Feature: The "Small-S Struggle" of Cory Branan

It’s approximately an hour before “doors” are theoretically slated to open at Manchester, New Hampshire’s Shaskeen Pub. I say doors in quotes because all that separates the dining/bar area from the performance area is hallway and a curtain, but that’s not important. What’s important is that Cory Branan is here, solo, in support of The No-Hit Wonder, his fourth stellar full-length album (released in August via Bloodshot Records). Branan is headlining the Granite State’s largest city for the first time. This particular venue has made quite a name for itself in a fairly short amount of time (The Chieftains, an act for whom the word “legendary” seems a woefully-inadequate understatement, played the bar’s grand-opening in late 2005), and it has served as somewhat of an alternative Irish-themed beacon in downtown Manchester’s ever-expanding bar-on-every-corner “nightlife.” 

The dark woods and deep-red painted walls adorned in stereotypically “Irish” imagery (Guinness signs and pictures of musicians in the front room, football scarves in the back room) provide a warm environment that brings with it more than a touch of working-class edge; a kind of “yeah, it’s probably safe here but you could still kinda envision shit going wrong, bottles being smashed and fists being thrown” kind of vibe. It’s the kind of venue that should seem a perfect match for a whiskey-fueled, blue-collar performer like Branan. And yet, this is still a cool, drizzly early fall evening in an increasingly-gentrifying downtown area, and, well, Demi Lovato is playing an arena a block away. So realistically, there’s really no telling what, or who, will come out on a night like this.  

Branan joins me at a wooden bench below one of those aforementioned bar signs; something about it being a good day for a Guinness. We begin our discussion by focusing on The No-Hit Wonder. Branan has long been known as a brilliant storyteller; a songwriter’s songwriter. He has received praise from critics (like this very site) and other well-respected songwriters like Chuck Ragan, Ben Nichols, Jason Isbell, Dave Hause, Frank Turner and Chris Carrabba. As should be obvious given the name of his latest album, however, the respect from critics and peers does not necessarily translate to commercial success. Though famous for the mordant brand of humor that frequently appears in his lyrics, Branan is quick to point out that the album (and its corresponding title track) isn’t necessarily named for him specifically, any more than it is named after the myriad artists and songwriters that he’s toured and shared the stage with over the last fifteen years. In fact, Branan says he was hesitant to even name the album The No-Hit Wonder, as that’s not really the central theme of the album (though he concedes the point that what he calls the “small-s struggle” of his life as a working musician does “creep in a little on “Meantime Blues” and “Taking The Highway Home”).

While a certain amount of self-deprecation is still to be expected from Branan, it’s obvious to all but the most passive followers of his career that there’s a different, happier tone on The No-Hit Wonder than was present before. A lot has changed since the release of his last album, 2012’s Mutt. You see, not only is Branan married, but he’s now a father of two young children. As a result, Branan has taken a “smarter, not harder” approach to touring, stating that he prefers to stay out for shorter, three-week-cycles rather than seemingly endless cross-country tour cycles in order to allow for ample time at home. Easier said than done, he points out, as “you’ve still got to play a hundred-and-twenty shows a year to make all the bills.”

Loyal Branan followers need not worry. It seems that married life and the considerations taken for one’s new role as a spouse and a family man had little impact on consciously softening Branan’s subject matter. I asked about one song in particular from the new album, “The Only You.” When taken at face value, the song’s protagonist (if we can call him that) is essentially pines for  an ex-flame, stating that “when (he) gets lonely,” his newer, younger lover will certainly “do,” but not quite like his old flame would. Was there ever a concern for how that would land at the Branan household, particularly for the Mrs. Branan? “No, never. My wife gets it; she gets what I do as a “small-a artist”. Plus, even though I write in that first-person sometimes, it’s not always about me or about a particular experience.” 

These new life experiences carrying over into his art is to be expected, though Branan is measured in how he approaches these changes. Is it harder to write stories or to write quintessential “love songs” like “Missing You Fierce,” “All The Rivers In Colorado” and “You Make Me”? “Love songs,” Branan answers, though quickly adding the tag that “well, they’re all love songs in their own way…or pain songs.” Ah yes, the pain songs. Branan retells an old John Prine chestnut about preferring to eat a hot dog on a sunny day when you’re feeling happy, rather than writing a “happy” song. Still, even with the pain songs, Branan is careful to temper that pain in a way that allows a song to transfer differently, better, to the listener. One need look no further than two particular tracks from The No-Hit Wonder, “Daddy Was A Skywriter” and “All I Got And Gone,” for proof of this in action.

In-between writing sessions for Mutt and The No-Hit Wonder, Branan’s father, Dallas, passed away. Some might imagine that a songwriter’s default instinct in that situation would be to pick up a guitar and start writing as an outlet for that pain, part of the grieving process. Not Branan. He notes that picking up a guitar and writing a song at that time has the effect of creating a very finite, specific moment. The real emotion, he finds, is created in part by the passage of time providing context for the pain: the real feeling comes not in that moment, but in having to go on, to live your life everyday with that person’s absence in perspective. Still, the new album has a song called “Daddy Was A Skywriter.” That’s a pretty obvious posthumous ode to his old man, no? “No, that song was actually something I wrote and worked on when he was still alive.” Though he never tackles the singular experience of losing his father head-on on the record, he notes that some of the emotion that the event inspired is present in “All I Got And Gone,” a song which on paper, Branan is quick to point out, “has nothing at all to do with my father.” Again, it’s all about perspective.

Whatever the perspective, there’s no denying that The No-Hit Wonder is the most accessible, relatable album in the Cory Branan catalog. Branan called on some fairly well-known friends for guest-spots on the album: longtime pals Jason Isbell and Sadler Vaden join him on album opener “You Make Me,” while longer-time pal Steve Selvidge brought along his own new bandmate, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, for an appearance on the album’s title track. “That’s a funny story,” Branan notes. “Steve’s a Memphis guy and I’m a Memphis guy, we’ve known each other forever – he actually played guitar in the band I played (The Late Show With David) Letterman with (back in 2003). The Hold Steady were nearby recording Teeth Dreams. Steve came by the studio where I was recording and brought Craig with him. I had never met Craig before, and I was nervous because I’m a big fan of his. I had an idea for a round to finish the song, but I didn’t want to do all of the parts myself. I asked him if he wanted to do a part and he said “sure.” Within half an hour of first meeting him, he was singing on my record…and he made the song. He’s the only guy I know that sings every letter of a line. He doesn’t just hit the consonants at the beginning and roll through the vowels to the consonant at the end. It’s like “B-L-O-o-d t-o s-t-r-i-ng” and it makes the song!” Still, Branan makes a point of noting that adding guests to an album is not just a marketing trick meant to entice new listeners: “I’ve always had guests on my albums…it (just) helps that I have famous friends now!”

