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Monday, March 19, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 18 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

In preparation for this week's piece, I returned to Courtney Marie Andrews' 2016 Honest Life (reissued in 2017 on Mama Bird Records).  It's a frequently gorgeous collection of folk and country originals, and in my review I compared her music and her hair to Joni Mitchell:  She stares out from the cover ... framed by a fringe of bangs and Joni-straight hair, maybe fresh off a walk along the streets of 1970s Laurel Canyon. There's a bit of that fabled folk-rock spirit in Andrews' voice and in her songs, though she most recently from Washington state, having just finished some work as a guitarist with Damien Jurado.

Courtney Marie Andrews has ventured far from Washington since then, embraced by fans and critics, many of whom "aren't usually fans of her kind of music".  Her victory lap finished with a Best International Artist recognition at the recent UK Americana Awards.  Advance for her new collection, May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird/Fat Possum, March 23) has built on that growing murmur, promising a good loud buzz before too long. 

You're a good woman and a good friend / You got a good heart, even when it's busted and bent / Lipstick and perfume, underground queen / Wearing loneliness like a costume for the whole world to see.

Once again, Andrews writes as though she's eavesdropping from a corner table at a diner in Middle America, USA.  Sometimes the voice that echoes through these songs is her own, but more often it is that of the folks who scratch and claw and grasp to remain atop it all.  "Lift the Lonely From My Heart" portrays a struggle that takes the form of self-doubt or self-imposed isolation.  A woman asks, Can you still see the good inside me / Or do you see a shell of who I was.  Even on ballads, arrangements tend to be fuller, electric guitars are fuzzed and backing vocals are Trio-worthy.  Where earlier songs might favor trappings from 70s folk, a country vibe pervades new songs like "Took You Up", even as there are touches of gospel and soul. 

There is nothing pedestrian about Andrews' voice, which has grown from pretty and unique on Honest Life to powerful and moving on these new songs.  When her singing soars, she is as strong as she is sweet, as wise as she is wide-eyed.  Tracks like "Two Cold Nights in Buffalo" and "I've Hurt Worse" are among the loosest, most forceful songs in her catalog, even allowing for a streak of biting cynicism.  From the latter:  Being with you is like being alone ... I like when I have to call you a second time / It keeps me wondering if you are mine

The twin towers of Andrews' new collection are the title cut and "Kindness of Strangers".  At a time when decency is hard to find in the public sphere, kindness can be revolutionary, and personal connection can be essential:  When you're trying to be tender / But instead you come off cold / When your sweetness surrenders / To the cruelness of this world.  The songs on May Your Kindness Remain aren't political in the protest sense of the term.  But Andrews does indirectly acknowledge the current state of affairs through these stories.  The title track locates some small salvation in the simple wish that we hold fast to that spark of kindness, of humanity, even as our other trappings may fade:  If your money runs out / And your good looks fade / May your kindness remain ...

So much new stuff to like on this Episode, though this week's Best Thing Ever might be that Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats collection that we've been fiddling with for several weeks.  After a more thorough pass through the full record, it's deeply satisfying.  More groove-worthy than goofy.  We're also quite taken by Erika Wennerstrom's turn towards the light.  Where her material with Heartless Bastards could be dark and muddy (wonderfully so), her first solo album posits a more open sound, even as it rocks just as capably. 

- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Sweet as John Hurt" Haw  (Paradise of Bachelors, 130
- Brent Cobb, "King of Alabama" Providence Canyon  (Elektra, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Without Applause" Appreciation  (Kill Rock Stars, 18)
- Deer Tick, "Smith Hill 2018"  single  (Partisan, 18)  D
- Neko Case, "Hell-on" Hell-on  (Anti, 18)
- Ruby Boots, "Infatuation" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Andrew Bryant, "Practical Man" Ain't it Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, 18)
- Craig Finn, "Galveston" single  (Bad Timing, 18)  D
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Letting Go" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)
- Tallest Man on Earth, "An Ocean" single  (Rivers/Birds, 18)  D
^ Courtney Marie Andrews, "Two Cold Nights in Buffalo" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Buck Meek, "Cannonball" Buck Meek  (Keeled Scales, 18)  D
- Caitlin Canty, "Onto You" Motel Bouquet  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Truck Full of Money" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)
- Goodnight Texas, "Keep Movin'" Conductor  (Cent Back Check, 18)  D
- Motel Mirrors, "Things I've Learned" In the Meantime  (Last Chance, 18)
- John Paul Keith, "901 Number" Heart Shaped Shadow  (Last Chance, 18)
- Matthew Ryan, "I Just Died Like an Aviator" Starlings Unadorned  (Ryan, 18)
- Hip Hatchet, "Tacoma Bound" Hold You Like a Harness  (HH, 14)
- Lindi Ortega, "You Ain't Foolin' Me" Liberty  (Shadowbox, 18)
- Chris Stapleton, "I Want Love" Restoration: Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin  (MCA Nashville, 18)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "A Little Honey" Tearing at the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News" Good Thing  (Columbia, 18)  D
- Parker Millsap, "Fine Line" Other Arrangements  (Thirty Tigers, 18)
- 6 String Drag, "Small Town Punks" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)
- John Calvin Abney, "Broken Bow" Coyote  (JCA, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Own Private Honky Tonk" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Great Peacock, "Miss You Honey" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- Audra Mae, "Lightning in a Bottle" Happiest Lamb  (SideOneDummy, 10)
- Billy Bragg & Wilco, "Ain'ta Gonna Grieve" Mermaid Ave Vol 3  (Nonesuch, 12)

