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Rock & Americana albums reviewed for KRFC by Scott Foley, host of Routes and Branches.

You Me & Apollo, Cards With Cheats

FoCo resident Brent Cowles is basically a one-man band on this 2nd CD under the You Me & Apollo moniker.  Out in July (and available for a free Bandcamp download), this is one of my favorite CO releases of the year. Cowles writes far beyond his experience, with a voice and style akin to M Ward, or a dustier Brett Dennen with just a touch of soul.  Like Nathaniel Rateliff, much of Cards is quiet and understated, only to explode occasionally into Cowles’ powerful vocals and full band.  Despite the namedropping, it’s refreshingly original stuff that deserves a wider listenership.
Produced by: dunno
Label: River Jones Music
File Under: Local / Rock / Americana (COLORADO MUSIC)


Constitution, Wrestling With the Daylight

This Fort Collins quartet calls its brand of music “americana soul”.  Driven by Darren Radach’s mandolin and Matt Mahern’s soulful vocals, the songs on Constitution’s new release are quick to like and hard to forget.  Mahern’s writing has a quick humor, with frequently clever turns of phrase and an unexpected outlook.  There’s an ease and comfort that carries through this entire recording, everything laid-back and friendly.  Also featured are Ben Prytherch on acoustic bass and Peter Knudson on percussion, and Greta Cornett adds some trumpet to my favorite track.
Produced by: Darren Radach
Label: Constitution
File Under: Americana / Local  (COLORADO MUSIC)


Honey Gitters, Poor Gitters’ Almanack

The Fort Collins band’s second CD of grass-inspired jamming will grow quickly on listeners’ ears.  While a couple tracks stick closer to bluegrass conventions, the 4-piece enjoys their departures, adding electric guitars, drums and extended instrumental breakdowns to their mix. Even a take on Louisiana-ish sounds.  Especially worthy are Greg Simms’ electric guitar arrangements, which define the Gitters’ sound on this new CD.
Produced by:
Label: Honey Gitters
File Under:  Americana / Local  (COLORADO MUSIC)


Kentucky Parlor Pickers, Barn Burner

You might not guess by their moniker, but this edgy string band trio is actually from Denver.  Their debut CD has been out for a couple months, but is new to our library.  Like Legendary Shack Shakers, the Pickers have a definite edge to their, as well as a welcome sense of humor.
Produced by: Mark Thomas
Label: Self
File Under: Americana / Local  (COLORADO MUSIC)




Doop and the Inside Outlaws, What Am I Supposed To Do?

To add insult to injury, this Detroit collective’s second CD was called Everett Belcher …  Anyhow, Doop is Don Duprie, who has drawn together a loose group of Detroit roots types for what is actually a fine effort.  I suppose this could best be termed “working class roots rock”, blue collar stuff with a nice sense of a tune.  Think Mellencamp a’la Rain On the Scarecrow with well-done pedal steel throughout.  Especially nice is a duet Doop does with singer Alison Lewis on “Not Too Late”.
Produced by: Jim Diamond
Label: Blood River
File Under: Americana



Pert Near Sandstone, Paradise Hop

Is there something in thewater of the Land of 1,000 Lakes that makes them enjoy their bluegrass hard and fast?  The St Paul quartet’s fourth studio album will find a place in the heart of fans of Duluth’s Trampled By Turtles.  All four members play and sing, populating each song with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and other trad favorites but flitting between bluegrass and something faster and looser, often within the same tune.  A couple trad songs, but mostly original (in all senses).  Whereas earlier releases might’ve sounded less consistent, Paradise Hop tightens it all up nicely in terms of writing, play and production.  A good number of playable tracks here (one of those that I couldn’t stop marking up …).
Produced by:  Matthew Zimmerman
Label: Pert Near Sandstone
File Under: Americana



Damn Quails, Down the Hatch

Last week we debuted a new CD by Mike McClure, on his new 598 Records label.  Here, McClure produces the promising debut recording by Gabriel Marshall and Bryon White, the Damn Quails.  Like much of Oklahoma’s red dirt country scene, Damn Quails’ brand of americana is well-produced and arranged, mid-tempo pieces spiced with fiddle, harmonica, pedal steel and more.  Both gentlemen trade off lead vocals for a bit of variety, and blend well together when harmonizing.
Produced by:  Mike McClure and Joe Hardy
Label:  598 Records
File Under: Americana



Hoots & Hellmouth, Salt

The Philadelphia band’s fourth album (counting an EP earlier this year) somewhat abandons the “stomp” which characterized their earlier work.  Also, the man known as “Hellmouth” has left to become a school teacher (Mr Hellmouth, I assume).  With a more expansive sound and a couple new group members, there remains a nice roots element to the band’s music.  There’s also a bit more emphasis on songcraft and lyrics, with the vocals of Sean Hoots more out front and center.  Will likely appeal to fans of “neckbeard” bands such as Dawes, Blitzen Trapper, Mumford & Sons, etc.
Produced by:  Hoots, et al.
Label: Hoots & Hellmouth
File Under: Rock


