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Sunday, November 29, 2015

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

JeezI'mbehindonthis!  You'd think that less incoming new music during the holidays might lead to more prompt postings.  On the contrary, I spent the entirety of this week intending to blog in praise of Noah Gundersen's tremendous Carry the Ghost.  Unlike last week's records that I whiffed on, I've been quietly spinning the album since its August release, though its excellence has only gradually dawned on me.  I'd planned to compare its frank, poetic lyrics to John Murry's criminally overlooked Graceless Age from 2014.  Instead, I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my family and played an offbrand sort of online Pictionary for two straight days.  Since I've already broadcast my next Episode, however, I'm thinking it's best to just launch this post without much further massaging. 

I'm the squirrel that falls for the shiny, new thing (or is that the raccoon?).  When good new music lands in my lap, I'm in a hurry to float it onto the airwaves and see what sticks.  I take stuff like Son Volt's seminal Trace record for granted.  I got around to previewing the entirety of Jay Farrar's 20th Anniversary Edition of the album this week, from the remastered originals to the demos and the 1996 live set.  In terms of the founding documents of Routes & Branches, Trace stands among the most essential.  While I would argue that neither the demos nor the live show necessarily strengthen the appeal of the original, it's been quite some time since I've just enjoyed Trace from front to back as intended.  "Windfall" to "Live Free" and "Tear Stained Eye".  "Loose String" and the sole cover of Ron Wood's deliciously loose "Mystifies Me".  Damn.  New stuff is cool, but almost nothing approaches the purity and perfection of the stuff that hooked me way long ago.

Also this week, Tim Easton, Aaron Lee Tasjan and the McCrarys give us the perfect Thanksgiving opportunity to support Nashville Rescue Mission.  The Pines float us our first glimpse into their new atmospheric americana record.  Noah Gundersen makes a case for his inclusion into my year end albums list.  And Shovels & Rope release a loose, edgy collection of collaborations and covers.  

* Robert Plant, "Harm's Swift Way" Band of Joy  (Rounder, 10)
* Dave & Phil Alvin, "Feeling Happy" Lost Time  (YepRoc, 15)
* Los Lobos, "I Believed You So" Gates Of Gold  (429, 15)
* Phil Lee, "Wake Up Crying" Some Gotta Lose  (Palookaville, 15)
* Rod Picott, "Until I'm Satisfied" Fortune  (Welding Rod, 15)
* Valerie June, "Workin' Woman Blues" Pushin' Against a Stone  (Concord, 13)
* Jeffrey Foucault, "Left This Town" Salt As Wolves  (Blueblade, 15)
* Campfire Propaganda, "What'cha Gonna Do" single  (Nashville Rescue Mission, 15)  D
* Willy Tea Taylor, "The Very Best" Knuckleball Prime  (Blackwing, 15)
* Danny Barnes, "Wasted Mind" Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later)  (Eight 30, 15)
* Otis Gibbs, "Detroit Steel" Harder Than Hammered Hell  (Wanamaker, 12)
* Jeremy Pinnell, "Rodeo" OH/KY  (Sofaburn, 15)
* Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, "Red Dog Tracks (alternate take)" Red Dog Tracks: 10th Anniversary  (Train Wreck, 15)  D
* Shovels & Rope w/Shakey Graves, "Unknown Legend" Busted Jukebox Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 15)  D
* Joan Shelley, "Not Over By Half" Over and Even  (No Quarter, 15)
* Fred Eaglesmith, "Cigarette Machine" 6 Volts (Eaglesmith, 11)
^ Son Volt, "Cemetery Savior (live)" Trace: 20th Anniversary  (Warner, 15)
* Pines, "Aerial Ocean" Above the Prairie  (Red House, 16)  D
* Noah Gundersen, "Halo (Disappear/Reappear)" Carry the Ghost  (Dualtone, 15)
* Lori McKenna, "American Revolver" Lorraine  (UMPG, 11)
* Joey Kneiser, "To My Younger Self" The Wildness  (This Is American Music, 15)
* Au Pair, "One-Armed Candy Bear" OneArmedCandyBear  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Lake Street Dive, "Call Off Your Dogs" Side Pony  (Nonesuch, 16)  D
* Freakwater, "Asp & the Albatross" Sheherazade  (Bloodshot, 16)
* Peter Case, "Waiting On a Plane" Hwy 62  (Omnivore, 15)
* Plimsouls, "Lie Beg Borrow and Steal" Everywhere At Once  (Geffen, 83)
* Alone At 3am, "Story On 6th" Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
November 14, 2015
Scott Foley

I think I've mentioned before that I serve as Music Director for KRFC in Fort Collins, the radio station from where Routes & Branches originates every Saturday.  As part of that calling, I receive and preview just about all the music that is sent our way.  Also as part of that, I am faced with the good problem of Too Much Pretty Good Music.  As host of R&B, I try not to introduce a new artist or album if I can't support it from week to week.  I mention this as an intro to the following fact:  Sometimes I whiff.  I simply neglect to add records that are not merely pretty good, but ones that deserve a place on the playlists I post every week.  This Episode is dedicated in part to:
Stuff That Scott Whiffed On. 