Sometimes I don't get around to recording our ROUTES-cast until after dark.  Coming off a distracting day (and maybe a gin 'n tonic), I can be tired and taxed.  Listening back to this week's cast, I sound droopy here and there.  But here's hoping the music speaks just as eloquently as ever, even if it's been a long day.  Enjoy this week's ROUTES-cast:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 11, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Usually, I'll dedicate this space to a short personal note and an appreciation of one record that I think belongs on your radar.  This Episode, I'm going to spotlight four releases that I've already addressed in one form or another, but that deserve another bout of attention.  For coming weeks, I've got my usual longer reviews in the works for John Calvin Abney, John Paul Keith and Motel Mirrors, and American Aquarium.  I'm starting to get that drinking-from-the-firehose feeling about releases for the coming weeks, with a refreshing calendar of new stuff that verges on the overwhelming.  In addition to the couple mentioned above, I'm especially looking forward to Courtney Marie Andrews, Caitlin Canty, Will Stewart, Sarah Shook and Left Arm Tan.  Of course, for a full list of what's just over our musical horizons, just click on the link to your right: A Routes & Branches Guide To Feeding the Monster.

Andrew Bryant, Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, Mar 9)
Andrew Bryant is 1/3 of the Water Liars.  Back in my first post for 2018 I celebrated this new solo record alongside Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster's collab with Will Johnson, Marie/Lepanto.  When I drew the review to his attention, he asked me to hold off on sharing more of the record until closer to the release date which had been pushed back a bit.  Now that release date has arrived, and it's once again time to heap praise upon superb songs like "Practical Man", the hammer-heavy "Robert Downey Jr's Scars" and the lovely Southern ode, "Bittersweet".  With such Southern rock riches, it's not been easy to keep Bryant's record under a bushel for the past several weeks ...

Ags Connolly, Nothin' Unexpected  (Sofaburn, Mar 9)
I made a horrible mistake whilst assembling my favorite CDs for last year.  I mistakenly thought Ags Connolly's uncommonly good trad country collection had been released the previous year.  Had I simply double checked my math, it would've landed among my ten favorites for 2017.  Fortunately, our good friends at Sofaburn Records have seen fit to formally issue Nothin' Unexpected here in the mainland (it was previously available only thru England's At the Helm label (Ags himself hails from Oxfordshire)).  Last year I crowed:  "Ags Connolly sounds as genuine and earnest as Charlie Rich or Marty Robbins ... 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.  Connolly has clearly done his homework and seems to take his craft to heart.  It's a project whose talent and appeal run way deeper that pearl snap shirts and shallow Cracker Barrel trappings".  I stand by my crowing.

6 String Drag, Top of the World  (Schoolkids, Mar 9)
This North Carolina band deserves at least as much accolades as Bottle Rockets, though 6 String Drag dissembled before their impact could be appreciated.  I reviewed a 20th anniversary reissue of their nourishing High Hat record back in January, a couple months prior to their brand new set seeing the light of day.  I wrote: "The bottom line here is that Top of the World is more than a simple blast from the genre's past ... Their new record announced that 6 String Drag are a contemporary band, creating relevant music and evolving in interesting ways".  Kenny Roby is too skilled a writer to relegate to the insurgent country museums.

Matthew Ryan, Starlings Unadorned  (bandcamp)
Back in May of last year, I spilled some digital ink rhapsodizing about Matthew Ryan's remarkable Hustle Up Starlings.  During a year that brought a groundswell of notable releases, the record earned the #7 spot on my favorites list.  I fell hard for the collection's noisy grace, and declared it the most worthy thing in Ryan's long and generous catalog.  Now there's this: "A Collection of Acoustic Versions, Demos & Previously Unreleased Songs".  But Starlings Unadorned doesn't simply apply a strummy acoustic guitar to these tremendous songs.  Rather, the recordings reintroduce them by stripping away all that buzz and leaving them stark, bare and wonderfully vulnerable.  Even in the wake of my love for the studio work, these new sessions present the songs in such a warm and human light that it's almost like an entirely different album.  New arrangements reveal hidden nuances to familiar pieces, and the unreleased songs like "Lonesome Flare" and "Oh Despair" are a great extension to the original project.

^ 6 String Drag, "Never Turn My Back on You Again" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Chase Wild Horses" Edgeland  (Yep Roc, Mar 30)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Let Me Down Easy (w/Amanda Shires)" Find a Light  (3 Legged, 18)
- Luke Winslow-King, "Leghorn Women" Blue Mesa  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- John Calvin Abney, "Every Now and Then" Coyote  (Abney, 18)
- Haley Heynderickx, "Drinking Song" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Tall Black & Bitter" Soul Flowers of Titan  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Dixie Avenue" Volunteer  (Sony, 18)
- Joshua Hedley, "I Never (Shed a Tear)" Hey Mr Jukebox  (Third Man, 18)
^ Ags Connolly, "Haunts Like This" Nothin' Unexpected  (Sofaburn, 18)
^ Matthew Ryan, "Lonesome Flare" Starlings Unadorned  (Ryan, 18)  D
- John Paul Keith, "Leave Them Girls Alone" Heart Shaped Shadow  (Last Chance, 18)  D
- Motel Mirrors, "I Wouldn't Dream of It" In the Meantime  (Last Chance, 18)  D
^ Andrew Bryant, "Bittersweet" Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, 18)
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Twisted Highway" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy" Golden Hour  (MCA, 18)
- Ryley Walker, "Telluride Speed" Deafman Glance  (Dead Oceans, 18)  D
- Neko Case, "Hell-on" Hell-on  (Anti, 18)  D
- Caleb Caudle, "Empty Arms" Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Richmond Fontaine, "Horace & the Trophy" Don't Skip Out on Me  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Horse Feathers, "Without Applause" Appreciation  (Kill Rock Stars, 18)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "I've Hurt Worse" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Simone Felice, "The Fawn" The Projector  (New York Pro, 18)
- Greyhounds, "No Other Woman" Cheyenne Valley Drive  (Bud's Recording Service, 18)
- Bettye LaVette, "Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" Things Have Changed  (Verve, 18)
- Paul Thorn, "You Got to Move" Don't Let the Devil Ride  (Perpetual Obscurity, 18)
- Brent Cobb, "King of Alabama" Providence Canyon  (Elektra, 18)  D
- Ashley Monroe, "Paying Attention" Sparrow  (Warner, 18)
- Parker Millsap, "Fine Line" Other Arrangements  (Okrahoma, 18)  D
- Will Stewart, "Mine is a Lonely Life" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)

