Posts Tagged ‘Alt-Country’

Cut Worms – “Castle In The Clouds”

On his last album Max Clarke paid a visit to the 50’s harmonies of the Everlys, cut with a touch of twang that gave them a faded pastiche of Western Fringe and ’60s California neon humming through the night. From the sounds of “Castle In The Clouds” he’s taking the that touch of twang and turning it up a notch. The song pushes him away from those Everly Brothers swoons and into a lonesome territory that’s skewing more Gene Clark as he worked his way from The Godsins to Doug Dillard. I’ve been smitten by the current sweep of indie and folk towards an adoption of the Cosmic Americana and Country corners and Clarke has been doing it as well as most. This one leaves a lot of anticipation for his upcoming LP, which seems to have full details forthcoming. Either way, get it on the watch list and in the meantime spend a few minutes replaying “Castle In The Clouds” on repeat.

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Rose City Band – “Real Long Gone”

Another shaker from the upcoming sophomore LP by Rose City Band. While the band’s debut slipped out quietly under the shadow of anonymity, leaving a few aural clues as to who was behind it, now Ripley Johnson (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips) has taken his rightful place in the sun for the follow-up. The band’s been blending down the private press folk loner linger with the faded country swagger of deep bench ‘70s presses and nowhere does it coalesce better than on “Real Long Gone.” The song’s got a sunburnt soul, beaten by road dust and winding down the same turns that Turnquist Remedy, Country Funk, and Mighty Baby tracked before them. In the past the heat-curl of psych has obscured the twang-tipped wrangle, but here the country careen is on full display and feeling like just the thing to ease into summer. Warmer days have a good companion in the grooves of Summerlong.


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Half Stack – “Wings of Love”

Adding to the Autumn shivers of the country-rock groundswell of late, Oakland’s Half Stack have been building steam for the past few years, with an EP release last year and their sorely underusing 2018 LP, Quitting Time in the rearview. They announce a proper follow-up this week and release the title track “Wings of Love” out onto the breeze — unfurling an easy sway, a tangle of guitar twang, and three-part harmonies that melt like butter in the pan. The song’s got a wandering heart and travel in its bones, but its also got a melancholy soul that’s not ready to leave easy. The band employs a looseness that never sounds over-fussed, letting a little rumple work its way into the sound despite an obvious aptitude for songcraft. The record’s on the way from Forged Artifacts, and as with many soon to be platters, the digital will land mid-summer with physical dates stretching into the fall. Get this one on your wishlist now, though. Its gonna be a good one.



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Mapache

The sophomore LP from West Coast duo Mapache doesn’t knock the wheel too far from the road they set down in 2017. While the temper (and tempo) doesn’t rise from the comfort of that first LP, the colors do deepen. From Liberty Street is rife with shades of earthen ochre and dust-kicked sandalwood. There are more than a few pale blues that stretch far and wide as the skies that tie Los Angeles to the Baja. There are deep set oranges and amber golds that bake in the sun and seep into the copper rimmed strings of their guitars. Moving against any and all prevailing winds at the moment, the record is full of an endless summer bliss — capturing the kind of lost weekend aimlessness that feels either blissfully ignorant of its own innate good fortune or imbued with the charm to talk its way into those good graces with gambler’s finesse.

The pair swaps seamlessly between Spanish and English as if border hopping between small towns in an era less locked with tension. With the kind of stubbled yet square jawed vocal harmonies that made Fleet Foxes a household name, the band reaches back to a Canyon croon that’s embroidered over every inch of this record. There’s a bygone feeling beat into the bones of this album — patched and faded like a thrift store Nudie suit jacket missing its presentational partner but pulling the outfit together all the same. There are tales of hammock swung afternoons that feel flush with melodies traded back and forth like pot-luck parcels. Half-hewn notes of Gene Clark, The Fist National Band, David Crosby, and a much less Anglophile Heron seem to flutter through the speakers in patchwork perfection. While the band haven’t really shaken the roots that took hole from their beginning, the combination of calm winds across a few different eras all seem to blow this one in the right direction. Seems like if you’re looking for a bit of relief right about now, this is a damn sure bet.



