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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)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
August 8, 2015
Scott Foley

When I was a solipsistic little boy I used to think that other people would have meetings while I was sleeping.  I wondered if they were brainstorming about the story of my life, how to interact with me and how to make me happy.  My suspicion has been reinforced lately with the explosion of Jason Isbell into mainstream media.  Overnight, perhaps my elves decided they'd feature Isbell and his new songs on CBS Sunday Morning, Entertainment Weekly, NPR. Maybe even CMT and GQ.  I wake up and all of the sudden Huffington Post is arguing that "Caleb Caudle should be the next Jason Isbell".  Don't make it too obvious, though, or he might suspect something ...

In the Great Pantheon of Songwriting, "True Love" falls a distant second to "Unrequited Love" as fodder for songs.  A quick listen to  "Love Hurts" or "End Of the World" will tell you that.  Or Lindi Ortega's fourth CD, Faded GloryvilleI don't wanna daydream / I don't wanna wish for you / I don't wanna find out / That none of what you said was true ...  As demonstrated on the album's opener, "Ashes", Ortega can do yearning.  Her dedication to trad country runs deeper than her omnipresent veil, her leopard print coats or her trademark little red boots.  It's not only unreturned attraction to another person that breaks hearts.  Ortega's songs also address unrequited dreams, as on the record's crushing title cut.  Atop a weepy pedal steel:  I will not forget the good old days / When I was driven by my will / And I won't get back all the dues I paid / Here in Faded Gloryville.  

It's hardly all about tears in your beer on Faded Gloryville.  Nothing here replicates the punk spirit of some of her earlier tracks, though "Tell It Like It Is" and "I Ain't the Girl" remind us of Lindi Ortega's more playful and upbeat aspect.  It's the early rock and rockabilly side of Ortega that has given her entre into the bikes 'n tattoos crowd, permitting her to tour as an opener for bands like Social Distortion.  "Run Down Neighborhood" begins You can have some of my weed / If I can smoke your cigarette / I may be running low / But I ain't out just yet.  See also:  "Run Amuck". 

This musical diversity serves Lindi Ortega well.  It likely hails in part from the fact that the album's production duties are shared between a trio of distinct talents in Colin Linden, Dave Cobb and John Paul White with Ben Tanner from Alabama Shakes.  If Ortega shows growth on Gloryville, it's on those Muscle Shoals sessions with White and Tanner on cuts like the deeply soulful "Someday Soon".   Her take on the Bee Gee's "To Love Somebody" lays down an indelible groove, with window rattling bass and uplifting horns.  Appropriately, Ortega has reported that she learned the song by listening to Nina Simone's typically tasteful take.  While I was initially hooked by her edgier cuts, Ortega's classic voice is perfect for the soulful Muscle Shoals material.

Faded Gloryville's closer, "Half Moon" brings down the melancholy once again, with the record's strongest vocal performance.  The song also serves to remind listeners of Lindi Ortega's immense gifts as a lyricist:  Sometimes when I see half of your face / And the rest of you is veiled in midnight lace / It reminds me of myself, and I see that you and I / Are both half moons hanging in the sky.

Don't forget that KRFC will be broadcasting live from the Mountain Stage at Fort Collins' big ol' Bohemian Nights to-do next Saturday.  I'm sure I'll find some way to fill my weekly R&B post, and I'll return triumphantly to the airwaves on August 22. 

* Great Peacock, "Summer Song"  Making Ghosts  (This Is American Music, 15)
* Have Gun Will Travel, "True Believers"  Science From An Easy Chair  (TIAM, 15)
* Anderson East, "Devil In Me"  Delilah  (Elektra, 15)
* Dave & Phil Alvin, "Mister Kicks"  Lost Time  (Yep Roc, 15)
^ Lindi Ortega, "I Ain't the Girl"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Porter, "Harder Stuff"  This Red Mountain  (Porter, 15)
* Rod Picott, "I Was Not Worth Your Love"  Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Mercury"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
* Brent Best, "Robert Coles"  Your Dog, Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* Deslondes, "Heavenly Home"  Deslondes  (New West, 15)
* Patty Griffin, "Rider Of Days"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Lee Barber, "Coffee At Night"  Missing Pages  (Lee Barber, 15)
* Mike Flanigin, "Fit To Be Tied (w/Alejandro Escovedo)"  the Drifter  (Black Betty, 15)  D
* Kevin Gordon, "All In the Mystery"  Long Gone Time  (Kevin Gordon, 15)
* Daniel Romano, "I'm Gonna Teach You"  If I've Only One Time Askin'  (New West, 15)
* Paul Burch, "Like Railroad Steel"  Fool For Love  (Bloodshot, 03)
* Ana Egge, "Flat Top Guitar"  Bright Shadow  (Parkinsong, 15)  D
* Sam Baker, "Still Playin'"  Case For Case: Tribute To Peter Case  (Hungry For Music, 06)
* Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Full Moon In the Daylight Sky"  Under the Savage Sky  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Drunken Prayer, "Echo Of a Heavy Slamming Door"  Devil and the Blues  (Fluff & Gravy, 15)  D
* Bobby Bare Jr, "Valentine (live)"  Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)  (Bloodshot, 15)
* White Buffalo, "Modern Times"  Love & the Death Of Damnation  (White Buffalo, 15)
* GospelbeacH, "California Steamer"  Pacific Surf Line  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "Mud"  Southern Surreal  (Alternative Tentacles, 15)  D
* Alabama Shakes, "Shoegaze"  Sound & Color  (ATO, 15)
* James Leg, "Up Above My Head"  Below the Belt  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Bloodhounds, "Bottle Cap Blues"  Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 14)
* Robert Earl Keen, "Think It Over One Time"  Gringo Honeymoon  (Sugar Hill, 94)
* Watkins Family Hour, "Feeling Good Again"  Watkins Family Hour  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 1, 2015
Scott Foley


