splendor.  The Nebraska band has taken risks on their new material, cleaning up the production for a fuller, more calculated impression.  A glance at the lyrics will reveal that Kill County have spent some extra time on that side of the equation as well.  The results are no less melancholy, no less genuine than their earlier efforts, a gritty document of working class life that never takes the easy way out.  

February's Reasons to Live

Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass
Mavericks, Mono
Wrinkle Neck Mules, I Never Thought It Would Go This Far
Diamond Rugs, Cosmetics
Kill County, Broken Glass In the Sun

As far as Square State material, there was nothing better this month than John Statz's eloquent Tulsa.  A big step forward from his worthy 2012 release, Old Old Fashioned, Statz's new material brings to mind a singer-songwriter like Jeffrey Foucault, which is more than a coincidence in light of the fact that Foucault himself produced the sessions.  With its perfectly positioned pedal steel and backing vocals from Caitlin Canty, "Home At Last" is a certain candidate for my end of year favorite songs list. 

If weather cooperates, we should have an instudio visit from Pieta Brown on the next Episode of Routes & Branches (2/28).  If nothing else, your week will be made much richer with two hours of good music.  Onward towards March!

Monday, February 23, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 21, 2015
Scott Foley

Four (4) full hours of R&B  this week, covering for the Spot Formerly Known As Tarnation!.  Allows me the room to stretch out a bit, to pepper the mix with some elderly cuts.  I believe this is how R&B is meant to be heard (actually, it's my experience that, to paraphrase Goldilocks, two hours = too few and four hours = too many; three hours = just right).  

It was way back in September when I received three cuts from the pride of Nebraska, Kill County.  At the time, the band was uncertain as to the strategy for unleashing these new tunes, which were recorded in Detroit.  Welp, apparently they've untangled those knots and made the entirety of Broken Glass In the Sun available on Bandcamp and other digital delivery sources.  I began waving the Kill County flag following their Dust In Wire collection, which haunted my early 2013.  I've since added the earlier Year of Getting By to my life, and I'm a far better man for it.  Like its predecessors, Broken Glass is a dark record, a fitting soundtrack to the short and claustrophobic days of winter.  The dual vocals of Ringo and Josh James establish a high/low, dark/light, heaven/hell juxtaposition, never perfect or polished - they even alternate lines within songs.  Kill County is an acoustic band with no patience for overdubs.  Their music has typically come across as recorded live, perhaps in a small room echoing with ambient creaks and snaps and shuffles.  There is banjo, fiddle and guitar, but this is hardly bluegrass.  There's a strong strain of melancholy, though the songs are smart and poetic with no false sentiment or filler ("7 Billion Broken Hearts" will, in fact, break hearts).  Despite the fact that Broken Glass was recorded in Detroit, I would argue that much of Kill County's music makes little sense in an urban setting.  Songs like "Bad Gasoline" or "Beat Up Iron" are caked in backroads dirt, and the title cut kicks up gravel and rattles over deep ruts. "And it's a long road back to no man's land / and I can't stand these shaking hands. / I am nothing but dirt beneath my heels  /  Only dust behind my wheels."  Granted, the recordings on this new batch of songs are sonically cleaner than early classics like "Straight Six Ford", but it's still stuff best understood in a "Shitty Truck" (see Dust In Wire).  "I've been feeling like beat up iron  /  Just slipping through my gears  /  And I suppose we all must pay  /  For those good old days.

Also in this generous batch, we enjoy a live dose of Matthew Houck, aka Phosphorescent.  Houck's voice is one of my favorite things ever these days, especially when it breaks just right.  This is why shows like American Idol or The Voice don't quite work.  Houck would probably scare your kids singing "Happy Birthday" - his voice isn't one that would turn coaches' chairs.  Nevertheless, when he applies that flawed and fractured instrument to "Joe Tex, These Taming Blues" or "Song For Zula", it can be transcendent.  