That being said, the increasing number of “no hit wonders” populating the scene nowadays, Branan notes, is due to factors like the obvious decline of the record industry and the lack of support for the arts in general in the United States: “There’s no support for developing music (or the arts in general) here now. We as a country can’t even crawl yet, compared to Europe. They do it (supporting artists) better, because they’ve been around longer. They know to slow down a little bit!” Branan adds that “It wasn’t easy when I started fifteen years ago, but it’s that much harder now.” Branan also astutely points out that it’s not just the artists that are suffering because people don’t pay to buy music or value the art that is songwriting nearly as much as they used to: “places like this (The Shaskeen), 250-and-under capacity places are struggling just to get by too.”

The lack of industry support, it seems, for the songwriter and storyteller as an artist, it seems, is a problem that has grown more than most over the last couple of decades. “Before it wasn’t run by corporations. So Geffen (Asylum at the time) could sign a Jackson Browne, and when his first album didn’t really do anything…and it didn’t…they could spend resources on developing him asan artist” (editor’s note: Jackson Browne ended up going platinum in 1997…27 years after its initial release). Given the success that storytellers and songwriters like Dylan, Springsteen, Waits, Petty and, hell, even Jackson Browne had in the 1960s and 70s, does that make Branan feel like he was born at the wrong time? “I do frequently feel born at the wrong time, but not just in regard to this! And I’d probably have to go back earlier than the 60s or 70s.” 

And so, here we are, in that pub booth in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, on a rainy Saturday night. Anyone that’s seen Branan live can attest to the fact that he’s nothing if not one of the more intense, enigmatic performers going. But there’s an interesting push-and-pull in play. As with many great live performers, Branan seems to function at his best when tip-toeing along a brilliant precipice. His solo live show has a certain dangerous quality to it; the banshee-like vocal shifts, the percussive, nay borderline abusive, guitar playing. While it doesn’t happen frequently, there is always at least the underlying feeling that the whole damn thing could derail in catastrophic fashion. And yet, the man who seemingly thrives on dynamic spontaneity – hell, who prides himself on the almost infinite possibilities that come with being a solo performer and the accompanying freedom to never play the same song the same way twice – is a stickler for how something sounds. 

Those dynamic changes and the infinite twists and turns in a given set – or a given song—have been honed by years as a one-man touring act. Yet this raises two occasional questions to his fanbase: 1) why hasn’t this been captured on an album and 2) is there a goal to do this night in and night out with a full band on the road? Branan answers the second question first and most concisely: “it would have to be a very specific band…” He trails off before circling back to explain that, as most people that’ve caught him live can attest, “timing is a relative thing with me. I have to tell the bass player and the drummer to become best friends and to stay together all the time, in the pocket, because I’m all over the place.” 

As for the former question, Branan explains how he focuses in on those member of an audience that haven’t quite bought in yet, that at best are standing arms-crossed on the perimeter of the floor, and at worst are perfectly content to carry on their own conversations at the opposite end of the bar (as would be the case on this particular night). Those twists and turns are varied nightly and geared toward drawing those casual observers in. It is difficult, perhaps downright impossible, to carry on a conversation or to disengage from a performer like Branan when he’s on. Yet it’s a phenomenon that’s almost impossible to capture on record, so he chooses to apply almost OCD-like tendencies to translating the songs as written in his head to the sounds that are produced in the studio to provide for the best possible sonic experience. 

Before bringing our conversation to a close so that he could go do a pre-show soundcheck (which, as it turns out, accomplished little given the seemingly endless series of sound-quality issues that plagued the stage for his hour-plus set), Branan and I discussed what comes next not just for him, but for his newest hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. The latter has quite notoriously become home to what he calls “bro country” or “Bud Light country” music, serving as a hotbed for the generic, feelingless pop-music-with-a-steel-guitar that passes for mainstream country music circa 2014 (see our recent interview with fellow Nashvillite, and one-time Branan collaborator, Joshua Black Wilkins for more). Branan sees Nashville as being primed for a backlash, for a real return to the roots that made Nashville what it was. “The idea of living as a working songwriter can’t happen in most places, but it’s always been possible in Nashville. Dolly Parton wrote a lot early on, but less as the years went on. Willie Nelson wrote some, but he didn’t write “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.” Branan speaks of Chip Taylor who, despite having some modicum of success in his own performing career, is best known for writing tracks like “Wild Thing” and “Angel Of The Morning,” popularized by The Troggs and Juice Newton, respectively, as well as songs for Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and countless others. “That’s something that’s still possible in Nashville, and something that I definitely would like to look into,” Branan states. The irony of The No-Hit Wonder potentially spending the last half of his second decade as a professional musician as a successful songwriter for other people is, well, perfectly Branan-ian.

American Roots Sessions Album Review: Luke Winslow-King - "Everlasting Arms"

Album Review: Luke Winslow-King “Everlasting Arms”

Due September 30th on Bloodshot Records

Interlude II – evil, minor chord slide guitar

On his fourth studio album, Everlasting Arms, New Orleans’s Luke Winslow-King comes out swinging. Literally; or at least literally in the Roaring Twenties use of the term. The album-opening title track finds the slide guitar virtuoso paying a modern blues homage to a timeless Gospel hymn. The understated guitar, mid-tempo soul and the vocal interplay between Winslow-King and his wife and bandmate Esther Rose strike a familiar note that is, somehow, all its own.  While it’s his second album in as many years for Bloodshot Records, 2013’s The Coming Tide was actually written several years prior to its release, meaning that our now-married leading man had ample time to hone his craft with a compass perhaps shifted a little closer to home.

While this is the blues, there’s a happy sweetness that’s at the core of the bulk of Everlasting Arms. The album’s second rollicking track, “Swing that Thing,” revs the accelerator, and we start to get a glimpse of Winslow-King’s bread and butter, the slide guitar. Opting for quick-hitting riffs rather than Hendrixian solos, Winslow-King perfectly channels the soul of his machine, playing with a fire that somehow belies his thirty-one years of age (never mind his Michigan roots). Let us not forget that while the blues may have its home in the Mississippi delta, the waters of the area’s namesake river start their epic journey south from near the Canadian border, bringing with it the dirt and grime and roots of a variety of walks of life. The same can be said of Winslow-King’s music.

