Many people have their definitions of “Americana”. Or they call it “roots”, “folk” or “finely crafted narratives of despair, the land and uplifting choruses”. I see it as a mix of the great music that has come out of a culture or cultures that has so impacted the world for better or worse.
I am influenced more heavily by American music than Australian. Perhaps because the United States and Canada had a few hundred years more on Australia to develop a unique culture. Perhaps this is because by the time Australia was developing its own, new media thrust music at us from all over the world in increasingly easy to access ways and in a very short time so we weren’t able to create something quite as unique . So now my music is a reflection of my environment but played through a frame of Americana: Blues, jazz, country, acoustic folk, bluegrass, funk, soul, Latin and all that brew that comes from a clash and enveloping of cultures.
So as I prepare to give you An Evening of Americana at West End’s The Bearded Lady featuring blues/rock n roll (my band), rockabilly (The Hi-Boys) and country (Bridget O’Shannessy) and on the eve of America’s Independence Day, here is in no particular order a top 10 of some of my favourite Americana albums:
The Band – The Band: A massive influence on my current songwriting and recordings. Like a novel played out in all the great ways of music.
Into The Music – Van Morrison: Sir Van mixes his trademark soul and Celtic roots, along with talk of Muddy Waters and a little gospel.
Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down –Ry Cooder: Ry played slide on Sir Van’s album above and spent so long playing beautiful covers of blues, country, soul and being a side man or soundtrack composer, he may have been overlooked as a songwriter. Not anymore. Blimey this is good and throws in some Tex-Mex as well.
Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams: It took about six years to make this album and I am thankful for it. Every snap of the drums, every guitar line, every superlative vocal and harmony. Simple stories about normal people filtered through Lucinda’s yearning voice and her love of blues and country.
Sticky Fingers – Rolling Stones: It is hard to pick a favourite Stones album but in terms of a wide-ranging explorations of Americana, they do it so well with this album. Blues, soul, country and mixes of all. We performed it in full last year twice, but it still gets me despite all those rehearsals. Oh and Ry Cooder plays slide on Sister Morphine.
Gris Gris – Dr John The Night Tripper: The strangest addition to this list is Dr John’s first album, to my ears a bizarre amalgam of country sounds, New Orleans voodoo funk and some strong hallucinogenics.
The Hypnotiser – Cash Savage and the Last Drinks: The only Australian entry on this list, Cash’s storytelling game is strong (I hear that’s how the kids say would say it), loves her some Americana and has a powerful world-weary voice and a sensational violinist in Kat Mear.
We’ll Never Turn Back – Mavis Staples: With Ry Cooder again on production and slide, Mavis lets her unmatched gospel contralto loose on many old classics, but with The Meters’ funk meets hip hop grooves. Ouch.
Rain Dogs – Tom Waits: This is the album many recommend you try if you haven’t heard any Tom Waits, with some banjo country here, some rock n roll there, Latin inspired strangeness over there and Tom’s gravel and weirdness all around.
Coming Home – Leon Bridges: This is so new, it hasn’t really been released but I have already listened to it about four times through the internet’s first listen streams. Bit of old school Sam Cooke and Otis Redding/soul gospel but through an obvious modern filter, plus a little blues and country. Listen.