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Friday, February 17, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 11, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

My younger son engages me with a game now and then, where he'll play a snippet from a song and it's my job to Name That Tune.  Anything from the 60s thru the early aughts - hardly a problem as long as forgetfulness and wandering attention stay at bay.  A lot of stuff from the past decade, however, poses a problem for me.  I'll often recognize the song pretty quickly, but it's harder for me to retrieve the artist from my mental musical database.  Have I finally arrived at that regrettable place in my life when "You kids! All your music sounds the same!"?  As a man who identifies as an equal opportunity musical elitist, I'd like to think I can scroll through the iTunes Top Songs and find at least some artistic sanctuary.  Chainsmokers?  Alessia Cara?  Rae Sremmurd?  Have I become irrelevant?  Have I lost my beloved edge?  Or does music suck more than it used to?

Of course, I have no challenge finding New Music That Matters, even on a weekly basis.  This Episode, we embrace stuff from the admirably talented Gurf Morlix, and we even allow for some Alison Krauss (which is sorta unusual).  I spent a good amount of the week cruising around the 61 tracks that make up Amazon's new Love Me / Love Me Not playlists, including some good offerings from Amanda Shires, Blank Range, Doug Paisley, Okkervil River and more - not to mention the couple things I drop in this week's playlist.

In the video that introduces the making of Romantica's first record in nearly a decade, frontman Ben Kyle is instructing the others of a certain sound for which he's reaching.  In a warm wooden barn, Kyle asks for space, for room to let the emotions work their magic.  Indeed, there's plenty of quiet on Shadowlands, a good deal of magic too.

Turns out a couple of Shadowlands' songs were present the last time the group assembled in an effort to produce an album.  This was about 8 years ago, before Romantica was sidelined for personal and professional reasons.  Over the ensuing years, the band's lineup has evolved, families have grown, and Ben Kyle has apparently been through a personal crucible while producing a solo record and an EP with Carrie Rodriguez.  There's a palpable melancholy to many of these songs.

Originally from Ireland, Kyle is the keystone and the visionary behind Romantica.  On songs like "Harder To Hear" he is a deeply feeling artist who brings a real sense of the soul of folk often heard in the music of his homeland.  His smooth and expressive delivery can draw you nearer to the song, sometimes like John Ritter or like Rhett Miller on the more upbeat numbers.  "Harder To Hear" begins barely above a whisper, with that voice supported by nothing more than the shimmer of caressed strings.  Kyle addresses our age of noise and distraction, how we can lose track of our own voice in the clutter of culture and commentary:  "It's getting harder to hear from god these days / There's so much religion in the way."

Raising the tempo just a bit, "St. Paul City Lights" paints a loving portrait of the band's adopted hometown.  Originally recorded for that solo collection, the piece comes across as more ethereal and fleeting here.  Like the lovely "Blue Heart", it's a mature strain of as processed through a lifetime of experience.  For more upbeat appeal, "Cecil Ingram Conor" is a heartfelt reflection on the short but bright life of Gram Parsons.  "Cecil" is a standout here, driven by abandon, almost to the point of floating away on a gospel spirit with joyful barrelhouse piano and pure twang pedal steel.  "Oh lord / My lord / No angel had a voice could ring like that!"  Likewise, "Lonely Star" evokes mid-period Old 97s.  The catchy roadsong is Shadowlands' most easily caught fish.

Most promotional material from artists, labels and promoters arrives with suggested cuts for play.  I tend to ignore these and to trust my own ear.  Only after listening will I peek to see how one man's ear deviates from or buys into the party line.  My early passes through Shadowlands found me gravitating towards the more immediately accessible tracks.  Having lived with the record for a couple weeks now, the beauty and significance of the quieter, deeper songs has become more evident.  "Let the Light Go Through You" is the unlikely heart of the album, telling of Ben Kyle's disillusioning experience with a spiritual community in the Netherlands.  Strains of pedal steel flash like bright light shot through stained glass:  "Singin' hallelujah / Let the light go through you / Let the sunlight shine through the shadows in our minds / Til we're true."  Kyle calls it the space "where my spirit meets my bones."  The heart of Romantica's new collection dwells in this silence and shimmer.  The quiet.

