April 15, 2014 by Jay Minkin
So what exactly is Americana? If you ask the Americana Music Association, they would tell you that Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound. But this sound crosses borders and oceans with influences and flavors that broaden the definition. Nobody embraced this better than The Rolling Stones who blended these styles throughout much of their catalog.
Where can I hear Americana? One of the best statements I have seen recently came from Bloodshot Records about Bobby Bare Jr stating his music is ample proof that commercial radio wouldn’t know a genre-bending smash hit if it ran up and bit it in the behind. Terrestrial radio has gone to safe and mostly unlistenable formats of contemporary pop fluff. You most likely won’t hear most of the indie artists I write about anywhere on the local radio dial. So unless you picking up satellite or an internet streamed channel, chances are you have no idea who some of these artists are or that they are putting out some really great new material.
So how can I find out about these Americana artists? Well, check out some of my back issues of Minkin’s Music that gives you some back story on an artist or a new record with my version of liner notes. Take a flyer on a friend’s recommendation to see a show if you trust their judgment and musical taste. If you subscribe to Sirius XM, listen to stations like The Loft (30) or Outlaw Country (60) that not only play new releases, but where the DJ’s will entertain you as much as the music they spin. Sit around and spin records with friends in the basement or on the patio while playing Euchre. It’s all about exposure.
Where can I see Americana music performed? Thankfully, there are several venues around town that are not only bringing in these traveling troubadours, but also showcasing the outstanding local singer/songwriters that call Northeast Ohio home. The folks at The Beachland Ballroom have someone performing just about every night, and you can’t beat an intimate concert or the price in the tavern. Yes, some acts don’t quite make it to Cleveland as unfortunately we are lumped in with Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Detroit/Ann Arbor with tour schedules. Club owners have to make smart decisions that the dollars guaranteed to an act will draw enough people to cover expenses so they don’t lose their shirt. Making a commitment purchasing tickets in advance really helps the local clubs along with inviting your friends to join you .
So what Americana shows do you recommend that are coming up? In the upcoming weeks, the Beachland will offer you the opportunity to hear legends like Bobby Bare Jr, Leon Russell, Lee Roy Parnell, and Ray Wylie Hubbard along with new artists like Milk Carton Kids and The Howlin’ Brothers who are garnering dedicated fans one tour stop at a time. A pairing of Nashville’s Steeldrivers with local bluegrass darlings Honeybucket makes for a full night of entertainment. You need to keep your ear to the rail so you can find out about folks like Honeyhoney playing at Mahall’s, The Devil Makes Three at The Grog Shop, Alabama Shakes at the new Hard Rock Rocksino, Peter Wolf at The Kent Stage, Hayes Carll down in Akron at Musica, and Mandolin Orange at the historic G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula. Sign-up to get e-blasts from these music establishments and receive notifications from apps like Bandsintown or Songkick about tour schedules from musicians you follow.
So what Americana albums do you recommend I buy on Record Store Day? OK … this is a major undertaking. So I looked at some of the albums I have on my Jukebox mp3 player and quickly jotted some personal favorites I can’t leave home without. Some may be staples in your collection while others you might be scratching your head and wondering where I’m coming from with that pick. Albums marked with an * were honored as the top album in my year end “Best Of” list (2006-2013).
Almost Home – Yarn
American Patchwork – Anders Osborne
American Stars & Bars – Neil Young
Black Cadillac – Roseanne Cash *
Bramble Rose – Tift Merritt
Brighter Than Creations Dark – Drive-By Truckers
Bustin’ Out – Pure Prairie League
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams
Cold Roses – Ryan Adams
Comes a Time – Neil Young
Cruel Moon – Buddy Miller
Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt – Levon Helm
Flying Upside Down – Griffin House *
Folk Sinner – LeE HaRVEY OsMOND
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood – Neko Case
From the Ground Up – John Fullbright
Gilded Palace of Sin – Flying Burrito Brothers
Ghost of Browder Holler – Chelle Rose
Ghost of Escondido – Escondido
Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons
Harrow & the Harvest – Gillian Welch
The Highway – Holly Williams
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Jason Isbell *
Karla Bonoff – Karla Bonoff
Kim Richey – Kim Richey
King of Inbetween – Garland Jefferies
Let it Burn – Ruthie Foster
Little Bird – Kasey Chambers *
Long Surrender – Over The Rhine
Lucky Day – Jonathan Edwards
Midnight Souveniers – Peter Wolf *
Music From the North Country – The Jayhawks
Old Devils – Jon Langford
Paper Airplane – Allison Krauss & Union Station
Rattlin’ Bones – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson
Real Animal – Alejandro Escovedo
Revolution – Miranda Lambert
Salvation in Lights – Mike Farris
Sex & Gasoline – Rodney Crowell
Somewhere in Time – Reckless Kelly
Southeastern – Jason Isbell *
Spyboy – Emmylou Harris
Steeldrivers – Steeldrivers
Streets of New York – Willie Nile
Summer Skin – Amy Cook *
This Side of the Moon – Elizabeth Cook
Whiskey or God – Dale Watson
Universal House of Prayer – Buddy Miller
Wanted! – The Outlaws (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser)
Dude, that’s a lot of records. How the heck do you expect me to find all of these titles? I’ll defer that one to Jason Burchaski aka Mr. “52 Weeks of Cleveland”. Jason is one of the Grand Poobah’s of the Northeast Ohio Vinyl Club who never passes up the chance to stop at a record store or yard sale panning for vinyl gold in those bins.