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Sunday, November 12, 2017

it's our kind of music
November 12, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Every year I manage to generate a list of my favorite songs of the year.  This year that'll happen by December 31.  While every year brings its assortment of really good songs, it's so rare that any of them will achieve the status of the classics that define periods of our respective lives.  It makes me genuinely sad that I will never ever hear songs like "So. Central Rain" or "Love Will Tear Us Apart" or "Here Comes Your Man" for the first time.  Which is why I tend to react to songs like these with melancholy or despair and great longing.  Looking back on my favorite songs from past years  -  Justin Wells' "The Dogs", "Sagres" by Tallest Man on Earth, Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula", etc  -  I remain fond of 'em all, but ...  I suppose time will tell.

It's simply not possible to hear Chris Porter's new record outside the shadow of his passing last October at the age of 36.  Earlier reviews have plumbed lyrics for heartfelt final messages, or have sought to make Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You a Grand Final Statement, wrapping up Porter's perspective on life, the universe and everything.  Others hazard the guess that this new project would've vaulted Chris Porter into the roots music stratosphere, had he lived to reap those rewards.  Fact is, Don't Go was incomplete at the time of his death. We have little idea how it might have sounded were he able to see it through.  Fortunately, a team of friends and admirers completed the CD in his honor.  As with his previous solo album, Will Johnson serves as producer for the new stuff  Once again, the Mastersons back him up, and this time he's also joined by John Calvin Abney and Shonna Tucker.

So let's throw out the might-have-beens and the what-ifs, and let's simply admit that Chris Porter's final work confirmed what we already knew.  From Back Row Baptists across Some Dark Holler, through the Pollies and into 2015's This Red Mountain, he was on quite a trajectory with regards to the promise of his music.

Whereas Red Mountain was more of a singer-songwriter record, dealing with Porter's move from Alabama to Austin, Don't Go often paints with a hammer, coming across as a full band project. "East December", "Stoned in Traffic" and "Shit Got Dark" hit hardest.  Porter sounds more like a bandleader than a guy with a guitar.  Hence the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes.  This migration to a fuller, more complete sound largely defines the new work.

"Bittersweet Creek" and "Your Hometown" occupy a middle-ground, heartland roots rockers with a more personal appeal.  Every hometown's got a broken-hearted bitter old man that gave up boxing / Took a job at the strip mine digging up bars / Knocked her up and moved back home.  There's more of a roughness to Porter's voice on these new songs, a weariness and cynicism that find expression in a jagged edge. In releasing the reins a bit, he comes across as a looser, more confident artist.

There is a vulnerable beauty to "Go On and Leave Me":  Go on and leave me / I'm only bringing you down / I hope you find a spot where the lights are hot / And draw a crowd.  While the synths burbling beneath it all are unexpected at first, they eventually take their place as part of the noise, building to a  hail of growling guitars and drums.  That desperation also surfaces on "Don't Hang Up Virginia", my favorite track on the collection since I heard it months ago.  Don't hang up Virginia / I swear this time I'll hang around / Long enough to meet your Mom / Help her take her Christmas decorations down.

We owe Cornelius Chapel Records and the band a debt of gratitude for finishing Don't Go Baby, and for releasing it almost exactly a year after Chris Porter's death.  These are simply good songs, played by a band dedicated to assuring his final work is heard and appreciated.  They take what could've ended at a roadside cross in 2016 and create a living, breathing, document, a testament to a man's abundant talent and an honorable cap to his too-short life.

He was 6-feet-5 and weighed maybe 150 pounds.  He was all arms and legs, and when he drank his face went bright red; he was a cartoon character, and I mean that as the highest compliment.  It was impossible for him to talk and not use his hands ... long arms flailing, wrists and hands twirling and exclaiming and providing physical punctuation for whatever story he was telling.  -  Jon Dee Graham, Bitter Southerner 

- Robert Earl Keen, "Corpus Christi Bay" Bigger Piece of Sky  (Koch, 93)
- Cody Jinks, "Whisky Bent & Hell Bound" Less Wise: Modified Reissue  (Jinks, 17)  D
- Drew Kennedy, "Open Road" At Home in the Big Lonesome  (Atlas Aurora, 17)
- Tyler Childers, "Feathered Indians" Purgatory  (Hickman Holler, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Bright Lights" Letters Never Read  (Blue Hen, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Bloodhound Rock" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Eilen Jewell, "You Know My Love" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Parker McCollum, "Memphis Rain" Probably Wrong  (McCollum, 17)
- Margo Price, "Pay Gap" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- Becky Warren, "Full of Bourbon" War Surplus (reissue)  (Warren, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Something To Hold On To" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Perilous Night" single  (ATO, 17)  D
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Early Spring Till (live)" Live at Red Rocks  (Concord, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Worried" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Texas Gentlemen, "Trading Paint" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Falling Out of Love With You" Boy Crazy & Single(s)  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Thrift Store Dress" One Go Round  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Eliza Jane" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Sonny Smith, "Pictures of You" Rod For Your Love  (Easy Eye, 18)  D
- Deep Dark Woods, "Teardrops Fell" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Light Wires, "Heavy With Distance" Invisible Hand  (Sofaburn, 17)  D
- Scott Miller, "Ten Miles Down the Nine Mile Road" Ladies Auxiliary  (FAY, 17)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "Best I Never Had" single  (LAT, 17)  D
- Jaime Wyatt, "Wasco" Felony Blues  (Forty Below, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "10,000 Horses" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "Build a Bridge" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- HC McEntire, "A Lamb a Dove" Lionheart  (Merge, 18)  D
- Mary Gauthier, "Bullet Holes in the Sky" Rifles & Rosary Beads  (In the Black, 18)  D
- Travis Meadows, "Pray for Jungleland" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)