Barna Howard, Quite a Feelin'  Released way long ago in May, this is the Portlander's 2nd album of West Coast country rock.  If pressed, I'd draw comparisons to early John Prine or even an early 70s folky like Paul Siebel, allowing space for no-frills acoustic arrangements that rarely rise beyond a casual pace.  Part of the connection lies in Howard's evocative vocals, but there's also a deeper debt to a deceptively laid-back strain of songwriting practiced by greats like Kris Kristofferson.  Despite this litany of soundalikes, songs such as "Bitter Side Of Blue" or "Indiana Rose" are more than mere odes to a bygone style.  Similar to other 2015 releases from Andrew Combs or Sam Outlaw, Quite a Feelin' owes much of its appeal to the fact that Howard is simply a skilled writer. 

Joan Shelley, Over and Even  I really have no business playing Joan Shelley on R&B.  An acoustic folk artist who recalls Joni Mitchell more than Lydia Loveless, her hypnotic originals aren't likely played on any program that trades in folk music or americana either.  Shelley's been adopted by the indie/college radio crowd in the same way her collaborators Bonnie "Prince" Billy or Daniel Martin Moore have found an appreciative home on "alternative" radio.  R&B provides a home to the sonically homeless, and songs like "Brighter That the Blues" or "Not Over By Half" make sense to me.  Shelley delivers her songs in a prettily fragile voice, accompanied by little more than a guitar or two.  There's a smartness and a deep serenity to her work, a sweetness to songs like "Wine and Honey" that I can't pass up.  Even if I did, in fact, whiff when it was released in mid summer. 

Mike Edel, India Seattle   Canada does roots right.  Similar to bands like Great Lake Swimmers or Blue Rodeo, Albertan Mike Edel weaves his magic along the line between pop and roots music.  On Edel's second record (issued in September, so I didn't whiff all that hard here), he gives us some fine nature imagery on the perfectly hooky "Blue Above the Green", then dials up the roots for "East Shore West Shore".  While pieces like "All the Morning" rely on polished, full production, songs like the quietly stirring title cut allow Edel little more than an acoustic and atmospherics.  I like to think that India Seattle is a record that was birthed on the wide and spacious Canadian prairies, with that openness finding its way into some of the more intimate acoustic moments.  On the other hand, I've never been to Canada, and for all I know Victoria is all about the tall buildings and pavement ...  Either way, Mike Edel bears the definite sonic stamp of his homeland. 

Jeremy Pinnell, OH/KY  Pinnell seems to have a tattoo on either side of his shaved head; one side bears the shape of Ohio, while the other features the outline of Kentucky.  To be honest, that's really all it takes to get me to listen to your record.  Then you open with a classic chunk of bar band 'tonk, "How Country Sounds", and my suspicions are confirmed.  Like the awesomely bearded JP Harris or Whitey Morgan (beard) or Sarah Gayle Meech (sans beard yet with plenty o' tats), Pinnell simply gets country music; he lives and breathes it, and he probably smells like it.  Released way back in March on Sofaburn Records, OH/KY drops a day's worth of wise lyrical dimes:  "I've been lovin' loose women / But they never love me"  It's the sort of approach that balances self-deprecating wit with sweet sad melancholy.  As a bonus, Pinnell's collection also features enough pedal steel to drown a cowboy. 

Christopher Paul Stelling, Labor Against Waste  While Brooklyn's Stelling draws a line of influence back to country-blues and folk trad artists, the sounds on his second full length are fully realized and decidedly current.  The assembled company plays with such purpose and intensity on the wisely arranged tunes such as "Horse" and "Warm Enemy" that it comes across like a gospel service.  Think Langhorne Slim joining the Felice Brothers back in the chicken coop days.  Space is filled with Stelling's stealthily picked acoustic as well as a generous helping of things with strings and the songwriter's yalping vocal delivery.  "Scarecrow" and "Dear Beast" scale back the pace a'la Damien Rice or earlier Josh Ritter, leaving room for Stelling's lyrical care to shine through.  Released in May, it seems Stelling has toured the record through Northern Colorado at least twice since then, giving me no excuse to whiff on this gem.

Jonathan Tyler, Holy Smokes   Word has it that Tyler fronted a band called Northern Lights, signed to Atlantic Records and poised to make some big industry noise.  To his good credit, once the label showed its cards, asking Tyler for a mainstream country record, he left his band for the more musically versatile shores of a solo career.  Hearing the rocky blues crunch of songs like "Riverbottom" or "Hallelujah", it's safe to say Tyler has made the wiser decision.  Released in July, Holy Smokes boasts both a polish and a loose rattle, with bits of country dirt clinging to the roots for good measure.  "Honey Pie" generates a Stonesy boogie, while Nikki Lane contributes a ghostly vocal to the cosmic country of "To Love Is To Fly".  Jonathan Tyler's solo debut hints at an artist who is hot on the trail of his unique muse, mainstream country radio be damned!