- Split Lip Rayfield, "This World" On My Way  (Gottstine, 17)
- Bap Kennedy, "Reckless Heart" Reckless Heart  (Last Chance, 17)
- Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough, "Broken Fences" Mockingbird Soul  (BDM, 17)
- Mavericks, "Brand New Day" Brand New Day  (Mono Mundo, 17)  D
- Southeast Engine, "Cold Front Blues" Canary  (Misra, 11)
- William Matheny, "Blood Moon Singer" Strange Constellations  (Misra, 17)
- Ben Nichols, "Stormy Eyed Valentine" Love Me / Love Me Not  (Amazon, 17)  D
- Austin Lucas, "Dead Factories" Common Cold  (Magic Bullet, 08)
- Hip Hatchet, "Great Divide" Hellhound in the House  (HH, 17)
- John Craigie, "Bucket List Grandmas" No Rain No Rose  (Craigie, 17)
- Nikki Lane, "Companion" Highway Queen  (New West, 17)
- JD McPherson, "A Little Respect" Love Me / Love Me Not  (Amazon, 17)
^ Romantica, "Lonely Star" Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 17)
- Sadies, "There Are No Words" Northern Passages  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Dead Man Winter, "Destroyer" Furnace  (GNDWire, 17)
- Albert Lee, "Country in Harlem" Black Claw & Country Fever  (LINE, 91)
- Natalie Hemby, "Cairo, IL" Puxico  (GetWrucke, 17)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Mary Rose" Resurrection  (GasPops, 17)  C
- Otis Gibbs, "Great American Roadside" Mount Renraw  (Wanamaker, 17)
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "I Send My Love To You" Sings Greatest Palace Music  (Drag City, 04)
- Son Volt, "Sinking Down" Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 17)
- Alison Krauss, "I Never Cared For You" Windy City  (Rounder, 17)  D
- Gurf Morlix, "Love Remains Unbroken" Soul & the Heal  (Gurf, 17)  D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Black Eyed Quebecois" Best of OCMS  (Nettwerk, 17)
- Pieta Brown, "Street Tracker" Postcards  (Lustre, 17)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Furniture Man" What in the Natural World  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Andrew Combs, "Dirty Rain" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)
- Scott H Biram, "Righteous Ways" Bad Testament  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Kieran Kane & Kevin Welch, "Till I'm Too Old To Die Young" You Can't Save Everybody  (Dead Reckoning, 04)
- Caroline Spence, "Southern Accident" Spades & Roses  (Spence, 17)  D
- Nathan Bowles, "Moonshine is the Sunshine" Whole & Cloven  (Paradise of Bachelors, 16)

'N now,
yer ROUTES-cast!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
February 8, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Was a time I'd say that I prefer my roots music cut with a dose of rock.  Nowadays, I seem to be correcting for that indiscretion.  In other words, I'll take a tall glass of rock with a touch of roots, please.  Thinking Centro-Matic, Roadside Graves, American Aquarium, Glossary, Southeast Engine.  William Matheny has served as a keyboard and utility guy with the latter, Southeast Engine from The Other Athens (Ohio), a band that also gave us Adam Remnant and Adam Torres. Turns out Matheny's the high card in that suit, as demonstrated on his unexpectedly full full-length, Strange Constellations.  I say unexpected, because who would imagine the keyboard guy would reveal such a wickedly evolved sense of a lyric?

Think a rootsier Craig Finn, or maybe even a Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello hybrid, with a bit of a country pedigree.  Constellations finds Matheny perched precariously on the ridge rise between youth and adulthood, taking a long look over his shoulder and speaking from a tentative maturity.  He says of the agit punk rave "29 Candles", "It took three decades to write, but it only takes three minutes to hear".  The same could be said of the record as a whole, packed with perfectly paced blasts of smart, middle-of-the-plate rock 'n roll.

Wisdom comes with age (I'm not the first to say that), and it seems that there are few really good songs focusing on what wise choices we made in our youth.  Matheny indulges in this perennial regret on songs like "Teenage Bones".  Piano pairs with chimey guitar as he sings, "I used to walk to your house in the summertime / Let the car wash spray get me wet / Leave my shoes by the door / And sit all day on your floor / And say things I'd one day regret".

Strange Constellations also acknowledges the rickety ladder of experience we cling to on our climb to adulthood.  "God's Left Hand" features some of the record's most rewarding Southern rock guitar, along with a touch of high shelf keyboarding.  Matheny recognizes the balance between focusing on the immediate work at hand while wanting to keep track of our bigger picture goals.  "This ribbon I'm threading / Is never gonna turn to gold"  he sings.  And elsewhere, "I was crawling through the seconds / While I was racing through the years".