Hey, I know.  Let's plan on meeting here maybe a couple days per week.  Let's crawl beneath the warm covers and listen to the ROUTES-cast.  Let the roots music kindle a flame in your cold black heart.  Carry the spark with you into the world, and share it with everyone you meet.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

home for the americana diaspora
November 5, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

So last week I mentioned that we'd be removing the wraps from this year's favorite albums list on or about November 26.  Let's reserve December 31 for my favorite songs of the year.  In between we'll throw some Christmas at you, and maybe an Episode devoted to stuff we've whiffed on during 2017 (though I don't know that there's much).

Apparently, I harbor quite a few pet peeves.  Foremost among my collection is the common practice of giving an artist a "pass" simply for who they used to be.  It genuinely baffles me how, like our muscles and joints and ligaments, human creativity can sometimes become flaccid and underperforming with age.  How is it that someone can show such tremendous talent as a younger adult, then cruise into their middle age and beyond on nothing but fond memories?  On R&B, I'd like to think that an artist has to earn their part in our playlist with every new release.  In large part, this explains why I haven't played a new Willie Nelson record in years.  Or Neil Young.

It also leads us to our take on Lee Ann Womack's ninth release, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone.  It's so seldom that a performer not only stays relevant, but reaches for new levels of artistry at this point in her career.  I think she started appearing on certain americana radars around the time of 2005's There's More Where That Came From.  2014's The Way I'm Livin' cemented that transition from country pop hitmaker to neo-trad roots singer-songwriter, garnering Womack nominations for both the Americana Music Association's Album of the Year and the Grammy for Best Country Album.  With seven cowrites and a newfound commitment to exploring the soul of country music, her new collection resets all expectations.

Fact is, Lee Ann Womack has always proven herself an exceptional judge of writers, pairing with names like Stapleton, Chris Knight and Brent Cobb prior to their popular recognition.  Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone finds her working with Waylon Payne, Cobb and Adam Wright on a truly eclectic range of material, from the trad country weeper "End of the End of the World" to her haunting mastery of "Long Black Veil" and the dirty Texas soul of "All the Trouble".

That latter track sets the stage for the sturdy thread of soul that weaves through the record.  It also serves to remind us of Womack's uncommon grace as a vocalist.  Like Shelby Lynne or Miranda Lambert, she is fearless and discerning when employing her super powers.  "All the Trouble" stands as the darkest, most swampy thing she's ever recorded.  Her vocal runs can be both sexy and sinister, borrowing both from the angels of gospel and the devils of the blues.

Womack fairly transforms one of my favorite cuts from last year, Brent Cobb and Andrew Combs' "Shine On Rainy Day".  It's song that both writers have recorded, but neither mines the levels of soul and sweetness of this version.  It's also one of several pieces that plugs in a somewhat fuzzy electric guitar to compliment the deliberately swampy/lush production (both courtesy of guitarist/producer and husband Frank Liddell).  Where "All the Trouble" threatened a stormy forecast, most of Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone opts for a mood of overcast melancholy.

See "Hollywood" as an example.  A subdued and forlorn track in the tradition of Bobby Gentry or Dusty Springfield, it portrays the flickering flame of an expired relationship.  Both parties go through the motions, never especially acknowledging the hollowness of the "I love you's" and "Good nights".  With literal doo-wop backing vocals and sentimental strings, it's a retro weeper.  See also, "Sunday", another Womack cowrite that feeds the soul with its grooves and another stellar vocal.

While Womack's new collection sounds as current as Stapleton or Sturgill, the artist has always made a point of bearing a torch for tradition.  In addition to "Long Black Veil", you'll find her tearing through George Jones' fiery "Take the Devil Out of Me" and slinking through Harlan Howard's "He Called Me Baby".  The latter is a five-minute class in delivering a vocal, alternately cooing like a young Patsy Cline and belting like Candi Staton.  A number of weeks ago, I devoted similar praise to Nicole Atkins' retro-tastic Goodnight Rhonda Lee.  But where that record was a bit more self-conscious in its embrace of early rock and trad country, Lee Ann Womack comes across as more genuine and less campy in her satisfying tribute.  It's the difference between approximating the tradition, serving it, or incorporating the tradition in your wider wheelhouse.

