Americana?

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I'm writing a book on Amercana guitar styles at the moment; the publisher is great and has left me to my own devices but the question is what does this style mean to you? Although the term itself was only really coined in the 1980s I'm taking a long chronological approach starting with the birth of Country music and moving towards modern day via everyone from Springsteen and Dylan to all the more niche folk/blues acts like Elizabeth Cotten, Woody Guthrie etc. There are obvious titans like Steve Earle and Wilco for the modern day but literally hundreds more that deserve a mention/musical example. Four chapters in and the magnitude of the task has taken hold...part of the problem is it fuses so many styles from Bill Monroe Bluegrass all the way to Cajun and beyond. 

Any names that you'd be furious to see omitted from getting a mention?

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  • sev112sev112 Frets: 793
    Good question - how do you define Americana ? And I was in a band we decided was and promoted as Americana :) 

    The following sound a range of “modern” Americana
    Looking at the kind of vibe that Molly Tuttle has on her recentish album, not the normal flatpicking stuff.
    Steve Tyler’s album about 4 years back “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere”
    and Ray Davies “America” itself from a couple years back.

    they all seem to have their roots in blues, and then morphed outwards using country, southern rock influences, and even pop.

    So I do think Americana is “new” or “recent”, even if its roots are old

    Not suggesting that any of them fall into the furious for not being mentioned camp, they just happen to be in my playlists.

    To me when people asked us what was Americana when we were trying to get them to come to gigs, it was something like “light blues rock, with a more country guitar and a female singer” :)  

    Good luck - look forward to reading in due course

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  • Thank you! Yes, that's such a good point - it's a recent genre with very old roots which is causing me a bit of a headache at present. I either pay lip service to all those who have gone before and focus on the last 25 ish years or stick to a chronological approach that shows how the style really evolved from it's long and early roots. I may end up doing a half and half approach but it could be back to the drawing board at this stage...
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  • stickyfiddlestickyfiddle Frets: 13381
    sev112 said:
    Good question - how do you define Americana ? And I was in a band we decided was and promoted as Americana :) 

    The following sound a range of “modern” Americana
    Looking at the kind of vibe that Molly Tuttle has on her recentish album, not the normal flatpicking stuff.
    Steve Tyler’s album about 4 years back “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere”
    and Ray Davies “America” itself from a couple years back.

    they all seem to have their roots in blues, and then morphed outwards using country, southern rock influences, and even pop.

    So I do think Americana is “new” or “recent”, even if its roots are old

    Not suggesting that any of them fall into the furious for not being mentioned camp, they just happen to be in my playlists.

    To me when people asked us what was Americana when we were trying to get them to come to gigs, it was something like “light blues rock, with a more country guitar and a female singer” :)  

    Good luck - look forward to reading in due course

    I'd say american folk is a bigger influence than blues, though I'm sure you could argue it's the point where folk, country and blues collide. 
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  • That's kind of the direction I've taken - that classic American folk sound leads into a more mainstream approach that ultimately becomes electric or at least an acoustic/electric fusion. Not going to lie this is one of the most time consuming projects that I've taken on but there is so much to explore! I'm doing a Soul book next - basically 100 examples in the style of Steve Cropper and home in time for tea :)
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  • ArchtopDaveArchtopDave Frets: 625
    I think "Americana" has become steadily more diffuse, difficult to define (rather like the term "Indie"), and shades into other areas whether this be Country at one end, and Rock or something more Alternative at the other end. As far as I'm concerned, it is, at it's most straightforward, a Country'ish sound without the syrup, having a harder edge and quite often some pretty clear eyed lyrics, for example Cortney Marie Andrews songs like "Honest Life" and "Table for One".  I would put forward the more recent CD output from Lucinda Williams like "The Ghosts of Highway 20", and "Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone".  Some stuff can be difficult to categorise, whether you regard  the output of artists like Lera Lynn as being the softer end of rock or Americana, is a probably a matter or semantics. The Ashes and Dust setup by Warren Haynes I thought headed into the Americana area.
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  • Toms_DadToms_Dad Frets: 21
    One modern singer I’m hugely impressed by  who does a lot of this style, and goes a long way back in the archive for some of her influences is Rhiannon Giddens. Fabulous singer, claw hammer banjo player and fiddler. She is solo now, but was a founder member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Hers and their influences include gospel, blues, country, spirituals and more including the previously mentioned Elizabeth Cotten. 
    She has previously performed at The Americana awards, so she’s definitely in the ballpark.
    Might be some inspiration for you in there!
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  • jellyrolljellyroll Frets: 2648
    Darrell Scott and Dave Rawlings!!

    (I also have a soft spot for the Milk Carton KIds)



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  • AlexCAlexC Frets: 1970
    Ironically, I’d say one of the biggest and most influential Americana acts of all time is The Band - four fifths of who were Canadian. But Music From Big Pink and The Band sort of popularised that style at the time (The Weight, Up On Cripple Creek, etc.)
    But I’m sure they’re in your book already. 

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  • DulcetJonesDulcetJones Frets: 473
    edited January 16
    There has been an ongoing movement in this genre, some of which also falls under "neo-folk"(a whole other can of worms).  Some recent acts on the fringe end of Americana, at least in the last 20 years are "Slim Cessna's Auto Club" and the "Sterling Sisters".  These acts, like most Americana acts draw on the country/blues/rock roots of the last 100 years or so.  Another sub genre that might be worth consideration is Western Swing, from "Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys" to the more current "Asleep at the Wheel".    You might want to add Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie as well.