Kitty Daisy & Lewis, Smoking In Heaven

Third album from the NW London siblings with a thing for antique instruments, equipment and sounds.  When these three talented Durhams were younger, there was a novelty to their act.  Now that they’re a bit older, they’re able to rise above the novelty status, writing most of their own tunes and handling all but a few instrumental duties.  The trio roams through a musical landscape of blues, jazz, boogie-woogie and rockabilly.  trading lead vocals and songwriting responsibilities.  There remains a definite retro quality, but with artists like Adele, Duffy and Nick 13 making strides there’s also something relevant to KD&L.
Produced by: KD&L Durham
Label: Verve
File Under: Rock



Zoe Boekbinder, Darling Specimens

I like this blurb from her website:  “Zoe has an affinity for mason jars, rusted metal, Dolly Parton, sea creatures, botanical drawings, dilapidated barns, chocolate, avocados, broken hearts, port wine, and the open road. She went to clown school and wants to own a farm someday. Her last name is pronounced “book-binder”, like a person who binds books.”  Doesn’t tell you much expect that there’s quirk aplenty here.  Boekbinder has played with Dresden Dolls and Ditty Bops, which won’t surprise a listener.  A more helpful bit from her site:  “a heartrending and tousled collage of auxiliary percussion, haunted horns, theremins, and strings.”  Both charming and a sinister.
Produced by: several folks …
Label: Extropian
File Under: Rock



Various Artists, Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Like any other self-respecting legend, when Hank passed so many years ago, he left a briefcase full of lyrics in his wake.  With help from Bob Dylan, producer Mary Martin selected a dozen of these unfinished tunes and paired them with a dozen songwriters who completed the songs.  Contributors run the gamut from Dylan to Lucinda and Merle, from Dylan (Jakob) to Levon Helm and Sheryl Crow.  All approach their respective songs with a reverence that makes this a very country-leaning record.  While I’ve tagged a couple standout cuts, it’s all very playable.
Produced by: Mary Martin
Label: Columbia
File Under: Americana



Deer Tick, Divine Providence

Deer Tick has always teetered on the brink of a full-raging kegger.  On Divine Providence, the band abandons any pretense to songwriterly dignity and dives into the beer-drenched chaos.  Perhaps Middle Brother enforced a bit too much discipline for John J McCauley III, whose voice has always been ragged but here gives Shane McGowan a run for his money.  Having said that, it’s not an entirely negative thing since Deer Tick’s abandon has always been a big part of their charm.  Like McGowan or Paul Westerberg, an unhinged McCauley can still write a great song.  It’s only unfortunate that a couple of the better tracks feature prominent obscenity.
Produced by: Adam Landry and Justin Collins
Label: Partisan
File Under: Rock



Mike McClure, Fifty Billion

One of the bigger names on what was Oklahoma’s Red Dirt scene, McClure is probably better known as a producer for bands such as Cross Canadian Ragweed.  While he began his recording career as a member of The Great Divide, he has nurtured a solo career over the space of nearly a dozen albums, most a bit more polished and varied than much Red Dirt fare.  On this new effort, McClure often comes off sounding a bit like Fred Eaglesmith, albeit with layered vocals and horns here and there.
Produced by: Joe Hardy
Label: 598 Records
File Under: Americana



Honey Honey, Billy Jack

Just two folks:  Suzanne Santo on lead vox, violin and banjo, and Ben Jaffe on seamless harmony, guitar and lots more.  From LA, Honey Honey make excellent music together, a strain of americana that brings together Nashville’s tuneful country, Laurel Canyon’s folk-rock and an edginess that comes from living in LA.  Santo is a truly appealing vocalist, her allure strengthened by Jaffe’s backing vocals, dovetailing so perfectly and yet so naturally.  I believe this is Honey Honey’s second or third release, and it should vault them deservingly towards the spotlight, a’la Civil Wars.  Recommended.
Produced by: Raymond Richards
Label: Lost Hwy
File Under: Americana



Greensky Bluegrass, Handguns

The fourth album from the “new-grass” band from Kalamazoo, who won the Telluride Bluegrass award in 2006.  Even moreso than their previous efforts the excellent Handguns is a genre-bending affair, deserving of lots of hyphenated attempts at classifying an album that spans from Railroad Earth-style jamming to something more akin to the Avetts.  Each member of the quintet is a quality musician, though my award goes to Anders Beck’s steel contributions.  One of the better albums I’ve heard in recent weeks.  Greensky Bluegrass will join KRFC for a show at Hodi’s on the 28th of October.  Recommended.
Produced by: Greensky Bluegrass
Label: Big Blue Zoo
File Under: Americana



Crooked Still, Friends Of Fall

Crooked Still celebrate their 10th birthday with this long EP (or short LP) of covers familiar and otherwise.  Aoife O’Donovan is surely one of the most lovely voices around, as evidenced on her wonderful take on Paul Simon’s “American Tune” or “Peace of Wild Things”, a Wendell Berry poem set to music.  There’s also a Beatles cut, John Hartford and just one original.  All are so carefully arranged and performed, Crooked Still are more reinterpreters as opposed to another cover band.  A fine collection.
Produced by: Crooked Still
Label: Signature Sounds
File Under: Americana



