I think Americana may be my favourite genre of music. Over the past decade my tastes have been moving West from folk influenced British music like Pink Floyd and Genesis to the American and West Coast sounds of Americana. From Solsbury Hill to Hotel California!
For a long time I thought the bands and musicians like the Eagles, CSN, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell were ‘American Folk’ so I started to read up on it. There are definitely elements of folk music in their DNA but Americana is a better encapsulation.
So what is Americana?
Americana is the interpretation of American culture into contemporary music, or creative arts. For music it is like taking distinct genres like Blue Grass influences, fusing them with Country & Western and delivering a present day sound.
It is separate to, but influenced by more defined musical genres including Roots, R&B, Bluegrass and Country & Western. Where British Folk music has subtle regional variations, the ‘folk’ music of America will change across the regions. Influences coming from the Catskill Mountains near Woodstock will be different to the Appalachian Mountains (the birthplace of Bluegrass) or the rural areas of Western America (Country & Western.) I’m not a big fan of Bluegrass or Country but I do like how the influences are weaved into this new spirit of Americana.
‘New’ or ‘Contemporary’ are also relative to the time. Most of the Americana I like is from the Sixties and Seventies, new and innovative at the time but now seen as old hat for many music fans. But the style lives on. For example, Lucas Nelson and the Promise of the Real bridge the gap between old and new. The son of Willie Nelson, Lucas was involved in the creation of Shallow the Oscar winning song from A Star is Born. His band the Promise of the Real have backed Neil Young (at Desert Trip and other tours) as well as releasing their own successful albums. New artists continue to keep this genre alive. Check out this playlist for more new artists,
Is Americana only from Americans?
Americana is also not restricted to American born artists. Graham Nash, the ’N’ in CSN hails from Blackpool, England. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young are both Canadian! U2 sought inspiration from America, first with the Unforgettable Fire and songs of MLK, and July 4th to the Joshua Tree and following it up with their own take on Americana with Rattle & Hum. The accompanying movie served for many as a travel guide for many of the locations and stories that encompassed Americana.
The dream team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin channeled Americana to global success from their very first records. Elton’s third album, ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ just drips with Americana. From the front cover to songs like ‘My Father Gun’ (with Civil War references) this was a love letter to an America the duo had read, and dreamed about long before they broke the big time. Maybe this skill in packaging up America and selling it straight back to the Americans is one reason why the Rocket Man is one of the biggest selling artists of all time.
Does it matter what genre is called? No, it doesn’t! I loved Hotel California long before I stuck it in a genre. But giving it a name does help me discover new artists and music I will like.
I have put together a playlist of Americana tracks, old and new, in the hope of giving you some inspiration for your next listen. I hope you enjoy!