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Rose City Band – “Only Lonely”

After last year’s stunner of a private press presentation on Ripley and Sanae’s Jean Sandwich Records, Rose City Band wafts out of the morning haze with a renewed focus on its principle songwriter (Ripley Johnson) and an even greater glint of late afternoon sun between its bars. The band signs to Thrill Jockey for a sophomore LP, Summerlong, and fades even further into the dusted dirt and sun-ripple rock of ‘70s country-psych and private press folk. Rip seems to have mastered the melancholy moments of clarity that cropped up on long lost singer-songwriter sojourns destined for dollar bin rescue by collector’s with keen ears. “Only Lonely” starts off the LP with a hip-swung jaunt — lofted high on late afternoon jangles, the buttery bliss of slide, and Johnson’s vocals dipping in and out of the smoke curls rising to the rafters. While the debut snagged the attention of the jam diggers and new-country creepers, this one’s poised to let everyone in on the secret sway that Rose City Band holds over a room. It’s only March, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t already one of 2020’s essential offerings right here.



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Teddy and the Rough Riders

Missed out on this one, sadly due to the announcement running through Instagram and me looking the other way. I live for Bandcamp notifications, get it up there Rough Riders! Now, to the record. I’ve been keeping the band’s TRR EP in pretty heavy rotation on the RSTB radio show and it only grows better with age. The band, which shares members with Natural Child and The Paperhead and has backed up Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears, has been steadily carving out a mellow alt-country crevice from Nashville’s underbelly. The band captures a melancholy wind that tousles the hair of the standard country crowd – ably picking at traditional tropes and applying requisite studio shine, while fitting in with the sunburst strums and pedal-steel melters of Mapache, James Matthew VII, and Tobacco City. The record’s bootlegger stomp and backporch ramble let it sink in and simmer without falling fate to any stereotypes that might befall a band with less inclusive tastes.

While not as compact and consistent as their seamless EP, the room to experiment lets the band play with form. Songs like “Too Drunk” are build on the sing-song lilt of English folk, but dressed in Nudie Suits all the same. They make it work before tumbling back into river-ramble tales of mischief and summer sun fitted with psych’s rosey-hued spectacles. The record breezes by with a smile and a sigh, as if it already knows that the carefree days are bound to end. As I mentioned the real problem stems from an availability for those outside the streaming-system (guilty). I’d love a proper physical issue, so labels worth your weight, help ‘em get a run going. Sometimes you gotta dig the gold out, though, and The Congress of Teddy and The Rough Riders shines up real pretty. Find it where you can and enjoy!




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Black Lips

Like many I suppose my relationship with Black Lips has been fraught. The band’s always hand a sneer that’s both admirable (their ability to not give a damn about the winds of trend) and irritating (knocking out songs that feel like they coulda baked a minute longer). There’s an irreverence to their humor that skirts juvenile jabs, but it’s a good-natured poke to the ribs. Even when trying to put on a scrappy, dangerous garage guise, the Lips don’t really wish you ill. They’ll pick you up after shoving you to the ground. Aesthetically, their last record seemed to sap the last ounce of steam out of the sandpaper-piped garage that they’d been hounding for the past decade, so good news descends as the band has been born anew beyond the veil of country-rock. The gamble works and the twang sits well in their wheelhouse.

They add a roadhouse grit to the genre, melding their snide asides with the forlorn tales of hard luck, hard living, and hard liquor. It’s not a baptism in the genre but they’re definitely having as much of a dalliance as The Stones ever had. The Lips have always had a hardscrabble heart, now they’re just letting it bleed a bit more Tennessee Whiskey. Some of the renewed sheen might have something to do with Laurel Canyon vet Nic Jodoin at the board. With the exception of their Mark Ronson steered 2011 breakout, the band has often let the layers of sound fall by the wayside, preferring impact over subtlety, but Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart doesn’t just twang the guitar, it adopts the studio slick of their influences as well.