While Everlasting Arms is rooted in the blues, there’s more than enough country (the good kind, not the pop kind), soul, Gospel, swing and Southern rock to go around. Ever the music student, Winslow-King approaches the Americana blues with a well-appreciated reverence. Homage, in many ways, is the order of the day. Like many artists in the folk and Americana worlds, bluesmen have long had a history of paying respectful tribute to the artists that came before them. Rarely does an artist come along that seeks to truly reinvent the wheel, and Luke Winslow-King is no different; that’s not the point of the exercise. The warm, vintage mid-tempo tone resonating from Winslow-King’s, well, resonator on songs like the percussion and horn-heavy reworking of “La Bega’s Carousel,” would be perfectly appropriate cranking from an old Victor Talking Machine in your granddaddy’s front parlor.

Alas, that is not to say that Everlasting Arms is an album of covers and derivative remakes; far from it in fact.  Songs like “Domino Sugar” and “The Crystal Water Spring” perfectly blend the throwback and the contemporary, and would make Winslow-King sound equally at home performing alongside John Lee Hooker or Jason Isbell. While Everlasting Arms can certainly stand on its own merits, perhaps the greatest thing about Winslow-King’s second Bloodshot Records release is opening keeping the tradition and the music of the past alive for a new era. Lofty, but well-deserved praise. Check this one out.

Show review: Rocco DeLuca at the Red Room inside Cafe 939

“When the lights they go out…we congregate”
- Rocco DeLuca – “Congregate”

One of the joys about writing for American Roots Sessions is our ability to focus on some of the day’s best storytellers who may occupy an area that is well off the beaten path. The focus is primarily on presenting music in its most elemental form, allowing the lyrics and the songs to speak in the most direct, intimate way possible. This has provided ARS the luxury of spotlighting artists whose feelings and vulnerabilities resonate on almost primal levels in spite of the lack of production and instrumentation.

There may be other artists who personify the philosophy that’s at the core of American Roots Sessions better than Rocco Deluca…but there probably aren’t many. Deluca tried the high-profile alt-rock front man thing in the latter half of the last decade (see: the documentary I Trust You To Kill Me for proof), only to have spent the better of the last half-dozen years continually deconstructing his sound both on stage and on the three albums he’s put out with the help of friend/mentor/guru Daniel Lanois. His 2009 album Mercy still featured backing band The Burden, though it began a trend of shying away from a more mainstream rock sound and toward a more seductive, trancelike sound. That trend continued with 2012’s “solo debut” Drugs ‘N Hymns and 2014’s stellar self-titled release, the recording of which essentially consisted of Deluca and friends in his home studio working through glorified jam sessions.

Accompanied solely by a lap steel (and a well-travelled Danelectro electric guitar on the set’s closing song, “Nightingale”) and one of those aforementioned friends, Jonathan Wright, on drums, Deluca brought the tour for his latest album to the Berklee College of Music’s Red Room at Café 939 on a recent Thursday evening. Deluca took the stage at the 200-capacity venue promptly at 9pm, his chest-length thin braids, red-sleeved baseball shirt and well-worn pair of formerly white Chuck Taylors presenting the image of the lonesome hippy traveler. The deep red walls, low stage and long, drawn shades on the wall of windows running along the hallowed grounds of Boylston Street give the venue the intimacy of a coffee shop in spite of the high ceilings and sparse décor.

While the venue and its pristine sound (it is Berklee, after all) certainly lent itself nicely to the evening, Deluca has a way of performing that would make even the most cavernous of venues seem intimate. The opening vocal notes from set-opener “Through Fire” (from his latest LP) occurred on stage but turned away from the microphone, a technique that Deluca frequently employs when he cranks his throat to full throttle.  Particularly when employed at the beginning of a song, or the beginning of a set, for that matter, it can be startling, a way of grabbing the perhaps distracted concertgoer by the ears and forcing them to pay attention. 

Deluca’s hour-long set was an exercise in experimentation, of pushing musical limits, of focusing less on the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-repeat manner of prototypical performing and on taking some serious chances. Wright spent much of his evening with his eyes fixated on Deluca, doing his best to make sure that they were headed in the same (or in at least a similar) direction and to provide some sort of structure for Deluca’s ferocious lap steel skills to soar from. And soar they did. The spontaneous intimacy of the two-man band and the experimental, ethereal nature of Deluca’s playing (whether on the resonator or the lap steel or the “regular” guitar) created the lingering, vague sense that the entire thing could derail entirely at a moment’s notice due to the audience not really knowing where the duo were always going and where they were going to land. For what it’s worth, Deluca and Wright spoke later about the fact that they too feel the pains of creating an organic experience; that they spend time locked in to what the other is doing in order to try to land their respective planes on the same field. When it works, as it did throughout this set, the results are of the awe-inspiring, raise-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck variety.

Spontaneity and intimacy would be a recurring theme. There was a plan for Deluca and I to catch up after his set for a one-on-one sit down. The veteran of many of these such artist sit downs, I prepared as normal, though as a fan since the early days of Deluca’s career, the traditional pre-interview homework was fairly easy. And yet the usual interview-by-numbers went quickly out the window. Deluca and Wright and I were joined in the greenroom by local (Boston) up-and-coming hip-hop artist Michael Christmas and his friend and aspiring music industry writer Raheem. Much of the discussion revolved around the artistic process and about Christmas and Deluca trying to build organically in their respective fields. 

While underground Boston hip-hop and Los Angeles roots/post-alternative/Delta blues may not have obvious connections, Christmas and Deluca spoke of both in overlapping language. Christmas is a firm believer of building a following “by actually getting out and doing it; being genuine and making people give it right back to you.” A memorable live show, as Raheem pointed out, makes the patron feel “not like they’re an attendant, but there with you…building something together so that everyone leaves with something together that can never be reproduced at another show.” Deluca’s advice to the up-and-comers in the Boston hip-hop game was something he, himself, learned from friend, mentor and producer-extraordinaire Daniel Lanois: constantly push yourself, even at the expense of some other things. Always be woodshedding. Go way out, and do the work because even if this isn’t the one, it could lead to the one.