 ... oh, and I also decided I'll be unleashing my year end favorites list during my R&B broadcast on December 12.  For those who value such things, I'll also be broadcasting my yearly all Christmas Episode on December 19 (plus, a bonus festive Mix-mas show on Wednesday December 23 from 8-10am Mountains Time).  I trust you will respond appropriately.  

* Allen Toussaint, "Last Train"  Southern Nights  (Rhino, 75)
* Lucero, "Throwback No. 2"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "Raindrop"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Joey Kneiser, "Run Like Hell"  The Wildness  (This Is American Music, 15)
^ Mike Edel, "Blue Above the Green"  India, Seattle  (Cordova Bay, 15)  D
* Gillian Welch, "Down Along the Dixie Line"  Harrow & the Harvest  (Acony, 11)
^ Barna Howard, "Pull Us Back Or Wind Us Up"  Quite a Feelin'  (Mama Bird, 15)  D
* Au Pair, "In Every Window"  OneArmedCandyBear  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Mount Moriah, "Cardinal Cross"  How To Dance  (Merge, 16)
* JD McPherson, "Dimes For Nickels"  Signs & Signifiers  (Rounder, 12)
* Eric Church w/Susan Tedeschi, "Mixed Drinks About Feelings"  Mr Misunderstood  (EMI, 15)
* Yawpers, "Faith and Good Judgement"  American Man  (Bloodshot, 15)  C
* Peter Case, "If I Go Crazy"  Hwy 62  (Omnivore, 15)
^ Jonathan Tyler, "Riverbottom"  Holy Smokes  (Thirty Tigers, 15)  D
* Dead Volts, "California"  We Are Already Dead  (Twang 'n Bang, 14)
* DBUK, "Uncle John's Boat"  Songs One Through Eight  (SCAC Unincorporated, 15)  D, C
* Simone Felice, "Morning I Get To Hell (live)"  From the Violent Banks Of the Kaaterskill  (Mighty Hudson, 15)
* Kasey Chambers, "Cold & Bitter Tears"  Cold & Bitter Tears: Songs Of Ted Hawkins  (Eight 30, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Alt Berliner Blues"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
^ Joan Shelly, "Brighter Than the Blues"  Over and Even  (No Quarter, 15)  D
^ Jeremy Pinnell, "The Way Country Sounds"  OH/KY  (Sofaburn, 15)  D
* Neko Case, "Mood To Burn Bridges"  Furnace Room Lullaby  (Bloodshot, 00)
* Deer Tick, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"  Bloodshot Six Pack To Go  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* JJ Grey & Mofro, "A Woman"  Country Ghetto  (Alligator, 07)
* Dexateens, "Broken Objects"  Sunsphere  (Cornelius Chapel, 13)
* Danny Barnes, "Big Girl Blues"  Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later)  (Eight 30, 15)  D
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Made In America"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)
^ Christopher Paul Stelling, "Horse"  Labor Against Waste  (Anti, 15)  D
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Mercury"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)

Friday, November 13, 2015

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

It's my contention that, no matter what line of work you're in, everybody has work nightmares.  Baristas have coffee nightmares.  Construction workers have construction nightmares.  I have DJ night terrors.  I toss and turn at the mercy of fantasies of dead air, malfunctioning equipment, and the curious inability to stay awake while on the air.  This week's Episode featured one of those DJ nightmares come to life.  I prepare most of my broadcast on my laptop, which is magically connected to the airwaves via a little board with myriad knobs and slides.  This week, that board simply refused to function (hence, the distant whisper that was Deer Tick, punctuated by moments of feedback that was me grasping for random knobs).  I was able to rescue things by resorting to "Plan B", and fumbled along through what might've otherwise been a near horror show.  Perhaps next week I'll have a stroke on air ...

Otherwise, some fine stuff here.  Why haven't I played more of Ashley Monroe's record?  Some really good writing for a mainstream release.  Also hailing from the country mainstream is Eric Church's surprise album, featuring more worthy writing (and continuing to make me wonder what Church could do with a producer like Dave Cobb at the helm).  On the other end of the spectrum are our first glimpses into forthcoming gems from Mekons and Freakwater (that's right, Freakwater!).

Plus, we present an immediate candidate for record of the year in Joey Kneiser's new solo collection, The Wildness.  Kneiser has spent the majority of his career in service of the sadly under-the-radar band Glossary.  From Murfreesboro, TN, Glossary released seven records that expertly drew a line between Midwest rock and Southern soul.  Fact is, we've been starved for new stuff since 2011's masterful Long Live All Of Us.  Kneiser's newly released songs tip the musical balance in favor of the rock side of the equation, though in all honesty The Wildness might've been issued as a band project and nobody would've noticed otherwise.