*  Diamond Rugs, "I Can't Help It"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)
*  Blitzen Trapper, "American Goldwing (live)"  Live in Portland  (LidKerCow Ltd, 14)
*  Delines, "82nd Street"  Colfax  (El Cortez, 14)
*  Leon Bridges, "Coming Home"  single  (Columbia, 15)
*  Hacienda Brothers, "Ordinary Fool"  Arizona Motel  (Proper, 08)
*  Old Crow Medicine Show, "Mother Church"  Brushy Mt Conjugal Trailer EP  (ATO, 15)
*  Jack White, "Did You Hear John Hurt (live)"  Another Day Another Time  (Nonesuch, 15)
^  Kill County, "Bad Gasoline"  Broken Glass In the Sun  (Kill County, 15)
*  John Calvin Abney, "Cut the Rope"  Better Luck  (Bullets In the Chamber, 15)
*  Cory Branan, "Skateland South"  The Hell You Say  (Chin Up, 02)
*  Samantha Crain, "Traipsing Through the Aisles"  the Confiscation  (Ramseur, 08)
*  Spirit Family Reunion, "It Does Not Bother Me"  Hands Together  (SFR, 15)
*  Andrew Bird w/Nora O'Connor, "I'll Trade You Money For Wine"  While No One Was Looking  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Steve Earle, "Usual Time"  Terraplane  (New West, 15)
*  John Statz, "Queen Of the Plains"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  James McMurtry, "These Things I've Come To Know"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Left Arm Tan, "69 Reasons"  Alticana  (Left Arm Tan, 13)
*  Jim White vs Packway Handle  Band, "Breathing Room"  Take It Like a Man  (Yep Roc, 15)
*  Gram Parsons, "Love Hurts"  Grievous Angel  (Reprise, 74)
*  Lilly Hiatt, "Royal Blue"  Royal Blue  (Normaltown, 15)  D
*  Pops Staples, "Love On My Side"  Don't Lose This  (Anti, 15)
*  JD McPherson, "Mother Of Lies"  Let the Good  Times Roll  (Rounder, 15)
*  Shakey Graves, "Pay the Road"  Nobody's Fool  (Shakey Graves, 15)
*  Joe Ely, "Treat Me Like a Saturday Night"  Joe Ely  (MCA, 77)
*  Ryan Culwell, "Think I'll Be Their God"  Flatlands  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Shelby Lynne, "I Can't Imagine"  I Can't Imagine  (Rounder, 15)  D
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Second Hand Heart"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)
*  6 String Drag, "Kingdom of Gettin' It Wrong"  Roots Rock 'n' Roll  (Royal Potato, 15)
*  Lindi Ortega, "Dying Of Another Broken Heart"  Little Red Boots  (Last Gang, 11)
*  Chris Stapleton, "Traveller"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)  D
*  Blackberry Smoke, "Holding All the Roses"  Holding All the Roses  (Rounder, 15)  D
*  Reckless Kelly, "Wicked Twisted Road"  Wicked Twisted Road  (Sugar Hill, 05)
*  Fifth On the Floor, "Angels In the Snow (Shangri-La Version)"  & After  (FotF, 15)
*  Deslondes, "I Fought the Blues and Won"  the Deslondes  (New West, 15)  D
*  Julie Miller, "Devil Is An Angel"  Blue Pony  (Hightone, 97)
*  American Aquarium, "Ramblin' Ways"  Wolves  (American Aquarium, 15)
*  Water Liars, "Swannanoa (live)"  OurVinyl Sessions  (OurVinyl, 15)
*  Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "Mutineer"  Sea Songs  (Southeastern, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Otis"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Phosphorescent, "Down To Go (live)"  Live At the Music Hall  (Dead Oceans, 15)
*  Handsome Family, "Giant of Illinois"  Through the Trees  (Carrot Top, 98)
*  Andrew Combs, "Pearl"  All These Dreams  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
*  Ryan Bingham, "Hands of Time"  Fear and Saturday Night  (Axster Bingham, 15)
*  Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, "Trailways Ramble"  Seasonal Hire  (Thrill Jockey, 15)
*  John Doe & the Sadies, "Detroit City (I Want To Go Home)"  Country Club  (Yep  Roc, 09)
*  Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Hell Naw"  So Delicious  (Shanachie, 15)
*  Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"  Sound & Color  (ATO, 15)
*  Benjamin Booker, "Chippewa (live)"  Live At Third Man Records  (Third Man, 15)
*  Two Cow Garage, "Let the Boys Be Girls"  single  (Last Chance, 15)
*  Dolorean, "We Winter Wrens"  You Can't Win  (Yep Roc, 07)
*  Eels, "Can't Help Falling In Love (live)"  Royal Albert Hall  (Eworks, 15)  D
*  Caitlin Rose, "Sinful Wishing Well"  Own Side Now  (Theory 8, 11)
*  Longest Day of the Year, "Let What's In Out"  Carapace  (Mulewax, 15)  C
*  Joe Pug, "Burn and Shine"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Butch Walker, "I Love You"  Afraid of Ghosts  (Dangerbird, 15)
*  Alejandro Escovedo, "Always a Friend"  Real Animal  (Back Porch, 08)
*  Gill Landry, "Just Like You"  Gill Landry  (ATO, 15)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 14, 2015
Scott Foley

I remember the revelation that was my first glimpse of Brittany Howard fronting Alabama Shakes on a live video of "You Ain't Alone" 2011 in Chattanooga.  A lot can happen in four years, and Howard's band has since been discovered by millions more.  They've been signed to ATO Records, toured hard, been nominated for a couple Grammys and even played SNL.  There's nothing harder than a sophomore record, but our first glimpse of April's Sound & Color is reassuring. 