Here's where we explore the strongest releases for the last couple weeks.  Fact is, it's been two months since my last WHAT's SO GREAT - you might recall that last month I cast my lot for the best of the first half of 2015.  It's been a busy early summer, welcoming an unexpectedly sturdy collaboration between Warren Haynes and Railroad Earth, as well as T Hardy Morris' second release outside of Dead Confederate or Diamond Rugs.  Amanda Anne Platt and her Honeycutters helped make the world safe for country music once again, while the Revivalists bravely braved the uncharted waters at the confluence of rock, soul and roots music.  Danny & the Champions of the World continued to not release their superbly executed strain of roots 'n soul here in the U.S.,  while Leon Bridges' debut has proven inescapable.  And who expected a humble lil' split EP shared between Chuck Ragan and Rocky Votolato to earn such valuable R&B airspace?  

Has it really been three years since Denton, TX's Musical Ambassador Brent Best conducted a crowdfunded campaign for his first solo album?  No.  Matter of fact it's been five years.  Nevertheless, after setbacks, procrastination and expectations that ranged from sky high to not at all, the voice behind Slobberbone and the Drams is releasing Your Dog, ChampIn the wake of such a build up, it's simply a victory to let the thing loose, warts and all.  Champ is a patchwork quilt of a thing, threads running from song to song and arrangements that run from lo-fi solo acoustic stuff to full band rockers.  At his best, Best can match Patterson Hood or Michael Dean Damron blow for blow as a poet of the down and out.  There are cats in a bag and an aunt who's not sleeping (she's dead).  I suppose it's a lesson to those who wish to lift songwriters onto the pedestals reserved for book writers, and to those music types who want nothing more than to fulfill those expectations.  Champ is an album that's definitely growing on me, one that I'll turn to next time I'm in need of a quick shot of gritty realism, with a chaser of bleakness and depression.  Reminder: The only depressing music is the poorly made stuff. 
It was just last week that I was heaping praise upon Rod Picott's newly gruff approach to his craft.  Fortune qualifies as one of those rare records that blows my expectations out of the water.  Lyrically, there are more quotable lines per track here than on nearly any other collection I've enjoyed this year.  Always a seeming perfectionist with his sound and his arrangements, Picott lets the dust and dirt build up in the grooves, his voice wheezing and growling until he sounds reborn. 
It's my advice to The Deslondes' Sam Doores and company that they start making room on their proverbial mantels for the Americana Music Awards that they'll be collecting next year.  If nothing else, their solo release should earn recognition as the Breakthrough Artist of the year, demonstrating a breadth of sound uncommon since Band of Heathens banded forcesI suppose I'd liken it somewhat to Spirit Family Reunion's excellent CD from early 2015, such a loose and soulful celebration of roots music of all stripes. 

I have to admit that I appreciated the two albums Kasey Chambers issued with her former husband, Shane Nicholson, more than much of the Australian songwriter's solo stuff.  Even hearing her exquisite duet with Bernard Fanning on the title track of Bittersweet makes me want to hear the weeper tackled by Kasey and Shane.  Moving on, however, her first solo original collection since 2011's Little Bird is a strong and satisfying batch.  "Wheelbarrow" rocks harder than anything Chambers has done, while "Is God Real" sets a new watermark for laying her emotions bare.  Vocally, she's simply among the most appealing our kind of music has to offer. 

And what else can I say about Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free that hasn't already been said in the countless reviews that have lifted the record atop chart after chart and to the ears of an entire population of folks who have heard nothing like it.  If I had boundless time (I don't), I could publish an extended reflection on every track of Isbell's gem.  Except maybe "Flagship", but even that one has its merits.  Free demonstrates that even a sober and happily wed Isbell is capable of great things.  I simply can't/won't shake songs like "To a Band That I Loved" or "Children Of Children", and I'm regularly haunted in the wake of "The Life You Chose".  What will ultimately dethrone Isbell from the heights of the americana radio charts (and when)? 