- Hellbound Glory, "Empty Bottles" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Tom Vandenavond, "Brick by Brick" You Oughta Know These By Now  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 17)
- White Buffalo, "Heart and Soul of the Night" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Sad Days and Lonely Nights" Death and the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Chris Stapleton, "Scarecrow in the Garden" From A Room Vol. 2  (Mercury, 17)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "Trying Hard Not to Know" Live at Red Rocks  (Concord, 17)
- Pontiac Brothers, "Straight and Narrow" Doll Hut/Fiesta en la bibioteca  (Frontier, 85)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Soul Mine" Soul Mine  (Ellenburg, 17)  D
- Ronnie Fauss, "New Madrid" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Drew Kennedy, "Sing This Town to Sleep" At Home in the Big Lonesome  (Atlas Aurora, 17)  D
- Hayes Carll, "Magnolia Wind" single  (Next Waltz, 17)  D
- Steve Earle, "Loretta" Townes  (New West, 09)
- Ruby Boots, "It's So Cruel" Don't Talk About It  (Bloodshot, 18)  D
- Anderson East, "King for a Day" Encore  (Elektra, 18)
- Mapache, "Chico River" Mapache  (Spiritual Pajamas, 17)
- Jim James, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" Tribute to 2  (ATO, 17)  D
- Langhorne Slim, "Zombie" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Americans, "Stowaway" I'll Be Yours  (Incandescent, 17)
- Blitzen Trapper, "Stolen Hearts" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Don't Hang Up Virginia" Don't Go Baby ...  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Nick Dittmeier & Sawdusters, "Ever Since You Left Town" Midwestern Heart/Southern Blues  (Dittmeier, 16)
- Joe Henry, "Hungry" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Sad Blue Eyes" One Go Round  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, "Call on God" Soul of a Woman  (Daptone, 17)
- Elliott BROOD, "Gentle Temper" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Bloodhounds, "Indian Highway" Let Loose!  (Alive Naturalsound, 14)
- Deer Tick, "Cocktail" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Jaw" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Wilco, "Myrna Lee" AM (Special Edition)  (Reprise, 17)
- Wilco, "Sunken Treasure (live on KCRW 11/13/96)"  Being There (Deluxe Edition)  (Reprise, 17)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 29, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Give Evan Felker four or five minutes and he'll sing you a story.  Give his band, Turnpike Troubadours a couple hours and they'll rock an audience harder than almost any other country act.  Their new collection, Long Way From Your Heart, is the sound of a tight, road-honed outfit taking that energy and professionalism into the studio for a watermark record.  

Long Way arrives in the wake of a trio of releases that began with promise (2010's Diamonds & Gasoline, 2012's Goodbye Normal Street) and found realization with 2015's self-titled CD.  Most remarkably, Evan Felker has woven throughout these songs the stories of people and places that surface from one album to another.  Like the young family walking through the smoke of the opener, "Housefire", finding an ironic freedom in the loss.

Turnpike Troubadours' songs are constructed from sturdy levels of sound, and the listener is never far from the sharp hook of a melodic moment.  Fiddle shines in the fore of nearly every song.  In the absence of fiddle there's harmonica or there's the nourishing buzz of electric guitar, or the band's newly increased commitment to pedal steel.  "Pipe Bomb Dream" and "Something To Hold On To" are steady red dirt powerhouses, while "Winding Stair Mountain Blues" arrives with a tinge of 'grass like a harder hitting Trampled By Turtles.

"Tornado Warning" might bring to mind Robert Earl Keen, while edgier moments honor the tradition of James McMurtry.  And Felker brings in cowriters like Jamie Lin Wilson, Kev Russell, Jonny Burke and John Fullbright for good measure.  But the Troubadours' most effective magic lies in their identity as a collective.  Both "Oklahoma Stars" and "Sunday Morning Paper" show more patience and maturity than anything on the band's previous releases.  The latter begins as a fingerpicked folker, before it unspools into a honky tonk revival, a heartfelt tribute to an unnamed musical hero.

"Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" may be Long Way's musical high point, offering both an imminently singable chorus and a really sweet pedal steel line.  Well I'm the same old me you know / Fucking up the status quo / Trouble all the way up to my neck.  Perhaps you don't turn to bands like Turnpike Troubadours in search of answers to life's bigger questions.  But where Isbell mines for meaning and Stapleton explores the country music archives, and while Sturgill pushes the boundaries, this band simply offers a good time well played.

Also this week, we learn that "Mapache" means "raccoon" in Spanish.  And that the California country-folk duo is exploring new strains of mellow on their full length debut.  It dawns on us that Ronnie Fauss just gets stronger as a writer, and that there is righteousness in the rough punk blues of a man with the middle name Porkchop.  And let's say that we'll plan our year-end favorite albums list for debut on the week of November 26.  'Kay?