Monday, March 05, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
March 4, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

All of a sudden I'm purchasing vinyl again.  When I was a young music lover, I would buy LPs with just about every allowance (plus a few Marvel comics).  When I left for college, I took a couple hundred records with me.  Demonstrating award-worthy judgment, that year I traded in nearly every album for money to buy cassette tapes.  As an absolute dead end investment, I believe most of those cassettes are still boxed in the cold dark garage.  As my kids grow older, they've each been fascinated with these big black CDs.  My daughter has more John Entwistle and Ringo Starr vinyl than your stoner uncle, and my youngest son is apparently keeping Eminem in business with his LP purchases.  Whenever I take him to the local stores (try Twist & Shout in Denver), I'll pick up something.  This is stuff for which I already have CDs or MP3s, and I can stream every single one of them online.  Just yesterday I invested in a copy of Townes Van Zandt's classic Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas - I wouldn't have spent money for this if it had been available in CD format (or cassette).  I don't buy other peoples' used and stinky stuff, albums that bear their teeth marks or gatefold sleeves that are hanging on by a tiny string of cardboard.  So each purchase means I'm out around $25 dollars or more for something I can't use for my ROUTES-cast, something I have to get up and turn over after five or six songs.  The sound quality is questionable, and I can't listen to it at the coffee shop while I'm preparing my blog.  Still, it appeals to the materialist in me, the guy who loves to run his fingernail along the plastic wrap, remove the LP and set the needle to play.


Sometimes the better a band gets the more direct their music becomes.  With increased confidence, there is less pressure to earn one's stripes by dancing around a musical point.  While Gran Pavo Real (Ropeadope, Mar 30) is only Great Peacock's second full-length, the collection reveals an evolution and a sure-footedness to the songs of Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd.

2015's Making Ghosts was one of my favorite records for that year.  Songs like "Broken Hearted Fool" and the title track struck a perfect chord, working with an americana sound that was decidedly Southern and richly melodic.  Those qualities are most readily on display with new tracks like "Hideaway" and "One Way Ticket".  The former features both some great guitar and a bit of classic organ thrown in for great measure.  "Ticket" offers a quieter ride, built on a fine vocal and a memorable chorus:  I'm a rolling stone / Yeah, I can't sit still / I'm a one-way ticket, headed straight down hill / I'm a back row Baptist with stories to tell / Got a one-way ticket to keep me out of hell.  This is classic Southern americana, very well played and as praiseworthy as anything else that's been released this year.

Even while striking these familiar notes, Gran Pavo Real finds the Nashville quartet embracing more of the region's blues and gospel influence.  "Heartbreak Comin' Down" is a piano-driven blues number, with a blazing Blount Floyd guitar solo.  "Rattlesnake" adds a rocking swagger, punctuated by bursts of guitar and a soaring chorus.  Both "Take Me Down" and "Oh Deep Water" are darker, gospel tinged tracks.

Rock 'n roll isn't advanced algebra, and artists like Ryan Adams and Justin Townes Earle are masters at pushing aside the pretension and simply playing a good song.  On pieces like "Miss You Honey", Great Peacock lean in that direction, taking the shortest line from the song through the ears and into the heart.  Gran Pavo Real strengthens the band's game by both paring back and by drawing from a deeper musical well.

We're also looking at a fine surprise EP from rocker Margaret Glaspy, whose 2016 Emotions & Math record merited far more play than I gave it.  Kacey Musgraves returns with a couple really good songs, including the superb "Space Cowboy", and I'll listen to just about anything Lake Street Dive releases.  Finally, something tells me we'll be spilling some digital ink on John Calvin Abney's new Coyote CD real soon.