Some may scoff at the direction that Deluca has taken since the exposure that the Kiefer Sutherland era brought, seeming to thing that he already had “the one” and he somehow let it get away. To watch Deluca play and speak to him personally reveals a musician that revels in the “art,” who has learned that growth only comes from taking chances, and that while your audience may shrink in number, it will grow immeasurably in respect and shared understanding. Sometimes, that’s all the one you need.

Feature: Summer In New England - The live outdoor music experience

Outdoor music events, especially the free ones, have been a long-overlooked staple of the summertime Americana experience.  Baseball and mom’s apple pie have certainly earned their places in the pantheon of all things quintessentially “American Summer,” but there is something unique about the way that live music has a way of uniting communities, particularly in the Northeast. Here we have roughly four weeks of decent weather between extreme bone-rattling cold, pea soup-ian heat and humidity, days upon days of rain and seemingly endless traffic. The bandstand area in many an old New England town served as equal parts gathering place, outdoor dance hall, and focal point to generations of starlit first dates, first kisses and first concerts. 

While many of those bandstands have gone underutilized (unless you consider being populated by spray-paint and skateboard-wielding after-school teens ‘utilized’) and otherwise fallen into disrepair, the free outdoor music scene is still alive and well in New England. LL Bean has done their part to keep it that way in their hometown of Freeport, Maine. Located along the saw blade that is the Maine coastline the 7900-person town of Freeport sees its population balloon over the summer, as men, women and children of all ages descend upon the area in search of beaches, hiking and mountain biking trails, and a good deal on fleece-lined parkas. 

Serving as a sort of cloister amidst the cathedrals built by Leon Leonwood Bean, Discovery Park holds a series of free, open-air concerts every summer. The park is intimate; for years, the Freeport locals were known to leave camping chairs set up on the lawn all summer, claiming their annual seat as though it were a South Boston parking spot in mid-January. More recent years have seen a “crackdown” of sorts (remember, this is small-town America) – overnight setting up of chairs and blankets will not be tolerated. The result is scores of locals and visitors alike jockeying for position early on show mornings, though it’s worth mentioning that even the furthest “seat” away offers a great sightline at less than a hundred-or-so feet away. Not exactly Red Rocks Amphitheater we’re talking about.

Saturday, August 16th saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit serve as the latest bring their act to Discovery Park. The Muscle Shoals-based outfit took the stage toward the end of what has been an textbook 2014 summer day: warm-but-not-hot and sunny during the bulk of the day, thickening “boy it sure looks like it’s gonna rain” clouds by late afternoon. The 7:30pm start time meant that the first notes of set opener “Stockholm” were met with the dark blue and purple hues of a late summer overcast sunset. 

Isbell and the boys (wife and part-time member of the 400 Unit Amanda Shire is currently out on a solo tour of her own) have toured in seemingly incessant fashion in support of Southeastern, the critically-acclaimed album that has cemented Isbell’s shift in prefix from “former Drive-By Trucker” to “singer-songwriter extraordinaire.” Case in point: after a few days off upon returning from another European tour, the US jaunt that brought the band to Maine on a Saturday night was preceded by dates in Richmond, Virginia and North Adams, Massachusetts on consecutive days, and followed immediately by dates in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Someone needs to buy that man’s team an atlas.

Anyway, there’s a reason that demand for Isbell’s time has been so popular over the fourteen months since Southeastern’s release: the album is THAT good. For exactly that reason, eleven of the album’s twelve tracks were spread throughout the two-hour set (“Elephant” was the only omission). At this point, the 400 Unit are a finely-tuned machine; arguably the tightest working band running at this point. It would have been understandable for the band (or any band) to appear as though they were phoning it in at this point of the tour cycle. However, Isbell and his band share in an appreciation for the music, for THEIR music, and present as categorically incapable of “phoning it in.” The rhythm section of Chad Gamble (drums) and Isbell’s longtime friend Jimbo Hart (bass) were in lockstep all night, providing an airtight, dynamic backdrop against which the dueling guitars of Isbell and Sadler Vaden and the keyboard/accordion of Derry deBorja could soar. While Vaden is an accomplished axe man on his own right, many of his leads and melodies were of the understated variety, leaving much of the front-and-center heavy lifting for Isbell himself.

Isbell’s voice was perhaps the overall star of the show. The nature of the bulk of Isbell’s lyrics force him to dig deep when playing live, to tap into some raw, visceral emotions night in and night out. Whether it be a tale of a young man preparing to murder his classmate’s abusive father (“Yvette”) to a longstanding and bloody family feud (“Decoration Day,” originally performed while Isbell was a Drive-By Trucker) to songs that mention his own battles with addiction and recovery (“Super 8,” “Cover Me Up” and more), Isbell frequently closes his eyes and finds that deep, dark place to draw from. But don’t let that fool you; a smile rarely left Isbell’s face during the breaks between songs, and he’s got a well-known penchant (check Twitter) for bringing the jokes, the butt of which, on this evening, were Kenny Rogers’ recent transformation into something resembling Tom Hanks’ desert island co-star in Cast Away and how you can tell someone’s from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Okay, so maybe that subject matter doesn’t exactly sound like it would make for your typical free, outdoor, ‘men, women, and children of all ages’ type of show. But a quick look at the list of past and future acts that have played LL Bean’s Summer in the Park series reveals the likes of songwriting heavyweights like Josh Ritter, Jeff Tweedy, Matt Nathanson, Brett Dennen and Keb’ Mo’. The current trend in American singer-songwriter fare, at least here in the Northeast, is not exactly Peter, Paul and Mary or Rosenshontz’ Teddy Bear Picnic. Summer is short; there are only so many Saturday evenings to go around. As such, we don’t really have time to mess around with watered down music. Yours truly once heard jazz-inspired British songwriter Jamie Cullum compare the sort of wit and sense of humor that it takes to survive in places like Boston or his native London, given our geographic areas’ respective penchants for frequent terrible weather. So while Isbell’s music and lyrics are rooted in the culture and the soul of Alabama, the band’s precision tuned sound made for a perfect outdoor midsummer’s evening show. And yes…the rain held out!

American Roots Sessions Album Review: Cory Branan - "The No-Hit Wonder."

Cory Branan 
“The No Hit Wonder” (August 19th, 2014) 
(Bloodshot Records)
Rating: 5 out of 5 

Ok, right off the bat, I love “The No-Hit Wonder.” From the very first song, to the very last, this album is absolutely flawless—a masterpiece, really. 

