Mention at a British social function that you are a fan of the Americana and you will greeted with a dumb stare, awkward silence and a hasty topic change. Mention at a British social function that you are a fan of Country music and you will be greeted with a palmhidden smirk and a barrage of questions about the Dixie Chicks and Dolly Parton.

Ok, that is a somewhat sweeping statement but it is largely true. The average beerbellied sundaylunching nonvoting brit does not understand the appeal of the 'No Depresssion' canon. Who wants to be friends with the average Brit anyway? The problem lies within modern and older mainstream Country which is simply far too polished and too bubblegum for the ears of men used to Zeppelin a pint of warm ale and a steak and kidney pie. There is an immediate dismissal of all that is seen to be country and western. The bass could not play a C followed by a G in the same bar without being heckled back to texas. The problem is further exacerbated by the only examples of country we hear in the mythical 'mainstream British ear' being pop pastiches from the likes of Cyrus and Simpson prancing around in hotpants chewing on straw with a Stetson. And the masses have a point, a good deal of all the country music produced today is rehashed dumb patriotism lauding simplicity in life (in a "just god, beer and my truck" kind of way) and lamenting those who would harm Amerixas.

Americana of course encompasses Country, but not all Americana is unpaletable to the British ear, artists such as 'Iron and Wine' and 'Bon Iver' have resonated with the indie generation recently as well as becoming a dinnerparty stalwart. But try to play a bluegrass song at such an event and the masses will cry "turn that hick bullshit off" (this actually happened to me).

So how is it that my favourite americana album came from the streets of Cambridge and from the drawling mouth but unmistakeably british twang of The Broken Family Band?
2006's "Welcome Home Loser" was their third release following up on an excellent if slightly unfocused debut EP and the dark country sequel of "Cold Water Songs" . Since the band has morphed sounds over their following three releases, leaving behind their Country roots and heading towards an Indiepop mean. This shift in genres has afforded them success and the unaffected cynicism and dark humor that made"Welcome Home Loser" such a wonderful album is still present in the band today but I fear they may have lost their musical niche. That's not to say that any of the post-WHL efforts are bad albums: they are chock-full of superior lyricism and dripping with melody. you just ain't gonna get big in the UK playing that 'hick bullshit'.

The point behind writing this blog post was not to bemoan the British as plebs or to suggest that Americana even should be a more popular genre in Britain, I wanted to share with you not only a wonderful album but the knowledge that we Brits (silly as it will sound) can do darn good Americana too. "Welcome Home Loser" is not an album full of lazy derivations, cliches and pastiches, it is an album of subtle humour (the changing lyrics of "Happy Days Are Here Again") and not-so-subtle humour ("if you work in a whore-house, you're gonna get fucked" Honest Mans' Blues). It is full of touching sentiment and haunting darkness but propped up by the fact that singer Steven Adams' lyrics are never devoid of irony and self-effacing charm. Like the best Americana it doesn't demand too much from the listener and never claims to be profound or to tug at the heartstrings or fog the mind with aphorisms that end up banal and meaningless. It's just a fun collection of songs that is always nice to listen to with some funny lyrics and some sad lyrics and some dark lyrics and some happy lyrics. I could want no more.

Here's a selection from "Welcome Home Loser", I urge all yanks to listen and try a bit of British Americana. Music with a very special relationship.


Views: 52

Tags: americana, band, britain, broken, country, england, family

Comment by Elvis Fontenot on July 14, 2009 at 9:52am
Very apt summary of the mainstream perception of country and roots music in the UK - people just don't get it. When I mention that I play in a band, the next question is always "What kind of music do you play"...at which point I gulp for breath and repeat the well-rehearsed (by now) explanation of what cajun and zydeco music are and then try and give them an approximate reference point from their own culture to what it sounds like - which is virtually impossible, outside of people who already know their stuff.

But in some ways, that helps to make it more of an outsider form - it's always going to be a clique, a cult, a code - which for the fan - the keen fan - sometimes the obsessive - is what gives it its flavour.
Comment by Cottonseed on July 14, 2009 at 11:52am
In his song, Outfit, Jason Isbell admonishes - presumably American youth to - "don't sing with a fake British accent". For Brits I would add the corollary: "don't sing with a fake Southern accent".
Comment by RICHARD SUMMERSCALES on July 14, 2009 at 2:53pm
I agree that in the UK when you say you like alt-country/Americana you tend to leave yourself open to a certain amount of mirth and ridicule. A boisterous night in the pub does not pass by without my mates performing drunken renditions of Achy Breaky Heart and Crocodile Shoes(the Jimmy Nail 'classic'). I then have to endure another 5 minutes of p*ss taking as they try to recollect Garth Brooks hits.
All this from people who are big fans of Snow Patrol/Coldplay/Athlete etc.
Comment by RP N10 on July 14, 2009 at 3:08pm
One things that is interesting is that the Americana and country artists from North America that tour in Europe and the UK manage to pull reasonable audiences, shift self-released CDs and, by coming over and over, build up a following. Big league Nashville country artists who don't tour really don't do much business at all. Artists like Calexico have filled places like the Barbican and the Forum, ditto My Morning Jacket. At the Neil Young gig at Hyde Park end June, second on the bill was Fleet Foxes and fourth was Seasick Steve - each of who could be said to fall within the wider definition. When it comes to home-grown performers they're competing for the same audience as the touring performers. Which may be a problem; as the local artists just aren't as well known as the tourists.
Comment by Steve McCormick on July 21, 2009 at 7:23am
The reference to Achy Breaky Heart sums it up nicely. I used to feel I had to make excuses for playing country music but now I embrace the fact that my music most definitely encompasses Americana and Country sounds.

My song 'Another English Cowboy' is all about the people that are actually into country music but those that ruin it for the rest of us, i.e. the ones that linedance, dress up as cowboys and have fake gunfights. It's small wonder people ridicule country music when that is there obvious reference point!

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