- JD McPherson, "Crying's Just a Thing That You Do" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Flat Duo Jets, "Please Please Baby" Wild Wild Love  (Daniel 13, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "Pontiac" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Mapache, "Broken Down Cadillac" Mapache  (Spiritual Pajamas, 17)  D
- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single  (LAT, 17)
- Mary Gauthier, "Drag Queens in Limousines" Drag Queens in Limousines  (In the Black, 99)
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Bittersweet Creek" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Lee Ann Womack, "Bottom of the Barrel" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
^ Turnpike Troubadours, "Winding Stair Mountain Blues" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier City, 17)
- Jerry Jeff Walker, "Jaded Lover" Ridin' High  (UMG, 75)
- Margo Price w/Willie Nelson, "Learning to Lose" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- 23 String Band, "Long Hot Summer Day" Catch 23  (23SB, 11)
- Langhorne Slim, "House of My Soul (You Light the Rooms)" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Leif Vollebekk, "Tallahassee" single  (Secret City, 17)  D
- Wilco, "Should've Been in Love" AM  (Reprise, 17)
- Calexico, "End of the World With You" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Fallen Leaves" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Twenty-Two Years" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Pine Valley Cosmonauts, "Horses" Executioner's Last Songs Vols. 2 + 3  (Bloodshot, 03)
- Becca Mancari, "Summertime Mama" Good Woman  (Tone Tree, 17)
- Justin Townes Earle, "Trouble Is" Kids in the Street  (New West, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Be Righteous" Death & the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Joana Serrat, "Come Closer" Dripping Springs  (Loose, 17)
- Joe Henry, "Blood of the Forgotten Song" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Will I Ever Reach Laredo" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "Postcard" Ruins  (Columbia, 18)
- Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Fine and Mellow" My Dearest Darkest Neighbor  (TiAM, 13)
- Becky Warren, "Fort Sam Boys" War Surplus  (Warren, 17)
- Tim Barry, "High on 95" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)
- Jack Rose & Black Twig Pickers, "Some Happy Day" Jack Rose & Black Twig Pickers  (VHF, 09)

Monday, October 23, 2017

it's our kind of music
October 23, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

At the risk of opening the door to nostalgia, it was just about a year ago that I left radio for the without-a-net environs of a web-only service.  I'm generally content with how The Experiment is progressing.  I feel the reviews have become more thoughtful, the music is increasingly consistent, and the host ... well, he'll get it right eventually.  The plan is to continue pressing ever forward, trying new things and honing my edge, while never abandoning our noble creed to serve you with the very best of americana, and roots music.  My initial concern upon leaving radio was maintaining my radar for the new stuff without labels, promoters and artists throwing it all at me via the US Mail.  Turns out the challenges are more about discipline, time and quality assurance - I may have to pay a bit more, but the music's no problem.  More than anything, I just want to become a better writer and a more engaging host.

This Episode we'll be touching base with Jeffrey Martin and his new project, a suitable companion to his Fluff & Gravy labelmate Anna Tivel's own recent record.  We lasso a wild wild vintage performance from Flat Duo Jets that makes us wonder if anyone is still making noise like that.  And we're grateful to Hellbound Glory for continuing to balance humor, edge and pure songwriting quality.

I comment during this week's ROUTES-cast (see below) that Travis Meadows' lifestory is about as captivating as any music he could make.  A cancer survivor and amputee, a former evangelist, a one-time junkie, a writer to the mainstream country stars, Meadows can be forgiven if it's taken him awhile to produce the follow-up to 2011's Killin' Uncle Buzzy.  Without being indulgent or becoming mired in the confessional, Meadows has channeled that lifetime of hard lessons and moments of victory into the imminently satisfying First Cigarette.

Meadows allows himself some introspection on the record's title track:  A little more content with / Who I am than who I was ... I can look at my reflection and see hope.  His unexpectedly agile vocal recalls Rodney Crowell, perhaps as crossed with the timeworn grit of Malcolm Holcomb.  The song slinks along at a cool removed pace, never releasing the spring or cutting loose, an ode to Meadows' one remaining vice.  The need for satisfaction / Leaves me so unsatisfied.

Meadows selects his writing partners wisely, pairing with Drew Kennedy, Lori McKenna and David Ramirez at points throughout the collection.  "Pontiac" finds him collaborating with McKenna and producer Jeremy Spillman.  Like most of the record, the midtempo number is framed by loose electric guitar and the singer's expressive delivery.  "Pontiac" dispenses hard won wisdom, placing value in setbacks and recognizing that character comes from experience:  And I hope you get your heart broke / At least once before you fall in love / I hope you wind up flat broke / At least once before you have enough ... I hope you keep the Pontiac.

Producer Spillman has been behind the board for his share of shiny Nashville hits, serving with Trace Adkins, Lee Ann Womack and Eric Church.  On First Cigarette, he wisely applies a lighter touch, allowing the humanity and natural grain of Travis Meadows' work to show.  "Sideways" is a soulful number that acknowledges our inheritance, the things we carry forward from who we were to who we are.  In Meadows' case, that's the bridge-burning anger that flows through his veins:  I have moments when I act just like my father / The only man that ever broke my heart.