The collection launches with the Petty-esque blast of "Run Like Hell":  The only truth we've ever known / Lives on the records that we stole / Finds its way to you / On the nights you feel alone.  Fellow Glossary member Kelly Kneiser (also Joey's former spouse) contributes backing vocals that add an air of gospel to the number.  The title cut continues the anthem to the healing powers of good records:  All the lonely boys / Sing the songs the lonely girls write / And all the lonely girls / Want a lonely boy to spend the night.  Reckless guitar rings above these songs with indelible hooks.  The deep soul is inescapable on pieces like "To My Younger Self" or "Analog Rain".  Full band rockers share the space with more intense, acoustic songs.

The Wildness rocks as well as it drips with soul, a record that beats with a romantic heart and bows to the altar of rock 'n roll.  Joey Kneiser stamps his card as a lyrical laureate with lines that found me reaching for rewind and fully expecting a healing experience:  Go find what you love / And let it heal you boy.  

* Deer Tick, "Long Time"  War Elephant  (Partison, 07)
* Yawpers, "Beale Street"  American Man  (Bloodshot, 15) C
* David Wax Museum, "Singing To Me"  Guesthouse  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Israel Nash, "Rag and Bone Man"  Silver Season  (Loose, 15)
* Alejandro Escovedo, "San Antonio Rain"  Big Station  (Fantasy, 12)
* Ashley Monroe, "If the Devil Don't Want Me"  The Blade  (Warner, 15)
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Break 19"  Squelch  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Dangerous Kind"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)
^ Joey Kneiser, "The Wildness"  The Wildness  (This Is American Music, 15)  D
* Shinyribs, "Donut Taco Palace"  Okra Candy  (Mustard Lid, 15)
* Freakwater, "Asp & the Albatross"  Scheherazade  (Bloodshot, 16)  D
* Southern Culture On the Skids, "Wish I Was In Love"  For Lovers Only  (Safe House, 92)
* Mekons w/Robbie Fulks, "Beaten & Broken"  Jura  (Bloodshot, 15)  D
* Scott H Biram, "When I Die"  Nothin' But Blood  (Bloodshot, 14)
* Lucinda Williams, "Lake Charles"  Car Wheels On a Gravel Road  (Island, 98)
* Drive-by Truckers, "Three Dimes Down (live)"  It's Great To Be Alive!  (ATO, 15)
* Son Volt, "Looking At the World Through a Windshield (live)"  Trace (20th Anniv. Edition)  (Rhino, 15)
* Hellbound Glory, "Bar Room Beauty"  Damaged Goods  (Rusty Knuckles, 11)
* Willy Tea Taylor, "Bull Riders & Songwriters"  Knuckleball Prime  (Blackwing, 15)
* Delines, "Gold Dreaming"  Scenic Sessions  (El Cortez, 15)
* Chris Stapleton, "Tennessee Whiskey"  Traveller  (Mercury, 15)
* Eric Church, "Knives Of New Orleans"  Mr. Misunderstood  (EMI, 15)  D
* Dan Baird & Homemade Sin, "Country Black"  Get Loud  (Dan Baird, 15)
* Blasters, "Jubilee Train"  Non Fiction  (Slash, 83)
* Simone Felice, "Radio Song (live)"  From the Violent Banks Of the Kaaterskill  (Mighty Hudson, 15)  D
* Alabama Shakes, "Joe (live)"  single  (ATO, 15)  D
* Mount Moriah, "Cardinal Cross"  How To Dance  (Merge, 16)  D
* Jeffrey Foucault, "Jesus Will Fix It For You"  Salt As Wolves  (Blueblade, 15)

Friday, November 06, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
October 31, 2015
Scott Foley


Not much, really.  Any month that ends with this sad excuse for a holiday can't be too impressive, even if it is the official Gateway To Fall.  But even the Large Orange Month brought us a dumb plastic pumpkin's worth of quality music.  It's music that sometimes features a sharp razor sunk deep into the grooves.  Or some such Halloween metaphor ...

Israel Nash first graced the digi-pages of this blog back when he was traveling as Israel Nash Gripka behind 2011's praiseworthy Barn Doors and Concrete Floors ("Drown" still echoes deep in the corners of my music soul).  The lonesome mountain man yowl of the newly Gripka-free Nash continues to echo through last year's Israel Nash's Rain Plans and his just released Israel Nash's Silver Season, though both are much more musically adventurous, with songs relaxing into the 6 minute mark.  Musically, Nash's full steam americana has borrowed some habits from Crazy Horse era Neil Young.  It's not the record you'll reach for during your next party, but it's providing a perfect soundtrack to these inaugural snow days of Fall.  