- Ruby Boots, "I Am a Woman" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Best Seat in the House" Find a Light  (3 Legged, 18)
- Buffalo Tom, "Lonely Fast & Deep" Quiet & Peace  (Schoolkids, 18)
- Charley Crockett, "Lil' Girl's Name" Lonesome as a Shadow  (Son of Davy, 18)
- Yawpers, "Replace Me" Capon Crusade  (Yawpers, 12)
- Sue Foley, "Gaslight" Ice Queen  (Stony Plain, 18)
- Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, "Found the One" No Mercy in This Land  (Anti, 18)
- Bonnevilles, "Dirty Photographs" Dirty Photographs  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)
- Ry Cooder, "Shrinking Man" Prodigal Son  (Perro Verde, 18)  D
- Margaret Glaspy, "Before We Were Together" Born Yesterday EP  (ATO, 18)  D
- John Prine, "Knockin' on Your Screen Door" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)
- Sonny Smith, "Pictures of You" Rod For Your Love  (Easy Eye, 18)
- Laura Veirs, "Watch Fire (w/Sufjan Stevens)" The Lookout  (Raven Marching Band, 18)
- Jayhawks, "Settled Down Like Rain" Hollywood Town Hall  (American, 92)
- Ryan Adams, "Baby I Love You" single  (PaxAm, 18)
^ Great Peacock, "Heartbreak Comin' Down" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- Ashley Monroe, "Hands on You" Sparrow  (Warner, 18)  D
- Tom T Hall, "Spokane Motel Blues" Rhymer & Other Five & Dimers  (Mercury, 73)
- Courtney Patton, "Devil's Hand" What it's Like to Fly Alone  (Patton, 18)
- Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy" Golden Hour  (UMG, 18)  D
- William Matheny, "Moon Over Kenova" Moon Over Kenova  (Misra, 18)  D
- Sons of Bill, "Bad Dancer" Love & Logic  (Gray Fox, 14)
- John Calvin Abney, "Every Now & Then" Coyote  (Abney, 18)  D
- Marlon Williams, "Party Boy" Make Way for Love  (Dead Oceans, 18)j
- Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Billy the Kid & Geronimo" Downey to Lubbock  (YepRoc, 18)  D
- John Doe, "Hotel Ghost" Year in the Wilderness  (YepRoc, 07)
- Lake Street Dive, "Good Kisser" Free Yourself Up  (Nonesuch, 18)  D
- Drivin' & Cryin', "Honeysuckle Blue" Mystery Road  (Island, 89)
- Rod Picott, "Coal" Out Past the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)
- Langhorne Slim, "Rebel Side of Heaven" Langhorne Slim  (Kemado, 08)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 25, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

As January drew to a close, I tagged the following five releases as my favorites for the month:  Calexico, Ronnie Eaton, First Aid Kit, Marie/Lepanto and HC McEntire.  Since our February days are numbered, I'd add these to my month-to-month list:  Caleb Caudle, Fruition, Mike & the Moonpies, Richmond Fontaine and Ruby Boots.  You might note that these are in alphabetical order.  March threatens new stuff from 6 String Drag, Andrew Bryant, Courtney Marie Andrews, Great Peacock and more.

And Haley Heynderickx.  She happens to be the third Portland area artist I've reviewed this year, and is poised to release her debut full-length, I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird, Mar 2).  While all music is derivative at some level, the sounds Heynderickx makes with little more than voice and guitar are refreshingly different.

Haley Heynderickx can do pretty.  The record's lead-in, "No Face" is a brief but gorgeous acoustic piece:  Tell me what's wrong / Is it the bridge of my nose / Or the back of my skin / Is it the pull of my hips that you couldn't let in / Is it the bridge between worlds that makes you feel alone / I wish that I had known ... The acoustic playing is precise, and the voice is both human and heavenly, mesmerizing but too quickly passed.  Try the closer , "Drinking Song" for another more buttoned-up picture of the artist.  The slightly tipsy, waltz-time acoustic is like Alela Diane during her Pirate's Gospel days.

Then we have "Bug Collector".  Again, Heynderickx anchors the cut with classical fingerpicking, but something's amiss:  There's a centipede naked in the bedroom / And you swear to god the fucker's out to get you ...  The harplike guitar is soon joined by trombone and strings and an undercurrent of studio noise.  Still pretty, but there is a waver, a dis-ease in her voice that leads one to believe everything is not necessarily okay.

This is what Haley Heynderickx does on her debut full-length.  A Filipina by heritage, and raised in a traditionally religious family, she comes to folk music as an outsider.  She is a guitarist who calls both Hendrix (Jimi) and Leo Kottke influences, as well as a "primitive" folk artist like Vashti Bunyan.  There is a lure and a beauty to her music, but much of the appeal and the originality comes from the inherent quirk.

In performance videos and in interviews, she comes across as both vulnerable and dangerously certain of herself.  With a voice that can range from beautiful to unhinged, Heynderickx's rawness can seem fragile as well as cathartic.  "Worth It" launches with a bluesy electric and the singer's elastic cooing.  Skittering drums skip in and out of the track until they run away with it.  She sings "So put me in a line / Add another line / Soon you'll have a box and you can put me inside / Put me in a box boy / Put me in a box boy / And call me anything you want".  As the eight-minute-plus song unspools, so does your tidy impression of Haley Heynderickx.  And maybe your sense of what passes for beautiful will be challenged, too.

She vastly overflows our original folk labels, incorporating jazz phrasing to her guitar and vocals.  She's called it "doom folk".  With all these qualifiers, it's fortunate she also wields a quick and barbed sense of humor that prevents her from drifting into self-serious pretension.  She calls one of her pieces "Untitled God Song":  God is just a busy mother / Trying to balance all the chaos around her.  The song is a flight of fantasy, picturing the divine as she creates the bright sunset by forgetting to dim her headlights.  Her guitar playing is more adventurous here, as the arrangement also becomes busier and more ambitious.

But above all Haley Heynderickx's art is beautiful and challenging and different.  Attempts at comparison are fleeting, but might include Alynda Lee Segarra for her outsider strength, or Valerie June for both embracing her genre and toying with it.  She is an understated but eclectic guitarist, and it is especially engaging to witness her depart from more traditional stylings.  The same might be said for Heynderickx as a vocalist.  There can be a stream-of-consciousness appeal to her lyrics at times, as witnessed on "Oom Sha La La":  I'm throwing out the milk / The olives got old / I'm tired of my mind getting heavy with mold / I need to start a garden / I need to start a garden / I need to start a garden ...  Her voice cracks as she abandons composure, briefly shouting the repeated line manically like Courtney Barnett raised on folk.

Heynderickx says that she has already begun writing for her next collection, reportedly working with songs that flirt with a new direction.  As an artist who courts her muse with such playfulness and fearlessness, it's probably best to suspend any preconceptions of what might be next.