Now with that out of the way… 

I consider Cory to be one of the greatest lyricist/songwriters of our generation, as well as a technical guitarist who plays to his own tempo. If you’ve never had the pleasure of catching Cory Branan perform live, do yourself a favor and make it to one of his shows, or at least check out his acoustic sessions and performances on Youtube. The mastery of his guitar, catchy melodies, and his incredible ability to draw you into his songs help create the best album that Cory has ever released, and the strongest indication that he’s in his prime and will be around for years and years to come. Having an all-star list of song collaborators (Jason Isbell, Craig Finn & Steve Selvidge, Tim Easton, Caitlin Rose, and Austin Lucas) on the record, and having support from the likes of Frank Turner and Chuck Ragan, helps as well! 

“The No-Hit Wonder” has a brighter, more optimistic feel than his previous Bloodshot Records release “Mutt,” and has a flow that allows this album to play uninterrupted from beginning to end. This album is decidedly “more country” than his previous albums as well, but don’t let “country” fool you—This album is rooted in different genres. Having grown up in Mississippi, Cory was exposed to a lot of different types of roots music: country, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, but was also a part of that MTV generation. 

This album gets going with “You Make Me” featuring Jason Isbell, and doesn’t really let up until the honky tonk-ish “C’mon Shadow,” an incredibly fun song that helps break up the first half and second half of the record. “All The Rivers in Colorado” featuring Caitlin Rose and Austin Lucas is the most sing-along song on the album, and “The Highway Home” feature Jason Isbell epitomizes highway rock. “The Meantime Blues” is the stand-out song on the record, and unsurprisingly, it’s also the only song on the album that’s just him and his guitar, and is definitely this album’s “The Corner.”

Despite the album’s more optimistic feel, Cory is still conflicted and there are still songs about lost love and heartache, but he isn’t defined by them. This is Cory Branan at his absolute finest, and the irony of the album name isn’t lost on me—Each and every one of the songs on this album have the potential of being a hit. There’s only one othere album that has been released this year that has made me feel the way this album has, and that is Chuck Ragan’s “Till Midnight,” someone that Cory is very familiar with having also shared the same stage together on The Revival Tour. Now that Cory has reached that echelon, it’ll be fun to see what he comes up with next.

-Thomas Landaverde

American Roots Sessions Interview: The White Buffalo

As of this writing, Jake Smith, better known as The White Buffalo, is three weeks deep into a co-headlining tour with Chuck Ragan (featuring support from Jonny Two Bags, a fine solo artist in his own right, though you might know better from his work in Social Distortion and the US Bombs). 

The co-headlining bill seems to be a perfect fit: Ragan and Smith both seem cut from the same salt-of-the-earth cloth. Their penchant for brutally honest storytelling and dynamic live performances have combined to create an almost mythical, Paul Bunyon-esque, larger-than-life persona for both of them alike. 

My wife and I were privileged to grab a few minutes of Smith’s time for a sit-down interview at a local coffee shop before the tour’s Easter Sunday stop at legendary Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. And while he does cut a rather imposing and intense physical presence that matches his White Buffalo namesake note-for-note in person, Smith, the man, is every bit as laid back as his Southern California roots would indicate.

Jason Stone/American Roots Sessions: So how did this tour come about now? I know Chuck had mentioned to me before that he’d wanted to get you The Revival Tour a couple times. How’d it come up now? Seems like a perfect fit.

The White Buffalo: Yeah, it’s a good fit. I’m not really exactly sure. I think it might have been Chuck or Chuck’s people contacting us, maybe? \

How is it going so far, three weeks in?

It’s going great. It’s been really fun.

Good crowds so far? Since it’s a co-headlining tour, is it mostly Chuck Ragan crowds or mostly White Buffalo crowds?

It’s really mixed. There are a lot of people for us, a lot of people for him, so it works out great. I think in some markets maybe we’re stronger, in some markets he’s stronger, it’s hard to judge.

Are you guys flipping who closes the shows?

We haven’t been flipping. They were kinda steering the beginning of the touring, so we kinda let him do it. We talked about flipping—he mentioned that maybe we should flip sometimes. 

Are you both playing full sets, though?

Yeah, we’re both doing like an hour/hour-and-ten each. So it’s not the full hour-and-a-half or whatever that we’d normally play. It’s a little shorter, but it’s cool. Now we’re getting to some collaborative stuff that we’re doing together. Chuck will come up and sing, we’re getting some of the guys…Jonny Two Bags is going to come up and play with us tonight. It’ll be fun.

How does your music translate to Chuck’s crowd? He obviously has an established solo career, but it’s been my experience that a lot of the people that come see him solo around here still come from that old-school, hardcore Hot Water Music crowd. 

I think it’s good. We’re pretty aggressive live. So, you know, you get a lot of folded arms at the beginning (*we all laugh*), but we end up breaking them by the end and get them bobbing their heads a little bit at least, you know?

Yeah, I’d imagine it doesn’t take much more than the end of the first song to win them over. You and Chuck, at least from my perspective, seem to be a lot alike in terms of how you perform, and “leave it all out there.” You pick up on that pretty quickly.

Yeah, that’s one of the things I really respect about him. I think we both do similar things in terms of writing—trying to write good, honest songs and performing with passion, you know?

Speaking of good, honest songs, “Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways” has quickly become one of our favorite albums to listen to. It’s such a dark and deep and intense album…how are you able to tap into that nightly when you’re on stage? I can see the writing process, but how do you get back there every night?

I just listen to the words and try to feel what I’m singing every night. We’re not doing the album in its entirety here. We’re playing a few tracks from it and I think they still stand on their own.

Do you still play them in order? 

Nope. Actually…not intentionally, but we might actually be doing that. There’ll be a couple songs from that and then an older song … but now that I think about it, they might be in order.

Is it tough to write an album like that and then know that you’re going to go on tour and chop it up a little bit?

No, I don’t think so. I think at some point I’d like to do it…have a couple shows or a little tour… where we do the whole album in its entirety. But people want to hear it bookended, maybe, with other songs. People would get a little upset if we didn’t play some of the old ones too.

The album is obviously about an Iraq war veteran coming back and all that “coming back” entails. Have you heard from people that were vets, or were you conscious of writing an album like that from a perspective that was respectful, to make sure that you were getting it right?

When I was writing it?


