I am trying to make sense of all the various sub-genre descriptions of music within the broad Country genre. No Depression appears to believe that Americana and Alt-Country are interchangeable. But where does Country-Rock sit and then what about Alt-Country Rock. AMG says that Americana has different roots from Country-Rock, and doesn't seem to have a category of Alt Country-rock. Personally I believe that Americana is a much broader genre, currently on a par with Country as a major category, and one that includes all the sub-genres including Alt-Country, Country-Rock, and Alt Country-Rock, as well as several others. However I am open to other suggestions.   

If anyone can respond I would be very grateful


Tony Simmonds

[I have written a doctoral thesis based on Country-Rock and I am now trying to plan a book on Americana]

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I tend to agree. I think in most cases there isn't really a difference between Americana and Country-Rock, and most people who try to create one are just being contrarians.

Also, I'd love to read your thesis, by the way.

With the greatest respect - i don't care.

Put a record or a CD or an MP3 on. It you like it, great. End of story.

I would add a bit of a muted +1 to this.  Obviously, distinctions in types of music exist.  How aggressively these distinctions are defended should be at most in proportion to the difference being distinguished.

Thanks to all of you so far.

I realise that to many people, making theoretical distinctions like this is a bit unnecessary, and serves no purpose. However, there are two reasons why I am pursuing this. One is that it is natural follow-up to my thesis, and I am trying to turn the academic theory into a book for general publication. The second reason is that Americana seems to be such a huge and ill-defined topic, that I wanted to see if there were any limits to it. I have a huge collection of music which I used to think was Country-rock [and I include Drive-By Truckers, Uncle Tupelo, The Blasters, as well as older stuff like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Flying Burrito Brothers etc in this]

Now these bands are categorised as Americana. You may say... so what's the problem. Personally I like to explore these things. I would be happy to send some oof my writing to anyone  [including Jesse] if you would like to read it and add your comments.

Unfortunately, blogs, radio, digital distributors all seem to care.  Maybe not about these fine distinctions but putting releases into a category.   It is helpful if you are seeking out new music; we have sold CDs/downloads to people who periodically scan the Bandcamp or CD Baby Alt Country/Americana new releases pages seeking out undiscovered music in these categories.  Seems most use the terms interchangeably (especially Americana and Alt Country) so as to distinguish from commercial country.

Just one note in reply. Commercial country used to be... country. All was good. When it strayed too far, as it often did, a Kris or Merle or Waylon, etc., would could along and set it right again. Now that there's a place where those kind of folks can find a home, that pressure is taken off Nashville, and imo, a new kind of anti-country pressure is put on these emerging artists as "Americana" becomes less and less country. Etc.

come along that is

I tend to think of the modern definition of Americana being more influenced by indie-rock and rock  (Lumineers), and Alt-Country more on the Country side (Drive-By-Truckers).   Indie-Rock and Folk-Grass -> Americana -> Alt-Country -> Country   

I once heard it described as "a broad category of music, that is much like the folk genre, characterized by songs written with deeper meanings and messages, but performed with the inclusion of more electric instruments."   

I liked that description, as it gives an impression of what the music should be without walls.   I also see it, like many of you, with sub-genres below it....

Oh God no. Not again. But feel free to join my private but open little group The "Americana Is Not Country" Group.

I also would love to read your thesis. Believe it or not, I do take this seriously. In general, I find the term Americana to be completely meaningless, in general a form of music derived from what we used to call folk and which tries to incorporate, well, everything, and thereby creates to me another flavor of MOR. Alt Country was a valiant attempt to save country when it was becoming, well, not country (NashVegas). It never worked. Gram Parsons disliked the term Country Rock, but it's probably the best, unless you want to go with his tongue-in-cheek Cosmic American Music (which many do). Alt Country Rock? God help us. Outlaw, etc. etc. I like the almost extinct genre called country music, for which the little group mentioned above is dedicated.

I believe it is a necessary evil to begin/continue to sub-categorize genres.  For example, once upon a time you used to really only have Country, Blues, Jazz, (obviously various other types, but these were the big 3).  But as time goes on artists tend to break the set parameters defined by these genres by fusing other genres with the originals, making a new style almost undefinable to it's original form.  If it were so simple, I would just tell my friends I listen to Rock music which immediately makes each one think a different thing.

Americana to me is a broad genre that blankets many sub-genres.  Anything with "Alt-" in the name is usually a dead give away of a sub genre.  

OK, I understand where some of you are coming from. There is an excellent No Depression  blog by Barry Mazor on Feb 23 2009 called  Americana, by any other name…. which goes a long way to address my concerns and my wishes. He also suggests that genre-jumping is a commercial activity.

 I just wish that it were possible to stop allocating the label Americana to anyone without giving it real consideration, and with no real criteria. Recently I have heard of artists like Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello [he’s English, like me, for Gods sake!], as well as others with musical styles as disparate as JJ Cale, and kd Lang all being roped together under the same banner.

 And when does the categorisation begin. I’ve already mentioned the Byrds, Burritos, and Buffalo Springfield. What about Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Ry Cooder? And if you can include the Brits of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Billy Bragg [with Wilco] why not Australian Nick Cave or Canadian Leonard Cohen? And if Americana can include folk music in the guise of Joanna Newsome, and The National, why can’t it include Jazz like Mingus, and Coltrane….. [or maybe Diane Krall is OK?]. Or perhaps we can include some smoky Soul or Hip Hop like Eryka Badu and Jill Scott, or some nice heavy Rock like  ZZ Top or Led Zeppelin [now I’m getting silly!]

 I don’t want thick boundary walls [I agree with Dave Beth], but it would be good to have some means of delineation, and to be able to say what it is, and what it isn’t

 …… but one thing it aint, is Country…



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.