Elsewhere, songs like "Underdogs" and "Long Live Cool" simply allow Meadows to explore the ragged roots rock that propels him in all its bluesy glory.  "Pray For Jungleland" is the album's warm heart, and one of my favorite tunes of the last several month.  With a chorus that I just can't shake, it's a perfect slice of middle America in the tradition of Springsteen.  It's driven by the rhythms and schemes of contemporary country hits, but displays more passion than a pile of Luke Bryan tailgate bangers.  Her in those tight jeans / Wearing out the Dairy Queen / Waiting on Springsteen / Stereo blastin', too much magic to understand.  It's the singer's genuine passion that raises "Jungleland" above the country music fray, coaxing his cracked voice to its limits.  "Pray For Jungleland" is a potentially year-defining single for me, a seemingly carefree and nostalgic ode to the Endless Summer that stands out on a record that also reminds us of our possibility for redemption and second chances.

- William the Conqueror, "Did You Wrong" Proud Disturber of the Peace  (Loose, 17)
- GospelbeacH, "Sad Country Boy" Another Summer of Love  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "Still Rollin'" Claw Machine Wizard  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Your Hometown" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You (Cornelius Chapel, 17)
- Lilly Hiatt, "Night David Bowie Died" Trinity Lane  (New West, 17)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan & Lilly Hiatt, "Walls" single  (Tasjan Hiatt, 17)
- Iron & Wine, "Bitter Truth" Beast Epic  (Sub Pop, 17)
- Becca Mancari, "Waiting So Long" Good Woman  (Gold Tooth, 17)  D
- Bermuda Triangle, "Suzanne" single  (Bermuda Triangle, 17)  D
- Alejandro Escovedo, "Baby's Got New Plans" Thirteen Years  (New West, 94)
- Chris Stapleton, "Millionaire" From A Room: Vol. 2  (Mercury, 17)  D
- Margo Price, "Don't Say" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- Derek Hoke, "Right Kind of Woman" Bring the Flood  (Little Hollywood, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Why I Left Atlanta" Jason Eady  (Old Guitar, 17)
- Flat Duo Jets, "Wild Wild Lover" Wild Wild Love  (Daniel 13, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Oklahoma Stars" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Come Over" Boy Crazy & Single(s)  (Bloodshot, 17)
- Hellbound Glory, "Vandalism Spree" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- J Roddy Walston & the Business, "Numbers" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Lovers on the Run" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)
- Eilen Jewell, "Nothing in Rambling" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Jeffrey Martin, "Thrift Store Dress" One Go Round  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)  D
- Anna Tivel, "Illinois" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
^ Travis Meadows, "Sideways" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "You Don't Scare Me" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Wild and Blue" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)
- David Ramirez, "Eliza Jane" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Tom Vandenavond, "So Long to the Traveling Kind" You Ought to Know These By Now  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 17)  D
- Frazey Ford, "When We Get By" single  (Arts & Crafts, 17)  D
- Blitzen Trapper, "Dance With Me" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

a home for the americana diaspora
October 15, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

This marks the first week where we feature stuff that's planned for release on the other side of the New Year.  It's a sign that it's time for me to retreat to my burrow to work on my year-end favorites lists.  I've actually sifted out about 35 or 40 contenders, though some of these late-in-the-year releases are sorta messing with it all.  Lee Ann Womack.  Ronnie Fauss.  Turnpike Troubadours.  I'm talking to you.

Anna Tivel's Small Believer isn't an easy listen, but it's as beautiful an album as you're bound to hear this year.  It's the sort of beautiful that happens in an Edward Hopper tableau, born of light and space and story.  The Portland artist calls it, "a collection of patchwork stories drawn from conversations with strangers, on the road, in restaurants, and rest stops".

The sound is intimate, generated by a close group of friends, primarily Tivel and producer Austin Nevins.  Like Joe Henry's more recent projects, songs like "Illinois" paint with a light acoustic brush: Guitar, acoustic bass, keys, only the necessary percussion.  Anna Tivel delivers these narratives like she's confiding a secret, her voice a hybrid of Julien Baker and Suzanne Vega.

Light shines dimly through Small Believer, spitting from flickering basement bulbs, angling down alleyways or falling from newborn stars.  "Saturday Night" provides a soundtrack to that Hopper canvas.  Tivel's streets and stoic buildings are seemingly devoid of people, but allude to untold stories and abiding aloneness.  The chamber folk arrangement is full without crowding, hushed but never disappearing.

but sometimes still at night i dream, an empty bottle in the alleyway / on a night so clear a billion stars are born / and each one is a world i guess, of dust and flame and wishes cast / by lovers hoping love will last 'til morning     --  "Alleyway"

Perhaps the most striking moment on the record comes from "Dark Chandelier", a picture of a man crushed in the wake of losing his blue collar job after thirty-one years.  Tivel's delivery is calm and contained, even when the story calls for anger or outrage or personal connection.  The writer can betray a great sympathy for these souls, though the picture is one of a documentary angel floating above the scene, permitting tears but always from a distance.  Tommy lies drunk on his own front lawn / at three in the morning, his work shirt still on ...