Also this week, Heartless Bastard Erika Wennerstrom continues to impress as she slowly reveals her new solo record.  Caitlin Canty brings us a dark and tempestuous piece from a record I am tempted to give some review time. We celebrate the return of Simone Felice, as we  hail Charlie Crockett as one of the more provocative young country traditionalists entering onto the scene.

- William Elliott Whitmore, "Not Feeling Any Pain"  Field Songs  (Anti, 11)
- Shelby Lynn & Allison Moorer, "Strange Angels" Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James  (Sylvan Songs, 18)
- Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee, "Dark Don't Hide It" single  (Dead Oceans, 18)
^ Haley Heynderickx, "Untitled God Song" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Coolin' Out (w/Lucius)" Tearing at the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, "Let's Go to Mars" Soul Flowers of Titan  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Greyhounds, "No Other Woman" Cheyenne Valley Drive  (Bud's Recording, 18)  D
- Erika Wennerstrom, "Twisted Highway" Sweet Unknown  (Partisan, 18)
- Long Ryders, "Prairie Fire" Two Fisted Tales  (Island, 87)
- Wade Bowen, "Compass Rose" Solid Ground  (Bowen, 18)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Steak Night at the Prairie Rose" Steak Night at the Prairie Rose  (Mike, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Earthly Justice" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)
- Caitlin Canty, "Scattershot" Motel Bouquet  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Patty Griffin, "Useless Desires" Impossible Dream  (ATO, 04)
- Charlie Crockett, "I Wanna Cry" Lonesome as a Shadow  (Son of Davy, 18)  D
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "May Your Kindness Remain" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Donovan Woods, "Burn That Bridge" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)
- Rod Picott, "On the Way Down" Out Past the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)
- Simone Felice,"The Projector" The Projector  (New York Pro, 18)  D
- John Prine, "Summer's End" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)
- Will Stewart, "Heaven Knows Why" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Pieta Brown, "Mercury" Mercury  (Red House, 11)
- Andrew Bryant, "Bittersweet" Ain't It Like the Cosmos  (Last Chance, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Kelly's Bar" Life is Good on the Open Road  (Banjodad, 18)
- Courtney Patton, "Red Bandanna Blue" What it's Like to Fly Alone  (Patton, 18)
- Jeff Hyde, "Norman Rockwell World" Norman Rockwell World  (Hyde, 18)
- Fruition, "Northern Town" Watching it All Fall Apart  (LoHi, 18)
- Lynn Taylor & Barflies, "Slave to a Fool" Staggered  (Taylor, 18)
- Molly Parden, "Sail on the Water" single  (Tone Tree, 18)
- John Moreland, "Break My Heart Sweetly" In the Throes  (Ftnwsngs, 13)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 18, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of shattered candy hearts

I recently asked someone what kind of music they enjoyed.  "Mostly soundtracks," they replied.  I find this a baffling answer. Does this mean that they just enjoy reliving the moments from John Hughes' Pretty in Pink to the sound of Ian McCulloch's earnest croon?  Or do they prefer the orchestral foofery of a John Williams score?  Do they crave dramatic instrumental bombast as the soundtrack for their Dungeons & Dragons battles?  Have they finally penned lyrics for "Telstar"?  Or what?

From Richmond FontaineDon't Skip Out on Me: the Record isn't necessarily designed to be played like a soundtrack to your experience of reading Willy Vlautin's book of the same name.  Unless you're a speed reader (not I), these songs are played and gone before you've reached the bottom of a page. Of course, Willy Vlautin isn't the first songwriter to drift in a literary direction.  Joe Pernice, Rosanne Cash, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, to name a couple. But more than these others, Willy Vlautin's written work has emerged as an organic extension of the band's music.  It  seems a fitting conclusion that Richmond Fontaine's final statement is a 100% instrumental collection where his voice is nowhere to be heard.  Instead, it emerges from between the covers of Don't Skip Out on Me: the Book.

Vlautin has flirted with elements of narrative and spoken word since early on in the band's run, reaching a high point with 2011's High Country.  He began publishing his books with 2006's Motel Life, followed by Northline, the superb Lean on Pete and 2014's The Free.  With each work, Vlautin's voice has become more distinct, his characters more familiar and endearing.  Things are tough for Frank and Jerry Lee, or for Charley, but they are each complete and real characters who strike readers as authentic, sympathetic and even admirable.  Vlautin's new novel resonates with similar notes, and his writing has grown richer and more confident.

Briefly, Don't Skip Out on Me tells the story of a young man who leaves his adopted Nevada home to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer.  In a wider sense, it is a story of identity and belonging.  Horace Hopper is part Irish and part Paiute, living with a sweet and generous older couple who raised him after his birth family was unable to do so.  Similar to his other stories, this one paints a distinctly American portrait without relying on flowery prose, moments of gratuitous epiphany or easy resolution.  As a result, Vlautin's prose can appear to some to be bone-dry or dispassionate, though his characters and his landscapes come to life through more subtle use of everyday language.  Whether it's the exceedingly decent father figure Mr Reese, or the retired and opinionated ranchers who gather around a table at the small town diner, these are people we know.  The homeless couple with whom Horace shares his dinner, the dishonest drunk he naively selects as a boxing coach - they are familiar, but Vlautin never resorts to cliche and refuses to strongarm the reader into adopting a stance of easy pathos or distrust.

Back to the record.  Is instrumental music simply incomplete?  Is it a song just waiting for lyrics?  Paul Brainard's expressive pedal steel serves as the "voice" for most of these pieces, though Vlautin's fingerprints are evident throughout. The strongest instrumentals can serve as a wordless narrative of sorts.  The sound of Don't Skip is evocative, suggesting a landscape or a lifestyle or a mood in the same way a painting or photo might.