Nikki Lane, Walk Of Shame

Couple months ago, I entered a 4-song EP by Ms Lane into our library, and it’s since gotten a good deal of air love from our programmers.  Walk Of Shame fleshes out the promise of that first glance, offering two tracks from the EP and 9 new tunes.  Like the EP, the songs here are rooted in trad country, with Lane’s classic voice and dramatic arrangements.  To this, however, Lane adds echo and attitude a’la Sarah Borges or Neko Case.  With only a couple exceptions (including a Muddy Waters cut), Lane has written or cowritten most tracks, and deserves the attention her CD is receiving.
Produced by: Dave Cobb and Lewis Pesacov
Label: I Am Sound
File Under: Americana



Danny Barnes, Rocket

Barnes is best know as the versatile banjo virtuoso who fronted Bad Livers and played with everyone from Leftover Salmon to Butthole Surfers.  Rocket finds Barnes expanding ever more in the electric direction, playing what he calls the “bamjo”, a hardbody banjo with pickups.  On a handful of more rocking tracks, it’s not even recognizable as a banjo-hybrid.  Nevertheless, as he branches out,  Barnes shows himself to be more soulful and funky, and certainly more experimental than any other banjo player of which I am aware.  As a special bonus, there is a cover of T Rex’s “Bang a Gong”.  No matter your expectations, Barnes will exceed them here.
Produced by: John Alagia
Label: ATO
File Under: Americana



Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire

I believe John entered this into the library last week, possibly even under Rock.  But I wanted to drop a belated commentary about Adams’ first serious work in a couple years.  It’s also his most basic and stripped down, focusing on little more than good songcraft.  There are no tracks that rise above a ballad or mid-range beat, with Adams’ honest and raw voice front and center in front of a very strong band.  Joining him are Benmont Tench, Greg Leisz, Norah Jones and more.  In addition to Jones, Mandy Moore and former Cardinal Neal Casal add vocals.  While the results are more subtle than most of what he has done in the past, there are some fine and stirring moments on Ashes & Fire.
Produced by: Glyn Johns
Label: Capitol
File Under: Americana



Red Molly, Light In the Sky

Seems it hasn’t been all too long since this stellar New York trio unleashed their James CD upon our library.  Light in the Sky replaces Molly Carolann Solebello with singer-songwriter and guitarist Molly Venter, but the musicianship and unreal harmonies are a constant.  While there are only three originals here, the Mollies do a fine job selecting covers, including a couple trax by Gillian and David, a Buddy and Julie and a couple Mark Erellis.  Especially strong is Abbie Gardner’s dobro, joined by guests Jonathan Byrd, Jake Armerding, drummer Ben Wittman and more. Wheras much of James fell firmly into the folk bin, Light in the Sky crosses over comfortably into country and bluegrass territory.  A fine recording.
Produced by: Red Molly
Label: Red Molly
File Under: Americana



Joe Henry, Reverie

There was a time when Joe Henry was a straightforward americana singer-songwriter; one among many (his early 90s albums featured the Jayhawks as his backing band). The five albums released since Scar often sound like a different artist; more akin to a much less bombastic Tom Waits, bringing the class of jazz and the suaveness of R&B into his mix.  Whereas some of the stuff Henry has released recently incorporate noise and rattle into his songs, Reverie strives to be a wholly acoustic affair, focused on Henry with little else beyond guitar or piano and standup bass.  It’s a frequently beautiful and elegant affair, with the artist’s true poetry like little else you’ll hear in popular music.  Which isn’t to say that everything will go over like gangbusters on radio.  Henry thrives on understatement, so don’t expect catchy beats. But by all means give this recommended disc a close listen.
Produced by: Joe Henry
Label: Anti
File Under: Americana



Verlon Thompson, Works

Thompson deserves to be more respected as a songwriter, but is much better known as a sideman, especially to Guy Clark.  He records solo albums infrequently, and on Works Thompson mixes more familiar tunes with new ones, both unaccompanied and with friends.  Like Clark, Thompson’s talent is in telling stories, with a ready sense of humor and pathos.  While the tracks featuring only Verlon and his guitar are a bit sparse for radio, there are enough more fleshed-out cuts among the 18 here that will fit in nicely on americana and folk-leaning programs.
Produced by: Verlon Thompson
Label: Victor Tango
File Under: Americana



Merle Haggard, Working in Tennessee

A nice surprise from Hag, now nearly 75 years old and long past his true prime.  At this point, few would blame him if he chose to assemble an album of covers or rerecordings.  Fortunately, Tennessee is more than just a victory lap, it’s a collection of new Hag songs, with only carefully placed guests.  While his voice has aged, it’s done so gracefully, and Haggard sounds perfectly comfortable, which is not to say he’s cruising here.  His umpteenth album features a couple excellent originals, songs which hold their own up against the man’s legacy.
Produced by: Merle & Lou Bradley
Label: Vanguard
File Under: Americana