The Americana Record of the 2000’s: The Drams’ Jubilee Dive
I never post here because I’m not sure what Americana is supposed to be about. If taken empirically by what is routinely celebrated in Americana circles, the results are uninspiring. It seems to involve a force march through the Hall of Survivors, with guards asking we tip our hats to those who therein stand; or a parade of ingenues in vintage garb, often posing in sunlit diner booths on CD covers with egregious font abuse. There are reluctant cowboys, stoners, city slickers, even the occasional person of color, but corralling them as “Americana” feels more like a function of the lasso than it does a characteristic of the assembled herd.
Taken linguistically, Americana implies “being about America.” America is already a dicey context. I’m thinking Canada is usually included but, outside of the border towns where good Americans like to go wild, Mexico is not. English people are pretty good at Americana, as are the Japanese. America, in my eyes, is more about the lanky persistence, the muddling along befitting of a teenage country. It’s about not exactly learning from mistakes. It is slightly more concerned with getting laid or drunk or full than it is with being right. It’s about being myopic (how far can you really see when you’re so young), about having a paycheck burning a hole in one’s pocket and trying to stretch things out one more day until we have to go to the laundromat. This is by no means a comprehensive list of what it takes to be American, but then, that list is still being written. Perhaps, writing that list is what is American, and Americana is actually an Americana-ana that feeds back on itself like a guitar will at the crossroads of a tired soundman and a band that isn’t quite ready for the show.
Americana, then, should reflect those things, and the album that does that for me is the sole 2006 release by the Drams, Jubilee Dive. Folks will dump on Brent Best for not still being with Slobberbone, but man, they broke up years ago and I know his old girlfriend was fine and all and got with you that one time at that party, but we all gotta move on. Or move on as far as we can anyway.
Jubilee Dive is six spaces down the Monopoly board from Slobberbone; in the slightly-nicer neighborhood, but still is sight of the fuckups that lent Slobberbone its scruffy charm, giving the new band the opportunity to profoundly own those gaffs and see them in what alcoholics call “a moment of clarity.” There’s a sadness in Des Moines. You bet there is. Ever been to Des Moines? I’d rather go to the laundromat. You play your song and they hum along. That is about as close as we ever understand each other. Honestly, until I did a search for the album to confirm what year it came out, I thought it was called Jubilee DRIVE. Do not misconstrue this oversight as a loose affection; I love this record, like you love that one girl you see out once every couple of months. You say, “Check out what’s-her-face over there. Man, I love her.”
Sure there are “better” Americana records that came out in this decade. Records that made the river run backwards for a little while. Records that make you re-examine what you are all about. iPod-for-life records. Jubilee Dive isn’t really one of those. Jubilee Dive sounds like equal parts R.E.M. and Journey, bands that at one time moved mountains for you but probably don’t any more. It is a record that shows up on shuffle at a friend’s house or, like back in spring, falls off a teetering stack of CD’s in the course of tidying up or even as the surprise unmentioned opening act for another band I was so-so on seeing.
But every time one of those “better” records come on, I am all, “Oh, that is (whoever). I have things to say about (whoever),” and then say those things. When Jubilee Dive comes on, I step into a great night out where I wanna holler “There’s one toniiiiiight!” with my buds and do air guitar during the solo. After the bars close, I want to lay a finger on the keys of that Fender Rhodes on the cover that I assumed sat like a firefly in amber in some practice space on Jubilee Drive, BFE, America, just so I can make a hum that sounds a little like this record. I want them to play their songs and I hummalong, you and me, MF, in the whatever we call America of whatever we are gonna call this decade.