No need to worry that the record is just another self indulgent "look how far I've come" sesssion.  Turns out William Matheny has a bit of a pedigree, hailing from a family that boasts a longtime romance with the music industry.  This is addressed on one of the tunes that shines a light on a different side of the singer, "My Grandfather Knew Stoney Cooper".  Closer to pure country than most of the alt. pieces on the record, the song paints a loving portrait of Matheny's forebear:  "He hung up his belt on the bedpost / And laid his badge down in the bottom drawer / Then his dead left hand made him break up the band / And drag his cane across the floor".  A similar deft country hand is played on songs like "Funny Papers".

The heart of Strange Constellations lies with songs like the hard hitting "Blood Moon Singer", or the masterful "Living Half to Death".  Hammered drums propel the latter tune, defined by those Craig Finn-y lyrics focusing on youthful indiscretion:  "I used to go out to parties / Stand in the kitchen and stuff / Man I could talk until the morning / But I'd never say very much / I used to rave about insight / But I should've kept it to myself / Cause I understood nothing / When I was living half to death".

Also on this Episode, we enjoy a look at the evolution of Andrew Combs.  Hip Hatchet raves against recent political developments, and Romantica returns with some words about Mr Gram Parsons.  Below the playlist, you'll want to give a spin to this week's ROUTES-cast, replete with regular interruptions and The Sounds of My Basement.  Please enjoy with your loved ones.

- Calexico w/Iron & Wine, "Prison on Route 41" He Lays in the Reins  (Overcoat, 05)
- Tift Merritt, "Eastern Light (feat. Sam Beam)" Stitch of the World  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Why I Left Atlanta" Jason Eady  (Eady, 17)
- Cory Branan, "Imogene" Adios  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Split Lip Rayfield, "Drunk and Sad" On My Way  (Gottstine, 17)
- Townes Van Zandt & Doug Sahm, "Two Girls" Texas Rain  (TVZ, 01)
- Andrew Combs, "Dirty Rain" Canyons of My Mind  (New West, 17)  D
- Ags Connolly, "Haunts Like This" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
- James Hand, "In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox" Truth Will Set You Free  (Rounder, 06)
- Shinyribs, "Ambulance" I Got Your Medicine  (Mustard Lid, 17)
- Alabama Shakes, "Be Mine" Boys & Girls  (ATO, 12)
- Hip Hatchet, "Hellhound in the House" Hellhound in the House  (HH, 17)  D
^ William Matheny, "(I Pray) You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone" Strange Constellations  (Misra, 17)  D
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Bitter and Low (w/Fantastic Negrito)" Kings & Kings  (File Under: Music, 17)
- Old 97s, "All Who Wander" Graveyard Whistling  (ATO, 17)
- JP Harris & Kelsey Waldon, "If I Were a Carpenter" Why Don't We Duet In the Road  (Demolition & Removal, 17)
- Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band, "We Deserve a Happy Ending" Front Porch Sessions  (Family Owned, 17)  D
- Perry Brown, "Patchwork" Become My Blood  (This is American Music, 17)
- Valerie June, "Two Hearts" Order of Time  (Concord, 17)
- Cowboy Junkies, "Horse in the Country" Black Eyed Man  (BMG, 92)
- John Craigie, "Broken" No Rain No Rose  (Craigie, 17)
- Band of Heathens, "Road Dust Wheels" Duende  (BoH, 17)
- Casey James Prestwood, "Beer Tear Saturday Night" Born Too Soon  (CJP, 17)  C
- Romantica, "Cecil Ingram Conor" Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 17)  D
- Joe Purdy, "Maybe We'll All Get Along Someday" Who Will Be Next  (Mudtown Crier, 16)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sharp Cutting Wings" Happy Woman Blues  (Smithsonian, 80)
- Michael Chapman, "A Spanish Incident (Ramon &  Durango)" 50  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Bash + Pop, "Anything Could Happen" Anything Could Happen  (Fat Possum, 17)
- Angelica Garcia, "Orange Flower" Medicine for Birds  (Warner, 16)

Friday, February 03, 2017

they're short because so's my attention span
Scott Foley, Routes & Branches

What a rush and a gut kick to have a new record from this Kansas trio, their first in about 8 years, and only their second without founding force Kirk Rundstrom.  I tripped across Split Lip Rayfield's lime green beauty unexpectedly whilst traipsing thru Bandcamp.  While I've been a fan of SLR since way back, let's admit that it's been awhile.  As founding fathers of the roots punk thing, who could blame them for losing a step to age?