You won't find a wider ranging resume than Aaron Lee Tasjan's,  reaching from stints with Canadian roots rockers Alberta Cross to serving with a more recent cohort of the New York Dolls.  Praise has already been heaped aplenty for Tasjan's debut full length, In the Blazes (which sounds more like the songs of Todd Snider as channeled thru Rodney Crowell).  That still leaves a bunch of room for musical wanderings.  Tasjan's ode to bad  habits, "Trouble With Drinkin", hales from the days of 70s country rock, arriving in a generous cloud of weed smoke.  From its title to its anthemic singalong Memphis gospel chorus, "Made In America" brings us up to '85 and JC Mellencamp's iconic Scarecrow.  And "Lucinda's Room" embraces both Blaze Foley and admirer Lucinda Williams, a stunner that will doubtless land among my year end favorites.  

I've heard rumors of Willy Tea Taylor over the past year or so, heralding the arrival of something really good.  There were the pictures of a burly, bearded figure, not infrequently bedecked in denim overalls (fyi, I harbor great envy of folks who can wear overalls without bringing Junior Samples to mind).  Now that Knuckleball Prime has landed, we'll have to consider Willy Tea among the best that this singer-songwriter-rich year has to offer (see Isbell, Porter, Combs, Moreland, et al.).  Produced by Michael Witcher, the record features a tasteful accompaniment from contributors like Benmont Tench, Greg Leisz, Gabe Witcher, Andrew Combs, Sara Watkins and everyone else.  All this talent would mean less if Taylor's songs weren't so sweet, evocative of both classic folk and traditional country.  The title track rings strongly of John Prine, while songs like the beautiful "Bull Riders & Songwriters" or "You Found Me" might recall earlier Guy Clark.  In this late, late baseball season, a couple of the record's tunes should find their place in the deep but underappreciated tradition of odes to the game.  While I haven't had the pleasure, Willy Tea's songs probably work just fine performed by one guy with a six-string unaccompanied under the lights.  Fortunately, the arrangements on Knuckleball Prime never overwhelm the intimacy and purity of the tunes they serve. 

A behind-the-scenes confession:  I've been dealing with the flu of late (hence, the fact that this week's Episode offered a "bonus" rebroadcast ...).  The last couple nights, the soundtrack of my fever dreams was provided by theYawpers' "Deacon Brodie".  I'd wake up drenched in sweat with the frantic and profane anthem racing through what was left of my brain (along with the vague feeling that I needed to make a phone call).  Having been through this experience, it's my contention that this is the best way to enjoy American Man.  Followed closely by the dangerous combo of "drunk" and "angry".  That said, the sound and fury of the trio's songs shouldn't overpower Nate Cook's matured lyrical talents.  Alongside Nathaniel Rateliff, the Yawpers' nationwide debut on Bloodshot Records (all hail!) is the feel good Colorado breakout story of the year.

I've taken a confident stand behind Ryan Adams' reimagining of Taylor Swift's ubiquitous 1989 over the last several weeks.  It's high time I drop the air of apology and defense and just declare Adams' unexpected project as among the year's most satisfying, not to mention a new watermark in his career.  Of course, the music world's relationship to Adams over the years has been characterized by alternating high praise and only partially earned personal criticism.  His music with Whiskeytown established a standard for our kind of music that remains relevant and largely unsurpassed to this day.  His solo releases have ranged from the classic (Heartbreaker, of course, or Cold Roses) to the questionably successful products of a buzzing creativity set free in a musical sandbox (lots of stuff).  1989 might be Adams' first project to address both the masterful and the mischievous side of his musical genius.  As I've proven,  listeners might be fortunate to come to the album with more of a familiarity with Adams than with Taylor Swift, because 1989 has more in common with the former than the latter.

If my recovery goes as planned, I'll have a real live radio show again next Saturday with a lineup of stuff featuring new stuff from Peter Case, Simone Felice, Joey Kneiser, Alabama Shakes and gobs more.  If I'm still flu-ish, I'll probably just play more Yawpers ...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 24, 2015
Scott Foley

Something tells me that the Yawpers won't end well.  It's not just the handmade video for "Doing It Right", which features more splattered blood than your average high school Halloween haunted house.  And it's certainly a stroke of great fortune that the Colorado band's new record has been released with big fanfare by Bloodshot Records (which is where it belongs).  Nearly every song sounds like the preamble to a late night rumble. 

The Yawpers largely grew up on KRFC, the radio home for Routes & Branches.  Nate Cook and co. played numerous instudios, concerts and fundraising shows for the station since their 2011 debut EP.  Their 2012 Capon Crusade landed among my favorite albums for the year.  A bunch has happened over the past 3+ years, with the band touring hungrily and tightening up their roots-punk yowl just enough.  Their Bloodshot debut, American Man, is both a remarkable burst of blood fueled energy and the sound of an artist growing into their art.  At least a pint of the praise belongs to Colorado producer Johnny Hickman, who succeeds admirably in taking what can be a brash and crashing sonic mess and teasing out each of the elements for an unexpectedly clean and crisp product that sacrifices none of its fury in the process.