    Turns out “you’re so beautiful when you’re sleeping” is only considered a compliment if she knows who you are.



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  • droflufdrofluf Frets: 359
    Don't disagree with anything above but the first time I read this thread one of the tracks from R.E.M.'s "Out of Time was playing, I think Near Wild Heaven, and my first thought was "this is Americana".
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  • francerfrancer Frets: 131
    edited January 16
    For me it’s bands like Handsome Family, but is that alt-country?

    Uncut magazine did a compilation series called Sounds of the New West a few years ago, maybe check out the track lists on some of those for inspiration.
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  • Thanks everyone, this is a big help. I think I need to stick to my original plan of "everyone and the kitchen sink" to really do it properly. Good to really be looking at the styles of the great early female players too, Elizabeth Cotten, Memphis Minnie, Maybelle Carter etc, they all had fingerstyle chops of doom!! I'll take it from the early days of Country all the way to modern Americana and Alt Country I think.

    Right, back to work!
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  • JalapenoJalapeno Frets: 4304
    edited January 17
    Missing Alison Kraus & Union Station would be criminal

    Personally I'd say Bob Wills and his Big Town Playboys are relevant.
    Imagine something sharp and witty here ......

    Feedback
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 3352
    As a confessed cynic I’ve always thought of Americana as anything in the Country genre which Country Music enthusiasts define as “not real country”
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  • HAL9000HAL9000 Frets: 5557
    Todd Snider?
    Tom Russell?
    It might look like I'm listening to you, but in my head I'm playing my guitar.
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  • vanlooy1vanlooy1 Frets: 9
    Despite being Canadian...Neil Young!
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  • vanlooy1vanlooy1 Frets: 9
    Doug Sahm
    Uncle Tupelo
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  • Great suggestions guys, keep them coming! I just wrote a few Neil Young style things yesterday, in some ways he's almost like the gateway to the whole style - pastoral acoustic folk giving way to face melting electric overload! My main fear at this point is that I'll have to buy a banjo for the recordings...
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  • DulcetJonesDulcetJones Frets: 473
    As I think more about this I find more and more, some of the mainstream acts that haven't been mentioned yet:  The Byrds, Allman Brothers, the Eagles, maybe even Lynyrd Skynyrd?  On the country side of mainstream Johnny Cash?  Not sure if any of these are in the scope you're working with.

    Turns out “you’re so beautiful when you’re sleeping” is only considered a compliment if she knows who you are.



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  • I've added most of those guys in, especially The Byrds - that's part of the nightmare of the project, it has turned out to be huge!
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  • pintspillerpintspiller Frets: 783
    Wasn't the term first used to review The Long Ryders' State of our Union LP?
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  • fandangofandango Frets: 1647
    edited January 17
    And then you’ve got JJ Cale, who whilst I wouldn’t say is core Americana, encapsulated the easy vibe that’s evident (to me) in Americana.

    I would say Americana is a development of Country, as it drops the twang, but still predominantly guitar based. Male or female vocals, although I might suggest preference for male vocals.

    Americana also defined by what it’s not: showy, virtuosity, power chords, stadium type vocals, thin sounding. 

    The first step in calculating which way to go is to find out where you are - Maggie T.

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  • HAL9000HAL9000 Frets: 5557
    John Mellancamp is another one who really should be in there.
    It might look like I'm listening to you, but in my head I'm playing my guitar.
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  • stickersticker Frets: 669
    Although somewhat out of favour now Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown were my introduction to what the music press referred to as Americana ...before that I just called it country folk ! 
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  • Me too! I think I have to leave him out of it all now!! I was going to write a huge in the style of for him but as you say, he really is out of favour with things probably set to get a lot worse. That means an extra page for Ron Sexsmith...
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  • Calexico and Iron & Wine is what spring's to my mind.
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  • KilgoreKilgore Frets: 3264
    edited January 17
    For me "Americana" would have to include:

    John Prine
    Steve Goodman
    Jesse Winchester
    Iris DeMent

    They're on the folky/country side. 

    More current, but not well known:

    Shakey Graves
    Sean Rowe
    Pokey LaFarge (blues, Country and swing) 

    Some may not consider some of the above to be Americana, but they are to me.

    Personally, I would put Jason Isbell down as Americana, but for many he's alt country.

    You've got a tricky task. Ask 10 people what Americana is and you'll probably get 10 different answers. 

    Good luck. 
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  • DulcetJonesDulcetJones Frets: 473
    Me too! I think I have to leave him out of it all now!! I was going to write a huge in the style of for him but as you say, he really is out of favour with things probably set to get a lot worse. That means an extra page for Ron Sexsmith...
    Ron Sexsmith is Canadian.

    Turns out “you’re so beautiful when you’re sleeping” is only considered a compliment if she knows who you are.



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  • There is only one true Americana band that so typifies the ideal of an American Roots band and that is The Band. 
    Everything else is an attempt to justify the shit they call Country music being played now. 
    Tyler Childers is a classic example of a country artist given the title of Americana award only to say thanks, but I’m not sure what Americana is, he just plays country but the genre has been stolen. They use the term Americana to lump anything that doesn’t sit in with the country radio crowd. 
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