Edges of Americana
Oftentimes the term “Americana” is used as a catch all phrase. It can often refer to to “edge of country” kinds of music like The Drive By Truckers or Jill Andrews– acts that are definitely not mainstream country, but twangy all the same. It also encompasses old time, bluegrass, zydeco, and “folk” (whatever that means anymore). And then there’s the more indie side of things— the Wilcos, the Jayhawks, and Iron & Wines. But when the Wilcos of the world make an album like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that gets all experimental fuzz on us, do they have to turn in their Americana card?
I personally tend to like the artists that don’t fit neatly into musical categories. Here are a few artists that sit on the edge of Americana…
ANGIE MATTSON (pictured above)
L.A.-based singer/songwriter Angie Mattson has a more pop-py background than most Americana artists– she’s toured with indie icon Suzanne Vega as well as with Melissa Ferrick and Uh Huh Her (L Word actress Leisha Hailey’s band, for the uninitiated). Her albums are dark. Very dark– with big dark guitars and dark, sultry lyrics. She has a smoky, room-filling voice and a out front sexuality not too common among Americana acts. Her music sounds dusty, like it just cantered into town on a stolen horse and it’s going to bust up your saloon before it’s through.
Her new album, which comes out today, is called Skeleton Arm. Check out these two excellent tracks and make your own decisions on the Americana/Not Americana question.
Friends and Weapons (dig that guitar tone!)
Cool Water (it’s a hit!)
(Buy her album here)
When she first appeared on the indie scene four or five years ago, I remember reading her press bio and seeing that she was being trained up as a classical harpist but was led astray by a love for bluegrass and Appalachian music. On the surface, that sounds a bit strange because, upon first hearing Joanna Newsom I will bet that very, very few people think “bluegrass!”. The dreaminess of her music and the peculiarity of her voice are really what hit you in the face first. But if you take a look and a listen to this video, is it so hard to see the hand of Maybelle Carter in Joanna’s harp music?
GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS
Though banjos, accordions, and upright bass color the music of Canadian indie act, the Great Lake Swimmers never really get twangy. The angelic voice of singer and bandleader Tony Dekker keeps things ethereal. Poetic. Evocative. Smart. Good stuff.
Gorgeous video, too…
I suppose though, in the end, labels are just something fun to argue about over beers and the only distinction that needs to be made is is it worth listening to?
What’s your take?