 ... which leaves us to ponder the wonder that is the new concept album from Have Gun Will Travel.  I usually think of as a warm weather genre, especially when performed by a band from the Tampa area.  On Science From An Easy Chair, however, the quartet ambitiously tackle the story of Ernest Shackleton's ill fated Antarctic expedition.  Need I comment that this is hardly fodder for your average roots act?  It's an audacious move that brings to mind more theatrically oriented bands like Okkervil River, Frontier Ruckus or the DecemberistsCome to think of it, the voice of frontman Matt Burke isn't entirely unlike that of the men who lead those outfits.  "Spirit Of Discovery" is a gung ho declaration of mission that sets the tone for the album:  "The spirit of discovery is alive and well today / Burning in our hearts like roman candles".  It's an infectious, inspiring track, driven by galloping drums and sweeping pedal steel.  "True Believers" sets sail like Old 97s on board the Endurance, electric guitars blazing more akin to a wild west showdown than a trans-Arctic expedition:  "It's us against the world / We are the only true believers that we have".  As with Shackleton's ambitious voyage, things go wrong early on, as indicated by the ghostly banjo and accordion instrumental that accompanies the ambient sounds of the ice halting the party's progress.  These sound effects continue throughout Science From An Easy Chair, lending the collection the air of a theatrical stage production.  

I'll pause here to note that the worth in Have Gun's new release lies beyond the ambitious scope of pulling together songs beneath a theme.  A great story (and Shackleton's is the stuff of legend) doesn't automatically lead to a listenable record.  I spent much of my childhood under the spell of concept albums like Rush's 2112 and Pink Floyd's The Wall.  I could easily name two dozen lesser LPs (several of them involving the work of Roger Waters), but the success of Science is achieved because of the music behind the story.   

Onward!  One thing a concept album does do is to challenge an artist to expand their musical comfort zone.  The sound of Have Gun has been evolving in this general direction over the space of four albums, with the band establishing their reputation as storytellers since their 2008 debut.  Despite the occasional instrumentals and the pieces designed to usher the story forward, there are several songs on Science that are just plain good songs.  Besides the couple already mentioned, "Madhouse Promenade" trips along on a mix of electric and acoustic guitar and some typically inventive drumming.  "Good Old Shakespeare" slows the pace with a bluesy bar band shuffle - it's only after a couple listens that I realized the tune is about bidding adieu to the crew's beloved pooch.  The first 3 minutes of "Despair and Redemption On Elephant Island"  (read the book) are like Have Gun's Temple of Syrinx moment, before "Bottom Of the World" puts an acoustic bow on the story.  Strummed acoustics and sweet pedal steel lay the good ship to rest on a bed of stomping percussion.  

Sure it's a history lesson set to alternative country, like a Deep South episode of Schoolhouse Rock.  To paraphrase the worldly philosophy of Fat Albert,  enjoy Science From An Easy Chair; if you're not careful you might just learn something before it's done ...

* Charlie Parr, "To a Scrapyard Bus Stop"  1922  (Charlie Parr, 03)
* Phil Cook, "1922"  Southland Mission  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* T Hardy Morris, "Littleworth"  Drownin' On a Mountain Top  (Dangerbird, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Ashes"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Rod Picott, "Elbow Grease"  Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)
* Patty Griffin, "There Isn't One Way"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty  Tigers, 15)  D
* Brent Best, "Tangled"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* John Fullbright, "Gawd Above"  From the Ground Up  (Blue Dirt, 12)
* Kevin Gordon, "Church On Time"  Long Gone Time  (Kevin Gordon, 15)  D
* Corb Lund, "Apocalyptic Modified Blues"  Five Dollar Bill  (Stony Plain, 02)
* Jamie Lin Wilson, "Nighttime Blues"  Holidays & Wedding Rings  (JLW, 15)
^ Have Gun Will Travel, "Madhouse Promenade"  Science From An Easy Chair  (This Is Amer Music, 15)
* Langhorne Slim & the Law, "Southern Bells"  Spirit Moves  (Dualtone, 15)
* Jason Isbell, "Speed Trap Town"  Something More Than Free  (Southeastern, 15)
* Sons of Bill, "Santa Ana Winds"  Sirens  (Thirty Tigers, 12)
* Black Lillies, "Hard To Please"  Hard To Please  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Martha Scanlan, "Taken Or Given"  Shape Of Things Gone Missing Shape Of Things To Come  (Up On the Divide, 15)
* Cox Family, "Good Imitation Of the Blues"  Gone Like the Cotton  (Rounder, 15)  D
* James Leg, "Drink It Away"  Below the Belt  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "I'm a Full Grown Man"  Under the Savage Sky  (Bloodshot, 15)
* White Buffalo, "Modern Times"  Love and Death of Damnation  (White Buffalo, 15)  D
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Down Here"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)
* Lincoln Durham, "Clementine"  Shovel vs the Howling Bones  (Rayburn, 12)
* Drive-by Truckers, "Birthday Boy (live)"  It's Great To Be Alive!  (ATO, 15)  D
* Bobby Bare Jr, "Sad Smile (live)" Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* GospelbeacH, "Sunshine Skyway"  Pacific Surf Line  (Alive Naturalsound, 15)
* Gretchen Peters, "Sunday Morning (Up and Down My Street)"  Circus Girl  (Scarlet Letter, 09)
* Kasey Chambers, "Wheelbarrow"  Bittersweet  (Sugar Hill, 15)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

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

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

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 06, 2015

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

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

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

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

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