Much of the beauty is in the details of songs like "All Along" or "Last Cigarette".  They are just ordinary moments in the lives of everyday people, but they convey a universe of meaning.  Like Julien Baker, Tivel's emphasis is on imagery and isolated episodes of revelation. Stories that speak volumes:  and Joe on the line, all the burns on his arms, and his girlfriend at home with a yellowing bruise.

These are glimpses into small lives on a trajectory towards redemption or ruin (we're rarely told which).  On "Ordinary Dance": And oh, oh my god, I wanted to do something greatSmall Believer is a collection of short stories, gleaned from the constant buzz and murmur that surrounds us.  The heartbreaking "Blue World" begins with a picture of the quiet planet, sharp-focusing on the damp uncovered earth and the fallen bird.  A soul escapes from the bounds of our daily details, taking flight like a sigh.

- Turnpike Troubadours, "Pipe Bomb Dream" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Margo Price, "Cocaine Cowboy" All American Made  (Third Man, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "Pray for Jungleland" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Langhorne Slim, "Zombie" Lost at Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Americans, "Nevada" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "New Madrid" Last of the True  (normaltown, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Roll Julia" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Blank Range, "Crimson Moon" Marooned With the Treasure  (Sturdy Girls, 17)
- Joe Ely, "Tennessee's Not the State I'm In" Joe Ely  (Geffen, 77)
- Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Lithium" Not Dark Yet  (Silver Cross, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "All I Know" Boy Crazy & Single(s)  (Bloodshot, 17)   D
- Anderson East, "All On My Mind" Encore  (Elektra, 18)  D
- Lee Ann Womack, "Sunday" Lonely the Lonesome & the Gone  (ATO, 17)
- Mark Porkchop Holder, "Captain Captain" Death & the Blues  (Alive Naturalsound, 17)  D
- Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, "Matter of Time" Soul of a Woman  (Dap-Tone, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Style (is a Losing Game)" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Wilco, "Passenger Side (Live at the Troubadour 11/16/96)" Being There (Deluxe Edition)  (Reprise, 17)  D
- Calexico, "End of the World With You" Thread That Keeps Us  (Anti, 18)  D
- John Murry, "Defacing Sunday Bulletins" Short History of Decay  (Latent, 17)
- Nicole Atkins, "Listen Up" Goodnight Rhonda Lee  (Single Lock, 17)
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Sedan Delivery (live)" Rust Never Sleeps  (Reprise, 79)
- Will Hoge, "Anchors" Anchors  (Edlo, 17)
- White Buffalo, "Heart & Soul of the Night" Darkest Darks Lightest Lights  (Unison, 17)
- Mavis Staples, "Little Bit" If All I Was Was Black  (Anti, 17)
- Derek Hoke, "Little Devil" Bring the Flood  (Little Hollywood, 17)
- Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats, "I've Been Failing (live)" Live at Red Rocks  (Concord, 17)  D
- Joe Fletcher, "Haint Blue Cadillac" You've Got the Wrong Man  (Wrong Reasons, 14)
- Becky Warren, "Full of Bourbon" War Surplus (Deluxe Edition)  (Warren, 17)  D
- Texas Gentlemen, "Bondurant Women" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "Lost Out in the Darkness" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
October 8, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

Tom Petty is one of those artists who have a great effect on our kind of music, but who aren't necessarily formally embraced by the genre.  Thinking others like Springsteen, REM, John(ny Cougar) Mellencamp, etc.  I mention in this Episode that I've never played Petty on R&B, and I don't do it here either.  Which doesn't mean I'm not a fan.  Damn the Torpedoes was a very formative cassette in Young Scott's collection.  We observe his passing with a couple covers, in a week that heard countless roots artists demonstrating their reverence with live takes on their favorite Tom Petty track.

Here's a link to Patterson Hood's Petty piece from Bitter Southerner.

Also this Episode, we dig further into what's proving to be a promising Langhorne Slim project.  We debut a solid new set from Derek Hoke.  And it dawns on me that Deer Tick's ambitious new collection deserves some year-end attention.

Close readers of these pages will recognize my short fuse with regards to shallow appropriation of early rock and rockabilly culture.  There's a thin line between deeper authenticity and hollow imitation. I recall coming across JD McPherson's 2015 episode of Amoeba Records' What's In My Bag where the artist reveals an educated reverence for roots icons like Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and the Monks.  While his first two LPs presented fairly literal interpretations of this stuff, McPherson's new Undivided Heart & Soul finds him extending those revivalist tendencies in a more personal and creative direction.

I actually love Let the Good Times Roll (2015) and Signs & Signifiers (2010), and still consider "North Side Gal" one of the decade's most indelible singles.  McPherson reportedly abandoned a couple earlier approaches to a third record, until a visit with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme provided the inspiration for the album's direction.  Even then, McPherson was uncertain whether fans of his first CDs would follow him into the new sound.

Overall, the new sounds on Undivided Heart & Soul are still retro, but lean more towards the contemporary than the revivalist.  "Lucky Penny" might be the best Black Keys song you haven't heard.  Driven by stomping drums and dirty dirty guitar, it introduces a claustrophobic production, sounding a bit like the sessions were recorded in a high school locker room.  In all the best ways. Pieces like "Desperate Love" pay homage to 60s garage rock 'n soul, but with the same ratio of retro-to-contemporary as Jack White.