While the trio's reputation was rightly established on the merits of their storm of noise, American Man features a more diverse sound, from the cynical title cut's rootsy blues to the unexpectedly upbeat, acoustic ode to "Beale Street". "Burdens" builds on Jesse Parmet's soulfully picked acoustic blues, driving towards an angry driving stomp against a small town that "eats up your heart / and it spits away your dreams". "Faith and Good Judgment" allows for another moment of quiet introspection.  Granted, the collection never shies from their ratted roots.  The Yawpers' "Deacon Brodie" rolls through like a steamrolled take on your grandpa's traditional folk, run off the rails and through the depot walls.  

The true victory in American Man belongs to frontman Nate Cook.  Aside from his celebrated trachea-shredding vocals, Cook is developing a deceptively nimble touch as a workingman's lyricist.  Back to "Burdens":  "My journey will be endless / My voice will shake your bones / But at least I'll have a story / This world has never known".  Cook can stumble into the kind of self-awareness that is rare for a young tough.  In the midst of the sharp-edged shuffle, "Walter":  "I've never been pretty / I've never had charm / But I go to a place I get by. / If you take my hand friend I'll stay a child / If you don't I'm a full grown man".  Even as I praised the Yawpers' earlier work, I recognized that the band was a step or two away from self-sabotage.  True, punk isn't punk if it's pretty.  Danger and unease are an essential part of the equation in a band like Cook's.  I'm cautiously encouraged by American Man, however, and we should be eager to follow the trio's story as they cope with the bright lights of relative success - ie, landing near the top of the Routes & Branches year-end favorites list ...  

Also in this Episode,  more than your share of Colorado stuff.  We continue our excavation of a couple fine singer-songwriter records from Aaron Lee Tasjan and Willy Tea Taylor.  We get our clammy hands on the new and unexpected Delines disc.  And we enjoy a longago demo from Son Volt's iconic watermark. 

* Phil Cook, "Belong"  Southland Mission  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Staves, "Tongue Behind My Teeth"  Dead & Born & Grown  (Warner, 12)
* James McMurtry, "Big Things"  Cold & Bitter Tears: Songs Of Ted Hawkins  (Eight 30, 15)
* Von Stomper, "Bow Legged Woman"  Americado  (Von Stomper, 15)  C
* Futurebirds, "twentyseven"  Hotel Parties  (Easy Sound, 15)
* Tin Horn Prayer, "Stumble"  Grapple the Rails  (Paper + Plastik, 12)  C
* Mount Moriah, "Calvander"  single  (Merge, 15)
* Israel Nash, "LA Lately"  Silver Season  (Loose, 15)
* Stoney Spring, "Soul Song For Deaf Boy"  Don't Let Me Die At Coco's  (Anthony Lacques, 15)  D
^ Yawpers, "American Man"  American Man  (Bloodshot, 15)  C
* Legendary Shack Shakers, "One That Got Away"  Southern Surreal  (Alt.Tentacles, 15)
* Hailey Whitters, "One More Hell"  Black Sheep  (Carnival, 15)
* Ryan Adams, "I Know Places"  1989  (PaxAm, 15)
* Bottle Rockets, "Something Good"  South Broadway Athletic Club  (Bloodshot, 15)
* Drive-by Truckers, "Women Without Whiskey (live)"  It's Great To Be Alive  (ATO, 15)
* Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "I've Been Failing"  Night Sweats  (Stax, 15)  C
* Noah Gundersen, "Jealous Love"  Carry the Ghost  (Dualtone, 15)
* Patty Griffin, "Snake Charmer"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Son Volt, "Windfall (demo)"  Trace: 20th Anniversary Edition  (Rhino, 15)  D
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Lucinda's Room"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)
* Todd Snider, "Waco Moon"  New Connection  (Oh Boy, 02)
* Donnie Fritts, "Lay It Down"  Oh My Goodness  (Single Lock, 15)
* Edward David Anderson, "Jimmy & Bob & Jack"  Lower Alabama: the Loxley Sessions  (Royal Potato Family, 15)  D
* Delines, "Sunshine"  Scenic Sessions  (El Cortez, 15)
* Willy Tea Taylor, "Knuckleball Prime"  Knuckleball Prime  (Blackwing, 15)
* Will Johnson, "Multnomah"  Swan City Vampires  (Undertow, 15)
* Whitney Rose, "Devil Borrowed My Boots"  Heartbreaker Of the Year  (Cameron House, 15)
* Elvis Costello, "Lovable"  King Of America  (Ryko, 86)
* Turnpike Troubadours, "Long Drive Home"  Turnpike Troubadours  (Bossier City, 15)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 17, 2015
Scott Foley

