IMG_8793With its pedal steel leads, Gram-and-Emmylou-style harmonies, and social realist imagery, Mark Jones’ Snowblind Traveler hitchhikes down some of the same highways as the LA burnout LPs of the early 1970s and Bruce Springsteen’s first three albums. Salem, VA-based singer-songwriter-producer Jones might not have been able to afford top LA session talent. Nor did he enjoy the backing of music industry machers like Mike Appel, Jon Landau, or Clive Davis. Yet he nevertheless succeeded in creating an appealingly ragged collection of songs that sounds as if they could have been recorded 9 years earlier and 2,460 miles further west, perhaps during one of Springsteen’s pre-Columbian trips to the west coast.

Jones’ stripped-down arrangements have more frayed edges than a thrashed Levis Type III. Still, not one of Snowblind Traveler’s eleven compositions would have seemed out of place on an early ‘70s Elektra or Asylum release. Jones’ lyrics, however, offered a blunt rebuttal to canyon rock’s pastoral yearnings. At the turn of that decade LA burnouts like John Philips and Gene Clark had temporarily traded habits for horses and groupies for domestic bliss, heading back to the land or out to the country in pursuit of solitude, authenticity, and redemption. The music that emerged from these rural retreats narrated their escapes from the sinful city and extolled the simple virtues of their new lives in their bespoke timber cabins or make-believe ranches.

Mark Jones :: Lion Trap

Nearly a decade after the rural rock exodus Jones appropriated its sonic palette to present a series of stark, documentary-style portraits of the sorts of places that the LA refugees had dreamed of retiring to. This wasn’t the American south that Delaney Bramlett had once reminisced about. Indeed, there is not a cotton field, ray of early morning sunshine, or sprinkle-faced lady to be found on Jones’ album. It was a landscape whose defining features were the scars left behind by the economic and environmental catastrophes of the mid-1970s. Like Springsteen, Jones confronted his listeners with arresting snapshots of abandoned storefronts, soul-snuffing factories, and working-class zeroes plotting their escapes from dying small towns. In doing so he affirmed the dignity of these places and people, replacing small-town caricatures with three-dimensional renderings of life in flyover America.

Mark Jones :: One Way Train

Snowblind Traveler is a collection of self-contained yet thematically-linked first-person accounts of small-town decay, confinement, longing, escape, failure, and survival. Its nameless characters describe their hometowns as “lion traps” and their jobs as “bad dreams.” In “What You Get” a blue-collar worker with a few in him explains the perks of his gig at the local lumber yard to the anempethetic accompaniment of Mike Calaway’s peppy pedal steel licks: “Though the hours are tough to take, the work’s too hard.” He goes on to recount a friend’s barstool confession: “Said I need to spread these wings and fly, leave this world behind.” Other characters likewise share half-baked fantasies of one-way tickets that will take them as far away as possible. Save for passing allusions to “southwest cities where the sun is guaranteed” or “the highlands,” destinations are rarely mentioned. The insinuation is that literally anywhere would be better than Virginia or the power plant or Harrisburg, where, according to the song of that title, “things that can’t be seen control you.”


Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 408: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (solo piano) ++ Bedlam’s Offspring – I’ll Be There ++ The Emperors – I Want My Woman ++ The Blue Rondos – Baby I Go For You ++ The Graham Bond Organisation – Early In The Morning ++ Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley ++ Cat – Do The Watussi ++ Vichan Maneechot – Dance, Dance, Dance ++ The Shangri-Las – How Pretty Can You Get (Radio Spot) ++ Fleur De Lys – Circles ++ Michelle’s Menagerie – Stay Away ++ The Worlocks – I Love You ++ Blue Condition – Coming Home ++ White Fence – Swagger Vets And Double Moon ++ CAN – Mushroom ++ Ty Segall – The Slider (Ty Rex) ++ Atlas Sound – Recent Bedroom ++ No Age – Sun Spots ++ Julian Lynch – Just Enough ++ Lou Reed – Perfect Day (demo) ++ Mac DeMarco – Rock And Roll Night Club ++ Alan Vega – Jukebox Babe ++ Calvin Love – Missions ++ Ify Jerry Krusade – Everybody Likes Something Good ++ Aguaturbia – Rollin’ ‘N Tumblin’ ++ Sea-Ders – Thanks A Lot ++ The Olivia Tremor Control – Memories of Jacqueline 1906 ++ The Millennium – I Just Don’t Know To Say Goodbye ++ Harry Nilsson – You Can’t Do That (Alternate Take) ++ Roy Wood – Wake Up ++ Emitt Rhodes – Long Time No See ++ Jacques Dutronc – L’Espace D’Une Fille ++ Jim Schoenfeld – Before ++ The Swamp Rats – I’m Going Home ++ Dennis Wilson / Beach Boys – Lady ++ The Kinks – I Go To Sleep (demo) ++ Le Bain Didonc – 4 Cheveux Dans Le Vent ++ The Brummels – Bof! ++ Chaweewan Dumnern – Sao Lam Plearn ++ Nancy Sinatra (w/ Hal Blaine) – Drummer Man ++ The Motions – Beatle Drums ++ Naomi And The Boys – As Tears Go By ++ The Soul Inc. – Love Me When I’m Down ++ Thee Oh Sees – Mincing Around The Frocks ++ The Allah-Las – Busman’s Holiday ++ The Non Travellin’ Band – Two Hands Full Of Fingers

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.

