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Thursday, July 20, 2017

photo by Richard Markham
the very best of americana, and roots music
July 17, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Back in 2013, John Murry's Graceless Age found a place near the top of my year-end favorites list.  I wrote:  "Murry sings in a slurred baritone that resonates somewhere between the junkie hymns of Alejandro Escovedo and the American mythology of Springsteen."  More than any other album on that year's list, Graceless Age continues to haunt me.  Nearly five years later, "Penny Nails" and "Little Colored Balloons" still transport me like they were new.  This is an exceptionally rare thing when it comes to my relationship with music.

There's a brief promo for an in-the-works documentary about Murry that shares the title of his new record, Short History of Decay.  In the trailer, the writer returns from "exile" in Ireland to his Mississippi home, to explore the family history that connects him to William Faulkner.  Even with crashing waves, sprawling landscapes and haunting cityscapes, there's nothing more mesmerizing in this footage than John Murry himself.

Thanks to producer and Cowboy Junkie Michael Timmins, Murry's broken, wired, ramshackle, glorious spirit shines through the songs of Decay.  Whereas Graceless Age seemed a carefully, deliberately arranged mosaic of song, sound and spirit, new tunes like "Under a Darker Moon" and "Wrong Man" are barely held together, conveying the same reckless passion that seems to drive Murry's live sets.  The guitars buzz and shriek, piano enters tentatively, and Caitlin O'Riordan's backing vocals come across as a ghostly afterthought.

"Under a Darker Moon" is the record's most standard rocker, offering a steadily skittering beat and bass to cling to, as well as a surefooted melody.  With in-your-face guitar and a lack of definite resolution, it'll never be mistaken for radio bait.  But its urban late night street sounds bring to mind figures like Mark Lanegan and even Lou Reed at his most tuneful.  All I do is fix what I did the day before.

"Come Five & Twenty" is a prettier number, spectral lyrics brightened by a burbling organ and O'Riordan's subtly charming vocal.  Life is a gift / I don't recall taking  / I wear it till it fades.  With its delicate acoustic and midtempo percussion, it brings to mind Richard Buckner.  Matter of fact, I'd argue that Buckner's classic Devotion + Doubt is an apt comparison.  Despite the fact that it's generally a lighter, less intense set, both records employ silence and space to masterful effect.

More commonly, Decay plods along at a pallbearer's pace.  "One Day (You'll Die)" is a drowsy reflection that morphs unexpectedly into the 1959 instrumental "Sleep Walk".  It's one of a couple moments of relative levity that Murry forces into the thick dark.  "Wrong Man" is a Nick Cave-esque folk ballad no more substantial than smoke, with piano given a slight echo treatment and the sound of fingers sliding across frets as loud as anything else in the mix.  I'm the wrong man to ride shotgun / On your murder mile.

The songs on Decay aren’t entirely different than those on Murry’s effort of 5 years ago.  There is talk of mortality and meaning, lyrics couched in religious imagery, perhaps a pervasive lack of hope or trust.  He remains a smart and literate writer, drawn towards the sort of grand statements more common in philosophy and literature (the record’s title is borrowed from a book by Romanian nihilist philosopher Emil Cioran).  The dividing line between the two CDs comes down to the producer’s choices.  Michael Timmins has left more of the grain, the texture in Murry’s music, resulting initially in a more challenging listening experience.  But with repeated trips through Short History of Decay, the gradual familiarity carves a path towards a deeper appreciation of John Murry’s tortured art, and for the jumbled, raw setting that ultimately compliments his overall vision.  On “One Day (You’ll Die)”:  I’ll remain nothing more than a misquote in history’s back pages.  Bleak as it is, the music trades in genuine emotion.  

This week's Episode also brings new stuff from the Southern rock outfit Blank Range, as well as something decidedly fantastical from Ian Felice.  Also, Howling Bells' Juanita Stein launches her solo career, and Alex Williams is 4 real.

- James Elkington, "Wading the Vapors" Wintres Woma  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
- Nick Lowe, "Lovers Jamboree" Pinker and Prouder Than Previous  (Yep Roc, 17)
- Danny & Champions of the World, "Waiting For the Wheels to Come Off" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)
- Steelism w/Andrew Combs & Jessie Baylin, "Lonely Game" Ism  (Intoxicating Sounds, 17)
- Mastersons, "Don't Tell Me To Smile" Transient Lullaby  (New West, 17)
- Steve Earle, "News From Colorado" So You Wannabe An Outlaw  (Warner, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Texas Jesus" This Tall To Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Universal Sound" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Will Hoge, "This Ain't An Original Sin" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Matt Woods, "Fireflies" How to Survive  (Lonely Ones, 16)
- Whiskey Shivers, "Liquor Beer Wine & Ice" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Brand New Start" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Ballad of 1892" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Dead Volts, "Enough" Hate Ray  (Twang N Bang, 17)  D
- Alex Williams, "Little Too Stoned" Better Than Myself  (Big Machine, 17)  D
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Nail My Feet Down To the Southside of Town" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Blank Range, "Opening Band" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girl, 17)  D
- Yayhoos, "Bottle and a Bible" Fear Not the Obvious  (Bloodshot, 01)
- Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Find Yourself" Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real  (Concord, 17)  D
- GospelbeacH, "Kathleen" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Heartless Bastards, "Swamp Song" Stairs and Elevators  (Fat Possum, 04)
- Juanita Stein, "Cold Comfort" America  (Hand Written, 17)  D
- Moot Davis, "Shot Down in Flames" Hierarchy of Crows  (Wilburn, 17)  D
- Deer Tick, "Jumpstarting" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)
^ John Murry, "Under a Dark Moon" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)  D
- Ian Felice, "In the Kingdom of Dreams" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)  D
- Spirit Family Reunion, "Put the Backseat Down" No Separation  (SFR, 12)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Graceland" single  (New West, 17)
- Sam Baker, "Moses in the Reeds" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "I Do Believe I've Had Enough" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)