"Horace Hopper" features Brainard's steel accompanied by guitar and piano on an easygoing piece that alternates between midtempo and more introspective moments.  The prevailing mood is one of space and solitude , with only a suggestion of sadness during those quieter passages.  Don't Skip Out on Me features some beautiful, yearning pieces, most notably on the shorter songs like "Back of the Pickup" or the melancholy harmonica of "Living Where You're Not Wanted".

Vlautin's novel is not characterized by action and adventure.  Even the back-and-forth melee of boxing matches is largely witnessed through Horace's perspective, both when he is engaged and when his mind wanders.  "Fight With Raymundo Figueroa" features the record's wildest moments, sometimes dissonant and raging.   More common are the upbeat and melodic tunes like "Horace and the Trophy" and the twangy, good-natured "Hector Hidalgo".  The band is fully engaged, with expressive playing that has sometimes been overlooked when it's been in service to Vlautin's vocals.

"Dream of the City and the City Itself" braids all of these elements into one song, including some phenomenal guitar interplay and the record's most musically dramatic score.  The band gallops enthusiastically through the first two-plus minutes, until the brakes are applied for a tender and tuneful second half.  Horace Hopper isn't necessarily a psychologically complex character, but "Dream of the City" aptly portrays the dual forces competing for the young man's passions.  The isolated countryside and the bustling city; the acceptance of his fate versus the strength of spirit to chart his own course.  Anyone in search of a pulpy beach read will want to steer clear of Don't Skip Out on Me.  Anyone hungry for superb contemporary Western writing should pick it up immediately.  And bring along the album as a worthy companion.

Also on this Episode, the Bonnevilles have arrived with just the powerful blast of punk 'n blues that we need to shove us from our seasonal phunk.  We celebrate as Trampled by Turtles awake from their hibernation.  And we recognize that it's just a matter of time before Anna Tivel reaches the heights of Courtney Marie Andrews, Julian Baker or Alela Diane.

- Bonnevilles, "Long Runs the Fox" Dirty Photographs  (Alive Naturalsound, 18)
- I Can Lick Any SOB in the House, "Regrets and Greyhounds" Menace  (In Music We Trust, 04)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Good as Gold" Years  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Buffalo Tom, "All Be Gone" Quiet and Peace  (Schoolkids, 18)
- Anderson East, "Cabinet Door" Encore  (Elektra, 18)
- Blackberry Smoke, "Best Seat in the House" Find a Light  (3 Legged, 18)
- Dallas Moore, "Shoot Out the Lights" Mr Honky Tonk  (Sol, 18)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Decoration Day" Decoration Day  (New West, 03)
- Wade Bowen, "So Long 6th Street" Solid Ground  (Bowen Sounds, 18)  D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Flicker and Shine" Volunteer  (Columbia, 18)
- JD Wilkes, "Moonbottle" Fire Dream  (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- Trampled by Turtles, "Kelly's Bar" Life is Good on the Open Road  (Banjodad, 18)  D
- Tillers, "Dear Mother" Tillers  (Sofaburn, 18)
- Devil Makes Three, "North Carolina" Longjohns Boots & a Belt  (Kahn, 04)
- Lindi Ortega, "Lovers in Love" Liberty  (Shadowbox, 18)
- Great Peacock, "One Way Ticket" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- First Aid Kit, "Rebel Heart" Ruins  (Columbia, 18)
- Ryan Adams, "Baby I Love You" single  (PaxAm, 18)  D
- Parker Millsap, "Pining" Very Last Day  (Okrahoma, 16)
- Shakey Graves, "Counting Sheep" Can't Wake Up  (Dualtone, 18)
- Anna Tivel, "Dust and Magic" single  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)  D
- Caleb Caudle, "Crushed Coins" Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Ruby Boots, "I'll Make It Through" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- HC McEntire, "Red Silo" Lionheart  (Merge, 18)
- Daddy, "Cadillac Problems" Let's Do This  (Daphne, 18)  D
- Doug Sahm & Tex Mex Trip, "Girls Today (Don't Like to Sleep Alone)" Groover's Paradise  (Warner, 74)
- Rod Picott, "Take Home Pay" Out Pasts the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)
- I'm With Her, "Overland" See You Around  (Rounder, 18)
- Bettye LaVette, "It Ain't Me Babe" Things Have Changed  (Verve, 18)
^ Richmond Fontaine, "Hector Hidalgo" Don't Skip Out on Me  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 11, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

The element of surprise is an important part of how I relate to music.  Where many listeners feast on familiarity, I crave novelty.  A release by an unknown artist can often pique my interest more than the fifth CD from a trusted act.  I mention this by way of introduction to Watching It All Fall Apart, the new collection from Fruition.  I’ve followed Fruition’s story since their early days, sharing bits and pieces of their records on R&B, commenting good-naturedly on the awkwardness of their band name.  Still, I’ve never fully fallen for them, filing them under J for “jammy, with hints of ‘grass and Americana” (see also, Elephant Revival, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth).  As early singles from their new album were released, I caught a vibe that I hadn’t necessarily connected with Fruition.  Upon hearing Watching It All in its entirety, I was surprised.  Surprised and impressed. 

You wouldn't recognize “I’ll Never Sing Your Name” or “Turn to Dust” as Fruition if you weren't forewarned.  With rumbling bass, crashing percussion and a carnival organ, "I'll Never Sing" is a Squeeze-like pop confection with dark undertones.  "Turn to Dust" is a crushing but catchy breakup song:  Watching it all fall apart / Standing side by side, letting love die / Doing nothing, nothing / It left a hole in my heart / God damn / It hurts so bad to do nothing / Such a terrible scene.  In the midst of the heartbreak, there are sugary backing vocals and a warped synth track, a bit of the psychedelia peppered throughout the record. If there's mandolin or acoustic guitar somewhere, it's buried deep and manipulated.  The best pop music has always flirted with longing and despair even while mining for sweet hooks, and Fruition's new stuff seems to honor that tradition. 