Obviously well schooled in the medium, McPherson and his band can hear the punk in Buddy Holly, appreciate the darkness of Link Wray, and the deep and dirty roots of the Cramps.  "Crying's Just a Thing You Do" is greasy and primitive, like "Wooly Bully" with a gutbucket blues guitar solo.  As a whole, the collection embraces the edgy and jarring, with contributions from McPherson's new East Nashville neighbor, Aaron Lee Tasjan, as well as his former Sooner friend, Parker Millsap.

"Hunting For Sugar", "Under the Spell of City Lights" and the title track speak in a more contemporary pop language, trading in tuneful hooks with at least one foot venturing beyond the garage door.  Especially on "Sugar", he shows himself to be a singer capable of a range of voices, from a gentle croon to a barbed howl.  Nicole Atkins contributes vocally to the record, a singer whose own new Goodnight Rhonda Lee swims these same waters.

Watching that short Amoeba piece, JD McPherson reveals an impressive knowledge, and depth of appreciation for, stuff that came before.  The truest confirmation of this is found on these more contemporary tracks, where the band applies what they've borrowed to create a new product that is more than the sum of its parts.  While it's still fun to play "name that influence" with Undivided Heart, the accolades belong fully to McPherson and his band.

- Anna Tivel, "Last Cigarette" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Travis Meadows, "First Cigarette" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan & Lilly Hiatt, "The Wall" single  (Mark of the Leopard, 17)  D
- Langhorne Slim, "Life is Confusing" Lost At Last Vol. 1  (Dualtone, 17)
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Old Time Feeling (Like Before)" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Drive-by Truckers, "What It Means (Live)" Live at Newport Folk Fest  (ATO, 17)  D
- Joana Serrat, "Western Cold Wind" Dripping Springs  (Loose, 17)  D
- Elliott BROOD, "The Fall" Ghost Gardens  (Paper Bag, 17)
- Joe Henry, "River Floor" Thrum  (Edel, 17)
- Derek Hoke, "So Tired" Bring the Flood  (Little Hollywood, 17)  D
- Whitney Rose, "Trucker's Funeral" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- Legendary Shack Shakers, "Single Boy" After You've Gone  (Last Chance, 17)
- Girls Guns & Glory, "All the Way Up To Heaven" Good Luck  (Lonesome Day, 14)
- Hellbound Glory, "Sun Valley Blues #3" Pinball  (Black Country Rock, 17)
- Dori Freeman, "Just Say It Now" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)
- Brent Cobb, "Ain't a Road Too Long" single  (Elektra, 17)  D
- Hang Rounders, "Burnt Bridges" Outta Beer Outta Here  (H'Rounders, 17)  C
- Jeremy Pinnell, "Way We See Heaven" Ties of Blood & Affection  (Sofaburn, 17)
- Lucero, "Diamond State Heartbreak" Attic Tapes  (Liberty & Lament, 00)
- Deer Tick, "Hope is Big" Deer Tick Vol. 1  (Partisan, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Hickory Wind" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Tim Barry, "O & Dp" High on 95  (Chunksaah, 17)
- Blitzen Trapper, "Wild & Reckless" Wild & Reckless  (LKC, 17)
- Jeff Tweedy, "I Am Always In Love" Together At Last  (dBPM, 17)
- Mavericks, "There Goes My Heart" What a Crying Shame  (Geffen, 94)
- Juanita Stein, "Someone Else's Dime" America  (Hand Written, 17)
- Vetiver, "I Know No Pardon" To Find Me Gone  (Dicristina, 06)
- Reckless Kelly, "Time Bomb" Millican  (Rummy, 97)
- Jason Isbell, "Tupelo" Nashville Sound  (Southeastern, 17)

... and since you asked, yes I do have Ten Favorite Tom Petty singles.  And yes I will put them in alphabetical order as follows:  "American Girl", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Even the Losers", "Here Comes My Girl", "Learning To Fly", "Refugee", "Southern Accents", "The Waiting" and "You Wreck Me".  Thanks for asking.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

it's our kind of music
October 1, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust

It takes great talent to make a record that sounds like this much of a lovely mess.  My hope for  Texas Gentlemen is that the grooves get deeper, the rhythmic u-turns weirder and the in-jokes less appropriate.  The playing on TX Jelly isn’t sloppy in the least.  Rather, it’s the production that colors so satisfyingly outside the lines, like a mutant strain of garage country-soul. 

It must be said that TX Jelly’s opener, “Habbie Doobie” is one of the year’s most sticky jams.  It’s essentially an instrumental, enhanced with some extraneous dialog and occasional moments of drunken group-sing.  I’m certain that the recording wasn’t preceded by a lot of rehearsal, that “Habbie Doobie” is simply a “lightning-in-a-half-empty-bottle” moment generated by a cohort of crack musicians who have worked alongside one another for several years.  Indeed, the core Gentlemen have played behind a remarkable diversity of artists, from Leon Bridges to Joe Ely and Kris Kristofferson.