Took me a little longer than I usually like to piece this week's Episode together.  Even though my feelings about what I publish wax and wane schizophrenically, I never like to put one out here that I don't feel accomplishes in part what I set out to do.  I want these to be original, thoughtful and at least somewhat redeeming pieces.  So how'm I doin' ... ?

Monday, July 10, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
July 11, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

I know it's hard sometimes / Putting up with these old wicked ways of mine / Oh woman, be strong  

When I heard it, it was as though I'd struck gold.  A vein of pure, molten gold.  Why was nobody talking about Will Hoge?!  A genuinely soulful cry that could break both hearts and glass.  The Man Who Killed Love landed in early 2006.  Subsequent albums have seen Hoge embrace a more country sound.  He was nominated for several awards for his part in writing the Eli Young Band's big 2011 smash "Even If It Breaks Your Heart".  A couple years later, Hoge's  "Stronger" served as the soundtrack for a Chevy truck commercial.

Point is, the Will Hoge who melted me with "Woman Be Strong" wasn't necessarily the same guy who serenaded those slo-mo shots of muddy trucks bounding carefree over the ruts.  Songs like "When I Get My Wings" or "Guitar or a Gun" have shown him as a truly strong writer, capable of dripping soul and making good noise.  And while I respect any one who can pass through the mainstream country gauntlet with their integrity intact, what I've wanted from Hoge was that soul and the good noise.

In the meantime, I continued to pay attention to his music.  I was drawn in by the intimate stories of rural America.  I was snagged by Hoge's voice, a rough and gritty instrument that would flirt occasionally with its breaking point.  By the release of 2015's Small Town Dreams, I was back in the fold.  The album showed him settled into that lane between mainstream country and americana, a writer with a real story to tell and a sure handle on his sound.

Which brings us to Will Hoge's new Anchors record.  It arrives in the wake of Hoge's own realization that it was time for him to rediscover the joy in writing and performing.  He took to the road sans band, with just his guitar and keyboard in the backseat, facing the audience each night as one guy with a battered suitcase of songs.  My sense is that both Will and I are very pleased with the outcome.

Anchors trades in stories of adulthood, songs about marriage and fatherhood and work.  The things in our lives which serve as our anchors both in the best and the most challenging ways.  The CD launches with "The Reckoning", a song that looks inheritance straight in the eyes.  It's a midtempo  strummer that swells to an angry bridge:  What kills me the most / Is knowing that you don't even want to change.  "This Ain't An Original Sin" addresses a common cure to the midlife malaise, guitars blazing and drums banging.  It's a self-deprecating albeit tuneful look at our dumb choices:  So we won't be the first ones trying out this medicine / They've been using it for years / All our parents all our peers and all our friends / This ain't an original sin.  Hoge even throws Adam and Eve in the mix, the original sinners whose weakness flows through our veins to this day.  Later in the sessions, he sums up our condition with a blunt lyric: I'm older than Jesus / But still dumber than hell / And I'm so tired of fighting this war with myself.

The record's most melodic, single-worthy moments come with bits like "Baby's Eyes" and "Little Bit of Rust".  The latter finds Hoge alongside Sheryl Crow in a moment that likens our relationship to a Chevy that's seen better days (but can still be fired up for the occasional night on the town).  "Baby's Eyes" is a deceptively bright splash of country-pop, the sort of major key gem that can be found on a Reckless Kelly record, or on mainstream country radio.  Both songs bounce along on durable hooks and immediately relevant arrangements.

But these more positive and hopeful sentiments are balanced by the distance and doubt of slower numbers like "Grand Charade" or the title track.  The former presents moments of disconnect in a relationship that have become the rule rather than the exception:  The truth is that we made a mistake / We ain't that happy couple on the wedding cake.  These are painful but painfully necessary admissions in almost any lasting relationship.  "Anchors" presents the record's most adventurous musical moments, including a stormy bridge that verges on psychedelia a'la Sturgill Simpson.  The sins of the father / Drag like anchors on the kid.  And the creeping "Cold Night in Santa Fe" leaves room for the collection's most soulful delivery.

