A musical genre forever outside the lines
With a claim on artists from Jimmie Rodgers to Jason Isbell, Americana can be hard to define, but you know it when you hear it. John Milward’s Americanaland is filled with the enduring performers and vivid stories that are at the heart of Americana. At base a hybrid of rock and country, Americana is also infused with folk, blues, R&B, bluegrass, and other types of roots music. Performers like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Gram Parsons used these ingredients to create influential music that took well-established genres down exciting new roads. The name Americana was coined in the 1990s to describe similarly inclined artists like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Wilco. Today, Brandi Carlile and I’m With Her are among the musicians carrying the genre into the twenty-first century.
Essential and engaging, Americanaland chronicles the evolution and resonance of this ever-changing amalgam of American music.
My thoughts on Americanaland…
I have always loved music – growing up, my tastes were varied – a bit of pop, a bit of rock, a bit of folk, and a lot of alternative. They never included country music, at least until I moved to the states in the early ’90’s. Then, the friends I made were very into the ‘sassy female’ variety and I got hooked. Slowly, though my tastes have changed (even if I still lean towards female singers) into what is called Americana. Which is why I was really excited to read Americanaland so I could figure out just where this real mix of styles came from.
And find out I did, going right back to the beginning with the Carter family before taking a bit of a roller-coaster journey through where the music went next. I say roller-coaster because that is how I felt reading this book. It was fast. Not as in a quick read, but as in the pace of the writing. It was relentless, through names, places, and songs at me before I really had chance to process what I was actually reading.
Even now I’ve finished, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Exhausted? Exhilarated? Overwhelmed by how many artists I now feel the urge to listen to (there’ll be a playlist on Spotify soon I’m sure)? All of these things. It reminded me of reading Roots, Radicals, and Rockers by Billy Bragg a few years ago. I felt the passion of the author and it carried me along, meaning I enjoyed the book too. But at the same time, it was all a bit too much. I felt like I didn’t know enough.
So, if you love Americana and know a bit more about it than I did when I started this book, I would say it is definitely for you. If you are at the start of your journey – maybe go for something else first (or maybe read a few magazine articles). 3.5/5 stars.
Please note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings, and opinions are my own.
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