Well, good news:  Not only have Wayne Gottstine, Jeff Eaton and Eric Mardis kept their edge honed, they've even seen fit to push out in some new musical directions for On My Way.  Sure, you've still got the firey fingers banjo and the legendary gas tank one string bass upon which the group built their reputation (see "All Alone" or "Used To Know Your Wife" for this fix).  But listen to the sinister minor key haunt of "Start the Fire", where a near-metal vocal almost makes you forget that all the noise is being generated by three guys with acoustic instruments.  And you'd be forgiven for expecting another raver from "All Fucked Up", which turns out to be a downcast, tuneful moment of introspection and self-doubt:  I'll just lay down right here in the yard / Like an old piece of trash, it's time to mow the grass / The wind makes me cold. / Would you help a broken fool who's lost in the rain.  And like most of the collection, the song is instrumentally remarkable.

Another sweet moment comes from "This World", riding a rubberband riff from that unexpectedly expressive bass.  This world ain't nothin' but a place for you and me to laugh and sing.  Even more soulful is "Drunk and Sad", which features the trio's deceptively tight harmonies on a heartfelt plea for moderation.

Of course, longtime listeners will cherish SLR's more freewheeling moments like "That's My Girl".  A loose and loping romp with a bluegrass bite and your fair share of banjo.  If bass is more your thing, dip into "I Don't Need a Gun", another acoustic metal go-for-broke moment.  With some of the record's most rewarding instrumental work, the song reminds us that Gottstine, Eaton and Mardis aren't simply on a state fair victory lap.  We're dealing with deserving trailblazers.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
January 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

What is the sound of one man flailing?  Might sound about like your third ROUTES-cast, awaiting below.  While my first mic break was sorta recorded in mono (dunno why), I think the rest came across well.  Oh, and the second break seems to have been recorded from within a desk drawer.  Just consider it a "retro" moment, harkening back to the early days of radio ... We were able to corral new stuff from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Valerie June, and a really soulful offering from Shinyribs.  Great to hear a couple new things from Jason Eady.  And Chuck Prophet > everybody else, hands down.

Teetering on the precipitous brink of February, let's risk a quick glance back at the month past.  Aside from dragging our country to the dawn of dissolution, January really did feature a bunch of good stuff.  In the warm light of this coffeeshop, here's what I'm thinking for What's So Great About January?!!

  1. Chuck Prophet
  2. Ags Connolly
  3. Band of Heathens
  4. Split Lip Rayfield
  5. Dead Man Winter
My list features my favorite releases for the month, limited to anything I've had the privilege to hear front to back, inside out.  Because twelve months is a real long time, these opinions are subject to the fickle winds of change from season to season.  

It strikes me that too many retro country types look and sound like they're trying really hard to turn back the clock.  It can come across like a costume show, a dress-up party with a soundtrack that is a hollow estimation of the real thing.  Good thing we have folks like Ags Connolly on our side.  From England, Connolly is deeply studied in country music, but is also able to speak with authority about good songwriting.  He follows his lineage through writers like Dale Watson, Loudon Wainwright, Darrell Scott, James Hand and Ron Sexsmith, populating his 2014 debut with truly satisfying country music that nods to tradition while remaining relevant to contemporary ears.  That debut brought us excellent faire such as "When Country Was Proud" and the superb "I Saw James Hand".

The latter sort of functions as Ags Connolly's origin story, how it took a James Hand concert for him to realize what he was writing and singing was country music.  His second record is on the near horizon.  Nothin' Unexpected, with its characteristically dismissive title, finds the man growing a bit in confidence, stretching the boundaries of his sound.  "I Hope You're Unhappy" is the album's lynchpin, an indelible classic country song with a classic country "punchline".  I hope you're unhappy when you lay down at night / I hope that your new love doesn't work out at night / I hope that you're somewhere you'd rather not be, Connolly sings in the year's most appealing, most resonant baritone.  What begins as another kiss-off song, however, changes course with the refrain, I hope you're unhappy enough / To come back to me.  The deprecation, the teary beer, the perennially sad bastard demeanor; it's all a part of the songwriter's charm.