This ain't your grampa's nostalgia.  We acknowledge and cherish the people and the places of the past, but we also recognize "the reckoning", the inheritances and hand-me-down legacies that haunt us.  From the "grand charade" a couple plays for their kids and their friends to the clunker of a family truck that might be coaxed back on the road with a little new paint.  It's a nostalgia that makes room for both the charm and the curse.  Will Hoge isn't damning the hand he's been dealt.  He's just taking a more adult perspective.

Also this week, I give you Texas Gentlemen and "Habbie Doobie", counseling you to track down the video and to get yourself an armadillo.  And while you're at the armadillo store, pick up a copy of Danny & the Champions of the World's excellent new double CD.  And say hey to Charlie Parr, who loves his dog out loud.

- Wilco, "Dreamer in My Dreams" Being There  (Nonesuch, 96)
- Jeff Tweedy, "Ashes of American Flags" Together at Last  (dBPM, 17)
- Shakey Graves, "Pay the Road" And the Horse He Rode In On  (Dualtone, 17)  D
- Rod Melancon, "Dwayne and Me" Southern Gothic  (Blue Elan, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Bars Ain't Closin'" This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, 17)
- John Moreland, "It Don't Suit Me (Like Before)" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Ruby Force, "Church and State" Evolutionary War  (Force, 17)
- Alejandro Escovedo, "By Eleven" Gravity  (Watermelon, 92)
- Charlie Parr, "Dog" Dog  (Red House, 17)  D
^ Will Hoge, "Reckoning" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Breaking It Down!" Youth Detention  (Don Giovani, 17)
- Matthew Ryan, "Summer Never Ends" Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, 17)
- Scud Mountain Boys, "Do You Love the Sun" Do You Love the Sun  (Ashmont, 13)
- Whiskey Shivers, "Southern Sisyphus" Some Part of Something  (Clean Bill, 17)  D
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Deslondes, "Muddy Water" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)
- Bohannons, "Dog Days" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Standing in the Doorway" single  (Merge, 17)   D
- Danny & the Champions of the World, "Waiting For the Right Time" Brilliant Light  (Loose, 17)  D
- Banditos, "Fine Fine Day" Visionland  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Cale Tyson, "Railroad Blues" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Bluebonnet Highway" The Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Every Time You Leave" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Habbie Doobie" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)  D
- Waxahatchee, "8 Ball" Out in the Storm  (Merge, 17)
- Peter Case, "Brokedown Engine" Sings Like Hell  (Vanguard, 93)
- Slaid Cleaves, "Take Home Pay" Ghost On the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)
- Ags Connolly, "Slow Burner" Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Drifting on a Summer's Night" single  (Six Shooter, 17)  D
- 16 Horsepower, "American Wheeze" Sackcloth & Ashes  (A&M, 96)

Saturday, July 01, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
June 30, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Debuts crowd our playlist this Episode, from unhinged moments with the Yawpers and Deer Tick to more measured contributions from Robyn Ludwick and David Ramirez.  Quiet and folky bits rub parts with more agitated sorts, and it's all good.  It's All Good.  And much of it this Episode happens to be both Good and Loud.  Rod Melancon digs a backyard hole to hell on one of two spoken word pieces.  The aptly named Ruby Force pays noisy tribute to Saint Vic Chesnutt.  And god bless the Bohannons for a lovingly disheveled album.

But nobody has generated more of a buzz 'n racket this year than Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires.  Youth Detention is punk.  And, like the best punk, the double-CD gives us reason to rage while also issuing a rallying cry and reminding listeners of what matters in the midst of a social shitstorm.  Youth Detention is a truly remarkable document, like a shoebox jammed full with a jumble of memories, impressions, frustrations and identities.

Lee Bains III formed his Glory Fires upon leaving the Dexateens, whose howling Southern punk lives on in his current music.  But Bains has traveled far since those days, and has breathed in the dust of blues, folk, gospel and country which clogs the grooves of Youth Detention.  The blazing anger of "Good Old Boy" contrasts with the more melodic reflections of "I Heard God!" or the acoustic "Picture of a Man".  "Breaking it Down!" invokes a stained glass congregation, while "Nail My Feet Down To the Southside of Town" is an anthemic Southern rocker.  While such a diversity of noise could threaten to force the collection off the rails, the cumulative effect is similar to being in the midst of that murmuring, restless congregation.

There is interstitial noise, studio patter and field recording throughout the record, providing both distraction and continuity.  And as a reviewer who prefers to pepper his pieces with lyrics, Bains doesn't make it easy to grasp his words as they fly by.  That said, between the buzz and the bang, what I can grasp is often pure poetry.
There we sat / In fluorescent halos / The tiny flowering redemptions / Of sharecroppers and miners and slaves / Offering up to our class / Beneath the TV the flag and the cross / Our ridge-and-valley twangs and drawls / Birthmarks to be scrubbed away  
He approaches the mic with a lifetime of stuff to say, unleashing a firehose of words that rarely lend themselves to singalong moments.  But parsing this torrent can produce moments of tremendous feeling and heartfelt emotion.
I still believe, children, in some kind of warm, forgiving light / That bears us away from our worn-out bodies and this wartorn life / And, I don't know, but if anybody in this world just fades to black / I'd think it's the man that lives off picking on them that're being held back
Listen to Youth Detention the way I did.  Pocket the lyric sheet and simply lay awash in the energy and the static.  "Sweet Disorder" and "Whitewash" will reveal the pure melody beneath all that noise.  The children's playground chorus that abides throughout "Crooked Letter" provides an indelible rhythm and an innocence that grounds some of the record's anger.  But after a couple listens, as the songs begin to become familiar, take a look at the lyrics (you can also find them here).  This isn't the Dexateens.  Heck, it's stuff that you'll have trouble finding anywhere else on a decade's worth of R&B playlists.  Bains doesn't give us easy listening (and it certainly can't be real easy to sing).  But it's smart, passionate and often painful.