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Here in the west, it’s finally starting to feel like autumn. As the sunset comes earlier each evening, it’s been hard to get Joan Shelley’s beautiful Over and Even off the turntable. Deep hued and haunted, it’s built on simple blocks that add up impeccably: Shelley sings and plays guitar with accompaniment by guitarist/Alan Lomax Archive curator Nathan Salsburg (who recently released a phenomenal duo recording with James Elkington). Recorded live in Kentucky by engineer Daniel Martin Moore, there are lilting touches – Will Oldham adds his voice, Rachel Grimes adds piano – but nothing ever gets in the way of Shelley’s clear, impossibly warm voice.

Shelley spoke with Aquarium Drunkard on the phone to discuss roots music, songwriting challenges, and note taking.

Aquarium Drunkard: You wrote much of Over And Even in Greece? Did you draw specific inspiration from your surroundings?

Joan Shelley: I wrote almost all the songs while kind of stranded for a month in Greece. It was ahead of a tour in Ireland and the U.K. The most influential part [while writing] was that I was going to try this theory of writing one song every day – which I had previously been super suspicious of. I knew that if you wrote a song every day, they can’t all be good, or maybe I’d run out – that was a fear. So, I was just going to practice writing one a day that month there, which actually seemed to work. As far as the influences of the surroundings…because mostly everyone spoke English as a second language there, I wanted to communicate. I feel like that’s what influenced the songs the most: just wanting to feel human relationships I wasn’t having.

AD: You recorded this mostly live in Kentucky. What’s the story there?

Joan Shelley: It was this very nice, spacious house in Kentucky. It was a ‘70s, kind of freaky experimental architect’s house that my friend was renting. It’s in the woods near where I grew up just outside of Louisville. Daniel Martin Moore set up his mics and a few things and Nathan and I just went and banged it out.

AD: I feel like sometimes people call your songs “sad,” and I certainly can hear that in them, but not only sadness. I hear beauty, resignation, contentment, and melancholy. Do you ever feel sad playing them?

Joan Shelley: I don’t feel sad, no. There is a great lecture of Garcia Lorca called “On Lullabies.” There are lullabies in Spain he was noticing that were really dark and morbid: a mother telling a child, “You’re going to get lost in this scary world and a monster is going to eat you”; or, “You’ll fall from the tree and break the cradle.” He got to the point of saying that music is this soft bed we make to explore some of our darkest fears, because that’s where you make a safe space. I think that resonated with me in that what I’m trying to do is make that soft bed. I’m not trying to make anybody sad, but there are things we’re all thinking about anyway, so what not show them the light?

Joan Shelley :: Over And Even

nAmid a now decades-long glut of roots music reissues, reappraisals, and deep cuts, one would think the keg would eventually kick. But that sure as shit isn’t the case with Legends of Old-Time Music: Fifty Years of County Records—there’s so much going on in this 4-CD box set that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Co-produced by Grammy-winning music historian Christopher King, an impossible amount of research went into this collection, both in the music and the meticulous liner notes which pair extensive biographical info with each tune’s cultural origin. The 113 tracks contained here represent the life’s work of County Records proprietor Dave Freeman, a New Yorker who founded the label in 1968 after embarking on an Alan Lomax-style home recording tour of North Carolina and Virginia. The label continued releasing this stuff across four decades, and never lost the homegrown weirdness that allowed these sounds to ferment.

Fred Cockerham :: Roustabout

Kinney Rorrer writes in the liners, “They had learned to play in a time when each valley had its own style that reflected the relative isolation of the people. With no radio, no television and few if any records, these musicians honed their own style at social events celebrating the lives of the local population.” With that in mind, it’s cool to hear the regional quirks that permeate various attempts at “Arkansas Traveler”, “John Henry”, “June Apple”, “Sail Away Ladies”, and others, even as time diminished the relative isolation of these places. Also impressive is the sheer array of pickers, fiddlers, stompers, and hollerers included, both known and obscure (for me, anyway): famed luminaries like the Carters, John Ashby, Clark Kessingerk and Tommy Jarrell fit seamlessly alongside the widely-unknown Eldridge Montgomery, Sidna and Fulton Myers, and Clyde Davenport.

Bottom line, this set’s a treat: a worthy offspring of the Anthology of American Folk Music and a valuable document of an ongoing cultural wrinkle that refuses to be ironed out. words / k titterton

Tommy Jarrell :: As Time Draws Near

Will Toledo, the 23-year-old songwriter behind Car Seat Headrest, is not sweating the release of Teens of Style, his Matador Records debut.

