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Music  >>  CDs  >>  Country

Rough Guide To Americana (Seco

Rough Guide To Americana (Seco

Rough Guide To Americana (seco Rough Guide To Americana (seco
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Welcome to the second edition of The Rough Guide to Americana. Perhaps some of you were here for the first edition, which I compiled back in 2000. It was the year when O’ Brother Where Art Thou? hit the screens, banjo sales went ballistic and you couldn't move for musicians discovering their hillbilly/blues/gospel/folk American roots - and not all of them American. It's not the first time this has happened. Every decade over the last fifty years has had it its own wave of artists who've made the move from their genre of choice, or fused it with varieties of Americana. To some, it might have simply been another outfit in the dressing-up box to play with, but for many more it was something more profound. Country, old country – which started out as homespun music made in the American South, based on old traditional British and Irish folk songs dragged screaming across the Atlantic and mixed with clapboard church hymns and African-American blues – had an honesty and a directness lacking in a lot of contemporary pop. Old country music sang about real life and death, struggle and sweat, God and the bottle, pain and (back to that bottle again) joy. Musically, its structure was simple, but that simplicity could hide a whole lot of complexity – take bluegrass for instance, with its minimal chords and maximum mastery and flair. Post-O Brother, the number of new young bluegrass artists have soared and, as you'll hear on this collection, so have the older Americana artists taking a side turn there. But a whole lot more has happened during the fifteen years between the two editions of The Rough Guide To Americana albums. For one, contemporary mainstream country, though selling more than ever, has become ¬– in the words of country legend Merle Haggard – ‘a bunch of crap’ and as distant from old country as it gets. And Americana is bigger still. Since the Grammys added an Americana category a few years back, the genre has shrugged off its musical outsider status while still attracting artists who care about authenticity. For each of these fourteen selections there's easily a hundred more I could have chosen. To narrow it down I've kept it to recent releases by artists who have their own twenty-first century take on either the themes, the sounds or the qualities of old country. From Robert Earl Keen’s traditional bluegrass version of ‘52 Vincent Black Lightning’ to Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s duet on a song by one of the great pop-country crossovers, the Everly Brothers; in the poetry and pain of Giant Sand’s wonderful opening track ‘Man On A String’ and the dark desperation of Mary Gauthier’s closing song ‘Oh Soul’; there’s dogs, there’s cars, there’s saints and Jesus, and a whole lot of love gone wrong. Some are newcomers, others are artists who've been making this music a long time. All of them, we hope you agree, are great. Sylvie Simmons is an award-winning rock writer and the author of a number of music-related books - the most recent, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. In 1997, the era of alt. country, she initiated a MOJO column she called 'Americana' and has written it ever since. Her debut album Sylvie, was released on Light In The Attic last year - and yes, it's Americana.
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