Bains roots much of Youth Detention in a specific place and time.  But these 17 songs drag the lessons of Alabama social justice into the light of our present civil war.  As we trip and stumble and rage into the July 4th holiday, we tell the stories that matter and raise our voices in support of what we're in danger of losing, pushing and pushing against the god damned creeping darkness.  Like Drive-by Truckers' iconic Southern Rock Opera, Lee Bains III has produced a classic double-CD of Southern sound that rocks hard, points fingers and satisfies profoundly.  Happy Independence Day!

- Blitzen Trapper, "Man Who Would Speak True" Destroyer of the Void  (Sub Pop, 10)
- Micah Schnabel, "Cincinnatti, Ohio" Your New Norman Rockwell  (Last Chance, 17)
- Rod Melancon, "Lights of Carencro" Southern Gothic  (Blue Elan, 17)  D
^ Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Nail My Feet Down to the Southside of Town" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)
- Bohannons, "Heart Go West" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Robyn Ludwick, "Texas Jesus" This Tall to Ride  (Ludwick, 17)  D
- Jason Isbell, "Something to Love" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Chris Canterbury, "Refinery Town" Refinery Town  (Backporch, 17)  D
- Sam Baker, "Feast of Saint Valentine" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "I Do Believe I've Had Enough" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Eden" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Jeff Tweedy, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" Together at Last  (dBPM, 17)
- Steph Cameron, "That's What Love Is" Daybreak Over Jackson Street  (Pheromone, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Trinity Lane" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)  D
- Will Hoge, "Baby's Eyes" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Deer Tick, "It's a Whale" Deer Tick Vol. 2  (Partisan, 17)  D
- Ruby Force, "Ode to Vic Chesnutt" Evolutionary War  (Force, 17)  D
- Tyler Childers, "Whitehouse Road" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There ..."  Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There As Fast As I Can  (Bordello, 17)  D
- Colter Wall, "Kate McCannon" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Dan Auerbach, "Livin' in Sin" Waiting on a Song  (Nonesuch, 17)
- Angaleena Presley, "Dreams Don't Come True" Wrangled  (Mining Light, 17)
- James Elkington, "Sister of Mine" Wintres Woma  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)  D
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "You Are Not Needed Now" Wildflower Blues  (Cinquefoil, 17)  D
- David Ramirez, "Watching From a Distance" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)  D
- Nick Lowe, "Live Fast Love Hard Die Young" Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit  (Yep Roc, 17)  D
- Yawpers, "Mon Dieu" Boy in a Well  (Bloodshot, 17)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff, "Laughing" In Memory of Loss  (Rounder, 10)
- Matthew Logan Vasquez, "Red Fish" Does What He Wants  (Dine Alone, 17)  D
- Delta Spirit, "California" Delta Spirit  (Rounder, 12)

Monday, June 19, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
June 19, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

What's so great about the first half of 2017?!!

To quote the early 80s British new wave band Talk Talk (which I don't do often enough), Baby life's what you make it / Celebrate it.  Even when we're having to try harder to avoid negativity and reasons for despair, great music surrounds us like angel wings.  Or like water wings.  Music can keep us afloat, can give us the energy to keep going or even to fight back.  Like god, it's there when you want it and when you need it.  Which makes me an evangelist, shining the light and showing the way to music that matters.  And if it works for you, it's yours.  Let it lift you up, let it drive you forward, let it embolden and comfort and calm you.  Or just ignore it because you don't like twangy stuff ...

But if you're part of our congregation, let's celebrate.  Let's open the hymnal of the first half of 2017 and bellow like wounded calves or sing like angels, ranting against all that worries and angers us or whooping foolishly about the fact that we're still here, against all odds.

Don't like to show my hand this early in the season, but here are my five favorite records to date, listed in order of appearance:

Ryan Adams, Prisoner  (PaxAm, Feb 17)
Will Johnson, Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm  (Undertow, Mar 24)
John Moreland, Big Bad Luv  (4AD, May 5)
Matthew Ryan, Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, May 12)
Justin Townes Earle, Kids in the Street  (New West, May 26)

I've already posted reviews of these, so find those if you'd like a deeper glimpse into my feelings.  Now, here are fifteen others that have also caught my ear, listed again in order of appearance:

Band of Heathens, Duende  (New West, Jan 13)
Dead Man Winter, Furnace  (GNDWire, Jan 27)
Ags Connolly, Nothin' Unexpected  (At the Helm, Feb 3)
Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins  (YepRoc, Feb 10)
Romantica, Shadowlands  (Last Chance, Feb 10)
Son Volt, Notes of Blue  (Transmit Sound, Feb 17)
Leif Vollebekk, Twin Solitude  (Secret City, Feb 24)
Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling  (ATO, Feb 24)
William Matheny, Strange Constellations  (Misra, Feb 24)
Mic Harrison & High Score, Vanishing South  (Mic, Mar 10)
Cory Branan, Adios  (Bloodshot, Apr 7)
Jason Eady, Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, Apr 21)
Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, May 5)
Colter Wall, Colter Wall  (Young Marys, May 12)
Joseph Huber, Suffering Stage  (Huber, Apr 21)

Next time you see a list like this from me will likely be towards the end of the year.  Please notice that there is a lot of room here for stuff I've just received like Jason Isbell or Amanda Anne Platt or Will Hoge.  And let's not overlook the fact that the table is set for Lee Bains III, Tyler Childers and Yawpers.  I when I kneel by my wee bed at night and say my prayers to the sky, I always ask for that new or lesser known artist to appear at my door to throw it all to the wild wind.  Amen.


If you're going to tell me all my faults
I'll tell you the ones I'm gonna keep  --  Bash + Pop

- Barrence Whitfield, "Whiskey Wagon" Barrence Whitfield & the Savages  (Mamou, 84)
- Vandoliers, "Rain Dance" The Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Bohannons, "Run the Roads" Luminary Angels  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)  D
- Bash & Pop, "Anybody Else" Anything Could Happen  (Fat Possum, 17)
- Banditos, "Strange Heart" Visionland  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Reckless Kelly, "Crazy Eddy's Last Hurrah" The Day  (Valley, 00)
- Steel Woods, "Wild and Blue" Straw in the Wind  (Woods, 17)
- Jason Isbell, "Tupelo" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Will Hoge, "Little Bit of Rust" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- Chris Knight, "Miles to Memphis" Heart of Stone  (Drifter's Church, 08)
- GospelbeacH, "You're Already Home" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Ballad of 1892" Ties of Blood and Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)  D
- Secret Sisters, "King Cotton" You Don't Own Me Anymore  (New West, 17)
- Micah Schnabel, "Cincinnati, Ohio" Your New Norman Rockwell  (Last Chance, 17)  D
- Avett Brothers, "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" Music From the American Epic Sessions  (Legacy, 17)
- House and Land, "False True Lover" House and Land  (Thrill Jockey, 17)
- Sam Baker, "Same Kind of Blue" Land of Doubt  (Baker, 17)  D
- David Ramirez, "Dancing and Vodka" Apologies  (Sweetworld, 12)
- Deslondes, "One of These Lonesome Mornings" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)
- Cale Tyson, "Easy" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)
- Margo Price, "Downpour" Cover Stories  (Looking Out, 17)
- Drew Holcomb, "Tip Of My Tongue" Treasure of the Broken Land  (Storm Weathered, 17)
- Zephaniah Ohora, "Way Down in My Soul" This Highway  (Ohora, 17)  D
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Birthday Song" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Slaid Cleaves, "Already Gone" Ghost on the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Not Dark Yet" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)  D
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Mahogany Dread" Lateness of Dancers  (Merge, 14)
- Benjamin Booker, "Truth is Heavy" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Whitewash" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)
- Waxahatchee, "Never Been Wrong" Out in the Storm  (Merge, 17)  D

Monday, June 12, 2017

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

I was poking around a respected but fairly mainstream music site this week, and came across a piece that caught my eye.  It pointed out some of the more worthy "tribute" records released in the past several years, prefaced with a remark about how these things were typically interesting as novelties but maybe not so much as abiding musical statements.  As I've mentioned here in past posts, I do have a thing for a good compilation or tribute album, and I think I tend to include covers as a regular part of what I do.  I'm going to shed light on four recent releases that take different approaches to the tribute compilation.

Mark Heard was an artist who ably walked the line between Christian and roots music, respected by both camps.  Heard passed away several years ago at age 40, and has been the subject of at least one other worthy tribute in 1994's Strong Hand of Love.  Behind the lead of Jeff Grantham and Phil Madeira, Treasure of the Broken Land: the Songs of Mark Heard assembles an impressive collection of familiar artists, sharing their take on songs that probably aren't too familiar to most.  Last year's pleasant surprise, Matt Haeck, drags "Dry Bones Dance" into the roadside honky-tonk.  Adding horns and a welcome veneer of blues 'n soul, the duo Birds of Chicago keep "Rise From the Ruins" close to the chapel, while Rodney Crowell's delivery of "Nod Over Coffee" brings what is arguably Heard's best known tune into a more contemporary roots setting.  Contributors like Amy Speace, Drew Holcomb and Lily & Madeleine do great vocal justice to a genuinely strong and underappreciated writer.  Buddy Miller, who played a part in that 1994 tribute, sounds perfectly at home on the title track.  While Mark Heard's original music suffers somewhat from dated production and timebound arrangement, these appreciations bring the songs up to date, allowing them to shine.