Songs like "Do You Realise That Now" add a South-of-the-border flair with accordion from the Mavericks' Michael Guerra.  The ballad also recalls storytellers like Tom Russell or Guy Clark, drawing a sturdy line to Western folk music and the cowboy tunes that have clearly influenced Ags Connolly.  While "I Suppose" is a song originally performed by Loudon Wainwright, Connolly ably applies a great country vocal phrasing that lends the song a new spirit.  But it's in the bars, the pubs and the watering holes where this genuine voice is most at home.  Like his debut's highlight, "Dim and Distant Past", "Neon Jail" and "Haunts Like This" are more engagingly upbeat.  As long as haunts like this exist / I think I'll survive.

Ags Connolly sounds as genuine and earnest as Charlie Rich or Marty Robbins, though close listeners will occasionally catch a quick glimpse of the singer's native tongue.  I've often argued that in the right hands country music can readily cross borders, and that americana music really doesn't belong to the Americans these days.  From Oxfordshire, Connolly has clearly done his homework and seems to take his craft to heart on Nothin' Unexpected.  It's a project whose talent and appeal run way deeper than pearl snap shirts and shallow Cracker Barrel trappings.  

- Chris Stalcup & the Grange, "Get You Off My Mind" Downhearted Fools  (Stalcup, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "Wish You Were Here" single  (Jinks, 17)  D
- Drive-by Truckers, "Heathens" Decoration Day  (New West, 03)
- Ryan Adams, "Do You Still Love Me" Prisoner  (PaxAm, 17)
- Perry Brown, "Stable Love" Become My Blood  (This is American Music, 17)
- Nikki Lane, "Companion" Highway Queen  (New West, 17)
- Mike Henderson & Bluebloods, "When I Get Drunk" First Blood  (Dead Reckoning, 96)
- Casey James Prestwood, "Blue Lonely & Wasted" Born Too Soon  (CJP, 17)  D, C
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Love is Free" Resurrection  (GasPops, 17)  C
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, "Bury My Heart (w/Eric Church)" Kings & Kings  (File Under: Music, 17)  D
- Split Lip Rayfield, "This World" On My Way  (Gottstine, 17)  D
- Natalie Hemby, "Great Restoration" Puxico  (GetWrucke, 17)  D
- Otis Gibbs, "Wide Awake" Mount Renraw  (Wanamaker, 17)
- Shinyribs, "Trouble Trouble" I Got Your Medicine  (Mustard Lid, 17)  D
- Whitney Rose, "My Boots" South Texas Suite  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Great American Taxi, "All the Angels" Dr Feelgood's Traveling Medicine Show  (GAT, 17)  C
- Chuck Prophet, "Jesus Was a Social Drinker" Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "38" Let It Slide  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Valerie June, "Shakedown" Order of Time  (Concord, 17)  D
- Los Lobos, "High Places" This Time  (Hollywood, 99)
- Marty Stuart, "Whole Lotta Highway" Way Out West  (Superlatone, 17)  D
- Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough, "Mockingbird Soul" Mockingbird Soul  (BDM, 17)
- Jason Eady & Courtney Patton, "Judgment Day" Something Together  (Mt Valley, 16)  D
- Jason Eady, "Why I Left Atlanta" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)  D
^Ags Connolly, "Neon Jail" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Blaze of Glory" Ameri-kinda  (State Fair, 16)
- Son Volt, "Static" Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 17)
- McDougall, "Battle Creek March" Our New Histories  (McDougall, 10)

Monday, January 23, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 22, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Hope everyone enjoyed our first stab at a webcast last week.  Our sophomore attempt awaits below.  It's just like I'm on the radio again, except there are creepy spiders everywhere.  And I need a space heater.  Great Big Gracias to all the labels, promoters and artists who have continued sending stuff my way since I fell off the radio dial.  As I mentioned last week, I'll have one webcast up at a time, deleting the previous as soon as a new one is available.

Fine new faire this Episode from everybody and their brother.  Pieta Brown... Cory Branan... Great American Taxi.  And if you're a vinyl fiend (not I ...) you'll not want to miss the opportunity to pick up some colored vinyl from New West Records' reissue of Vic Chesnutt's classic records.  My favorite colored vinyl is dark black.