He’s excited, sure, but these songs — culled from his massive discography on Bandcamp, where he’s uploaded songs since 2010 — are well broken-in for Toledo. The album will introduce his fuzzed pop to a wide audience, but he’s already started thinking about the next record as his proper “debut.”

a2269688042_16“It’s intended to be sort of a compilation,” Toledo says from Seattle, belying the cohesive sound of the new record, for which he re-recorded older compositions with his band. “If definitely takes the edge off the debut when it’s not anywhere near the actual debut,” Toledo says. Fittingly, Teens of Style reads like a greatest hits record. Songs like “Sunburned Shirts,” “The Drum,” and “Los Borrachos” bristle with energy, like prime Pavement or Guided By Voices, with traces of the Beach Boys’ sunny pop and Animal Collective’s endlessly looped melodies. Toledo’s songs are often compared to those of the Strokes, and while they share spiky elements with that band, Toledo’s freewheeling narratives are more akin to those of Courtney Barnett — hilarious, sharp, and whip smart.

Car Seat Headrest :: Something Soon

Toledo began fooling around with GarageBand in high school, inspired by records by Deerhunter, Panda Bear, and Leonard Cohen. The band’s name serves as an origin story: Too embarrassed to record vocals at home, he’d take his laptop to parking lots and record in his parent’s car. These nascent recordings are still available at BandCamp. Rather than scrap them, he figures they might as well be there for anyone who wants them.

“I remember spending a lot of time with the Nirvana boxset,” Toledo says, of the rarities and B-sides collection. “For me, there’s no reason to hide that away until you’ve got a legacy. You might as well leave the story open to whoever wants to check it out.”

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Via Strut Records, Souljazz Orchestra returned last month with Resistance. Compared to previous albums, this one has a very strong French / Caribbean influence, placing it in some of the same territory as label’s Sofrito and Haiti Direct releases. To mark the occasion the band put together a mix of vintage French, Caribbean and African material that influenced the record’s sound. Notes on the mix, and sonic provenance, via Souljazz’s Pierre Chrétien, below.


Souljazz Orchestra is based in Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Québec, twin cities on each side of the Ontario/Québec border, and a very bilingual area of Canada. Coincidentally, our band is also half Francophone and half Anglophone, and this duality does come out especially on this album.  We’ve always had songs influenced by la Francophonie, it’s really a part of who we are as a group (“Secousse Soukous” on Freedom No Go Die, “Tanbou Lou” on Solidarity, “Sommet En Sommet” on Inner Fire, etc.)

Some people, especially those unfamiliar with Canada, don’t get how we got into this stuff. I guess I never really thought about it before, but I’ll try to explain…


Happenstance. Last week while in New York I caught a short ride with a West African cab driver in Brooklyn. Upon entry there was music. “What is this?” I asked. “It’s African – Bembeya Jazz National. 1970’s. West coast.” And while the name was familiar, via a compilation, the sounds were not.

Originally from the Ivory Coast, the driver had been in the states two years, and in his thick patois began to recommend artist after artist, album after album. Too much and too fast to jot down, we rode, he spoke, and I listened. Another five minutes and we had reached my destination – I got out and thanked him for both the ride and the hip.

Now back in Los Angeles, the following has been on my mind. And on repeat.

Bembeya Jazz National :: Petit Sekou


Pull tight your autumnal garb as we hitch a ride across the American and British countryside with the ladies that shaped modern folk – while lovingly preserving the beauty of tradition.

Maison Dufrene V :: Crazy Lady Blues – A Mixtape

Sandy Denny – Crazy Lady Blues
Bridget St. John – Some Kind Of Beautiful
Karen Beth – Come With Me
Maggie and Terre Roche – Down The Dream
Tia Blake – I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow
Karen Dalton – Reason to Believe
Maddy Prior and June Tabor – The Grey Funnel Line
Shirley Collins – Seven Yellow Gypsies
Shirley & Dolly Collins – Geordie
Vashti Bunyan – Here Before
Anne Briggs – Summer’s In
Bridget St. John – Easy-Come Easy-Go

~ Samples by Ivor Cutler ~

Previously: Maison Dufrene: Volume One / Volume Two / Volume Three / Volume Four

a1525902077_10[Tom Carter] is tearing a giant hole in the sky right now at @3lobed Hopscotch Fest day show,” Yo La Tengo’s James McNew tweeted back in September of 2013. And anyone who was there or listening via WXDU’s live stream (or heard the NYC Taper recording of the performance after the fact) had to agree. The ex-Charalambides guitarist was making scary-beautiful sounds.

Two years later, we can all finally enjoy pristinely recorded studio versions of the pieces Carter played (plus more) on Long Time Underground, a sprawling double LP masterpiece that delivers heady, rich tones and zones from start to finish. Imagine avant master Loren Connors tripping through “Dark Star” and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.

Kicking off with the megalithic, sidelong “August Is All,” Long Time Underground (all of which was amazingly recorded in single takes with no overdubs) unfolds in an absorbing and rewarding fashion, with new wrinkles appearing on each spin. The hot, slow burn of “Entreaertne” and the gorgeous, billowing smoke rings of the 13+ minute “Prussian Book of the Dead” are highlights, but this is an album best experienced in full, as Carter guides you from one plateau to the next. A Long Time coming, but well worth the wait. words / t wilcox