While I've followed and respected Brandi Carlile's career since her 2005 debut, I haven't made a point of adding her music to R&B playlists.  Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story is a benefit for War Child.  The two disc set features Carlile's remastered originals as well as an impressively diverse CD of covers recorded by friends and admirers.  Of all these compilation albums, Cover Stories allows interpreters to stray furthest from the originals.  Margo Price's "Downpour" is a tuneful ballad that would fit perfectly among much of Midwest Farmer's Daughter.  It's been awhile since Anderson East ran off with Miranda Lambert, and his "Josephine" is more soul than contemporary folk.  Ruby Amanfu delivers "Shadow On the Wall" through a stirring blues filter.  Shovels & Rope present a stripped, harmony rich "Late Morning Lullaby", while Dolly Parton's version of "The Story" reminds us what a treasure we have in her timeless, angelic voice.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is fellow treasure Kris Kristofferson.  His delivery is wrecked and dry, half spoken and half sung, but it comes across as pure perfection on the highlight, "Turpentine".

Whereas the Mark Heard tribute presented familiar artists tackling unfamiliar songs, and Cover Stories found well-known artists bringing a new perspective to fairly recent work, our third compilation finds beloved musicians paying faithful tribute to familiar songs from long ago.  Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams was curated by Garth Fundis (who worked with the man in the 70s), bringing together established acts from the country mainstream alongside names from the more contemporary americana scene.  Most of these are songs I heard repeatedly on my mother's a.m. radio growing up in rural Southern Oregon.  Among the more mainstream contributors, Dierks Bentley and Pistol Annies are standouts.  Brandy Clark takes a sweet pass at the charmingly simple "I Believe In You".  I'd throw Keb Mo's "Lord I Hope This Day Is Good" in that same batch.  Chris and Morgane Stapleton bust a collective lung emoting through "Amanda", while Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires are conversely restrained on a moving "If I Needed You".

Finally, in conjunction with a Public Television series, Music From the American Epic Sessions presents today's artists recording their versions of yesterday's tunes on recording equipment from long ago. The wide-ranging deluxe edition features a schizophrenic array of contributors reaching from Nas to Elton John, Pokey LaFarge, Stephen Stills and Alabama Shakes.  Executive producers Jack White, T Bone Burnett and ... Robert Redford present a fascinating account of American music from the 1920s, when the record industry began finding value in regional, vernacular folk music a'la Mississippi John Hurt, Carter Family, Dock Boggs, or Robert Johnson.  Highlights of the set include Alabama Shakes' spirited jump through Memphis Minnie's "Killer Diller", as well as Los Lobos' faithful run through the venerable mariachi piece "El Cascabel".   Given my sloppy soft spot for trad gospel, I can't pass by the Avett Brothers' pair of hymns without removing my hat.  Their work harkens back to the brother band's early stuff, replete with approximate harmonies.  And because it's Bettye LaVette, we'll make an extra deep bow for her gloriously soulful rendition of "When I Woke Up This Morning" and "Nobody's Dirty Business".  Especially given the current day's focus on sonic perfection, it's most heartening to hear the legends like Elton John or Beck in such a raw setting.  And let's not pass by a pair of duets between Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, sounding exactly as god intended.  Extra props to White and Burnett for including Latin and Hawaiian music among the more commonly celebrated American faire.  On the former, Ana Gabriel is a passionate fireball.

- Richard Buckner, "Do You Wanna Go Somewhere" Sir Dark Invader vs the Fanglord  (Low Noise, 05)
- Steve Earle, "So You Wannabe an Outlaw" So You Wannabe an Outlaw  (Warner, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Sons of the Wandering" Suffering Stage  (Huber, 17)
- Jade Jackson, "Goodtime Gone" Gilded  (Anti, 17)
- Cale Tyson, "Somebody Save Me" Careless Soul  (Tyson, 17)
- Filthy Friends, "Any Kind of Crowd" single  (Kill Rock Stars, 17)  D
- GospelbeacH, "Hangin' On" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Matthew Ryan, "Close Your Eyes" Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, 17)
- Amanda Anne Platt, "Things We Call Home" Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Whiskeytown, "16 Days" Strangers Almanac  (Outpost, 97)
- John Moreland, "Love is Not an Answer" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Slaid Cleaves, "Drunken Barber's Hand" Ghost on the Car Radio  (Candy House, 17)  D
^ Anderson East, "Josephine" Cover Stories: 10 Years of the Story  (Looking Out, 17)
- Justin Townes Earle, "There Go a Fool" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Steelism, "Roulette (w/Ruby Amanfu)" Ism  (Intoxicating Sounds, 17)
- Banditos, "Healin' Slow" Visionland  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Steph Cameron, "Daybreak Over Jackson Street" Daybreak Over Jackson Street  (Pheromone, 17)  D
- Matt Urmy, "Gotta Be True" Out of the Ashes  (Red Light Library, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "Call It Dreaming" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)  D
- Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Cadillac Limousine" The Wicks Have Met  (Lower 40, 07)
- Deer Tick, "Sea of Clouds" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)  D
- Pistol Annies, "Tulsa Time" Gentle Giants: Songs of Don Williams  (Slate Creek, 17)
- Jason Isbell, "White Man's World" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Joan Shelley, "Push and Pull" Joan Shelley  (No Quarter, 17)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Whitewash" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Up To No Good Livin'" From A Room: Vol. 1  (Mercury, 17)
- Will Hoge, "Little Bit of Rust (w/Sheryl Crow)" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)  D
- Taylor Childers, "Lady May" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)  D
- Pokey LaFarge, "Good Luck Charm" Manic Revelations  (Rounder, 17)
- Molina & Johnson, "Almost Let You In" Molina & Johnson  (Secretly Canadian, 09)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
June 4, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Back in the saddle here at R&B HQ, after nearly two weeks on the road.  Glad to be making noise on the mic, piecing together a playlist of stuff that will hopefully mean something to somebody out there.  Even after two weeks gone, not a bunch of debuts for this Episode, though a generous amount of good stuff.  Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, something from Alabama Shakes.  Plus, looks like we're fast approaching the halfway point for 2017, which means a mid-year favorites list can't be far behind.