I enjoy quoting myself.  Back in the early summer of 2014 I likened Fire Mountain's All Dies Down to Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac.  I praised the Alabama outfit's clean production, and paid special notice to the writin' 'n singin' of frontman Perry Brown.  Now, This is American Music has answered by granting the man his own solo record.  More of an acoustic collection, Become My Blood pares things back to focus on the songwriter's considerable gifts.  The label acknowleges:  Perry Brown is not a rock star.  He is a husband and a new dad, a friend, a day-jobber, a church-goer, a choir singer, a designer, a maker, a bandleader, a dog lover, a balladeer and a rock-and-roller ...  RIYL Joey Kneiser or BJ Barham's Rockingham, Become My Blood addresses matters of family and home, of fatherhood and good work.

"What's wrong with stable love?" Brown asks on the opener, not a sexy or a common sentiment in our kind of music that tends to view relationships under the flickering light of love gone wrong.  Later, he drops the wise line, "There's no romance in being alone".  Blood is a mature and clear-eyed reflection on domestic connection that recognizes not everything will be okay.  Songs like the country-leaning "Closer Than I Appear" take the long view on commitment.  Atop piano and strummed acoustic guitar, Brown admits that there will be times when he won't make it better, even while promising to be there during the hard times.  You're the one I'm thinking of / Even when I'm stuck between my ears / ... Always know I'm closer than I appear". 

We seek out "romance" in our music, but tend to understand it as a fleeting and superficial sentiment.  The title cut lays a patchwork blanket beneath the stars, tracing the threads that pull together our past and our time to come.  Unravel backwards / Years have formed a patchwork / Of reds and blues and greens / The yellows look as gold as gasoline.  The midtempo track rides on steady shuffling drums and chiming electric guitar, with Brown's warm vocal an effortless embrace.  "Too Tough" and "Pray For Me" offer a heavier, more clouded picture both musically and thematically.  Both might bring to mind some of Jason Isbell's darker, more introspective work.  The pair also feature some of the album's most engaging instrumental passages.

Back to "Stable Love", Become My Blood's opener.  Perry Brown sketches a musical picture of the humble glories of home.  His life as a recording and touring artist have paid the bills and hey, it's a living.  "Pushing 30", he reaffirms his commitment to upholding his side of the domestic bargain.  He's not careening recklessly along the interstate, swinging by the bars for a quick drink to dampen his demons.  Rather, Brown keeps to the backroads in his serviceable truck.  It's a sweet and sobering collection whose understated musical choices will sew you in with repeated listenings.  Responsibility has rarely seemed so cutting edge ...

* Angelica Garcia, "Red Moon Rising" Medicine for Birds  (Warner, 16)
* Jack Grelle, "Changes Never Made" Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down  (Big Muddy, 16)
* JP Harris & Kristina Murray, "Golden Ring" Why Don't We Duet In the Road  (Demolition & Removal, 17)
* Ags Connolly, "I Hope You're Unhappy Now" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
* Jason & the Scorchers, "I Really Don't Want To Know" Fervor/Lost & Found  (Capitol, 85)
* Gasoline Lollipops, "Mary Rose" Resurrection  (GasPops, 17)  C
* Heath Green & the Makeshifters, "Out To the City" Heath Green & the Makeshifters  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)  D
* Gourds, "When Wine Was Cheap" Dem's Good Beeble  (Munich, 97)
* Ryan Adams, "Doomsday" Prisoner  (PaxAm, 17)
* Pieta Brown, "Street Tracker" Postcards  (Lustre, 17)  D
* Dead Man Winter, "Destroyer" Furnace  (GNDWire, 17)
* Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Hungry Ghost" Navigator  (ATO, 17)
* Elvis Costello (w/Emmylou Harris), "Heart Shaped Bruise" Delivery Man  (UMG, 04)
* Rodney Crowell, "It Ain't Over Yet" Close Ties  (New West, 17)
* Jamestown Revival, "Done Me Wrong" Education of a Wandering Man  (Republic, 16)
* Sadies, "It's Easy (Like Walking) [feat.Kurt Vile]" Northern Passages  (Yep Roc, 17)
* JD McPherson, "Dimes for Nickels" Signs & Signifiers  (Rounder, 11)
* Scott H Biram, "Long Old Time" Bad Testimate  (Bloodshot, 17)
* Tift Merritt, "Proclamation Bones" Stitch of the World  (Yep Roc, 17)
* Otis Gibbs, "Blues for Diablo" Mount Renraw  (Wanamaker, 17)
* Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Have You Ever Seen Peaches" What in the Natural World  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)  D
* Lone Justice, "Don't Toss Us Away" Lone Justice  (UMG, 85)
* Cory Branan, "Imogene" Adios (Bloodshot, 17)  D
^ Perry Brown, "Patchwork" Become My Blood  (This is American Music, 17)  D
* Band of Heathens, "Last Minute Man" Duende  (BoH, 17)
* Great American Taxi, "All the Angels" Dr Feelgood's Traveling Medicine Show  (GAT, 17)  C, D
* Vic Chesnutt, "Soggy Tongues" West of Rome  (New West, 91)
* Whitney Rose, "Analog" South Texas Suite EP  (Six Shooter, 17)  D