Vic Chesnutt gave it all he had, then left it behind on Christmas Day 2009.  Once you're done fiddling around on this site, go look for Chesnutt's performance videos.  Even solo, curled around his acoustic guitar attached with a string around his sloped shoulders, he seemed to invest every last bit of emotion and energy he could summon from his tired and broken body.  Fronting an electric band of trusted collaborators, Chesnutt could howl.  His songs were crowded with words as though he were singing from a book.  He spat syllables and drew out the long vowels with his head turned to the empty sky.  Throwing Muses' Kristen Hersch writes intimately of her time on the road with the acerbic songwriter in Don't Suck Don't Die:Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.  I don't necessarily have heroes, but there is a space reserved in my pantheon of late music types for Vic Chesnutt, alongside other tragic and torn figures like Elliott Smith and Jason Molina.  Anyone looking for an entryway into his music might want to try his 1995 masterpiece Is the Actor Happy

I don't know that I've ever listened to a Taylor Swift song from front to back.  I say this even as I acknowledge that my musical knowledge far outreaches my personal taste, but a guy's only got so much time.  With that in mind, I'll also acknowledge that I've read some scathing reviews of Ryan Adams' fullscale reimagining of Swift's worldwide mega-hit 1989, most of which focus on the rickety argument that Ryan is to be mocked for taking seriously an artist of Taylor's prominence.  I'll lay whatever reputation I might have on the line by saying that if nobody told me these were initially Swift's songs I might say 1989 is Adams' strongest record at least since his days with the Cardinals.  Moreover, the collection is not entirely out of line with his most recent output, his excellent self titled record from last year and the previous year's underappreciated Ashes & Fire, both of which committed fully to the standard pop/rock formula with a distant whiff of the roots sound Adams dismisses so readily from  his earlier recordings.  What at first might've seemed a lark actually comes across as 100% serious, with carefully considered arrangements and the occasional lyrical tweak that make sense coming from Adams.  1989 also features his most accomplished vocals to date, especially on ballads such as "This Love".  These might come across as pop songs when delivered by Swift, but folks forget most of her earlier country stuff was built on a strong bed of pop.  With his arrangements and delivery of songs like "Wildest Dreams" and "Out Of the Woods", Adams also reminds us of the roots rock potential and the pure songcraft inherent in the songs.  "Welcome To New York" pulls it all together, drawing a direct line from the time Adams was Swift's age and chose a deliberate detour from country and americana with his Gold record, which launched with his own ode to the Big Apple, "New York New York".  I'd hazard a guess that his next original release will benefit from his musical dialog with Swift, finding him reinvested in the pure genius songcraft that's lay at the heart of every Ryan Adams album. 

I've been a fan of Ryan Adams since Routes & Branches: The Early Days, recognizing the man as an authentic (and genuinely flawed) representative of what I do here.  I feel the same about Vic Chesnutt, though he was obviously a different musical beast that Adams.  The epitome of an insider and the lifelong outsider, both of which have earned respect, as well as an open invitation to the R&B playlist (Taylor Swift, maybe not so much). 

* Lambchop, "I Believe In You"  Oh (Ohio)  (Merge, 08)
* Patty Griffin, "Shine a Different Way"  Servant Of Love  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Israel Nash, "Willow"  Silver Season  (Loose, 15)  D
* David Wax Museum, "Every Time Katie"  Guesthouse  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Phil Lee, "Ain't No Love"  Some Gotta Lose  (Palookaville, 15)
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Made In America"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)
* Brent Best, "Robert Cole"  Your Dog Champ  (Last Chance, 15)
* Pollies, "Paperback Books"  Not Here  (Single Lock, 15)
* Blitzen Trapper, "Cadillac Road"  All Across This Land  (Vagrant, 15)
* Los Colognes, "Backseat Driver"  Dos  (Los Colognes, 15)
* Corb Lund, "Washed Up Rock Star Factory Blues"  Things That Can't Be Undone  (New West, 15)
* Lindi Ortega, "Ashes"  Faded Gloryville  (Last Gang, 15)
* Honey Honey, "Bad People"  3  (Rounder, 15)
* David Ramirez, "Communion"  Fables  (Sweetworld, 15)
^ Ryan Adams, "Welcome To New York"  1989  (PaxAm, 15)
^ Vic Chesnutt, "Wrong Piano"  Is the Actor Happy  (Texas Hotel, 95)
* Brute, "Westport Ferry"  Nine High a Pallett  (Widespread Panic, 95)
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Holic Relic Sale"  Squelch  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Willy Tea Taylor, "Bull Riders & Songwriters"  Knuckleball Prime  (Blackwing, 15)  D
* Joe Ely, "Here's To the Weary"  Panhandle Rambler  (Rack 'Em, 15)
* Black Lillies, "That's the Way It Goes Down"  Hard To Please  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Jeffrey Foucault, "Slow Talker"  Salt As Wolves  (Blueblade, 15)
* Kevin Gordon, "All In the Mystery"  Lone Gone Time  (Kevin Gordon, 15)
* Ryan Bingham, "Endless Way"  Roadhouse Sun  (Lost Hwy, 09)
* Jason & the Scorchers, "American Legion Party"  A Blazing Grace  (Mammoth, 95)
* Alone at 3am, "I'm Dying"  Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