Speaking of which ...  let's take a look at Justin Townes Earle's excellent Kids in the Street.  It's a record that starts with a bang.  Several of them, to be exact, leading into the collection's most upbeat, immediate tune, "Champagne Corolla".  But let's step back a bit and enter the album at a different point.

Jump to track 5, the title cut, which opens with a delicately picked acoustic and a childhood memory.  This ain't the way it was back in 1993 / Now those weren't better days / But they still meant something to me / When we was kids out in the streets.  It's the sort of beautiful picture of days passed that most of us can sketch from memory, the streets, the shade, the long afternoons (even if those bygones were from '93).  The guitar is joined by a sepia toned slide and a simple bass line for an evocative and melancholy effect.  And while some of the songs rock and some swing and several drip with soul, Kids in the Street spends the majority of its time directing our gaze to the rearview mirror.

This backward glance is more frequently about the music than the lyrical content.  From his dress to his choice of arrangement, Earle's first half dozen records haven't been shy in reappropriating signs and signifiers from the past.  Rather than coming across as a retro figure or a costumed performer, it's a suit that fits him naturally, one that he wears with no irony.  With its strolling piano, "15-25" bears the stamp of early rock.  "Faded Valentine" showcases Earle's finesse as a crooner,  while "What's She Crying For" is a died-in-the-wool honky-tonk ballad.

At heart, Kids is a laid back, comfortable collection that goes down real easy.  "Maybe a Moment" sets a perfect mid-tempo pace, the narrator making his case to escape the comforts of town and possibly parental expectations for a ride beyond the safe city limits.  I got a bottle of Thunderbird in the trunk / I know a place if there's anything you want / This old man runs a store / They sell anything that you ever want / But I don't know what time it closes up / So think about it / But baby don't take too much time.  It's a heartland roots rock take on "Born to Run" or "Jack and Diane".

Justin Townes Earle will win no awards for his enunciation, though he does have a great way with a vocal.  He's as engaging as a trad country poke on "What's She Crying For" as he is delivering the folk-blues "Same Old Stagolee".  He's at his best while surrounded by the trappings of soul, such as the horns and keys driving "Champagne Corolla".  Like Ron Sexsmith, there's the concern that such a comfortable and laid back style might come across as disinterested.  In Earle's case, however, he simply sounds confident in front of all these musical backdrops.  Since his earliest EP, 2007's Yuma, through his breakthrough with 2010's Harlem River Blues and the one-two punch of Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, he's proven to be a capable interpreter of roots music of all stripes.  Even if it adds little new to the equation, Kids in the Streets finds Justin Townes Earle at the top of his game.

- Kris Kristofferson, "Turpentine"  Cover Stories: 10 Years of the Story  (Looking Out, 17)
- Colter Wall, "Codeine Dream" Colter Wall  (Young Mary's, 17)
- Lillie Mae, "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" Forever and Then Some (Third Man, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Juke Joint Lover" The Native  (State Fair, 17)
- Bonnevilles, "Machine Born to Think" Listen For the Tone  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "The Point is Overflowing" Claw Machine Wizard  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Richard Thompson, "Tear Stained Letter" Hand of Kindness  (Ryko, 83)
- Alabama Shakes, "Killer Diller" American Epic Sessions  (Sony, 17)  D
- Harmed Brothers, "A Lovely Conversation" Harmed Brothers  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- John Moreland, "Lies I Chose To Believe" Big Bad Luv  (4AD, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Desire" Desire/Sorry  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Matthew Ryan, "Battle Born" Hustle Up Starlings  (Ryan, 17)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Daylight" Blessing and a Curse  (New West, 06)
^ Justin Townes Earle, "Kids in the Street" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Todd Adelman, "My Town Too" Time Will Tell  (Adelman, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Black Jesus" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Overtime" Witness  (ATO, 17)
- Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "If I Needed You" Gentle Giants: Songs of Don Williams  (Slate Creek, 17)  D
- Jason Isbell, "If We Were Vampires" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "Joe Strummer & Joey Ramone" Love Versus  (True North, 17)
- Steve Earle, "Fixin' to Die" So You Wannabe An Outlaw  (Warner, 17)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Hittin' on Nothing" Liquored Up & Lacquered Down  (Orchard, 00)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Underneath the Sheets of White Noise" Youth Detention  (Don Giovanni, 17)  D
- Bobby Charles, "I Must Be in a Good Place Now" Bobby Charles  (Bearsville, 72)
- Lucinda Williams, "Crescent City" Lucinda Williams  (Rough Trade, 88)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Diamond in the Rough" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters  (Organic, 17)
- Deslondes, "Hurricane Shakedown" Hurry Home  (New West, 17)
- Mastersons, "Transient Lullaby" Transient Lullaby  (New West, 17)
- Glossary, "Through the Screen Door" Feral Fire  (Young Buffalo, 11)
- Dan Auerbach, "Waiting on a Song" Waiting on a Song  (Nonesuch, 17)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
May 30, 2017
Scott Foley, king of the road