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

a  home for the americana diaspora
January 18, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

This week alone found me suddenly in possession of full records by Band of Heathens, Chuck Prophet, Great American Taxi, Nikki Lane, Otis Gibbs, the Sadies, Son Volt, Tift Merritt and more.  It's a frustratingly generous influx for a reviewer who likes to give an album its due attention, and these are only the low hangers.  Perry Brown of Fire Mountain, Leif Vollebekk, Heath Green & the Makeshifters, Ags Connolly.  So who do I talk about first?

Well, let's travel back to the halcyon days of September 2016 and the release of Angelica Garcia's Medicine for Birds.  I saw almost no bloglove for this eclectic, original CD, but came across mention of the Virginia artist as a recent tour opener for Lydia Loveless.  Her site bows to the "holy trinity of Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Jack White", while I'd place her on the altar of Samantha Crain, Alynda Lee Segarra, Adia Victoria and, yes, Lydia Loveless.  But let's be honest that Angelica Garcia's music really sounds like little else:  Percussive, playful, aggressive, restless.  "My blood speaks Spanish to me" she coos on "Red Moon Rising", an homage to her native East LA and her Latin roots.  Beginning with a phone recording of her Salvadoran grandmother, it's a lovesong written from too far across the country, from a young woman coming of age to a temple on a cul-de-sac, where innocence and refuge meet.  The rhythms are swept along by a slight Latin undercurrent, Garcia's elastic voice swooping and diving in a vaguely Middle Eastern swoon.  Produced by Charlie Peacock, the songs on Medicine for Birds rarely follow a predictable verse-chorus-verse strategy.  "Woman I'm Hollerin'" launches as an atmospheric blues, then adds an urgent vocal, an addictive percussion and a rubberband bass for something that pairs tUnE-yArDs' playground rhythms with Kate Bush theatrics for a spellbinding romp.

You'll find Garcia's most straightforward, rootsy moment on the cottony "Call Me Later".  Strolling down the sidewalk with your blue shoe shine / How you went and took this little heart of mine.  "Loretta Lynn" slows the pulse ever further for a moving reflection on the frustrating unreliability of men.  It's the only song I recall that portrays the country legend as a girlfriend and confidante:  Among the sinners and the cigarettes -- / the kind of crowd you'd expect him in. / But we're not angry at all the men, no, / just the ones we got tangled with.

Medicine for Birds is the sound of a young woman exploring her own artistic expression and limitation.  Angelica Garcia reportedly wrote and set demos to tape in her parents' very rural, very out of the way house, and the lack of an obvious musical compass point shows in all the strongest ways.  The charming "Orange Flower" is a messy blues stomper boasting one of the less conventional vocals you'll find on recent records.  It's girlish, flirty, barbed and confident:  He gave me an orange flower / What ... what in the hell does that mean?  It's a high point of an unexpectedly accomplished record that's hopefully just begun to garner the buzz it deserves.


But let's talk about what's awaiting below.  It's our first effort at a webcast, like a radio show you can listen to whenever you like.  And there's cussin' in the songs, and maybe you can hear the water heater growl to life.  But it's a thing, and I'm very happy to have created it for you.  My plan is to feature it for one week or so, then to replace it with a new Episode.  Everything that's played is done so with the expressed permission of the artists, labels and promoters.  The question remains:  Does it sound more like I'm broadcasting from within a tin can, or from a cardboard box?  O well, at least the music is top notch ...