Lonesome harmonica pulls at the heartstrings, even when the song’s about a rogue GI Joe. Pedal steel soaks up the beer from the bar, sax squawks bump the jukebox, and Cole Alexander’s never sounded so buttoned up (but ready to rumple should the opportunity arise). While its nice to keep scratching the same itch, eventually that leads to lesions, so its nice to see the Lips swivel and shine. Country-rock’s a tried and true midlife dabble for a band, but nailing it takes more than a whim as they prove here.



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Mixtape: Some Cowboy You Turned Out To Be

While this doesn’t really fall under the year-end banner, I’m going to place it in alongside the rest of this wrap up. It’s actually been a year since the site’s last mixtape and I think these have fallen by the wayside too long. For this one, I’m shifting focus on the mixtape series to contemporary over archival releases to wrap up some of the excellent strains of alt-country, country-folk, and dusted singer-songwriter tracks that have come out in the last few years. The creep of country into indie has had a nice push lately, bringing forth some of the most affecting and aching tracks of years past. While I’d wager to say that Cosmic Americana has had the strongest resurgence in years past, I’m making the case for alt-country as a close second. The lay lines on this sort of genre are shifty and mercurial, so feel free to disagree, but I’d wager this mix has some strong contenders in its ranks.

These songs are full of heavy hearts, failed marriages, missed connections, youthful melancholy, and maturing reflections. There’s joy, but it’s between the somber sway of pedal steel and the bittersweet twang of guitar strings. I offer this mix as a companion to solo drives as the sun dips low and endless stretches of road lie ahead, or rainy evenings on the porch alone. It’s a solitary set of songs, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope in its heart.

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Hurt Valley

The debut from Brian Collins arrives faded by the sun, a worn-in world of late afternoon shuffle that’s just a bit hazy from the full-bore UV-bake of 3pm rays. The album feels West Coast in a very real and tangible way. There’s no rush, no urgent angle to the songs. From needle in to needle out the record breezes through the air just below the threshold of sweat. The guitars twang just right — a touch of bend on the strings, a whisper of slide. The record feels like it was made for the moment and just happened to get caught up on the tape like a private press session from from the late ‘70s – a touch out of time and even more so once its locked in the time-capsule for a few more decades. When it emerges, though, the air is still rarefied and warm. The streaks from the blinds have imprinted themselves on each note and the private becomes parcel to the masses once more. Out of time becomes timeless and we’re all the better for it.

Like so many before him, Collins trades in melancholy and he wields it well. Between the soft rambles and mournful slides, Hurt Valley lives up to its name, weaving tales of humility, loss, and regret. The album closes with Collins’ musing on building worlds out of lies and holding tight to their boundaries. It’s a beautiful send off for the album, itself an ode to those same “immaterial worlds.” Late year releases have a way of getting lost, but Hurt Valley seems like it might search out that status even if we weren’t careening into December. My advice is to hold onto this one and not let it slip away into the sun. Squint hard and you’ll find the thread. Pull it and you’ll be led into the Valley for a good bask in the sun.




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Tobacco City – “Blue Raspberry”

Low profile Chicago alt-country crooners Tobacco City have been releasing a string of solid singles over the last year and they’ve hit on their best yet with the buttered and bashful “Blue Raspberry.” The track is hung on soft sunset strums and a warm melt of slide guitar. The vocals trade back and forth between Lexi Goddard and Chris Coleslaw like an old Parsons and Harris tune, just a bit more faded and worn in. The a-side is the stunner here, pulling at the lump in your throat to try to stay afloat, but they pair it well with a b-side that gives Goddard the front and center, with some ‘70s sequined backup vocals that maybe try to pull it too far towards the nostalgia train. Still, “Blue Raspberry” is a gem that won’t let go – sighed and swung low, padded out with just the right touch of twang and tape hiss. The band’s just recently opened for Orville Peck in their hometown, so here’s hoping Tobacco City is on their way up.




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