For longtime fans of classic Fruition, you’ll want to check out “FOMO” or “Lonesome Prayer”. Both uphold the downer theme, but feature a more typical vibe:  There's wasted bar girls in the basement / What am I doing here at all / I recognize that bum from facebook / She liked a picture on my wall ... You ain't missing out on nothing.  “Stuck On You” recalls something from the Revivalists, with a rootsier groove and handclap percussion.  These cuts by no means rehash previous territory, but they serve as an effective bridge to the less familiar sounds.  

Fruition has always benefited from a three-pronged songwriting approach, built around the distinct but complimentary talents of Jay Cobb Anderson, Kellen Asebroek and Mimi Naja.  As a vocalist, Naja always takes a couple leads from record to record, and her cuts always stand out for me.  On Watching It All, she holds court for two of my favorite tracks: “Northern Town” and “I Should Be (On Top of the World)”.  The former sounds like a more heart-on-sleeve edition of Neko Case, perhaps crossed with a young Bonnie Raitt.  "I Should Be" presents Naja at her most soulful, with a simple but beautiful delivery that wouldn't be out of place on a Lake Street Dive CD.  It stands a good chance to land among my favorite tunes for the year.  

Producer Tucker Martine has served as driver for several prominent projects, from the Decemberists and Laura Veirs to My Morning Jacket and Neko Case.  While he has a pretty strong sonic stamp to his style, the novelty of Fruition’s new collection cannot be entirely credited to Martine's hand.  In an early interview, the producer/engineer commented, “This isn’t a record they’ve made before.  And I don’t think it’s a record I’ve made before”.  It’s the challenge of any band that’s reached a certain level of notoriety, to continue to satisfy established fans while finding ways to reach new audiences and to scratch the occasional creative itch.  Watching It All is a great sounding record, sparking with interesting sounds and infectious melody.  The continuity between what we knew of the band and what we have here lies in the band’s trademark vocal interplay, and in their energetic instrumental work.  It's a remarkable evolution for an outfit that's always been very likable, and is now proving themselves to be musically adventurous as well.  

This Episode also debuts what will likely be a strong record from Sarah Shook, and we'll share the first new collection from Shakey Graves since his 2014 breakthrough.  We'll introduce you to Lynn Taylor & the Barflies, and we'll finally have a chance to begin our journey through 6 String Drag's really good Top of the World (see my post from a couple weeks ago).

- John Calvin Abney, "Weekly Rate Palace" Far Cries & Close Calls  (JCA, 16)
^ Fruition, "I Should Be (On Top of the World)" Watching it All Fall Apart  (LoHi, 18)
- Joshua Hedley, "Mr Jukebox" Mr Jukebox  (Third Man, 18)
- Will Stewart, "Sipsey" County Seat  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Wedding Band"  Steak Night at the Prairie Rose  (M&M, 18)
- Courtney Patton, "Shove" What it's Like to Fly Alone  (Patton, 18)
- Lynn Taylor & the Barflies, "Staggered" Staggered  (Taylor, 18)  D
- Kill County, "Straight Six Ford" Year of Getting By  (Kill Co, 16)
- Ron Pope, "Master Plan" WorkTapes  (Brooklyn Basement, 18)
- Kim Richey, "Not For Money or Love" Edgeland  (YepRoc, 18)
- Western Centuries, "Earthly Justice" Songs From the Deluge  (Free Dirt, 18)  D
- 6 String Drag, "Small Town Punks" Top of the World  (Schoolkids, 18)  D
- Ha Ha Tonka, "Walking On the Devil's Backbone" Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South  (Bloodshot, 09)
- Ben Miller Band, "Lighthouse" Choke Cherry Tree  (New West, 18)
- Ruby Boots, "Easy Way Out" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)
- Haley Heynderickx, "Worth It" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Marie/Lepanto, "Patient Patient Man" Tenkiller  (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- Calexico, "Dead in the Water" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Kindness of Strangers" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Hey Mama" Tearing At the Seams  (Concord, 18)
- Lucinda Williams, "Drunken Angel" Car Wheels on a Gravel Road  (Mercury, 98)
- Paul Thorn, "Love Train" Don't Let the Devil Ride  (Perpetual Obscurity, 18)  D
- Shakey Graves, "Kids These Days" Can't Wake Up  (Dualtone, 18)  D
- Alela Diane, "Moves Us Blind" Cusp  (AD, 18)
- Two Dollar Pistols, "It Doesn't Matter Much To Me" Hands Up!  (YepRoc, 04)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Good as Gold" Years  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- John Prine, "Summer's End" Tree of Forgiveness  (Oh Boy, 18)  D
- Donovan Woods, "Burn That Bridge" Both Ways  (Meant Well, 18)  D
- Molly Parden, "Who Did You Leave For Me" single  (Tone Tree, 18)  D
- Handsome Family, "Giant of Illinois" Through the Trees  (Carrot Top, 98)

Monday, February 05, 2018

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 5, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

HC McEntire's debut solo album, Lionheart, starts with a hymn.  Like many hymns, "A Lamb, A Dove" is stunning, with heavenly harmonies, swelling instrumentation and talk about a kingdom full of mercy and faith.  Unlike most hymns, the singer anchors this grace in the frankly sensual:   I have found heaven in a woman's touch / Come to me now / I'll make you blush.