I have been diagnosed as especially susceptible to supergroups.  I fall hard when somebody from this band joins somebody from that band to form a third band.  Problem is that with a handful of exceptions (think Delines here), supergroups can prove pretty tepid.  Diamond Rugs' 2012 debut fed my monster, offering up a sloppy batch of profane garage rock (plus, one of my favorite new holiday tunes in recent years, "Christmas In a Chinese Restaurant").  Fronted by the restless John McCauley of Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs also houses current or former members of Los Lobos, Dead Confederates, Black Lips and Six Finger Satellite.  Called Cosmetics, the ensemble's second album continues to please, though it seems the sleaze factor has been dialed down a notch or two.  There was a time a couple years back when on a whim the Pogues' Shane MacGowan had his teeth fixed.  He looked curiously broken afterward, and it's my understanding that MacGowan soon abandoned his new choppers.  Point is, sometimes you want your Shane MacGowan in shambles.  Diamond Rugs is best when at least a couple of the wheels are dangerously close to leaving the tracks.  The record's first single, "Voodoo Doll", is driven by Steve Berlin's skronky sax, featured throughout the collection.  With its quirky pogo rhythms, I can imagine Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo playing "Voodoo Doll".  Not the early, punk Oingo Boingo, but the later family friendly edition.  Tunes like "So What" or "Live and Shout It" keep it rough, tracing that magical trail between roots and punk that bands like X or the Replacements originally blazed.  "You're a train I thought that sounded like heartache ..."  The swagger which largely defined Diamond Rugs' debut shows up as well on "So What", wielding the classic refrain, "I love you / So what".  Relative sanity creeps in on some of the pieces, and there's a real sense that the disparate parts of the ensemble have coalesced to produced more complete, more fleshed out songs this time through.  "Couldn't Help It", for instance, comes across like classic Buddy Holly or the Everlys.  Behind a loping beat and a blast of organ, "Killin' Time" is Cosmetics' most unhinged cut, unleashing a litany of ways to spend our days:  "Killin' time / Pickin' a religion  / Killin' time  /  But it don't work  /  Killin' time  /  Watchin' some paint dry  /  Killin' time  /  Having revelations  /  Killin' time  /  Walkin' to the mailbox ..."  The track trips along just perfectly, like the songs Paul Westerberg and co. forgot to record. 

*  Rosanne Cash, "Your Southern Heart"  River & the Thread  (Blue Note, 14)
*  Brandy Clarke, "Pray To Jesus"  12 Stories  (Slate Creek, 13)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Second Hand Heart"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)  D
*  John Statz, "One Way Opens"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  James McMurtry, "Copper Canteen"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Token"  Nobody Told Me It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Whitehorse, "Oh Dolores"  Leave No Bridge Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)
*  Gasoline Lollipops, "Homesick Remedy"  Spokesbuzz Vol 5  (Spokesbuzz, 15)  C
*  Murder By Death, "Last Thing"  Big Dark Love  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Sedona"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Joe Pug, "Bright Beginnings"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Natalie Prass, "My Baby Don't Understand Me"  Natalie Prass  (Spacebomb, 15)
*  JJ Grey & Mofro, "Ol' Glory"  Ol' Glory  (Provogue, 15)
*  Son Little, "The River"  Things I Forgot  (Anti, 14)
*  Shakey Graves, "If Not For You (demo)"  Nobody's Fool  (Shakey Graves, 15)  D
*  Andrew Combs, "Foolin'"  All These Dreams  (30 Tigers, 15)
*  Charlie Parr, "Over the Red Cedar"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "I Follow Rivers"  Sea Songs  (Southeastern, 15)  D
^  Diamond Rugs, "Killin' Time"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)
*  Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"  Sound & Color  (ATO, 15)  D
*  Butch Walker, "Bed On Fire"  Afraid Of Ghosts  (Dangerbird, 15)  D
*  Cody Canada & the Departed, "Stay"  HippieLovePunk  (Underground Sound, 15)
*  Calexico, "Falling From the Sky"  Edge of the Sun  (Anti, 15)
*  Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, "Cardinal 51"  Seasonal Hire  (Thrill Jockey, 15)
*  Robert Earl Keen, "99 Years For One Dark Day"  Happiest Prisoner: Bluegrass Sessions  (Dualtone, 15)