No, I didn’t talk to anybody, really. I don’t how it came…

Yeah, how do you find that place? 

I don’t even know. I just kinda try to, you know, dive into those characters to figure out what that may be like. But yeah, I’ve gotten insane feedback from a lot of guys that have come back and are not handling being back too well.

Awesome. Because there are some heavy moments…you talk about “putting the gun in your mouth to feel something real”…you singing that hits me every time. 

Yeah, that’s pretty heavy. That whole section is pretty heavy, from “Joey White” when he goes off to war, and then he comes back, and then “The Whistler,” that whole three-song section before he’s kinda starting to look and feel a little more human. It’s pretty dark. 

You’ve obviously written stuff that’s sort of dark and goes to a dark place before, but I think, especially that song “30 Days Back” is such a specific feeling that you evoke. If you haven’t been there personally, did people check on you? Once they heard that you write something like that, did people close to you ask, you know, “are you okay?”

Me? Well, if you know me, you know that I’m okay (*we all laugh*).

What I mean is that it sounds so authentic the way that you pull it off, but if you haven’t been to that place yourself necessarily, that sorta indicates that there’s something else going on upstairs that you’re tapping into. (*we all laugh*)

Ha ha! I don’t really know how I’ve been able to write all of these disturbing, conflicted songs, because I’ve been fairly..at peace! (*we all laugh*) But I love that. That whole idea of these kids going off to war for the wrong or right reasons and coming back and being expected to just fall in line as far as what’s out there for them after they’ve had this horrific experience…I think it’s a pretty modern story and I don’t think that people are addressing it much.

Have you seen the documentary “Body of War” about Tomas Young?

I haven’t.

He’s a kid who signed up for either the Army or the Marines after 9/11 because, like a lot of people…

Patriotism, yeah!

Right. But then he realized while he was going I think through advanced basic training that he was being trained to go to Iraq. And he started to think to himself “this seems a little strange…this isn’t what I signed up for.” And I think he had been boots-down in Iraq for a week before he got shot in the spine and was paralyzed from the upper-waist down. 


He’s become a Gold Star veteran and an outspoken anti-war activist. They did a really compelling documentary on him, I think Phil Donahue put it together. But listening to this album brought me right back to watching that documentary. It evokes a lot of the same feelings that I think he was going through, so I’m surprised you haven’t seen it.

I’ll check it out. What’s it called again?

“Body of War.” And the soundtrack to the movie is all stuff that Tomas himself listened to during the recovery process and music that was inspirational to him, so he’s got Eddie Vedder on there, and Against Me! is on there, I think Bouncing Souls are on there. 


Switching gears entirely. You’re based in LA, which doesn’t, I think, come across at all in your music.

Haha. Right.

Has LA influenced or changed your style at all? I mean, you’re not an “LA artist”…

No, and I mean, I grew up in Huntington Beach too, which people wouldn’t expect. I was born in Oregon, but I was like one when I moved to Huntington, so I’m pretty much Californian. Especially being in Orange County, you wouldn’t expect the kind of stuff that comes out of me. But I was raised on country music and I got into punk early on. My influences and my outlook is probably different than that. But as far as LA changing me at all, I’m not really in “the scene,” you know? I’m on a small label (Unison Music Group) that lets me do what I want to do, and I’m not in any kind of circle of musicians. I’m a family man, you know? When I’m home, I just stay with my family. Still stuck in my room writing my strange compositions! (*we all laugh*)

With the success of either the new album or the stuff from Sons of Anarchy or the song from The Lone Ranger, has there been a pull to go to a major label, or to a bigger label?

No, not really. Not at this point. We’ve got another album with Unison that we’re with and we’ll definitely fulfill that and see what happens after that. But I don’t know what I might do. I might go back to going on my own again, how I was before.


Yeah. I mean, the thing with this label is they give me as much freedom as I want and it’s great that we have time to record stuff. Essentially, the owners of the label are also producers and engineers of the albums. 

So they’re invested.

Yeah, and they’re more musicians and music men than they are “business” men, you know what I mean?

Sure. So if you’re going to go the independent label route, that seems like the way to go. If you’re not going to go the total Tim Barry, do it completely by yourself in your woodshed route…


…which I think there’s something compelling to doing that too.

Yeah, there’s something to be said for that. But I mean, I was completely independent, putting out records with no setup or anything. We’d finish it and it would go up on TuneCore or whatever and it would just go out. There was no press or no machine behind it…not that there’s much of one now. But I like the control of that as well as the freedom to keep doing what I’m doing.

What was the pull, then, to do it with Unison and to do more of an album cycle rather than just by yourself. 

I’d been doing that for years and I don’t know…I kinda thought it was time to just get in the fucking game a little bit, however small it is. I just thought it was the right time in my career to try to make things happen. And with them, it’s been great. It’s really been great. 

How did all of the Sons of Anarchy stuff come about? I’ll admit that I’ve never seen the show, so that’s a world that I totally don’t understand (*we all laugh*), but I know that it’s such a cultural thing, it’s a water cooler show at work that somehow I’ve missed entirely! (*we all laugh*)

At the time, my first song was on the second or third season, and I didn’t have a manager, all I had was a lawyer. And my lawyer somehow knew the supervisor or had met him in the past, from some other time.  I don’t know if he knew somebody who represented him? Because Bob Thiele, who’s the music supervisor of that show, used to be an artist. So maybe from then? And he just called him up and asked him to lunch and said “hey, you should listen to this guy’s music.” 

There was no management or label or anything at the time, he played him some songs and said “you should check it out, it’s pretty conflicted.” How the show is, there’s a lot of push and pull, good and evil, so it fits really great. Once that got opened up, it’s been great for my fanbase, it’s really broadened and introduced my stuff to more people. Six or seven million people watch that show a week. And the way they use music is unique, especially for TV, I think. It’s not just background music, they do full montages with the whole song. They help it kind of guide the narrative of the show.

Yeah, your music sounds like how I’d imagine that show plays like.

Haha! For me, though, I always thought, you know, people always say that “your vocals are so strong and prevalent and your lyrics are so story-based and specific, that there’s not a whole lot of filler. You don’t really get that many licenses because unless it’s perfect, it’s not something where you can’t understand what they’re saying or that it’s just setting a mood, some kind of glossy feeling in the background. (These songs) are all, kinda, doing something, you know? But with Sons of Anarchy, they’ve used them and that’s made for a really good platform for it.