a home for the americana diaspora
October 10, 2015
Scott Foley

There's one note
If you can play it
There's one word
If you can say it
There's one prayer
If you can pray it
Each one
Is the same
 That's Jeffrey Foucault on "Slow Talker", from his new record, Salt As Wolves.  Guitarist Bo Ramsey contributes a seething stream-of-consciousness blues groove, while former Morphine drummer and loyal sideman Billy Conway punctuates with a stuttering rhythm.  Elsewhere on Foucault's new studio record, you'll find fellow singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty adding backing vocals (see their take on Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Jesus Will Fix It For You" for some of the darkest gospel blues you're bound to hear).  That's it, though, aside from Jeremy Moses Curtis' bass. It's what one review termed Foucault's "minimalist americana" - a sound shot through with space, holy ghost haunted and live to tape.  Here's "Des Moines":  
And we watched the house
Filling up with no one
But God was listening
He cupped his ear
While Foucault's initial recordings were embraced by the contemporary folk crowd, he's always overflowed that basket with moments that owe more to blues or to country or even gospel.  His album length ode to John Prine, Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes, was a telling tribute to another artist who charted his own course.  2006's Ghost Repeater remains a personal touchpoint for me, quiet music that runs deceptively deep.  The artist himself has reported that Salt As Wolves is his stab at a blues inflected record.  If that's the case, Ramsey serves as an essential foil for Foucault, dragging out his dirtier, muddier tendencies.  Jeffrey Foucault does pretty, too, especially as he plays off Canty's contributions on tracks like the sweet "I Love You (And You Are a Fool)" or the sublime "Hurricane Lamp".  Her transcendent moment happens, however, with the Stones-y "Left This Town", where she evokes the gospel wails of "Gimme Shelter".  Salt As Wolves is a CD that gives credence to the idea that "quiet is the new loud", with the spirit of Foucault's new songs ringing long after the record draws to a close.

* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Comal County Blue (live)"  High In the Rockies  (Apex, 10)
* Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "Heartland Bypass"  Squelch  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Wood Brothers, "River Of Sin"  Paradise  (Thirty Tigers, 15)
* Leon Bridge, "Shine"  Coming Home (Columbia, 15)
* Shawn Amos, "Brand New Man"  Rev Shawn Amos Loves You  (Put Together, 15)  D
* Jim Lauderdale, "Worth the Wait"  Soul Searching  (Sky Crunch, 15)
* Colin Linden, "Knob and Tube"  Rich In Love  (Stony Plain, 15)
* White Buffalo, "Come On Love Come On In"  Love and the Death Of Damnation  (Unison, 15)
* Phil Lee, "Wake Up Crying"  Some Gotta Lose  (Phil Lee, 15)  D
* Dave Rawlings Machine, "Short Haired Woman Blues"  Nashville Obsolete  (Acony, 15)
* Infamous Stringdusters, "American Girl"  Undercover  (Lumberhouse, 15)  D
* Hailey Whitters, "Long Come To Jesus"  Black Sheep  (Carnival, 15)  D
* Joey Cape, "Gone Baby Gone"  Stitch Puppy  (Fat Wreck Chords, 15)
* Damnations, "Bring It On Home Daddy"  Cold and Bitter Tears: Songs Of Ted Hawkins  (Eight 30, 15)
* Noah Gundersen, "Slow Dancer"  Carry the Ghost  (Dualtone, 15)
* Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Lucinda's Room"  In the Blazes  (First of 3, 15)  D
^ Jeffrey Foucault, "Des Moines"  Salt As Wolves  (Blueblade, 15)  D
* Elvis Costello, "April 4th (w/Rosanne Cash & Kris Kristofferson)"  Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album  (Universal, 15) D
* Ryan Adams, "Wildest Dreams"  1989  (PaxAm, 15)
* Alone At 3am, "Late 90s"  Show the Blood  (Sofaburn, 15)
* Supersuckers, "High and Outside"  Holdin' the Bag  (Acetate, 15)
* Sons Of Bill, "Unknown Legend (live)"  Love & Logic (Deluxe)  (Gray Fox, 15)
* Drive-by Truckers, "Runaway Train (live)"  It's Great To Be Alive!  (ATO, 15)
* Lucero, "I Woke Up In New Orleans"  All a Man Should Do  (ATO, 15)
* Richmond Fontaine, "Capsized"  Thirteen Cities  (El Cortez, 07)
* Von Stomper, "New Orleans"  Americado  (Von Stomper, 15)  C