The song sets the stage for what follows, a smattering of half-finished ideas, tossed off tunes and moments of fleeting brilliance that make TX Jelly a genuinely happy-making CD.  “Pain” is a joyful boogie that promises a whole lot of pain in your life.  The ensemble rarely plays it straight, so there are musical detours and curious choices in even the most standard song.  On “Pain”, it comes in the form of a little vocal vamp that is filtered through a watery production.  That psychedelic effect comes through most strongly on the lounge-y “Superstition”, which comes across like a Harry Nilsson LP riding a slightly wonky turntable:  Do you believe in things that go hump in the night / When you’re alone in Tennessee / And you haven’t realized yet.  The title track seems inspired by an effort to “get the drummer some”, laying down a heavy snare riff enhanced with a variety of noises, organic and otherwise. 

Texas Gentlemen are always good fun, but their debut isn’t simply a throwaway lark.  “Bondurant Women” holds its ground as the album’s most complete cut, a swampy, soulful throwback with some fine vocals and hooky percussion.  Vocals are generously shared throughout the collection, including a couple takes from Paul Cauthen on songs like “Gone”.  The band’s garage-a-licious run through “Shakin’ All Over” almost rivals the opener for its retro splendor. 

Apart from “Doobie”, the collection’s most startling revelation comes in the form of Tool, TX’s own Dan Dyer.  Dyer dabbles in acoustic and bass here and there, and assumes iconically laconic lead vocal duties on a pair of country weepers.  Foremost among these is the saaaad “Pretty Flowers”: These are not for you, my happy memories / These are not for you, my future plans.  Dyer half sings and half talks atop a dusty shuffle and an otherworldly choir of Jordanaires.  Think Charlie Rich, by way of Bobby Bare Jr. 

TX Jelly is not one single record.  It is a mixtape, harvesting the bounty of three, maybe four LPs you discovered at a sidestreet thrift store.  In a time where our kind of music is fighting for acknowledgement, doing all it can to be taken more seriously by more listeners, Texas Gentlemen offer us a moment of refreshing irresponsibility.  

- Left Arm Tan, "El Camino" single  (LAT, 17)
- Whitney Rose, "Can't Stop Shakin'" Rule 62  (Six Shooter, 17)
- JD McPherson, "Hunting For Sugar" Undivided Heart & Soul  (New West, 17)
- Americans, "Hooky" I'll Be Yours  (Loose, 17)
^ Texas Gentlemen, "Pretty Flowers" TX Jelly  (New West, 17)
- Paul Cauthen, "Saddle" My Gospel  (Lightning Rod, 16)
- Dori Freeman, "I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight" Letters Never Read  (Dori, 17)
- Ronnie Fauss, "Big Leagues" Last of the True  (Normaltown, 17)
- Joseph Childress, "Leaving the Barren Ground" Joseph Childress  (Empty Cellar, 17)
- Hiss Golden Messenger, "John the Gun" Hallelujah Anyhow  (Merge, 17)
- Anna Tivel, "Blue World" Small Believer  (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- Deep Dark Woods, "Fallen Leaves" Yarrow  (Six Shooter, 17)  D
- Fernando Viciconte, "Drunkard's Lament" Widows  (Domingo, 17)  D
- Travis Meadows, "Pray For Jungleland" First Cigarette  (Blaster, 17)  D
- Turnpike Troubadours, "Sunday Morning Papers" Long Way From Your Heart  (Bossier, 17)
- Bash + Pop w/Nicole Atkins, "Too Late" single  (Fat Possum, 17)  D
- Eilen Jewell, "You Know My Love" Down Hearted Blues  (Signature Sounds, 17)
- Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton, "Minstrel Boy" Wildflower Blues  (Holland/Parton, 17)
- Whitey Morgan, "Hard Scratch Pride" Whitey Morgan & the 78s  (Bloodshot, 10)
- David Ramirez, "Stone Age" We're Not Going Anywhere  (Sweetworld, 17)
- Erin Enderlin, "Jesse Joe's Cigarettes" Whiskeytown Crier  (Blue Slate, 17)
- Lucinda Williams, "Sweet Old World" This Sweet Old World  (Hwy 20, 17)
- Ian Felice, "Water Street" In the Kingdom of Dreams  (New York Pro, 17)
- First Aid Kit, "It's a Shame" single  (Columbia, 17)  D
- Hang Rounders, "Wyoming" Outta Beer Outta Here  (H'Rounders, 17)  C, D
- Dan Dyer, "Cowboys in Nashville" Feast of Light  (Dyer, 17)  D
- Porter & Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, "Shit Got Dark" Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You  (Cornelius Chapel, 17)  D
- Bottle Rockets, "Better Than Broken" Zoysia  (Bloodshot, 06)
- J Roddy Walston, "Bad Habits" Destroyers of the Soft Life  (ATO, 17)
- Romantica, "Lonely Star" Shadowlands  (Last Chance, 17)