They’re going into the last season, right? Is there anything in the works…

Yeah, I’m talking to him. I might go in and sing on a cover. I did “House of the Rising Sun” for them, and they kinda changed the lyrics. That was the only composition that wasn’t mine, that wasn’t a pre-existing song that they’d used. I think we’ll be doing something like that, maybe, somewhere?  And then, maybe they’ll use something else of mine, who knows?

That’s about all I’ve got…thanks so much for getting together. Oh, wait, a little birdie told me to ask what you do on your off time on this tour while Chuck is out fishing and Instagramming all day! (*all laugh*)

I’ve been driving!

Have you really?

Yeah, I’m driving. (*all laugh*) I’m still as DIY as you can get. On this tour it’s been great, because we’ve been sharing backline with them, so we’ll share their drums and their bass gear, so I just bring my acoustic guitars and the drummer brings his cymbals and sticks and the bass player brings his bass. So we’ve been flying sometimes. It’s work. We’re pretty bare bones.

So Chuck’s out fly-fishing and you’re driving to Pittsburgh or wherever.

Ha! Right. Filling the day up.

Where do you go next? Where do you go from here?

We have three more left and then I jump off the tour to go spend some time with my family. We’re going Pittsburgh, Philly, DC, and then I jump off. Then I jump back on in Houston, Texas, and we go Houston, Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles.

Was breaking it up that way your idea? To be able to spend some time back home?

Yeah. This is longer than I normally do. I normally try to do two weeks, which sometimes is not totally realistic to try to do something nationally.

I think about that all the time for you guys with families. That’s tough. 

Yeah, it’s hard. I want to see my kids and my wife, especially on days like this where it’s Easter. Breaks my heart, you know?

American Roots Essentials: Wayfarer

There are so many incredible singer/songwriters in this scene that we've decided to launch a bi-weekly spotlight feature on artists that you may, or may not, be listening to, but definitely should be. These are the American Roots Essentials.

This week's spotlight is Wayfarer


Nik Piscitello, artistically known as "Wayfarer," is a singer-songwriter out of RVA, or rather Richmond, VA. Formerly a member of the bands Spark of Life, Last of the Believers, and most recently, of Outspoken, Wayfarer draws influence from the haunting work of Mark Kozelek, Ryan Adams and Jeff Buckley. 

His most recent EP, “The Albatross We Keep,” isn’t the soundtrack to those summers in the suburbs, thrashing away. It’s a portrait of a man very much trying to come to grips with adulthood, armed with little more than his heart and his songs. Only some things haven’t completely changed. This becomes increasingly apparent at the end of “Best And Worst,” a seemingly simple folk song about private hells and California stars that dovetails into a cacophony of emotion and sound.

You can stream the songs  "Best and Worst," "Holiday," and "The Ocean" below. This is Wayfarer!

American Roots Essentials: Sam Outlaw

There are so many incredible singer/songwriters in this scene that we've decided to launch a bi-weekly spotlight feature on artists that you may, or may not, be listening to, but definitely should be. These are the American Roots Essentials.

This week's spotlight is Sam Outlaw

Sam Outlaw Main Picture

Sam Outlaw is part of the scene that we like to call "SoCal Country." A South Dakota native who's now living, and plying his trade in Los Angeles, Sam writes music that captures the spirit of some of county's greatest; it's not difficult to hear the influence of George Jones, Willie Nelson, Don Williams and others, and that's not a bad thing at all!

He recently released a 5-song, self-titled EP which you can stream in its entirety here, as well as the music video for the song "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink (And Fall In Love,)" which you can watch below.

He's also playing a show on April 15th at The Mint in Los Angeles, CA. Sam Outlaw is an artist you don't want to miss!

American Roots Essentials: Tim Barry

There are so many incredible singer/songwriters in this scene that we've decided to launch a bi-weekly spotlight feature on artists that you may, or may not, be listening to, but definitely should be. These are the American Roots Essentials.

Our inaugural spotlight is Tim Barry.

Tim Barry

Tim Barry is one of my personal favorite folk-rock troubadours. The Richmond, Virginia native has been making music for 25 years, most of which were spent as the frontman for the now-defunct punk band, Avail. This past decade has seen Tim embark on a solo folk career, releasing 5 full-length studio albums, as well as a split EP with Frank Turner. His latest record, 40-miler, was released in 2012 on Chunksaah Records. 

Tim is a songwriting expert. A master of his craft, he has honed his skills and mastery of the English language to write lyrics that mean something, on both a personal and intellectual level; lyrics that help make sense of the world around him. He is eloquently able to tell a story with a guitar, 3-chords, and a melodic backing. Tim has been quoted as saying, “To paraphrase Steve Earle, if you put nothing in, nothing comes out" and his songs are reflective of that.

His upcoming album "Raising Hell & Living Cheap: Live in Richmond" is set to be released on May 13, 2014 via Chunksaah Records. He recently performed a StageIt.com show and is contemplating doing another one. Like him on Facebook, Follow him on Twitter, and let him know that you'd love to see him do another!

A Boston Punk's Journey Towards Americana


Editors note: I originally wrote this piece for American Songwriter Magazine, which was published on February 12th, 2014. I am re-posting the story here.
-Thomas Landaverde

Mike McColgan says he had golden dreams, but that was a long time ago.

A 9-year stint in California afforded the Boston native financial stability and perspective on his musical career, but it was a midnight drive on the farm-to-market road 359, a highway whose blacktop winds through the suburbs west of Houston, Texas, that provided inspiration.

Mike is a pioneer of the modern Boston punk scene, co-founding the band Dropkick Murphys, best known for their song “Shipping Up To Boston” from the film The Departed. Now, he’s the face of Street Dogs, a socially conscious punk band from Dorchester that sing of inequality, justice, organized labor, and their love for the Commonwealth. He was in Texas on a whim.

“There was all sorts of different talk about me doing a solo record so I called Johnny Rioux [Street Dogs guitarist] and Rick Barton [songwriter/guitarist] and asked if they wanted to contribute anything. Naturally, they were excited and said ‘yeah!’ so we got together for one session in Houston and started to get immersed in songwriting,” he says. “We responded to what moved us and tracked it immediately—we hadn’t rehearsed at all, and the album was done. It was a big departure to how we operate.”