* Green on Red, "Black River" Gas Food Lodging  (Restless, 85)
* Chuck Prophet, "Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins" Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins  (Yep Roc, 17)
* Minus 5, "Days of Wine & Booze" Down With Wilco  (Yep Roc, 03)
* Son Volt, "Cherokee St" Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, 17)
* Dead Man Winter, "Red Wing Blue Wing" Destroyer  (GNDWire, 17)
^ Angelica Garcia, "Orange Flower" Medicine for Birds  (Warner, 16)  D
* Lydia Loveless, "Out On Love" Real  (Bloodshot, 16)
* Adrian + Meredith, "Southern Call" More Than a Little  (A+M, 16)
* James Leg, "I'll Take It" Blood On the Keys  (Alive Naturalsound, 16)
* Mark Porkchop Holder, "Disappearing" Let It Slide  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
* Wilco, "Thanks I Get" Alpha Mike Foxtrot  (Nonesuch, 14)
* Sadies, "God Bless the Infidels" Northern Passages  (Yep Roc, 17)
* Tift Merritt, "Proclamation Bones" Stitch of the World  (Yep Roc, 17)
* John Moreland, "Holy Ghost Haunted" Everything the Hard Way  (Moreland, 11)
* Nikki Lane, "Muddy Waters" Highway Queen  (New West, 17)
* Michael Chapman, "That Time of Night" 50  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
* Milk Carton Kids, "Heaven" Ash & Clay  (Anti, 13)
* Otis Gibbs, "Great American Roadside" Mount Renraw  (Wanamaker, 17)  D
* JP Harris w/Kelsey Waldon, "If I Were a Carpenter" Let's Duet In the Road  (Demolition & Renewal, 17)  D
* Girls Guns & Glory, "Empty Bottles" Love & Protest  (GGG, 16)
* Billy Joe Shaver, "When the Word Was Thunderbird" I'm Just An Old Chunk of Coal  (Columbia, 81)
* Band of Heathens, "Keys to the Kingdom" Duende  (BoH, 17)
* Iron & Wine, "Southern Anthem" Creek Drank the Cradle  (Sub Pop, 02)
* Cody Jinks, "Heavy Load" I'm Not the Devil  (Jinks, 16)
* Bonnie Whitmore, "Cinderella" Fuck With Sad Girls  (Starlet&Dog, 16)
* Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough, "Broken Fences" Mockingbird Soul  (BDM, 17)  D
* Jaime Wyatt, "Marijuana Man" single  (Wyatt, 14)
* Old Crow Medicine Show, "Alabama Hightest" Best of OCMS  (Nettwerk, 17)  D
* Ags Connolly, "I Hope You're Unhappy" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)  D

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My practice of only reviewing one record per week won't work anymore.  I comment frequently on how much good music is out there to be discovered.  After about an hour on bandcamp this morning, I'd also say that the converse is true - holy god, there's a glut of pretty sad music out there, too.  No wonder folks just turn to their old favorites rather than pick thru the rubble.  But I'd be overlooking too much worthy music if I didn't at least try to shoehorn a "bonus" review in now and then.  Hence ...

they're short because so's my attention span
Scott Foley, Routes & Branches

Over the span of two very good records, 2012's I'll Keep Calling and 2014's Home Is Where the Hurt Is, JP Harris has boldly worn his musical heart on his plaid sleeve.  While Harris capably pens his own songs, on his new EP, Why Don't We Duet In the Road, he pairs with a cabful of pretty and pretty talented lady singers to cover 4 country perennials.  Reportedly inspired by star-stuffed projects a'la Will the Circle, Harris' new project was stamped onto 500 slabs of hand-numbered seven-inch vinyl.  Fortunately for non-collectors like me, it was also released to good old fashioned mp3 ...  The songs are familiar ones, paying tribute to classic country duets like Conway & Loretta, George & Tammy and Johnny & June.  The playful "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly" pairs Harris with Nikki Lane.  Former Sixpence None the Rich-er Leigh Nash joins him for another bluesy shot of attitude in "Better Move It", replete with countrypolitan horns.  Onetime Denver fixture Kristina Murray contributes a perfect vocal to George Jones' sweet "Golden Ring".  My favorite of the batch is a Nashvilled up take on Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter", with both Harris' and Kelsey Waldon's deliveries proving to be nothing but genuine.  And that's what JP Harris does best.  These pieces are played close to the trad vest, apparently cobbled together during a hurried afternoon recording session.  With Harris at the helm, it all comes across as both a fitting tribute and a promissory note for his next record of originals.