Don't die / Don't disappear ...

Why no Episode last week?  Well, turns out I drove (yes, drove) from Colorado to NYC, then down to Southern Virginia and across the upper South on the way back home.  Each day's travel consumed around 8 or 9 hours of my lifeforce, but I did thoroughly enjoy the trip.  Because of the whirlwind nature of things, I never had more than a couple minutes to sit and write or to listen to anything other than Sirius (which is far more repetitive than you'd think - how many times can I hear the new National song before it becomes the theme song to my journey?).  My wife doesn't share my appetite for musical discovery, and I spend much of my time behind the wheel challenging myself to find music she'll enjoy that doesn't feature Paul Simon.  Needless to say, no ROUTES-cast either.  We'll kick that back into gear as soon as I can iron out the kinks in my back.

I did, however, pass some time with Matthew Ryan's new record, Hustle Up Starlings.  Sounds like he actually considered leaving his shoes in the ring after the release of 2014's excellent Boxers.  Not that he was experiencing writer's block.  He was just tired of the solitary work of songcraft.  Like Joe Henry, Ryan was as a promising figure during his early days.  Also like Joe Henry, Ryan himself never fully returned the affection, opting to romance a more fickle muse over the space of more than a dozen albums.  It took a collaboration with producer and Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon to draw him back into the studio for Starlings, a collection that pairs the streetwise cinematic storytelling of Craig Finn (or Fallon himself, for that matter) with the guitar hero moments of Ryan Adams.

Those last two releases have seen Matthew Ryan gathering a crew of conspirators, players who encouraged him to embrace "all that punk and noisy folk with a gigantic heart".  That appeal is nearest the surface on songs like "Close Your Eyes" and "Battle Born", tunes that bring to mind Paul Westerberg's edgy folk.  The latter invokes heros like Chrissie Hynde and Lou Reed, artists who raged against disillusionment and complacency, screaming hope in the land of the lost.  Both songs show Ryan at his most public, making music with sharp hooks and a beat to bounce to, guitars wrestling drums for top booking.

I don't know if there's more than this / A loud guitar, some comfort or a kiss / All I know is that it's in the shape of a fist / And it's pounding inside your ribs
 Hustle Up Starlings also trades in the dusky, internal pieces for which Ryan has earned his reputation.  His voice a whisper and a rasp, cushioned in a spacious arrangement that generates a darkness and a tension at the same time it makes a beautiful noise.  "Maybe I'll Disappear" and the title track dwell in the shadows of this more cinematic light. "Hustle Up Starlings" comes from that subliminal dialog that has become a perennial part of his work.  I smile at strangers / And talk to myself / My thoughts are lonely / Lonelier than hell.  It's stuff that's most suitable as the night's tuning up, a gorgeously private poetry for those of us given to melancholy and reflection.  With its piano and short muttered phrases, "Disappear" sketches a spare but indelible picture:
The drawl of leaves / And that quiet cold / That settles in / Once you know / We're all hotels / There ain't no home.  
But while it acknowledges our separation and doubt, Starlings is not a record without its hope.  In a recent interview, Matthew Ryan cited a poem by Charles Bukowski in which the writer focuses uncharacteristically on the silver lining while never losing sight of the dark cloud.  There are ways out. / there is a light somewhere. / it may not be much light but / it beats the darkness.  This new collection is birthed by collaboration, spawned by the community Ryan sought to complete the musical vision and to counter the solitude he wished to avoid.  There's an anthemic, rallying quality to songs like "Run Rabbit Run", a nearly U2-esque element to the chiming guitars of "It's a Delicate Waltz".  It's a romantic spirit that's the product of recognizing life's inescapable brutality while refusing to banish hope and possibility.

Through the roots rock and the synthesizers, the dissolved labels and the records whose critical reception failed to generate an equivalent popular buzz, Matthew Ryan has made music that matters.  If we're lucky, this newfound inspiration will inspire him to continue in the generous vein of Boxer and Hustle Up Starlings.  Few artists speak as eloquently to the sticky stuff / between two hearts.

Back to the ROUTES-cast next week, including new stuff from Alabama Shakes, Lee Bains III, Elliott BROOD and no fewer than 27 other offerings.  In the meantime, I've left last Episode's files on the previous post.  Happy to be home.