We were introduced to HC McEntire (back when she was just Heather) as the singer-songwriter driving the soulful Southern roots of Mount Moriah.  Upon the release of 2016's game-changing How to Dance, I sagely wrote, "Heather McEntire is as strong a writer and vocalist as Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom or Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra".  She practiced a gift for nearly impressionistic portraits of her rural South, her musical pocket a country-leaning indie-folk.  And more than any other indie artist, she sang with a voice steeped in the traditions of gospel and Appalachian song.

The story behind Lionheart tells how HC McEntire wrote these songs while touring as a keyboardist with Angel Olsen.  With her band on hiatus, she shared the demos with respected punk trailblazer Kathleen Hanna, who encouraged her to embrace the country sound, listen to Wanda Jackson and to pursue a solo recording.  While she hadn't really hidden her identity as a queer woman deeply rooted in the Baptist South, McEntire also sought to tell her own story a bit more directly on her new collection.

Lionheart is rich with moving musical gestures, surrounding but never overshadowing McEntire's voice with music from the heart of the South.  Familiar instrumentalists like Phil Cook and William Tyler grace the grooves alongside the voices of Tift Merritt, Angel Olsen and Amy Ray.  "Baby's Got the Blues" compliments the recent ecstatic soul of Hiss Golden Messenger's recent records.  Upbeat and with a fuller musical accompaniment,  "Quartz in the Valley" and "Red Silo" are Lionheart's most accessible moments.  Both could've found homes on Mount Moriah's How to Dance or 2013's Miracle Temple.  Throughout, there is a simplicity and directness to the band's approach.

As a writer, McEntire has always been more prone to imagery than to story.  And while songs like "Dress in the Dark" are bolder than we're accustomed to, she tends not to point fingers or to write her lyrics in ALL CAPS.  Instead, she is more likely to simply train her writerly camera.  With a darker Southern gothic musical bed, McEntire sings, "I can only feel your heart / Through your dress in the dark".  "One Great Thunder" and "A Lamb, A Dove" are lush and hymnlike, pretty and lilting pieces in whose shadows hide unexpected barbs.  "Wild Dogs" sounds almost like Kate Bush, if she were raised in rural North Carolina.

HC McEntire doesn't damn her native South as much as she tries to reconcile with it.  That fragile connection happens primarily through her music, which fully embraces the country, gospel and folk of her childhood even more than her work with Mount Moriah.  "When You Come For Me" is a lovely country ode to home, a place we came from and to which we'll return when it's over: "When you come for me / Let the mountains hold my bones / There's a place for me / Let me lie down with you in the cold".  In the familiar folds of the song, however, are nestled the lines, Mama I dreamed that I had no hand to hold / And the land I cut my teeth on wouldn't let me call it home".  If her family continues keeps an uneasy quiet with her identity as a lesbian, the singer has achieved a certain peace with where she belongs in their pastorally idyllic but culturally conflicted place.  It's the defining theme for Lionheart, but the prevailing spirit is communicated through the beautiful music. 

- Avett Brothers, "Salvation Song" Mignonette  (Ramseur, 04)
- Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee, "Farewell Transmission"  single  (Dead Oceans, 18)
- Fruition, "I Should Be (On Top of the World)" Watching it All Fall Apart  (LoHi, 18)
- Laura Veirs, "Everybody Needs You" The Lookout  (Raven Marching Band, 18)  D
- Mavis Staples, "Try Harder" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Furniture Man" What in the Natural World  (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
^ HC McEntire, "Quartz in the Valley" Lionheart  (Merge, 18)
- Marlon Williams, "Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore" Make Way For Love  (Dead Oceans, 18)  D
- Tommy Emmanuel w/Jason Isbell, "Deep River Blues" Accomplice One  (CGP, 18)
- Ronnie Eaton, "Sleeping in Hell" Hand That Mocked Them ...  (Eaton, 18)
- Lindi Ortega, "Comeback Kid" Liberty  (Shadowbox, 18)
- JD Wilkes, "Moonbottle" Fire Dream  (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Steak Night at the Prairie Rose" Steak Night at the Prairie Rose  (M&M, 18)
- Chris Stapleton, "Drunkard's Prayer" From A Room: Vol. 2  (Mercury, 18)
- Erin Enderlin, "Whole 'Nother Bottle of Wine" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Pearl Charles, "Blue-Eyed Angel" Sleepless Dreamer  (Kanine, 18)
- Caleb Caudle, "Headlights" Crushed Coins  (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Fruit Bats, "From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town" Absolute Loser  (Easy Sound, 16)
- Haley Heynderickx, "Oom Sha La La" I Need to Start a Garden  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Oval Room" single  (Free Dirt, 18)  D
- Joshua Hedley, "Mr Jukebox" Mr Jukebox  (Third Man, 18)  D
- Richmond Fontaine, "Hector Hidalgo" Don't Skip Out On Me  (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Jeff Hyde, "Cold" Norman Rockwell World  (Hyde, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Kindness of Strangers" May Your Kindness Remain  (Mama Bird, 18)
- Bennett Wilson Poole, "Soon Enough" Bennett Wilson Poole  (Aurora, 18)  D
- Rod Picott, "Take Home Pay" Out Past the Wires  (Welding Rod, 18)  D
- Great Peacock, "Heartbreak Comin' Down" Gran Pavo Real  (Ropeadope, 18)
- Caitlin Canty, "Motel" Motel Bouquet  (Tone Tree, 18)
- Smog, "I'm New Here" A River Ain't Too Much To Love  (Drag City, 05)
- Gram Parsons, "Return of the Grievous Angel" Grievous Angel  (Warner, 74)