He and Rioux travelled that highway every day and one night noticed the sign “FM359” glowing brighter than usual. “That’s it, that’s the name of the band,” he says with a laugh. “This sort of enlightenment never happens to us.” With a full-length Americana album dubbed Truth, Love, and Liberty, and the name of the band established, the band was born. Punk is all Mike’s ever known, but he is now embarking on a new journey, juggling his old band with his new one, and establishing himself as a folk artist in a scene that’s becoming familiar throughout the punk rock ethos.

The band is back in Boston to debut the record at McGreevy’s, an Irish bar that’s owned by Ken Casey, Mike’s Dropkick Murphys co-founder, and current frontman. It’s an unseasonably warm Wednesday night in mid-January. I find Mike blending in with the crowd, dressed in a charcoal plaid shirt, interwoven with a much more subdued grey and red line pattern. He’s standing patiently at the bar, trying to capture the attention of a blonde bartender who’s juggling one too many beer orders. A simple nod of appreciation for the work she’s doing reels her in. Standing amidst his peers and a sea of scaly caps, he’s forfeited his signature punk headpiece for the night, opting instead a slicked back hairdo that would typically bestow an aura of youthfulness, if not for the salt & pepper specks on his goatee that unapologetically reveal his true age.

“Hey, it is good to see you” he says with a friendly smile to the fans that surround him.

20 feet past the bar, a couple of table booths have been removed to create a makeshift stage area. There are three different guitars of different shapes and colors lined up against the wall. An accordion lays stage left, and a mandolin graces the opposite end.

With the exception of the punks and friends in attendance, this is not a typical scene from a traditional Street Dogs show. But everyone is there for one reason: To catch their Boston barroom hero unveil his brand new band. FM359 plays music that they pitch as a “revolutionary, humanitarian gospel Americana,” or to the lucky few whom have heard the promotional releases, the sound is a confluence of folk and western-blended punk rock & roll. Unless the crowd is in-the-know with what Mike has been up to these past couple of months, most people expecting a direct lineage to Street Dogs will be taken by surprise.

In a sense, this project is a re-branding for Mike. His working class upbringing shines through the band’s music; the black and white pictures of early 1900’s life that adorn the bar are appropriate for the folk music the band plays. He finds comfort in those tiny details; he feels right at home.

“The feel of the album is about introspection. It’s deeper than the group’s ever gone, deeper than I’ve ever gone as a lyricist,” he says. “We mined the depths of our souls and we put it all up on front street and it served the project well. I think a lot of people can identify with it.”

It’s fitting that the band has settled under an old Americana banner and a sign that says “Boston Americans 1908.” — “That obviously wasn’t by design,” he stays and we share a laugh.

He takes center stage and downs a can of Red Bull. He’s ready to rock. Johnny Rioux gently strums his guitar, while his callused fingers navigate through I-IV-V chord progressions. Mike has written songs of hope in G, and the crowd approvingly nod in tempo to the tapping of his Doc Martens as he wails away, reaching some of the highest notes he’s ever sung, but didn’t even know he could reach.

With the first song over, he has shattered expectations of whether a punk singer can play this style of music in an Irish punk bar in Boston. The crowd cheers him on, song after song — they even raise their pints of Guinness to him.

FM359’s debut performance was well-received. Mike mingles for a bit, signing albums and taking pictures with his fans, a positive testament to his character. When he saw me purchase an album he called me over so he could sign it. It was a simple note that conveyed incredible meaning: “Thank you for the support. Mike McColgan.”

Mike’s old stomping grounds is Adam’s Corner, Dorchester; predominantly Irish and resilient, home to some of Beantown’s greatest boxing legends. I meet him there the following Friday at a restaurant — Gerard’s — that’s located inside an old, corner convenience store. There is only one way to reach the dining area, and that’s through the store, to the right of the cash registers, and finally through big wooden doors that seem out of place. Mike’s standing outside near the entrance to the store smoking a cigarette. He shakes my hand and takes one last drag and extinguishes the butt on the edge of a garbage can, flicking it away. There was something different about him this time around, electing to wear a black fitted Boston Bruins hat and going clean shaven. The razor did more than just get rid of his stubble, also shaving off years. He’s a regular patron here and unlike at McGreevy’s, has no problems getting the attention of the wait staff after we take our seat in a corner booth. He prefers breakfast for lunch and promptly puts in his order of coffee and french toast. With the pressure of his band’s first performance gone, he’s laid-back and eager to talk more about his journey to Texas to record the album, but not before he excuses himself as he waves to old friends as they walk past the window.

“I feel that by being in the middle of the road—studied, but not too studied—we’re going to be a little bit more laid back in our approach to making music. It’s a different feel and process when we do things like this,” he says. “It just works.”

They were simply doing something different, and having fun.

“We didn’t have time to really pull anything back. it just came from our heart and soul and it just found its way out there. In the past we’d probably review things a little bit more closely, but this time we didn’t. It was like, lets just make a bunch of songs and put them all out there.”

Mike has earned his folk credibility. His relevance now position him among other singers whom have left punk, to create music in a genre that shares common roots. While there weren’t any serious expectations set upon his band, there was precedence set forth by some of his punk-turned-folk compatriots. After all, his friend Chuck Ragan, the frontman for seminal punk band Hot Water Music had released 8 highly successful solo albums in 6 years, in addition to the discography his main band had chronicled throughout 20 years. Dr. Greg Graffin, frontman for the band Bad Religion, also released a critically acclaimed Americana album called Cold As The Clay. music that, as he’s stated in interviews, “honor the legacy of American music…[by playing] traditional songs that helped form the 18th and 19th century American cultural landscape.” They were Mike’s peers. If they could do it, why not him?

Jason Stone, senior editor of Dying Scene, a website that exhaustively and extensively covers bands such as Street Dogs, Hot Water Music, and Bad Religion, agrees that it’s those common roots that allow two entirely different bands to coexist. He’s been a fan of the Boston punk scene for years, and has known Mike professionally and personally for a while. Jason says, “They share a grassroots, working-class background that favors the working man and a distrust of the government and large corporate interests.”

And what about the sound? “They also share a lot of song-structure similarities,” he says. “There is a reason that folk and punk bands have both released albums called Three Chords and the Truth.

The new Mike channels Neil Young’s Harvest Moon more than Joe Strummer’s The Clash, the definitive album young punks ground their influence in. He has traded in his spikes and leather jacket for a barrage of acoustic guitars. Mike acknowledges, “Now we’re finding that a lot of doors that might have been closed to us with Street Dogs are suddenly opening up again.”



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