What is Americana? Music that isn’t good enough to be dignified with the labels country or blues! Americana is roots music. Musician Neile H. Coe from the band Banty Holler is going to give us an introduction to the genre.
Some people date the birth of Amerciana to The Basement Tapes of Bob Dylan and The Band. These legendary sessions were recorded in a home studio (the famous “Big Pink” house in Woodstock, NY). The recordings are lo-fi, “natural” and live-sounding, and this is an aesthetic that a lot of Americana acts adhere to. Another defining early roots band would have to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. They also favored direct, live and natural recordings that went against the late 60s trend towards overdubbing, effects and other studio wizardry.Legendary Tales episode about The Basement Tapes of Bob Dylan and The Band
Everyone has their own idea about what words like “country,” “soul” and “jazz” mean, what defines them and who fits the mold. If I had to say what’s at the core of Americana music, it’d be storytelling and the incorporation of traditional music DNA (blues, country, folk, etc.). If you listen to “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell, for example, it draws from traditional music for its sound and its power comes from the moving delivery of the story of a state trooper working a small town.Jason Isbell - Speed Trap Down live
Americana is a fairly fluid genre, and, like those Basement Tape recordings, draws from different sources, so some bands might be more flavored by the sounds of gospel, bluegrass or Hawaiian music, for example. It’s maybe a little less defined than soul, which has been so formed by the Stax and Muscle Shoals sound, or rockabilly, with the classic Sun Studio recordings looming so large.
The term has only been around since the 1980s but other artists from the 60s and 70s that could be considered Americana include: Ry Cooder, Doug Sahm, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Los Lobos, among scores of others. Another wave of Americana came in the 90s with the likes of the Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Whisleytown, the Bottle Rockets, Calexico and Drive-By Truckers. This wave is also sometimes called “Alt-Country” (alternative country) and was influenced by the hard rock, punk and alternative music of the 70s and 80s. Their records were grittier sounding, adding elements like overdriven guitars that weren’t a feature of most Americana records.Neile H. Coe with the song Swing on By
Some of today’s biggest Americana stars: Wilco, Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell came out of these 90s acts and have added new and even experimental elements. A highly talented newcomer to the scene would be Tyler Childers, who broke through with his 2017 record Purgatory, produced by another big name in the scene: Sturgill Simpson.Tyler Childers - Feathered Indians Rowland Jones - New Start, New Day Vincent O'Brien - Contemplating Suicide Big Jacket - The Divide