Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009: The Bird List

The label "Americana" has emerged over the last decade or so as the industry standard to apply to my favorite types of music. Yet, the label itself is pretty inadequate to describe what I like for a number of reasons.
  • Other things besides music are considered Americana - kitschy art, covered bridges in Vermont, turkey on Thanksgiving, Tennessee v. Alabama on third Saturday of October, Jimmy Stewart, etc.
  • Most other music labels are confining. Jazz, pop, hip-hop, country, metal, classical. Mention any of those genres, and one can just about conjure up a "name that tune" of some song within it. Americana doesn't work like that. The tent is huge and can accommodate a wide swath of artists and bands, acoustic and electric, megastar and unsigned, young and old, etc.
  • Singer-songwriters often fit within the genre. Some new country acts such as Miranda Lambert are welcome. Some quirky country artists such as Lyle Lovett have a seat at the table. Lots of old country artists kicked to the curb by Nashville are now senior friends in Americana such as Charlie Louvin. Artists on the lower end of the age spectrum (e.g. Avett Brothers) and on the upper end (e.g. Guy Clark) are equally at home.
  • Even the musical chops of the performers vary widely - yet places many competing styles within Americana. Lots of acoustic Martins - but a healthy dose of electric Strats. Electric bass is welcome right alongside the upright bass (exhibit 1: Kurt Ciesla from Corb Lund and The Hurtin' Albertans)...

  • It comes from all over - Texas and Tennessee are logical places to start. But try North Carolina, Oklahoma, California, Florida, New York, and the remaining states I didn't mention. Oh while you are at it, throw Canada into the mix. In this case, you've got a completely separate nation from which "Americana" originates. Even an iconic, British rock star who didn't start out as Americana ended up there by pairing himself with Allison Krauss (e.g. Zep's Robert Plant).
So while I'm not sure Americana, alt-country, or any label appropriate fits, I do pretty much know it when I hear it ... as do many others.

Fellow blogger A Truer Sound invited about 30 bloggers to throw our 2 cents in about our top 20 Americana releases of 2009. I was humbled about being asked to participate because I'm a blogging lightweight compared to these champs of music coverage.

We settled on The Bird List as the name of the poll results for a couple of reasons.
  • One, because Americana is so hard to define, the singers, bands, artists, and fans generally give the finger to the recording, retail, radio, and marketing establishments. Its not Music Row, formulaic country. Its not LA rock or pop. Its not all Texas honky tonks or the Grand Ol' Opry. Its big arenas and smoky bars. Much of it can and should be stocked in multiple sections in a music store. Most of those involved with performing or listening refuse to be pigeon-holed.
  • Two, a charter member of what is now known as Americana is The Man in Black - Johnny Cash. While most often considered as a country singer, his embrace of so many other types of music and people was a finger in the face of the establishment. His iconic in-your-face bird shot has adorned many a t-shirt.
My contributions to the top 20 list follow below. Seven of my choices made the overall top 20 - not bad I suppose considering the abundance and diversity of 2009's offerings and the ears of the listeners.

My selections were cobbled together with the other contibutors. A super-secret, fancy-schmancy scoring algorithm was applied, and bada-bing, bada-boom the sho-nuff, consensus, inaugural 2009 The Bird List is available for your viewing and commenting. Please chime in here or at the official home of the list.

TMC's Top 20:
  1. Guy Clark - Sometimes The Songs Write You (link is to show review)
  2. Corb Lund - Losin' Lately Gambler (link is to show review)
  3. Tom Russell - Blood And Candle Smoke
  4. Scott Miller - For Crying Out Loud
  5. Lyle Lovett - Natural Forces
  6. (Bob) Walkenhorst & (Jeff) Porter - No Abandon (link to blog entries re: both)
  7. Eric Brace & Peter Cooper - You Don't Have To Like Them Both (Peter: Tennessean writer by day, active musician by night)
  8. Daddy - For A Second Time (link is to show review but check them out too at ReverbNation)
  9. Steve Earle - Townes
  10. Charlie Robison - Beautiful Day
  11. Robert Earl Keen- The Rose Hotel
  12. Gurf Morlix - Last Exit To Happyland
  13. Miranda Lambert - Revolution
  14. Blue Rodeo - The Things We Left Behind
  15. Marshall Crenshaw - Jaggedland
  16. Todd Snider - The Excitement Plan
  17. The Flatlanders - Hills & Valleys
  18. Reverend Horton Heat - Laughin' and Cryin' with Reverend Horton Heat (OK, I admit it. This was a Nashville homer pick. The CD is great. But I went to junior high and high school with...[cough, name drop] Paul Simmons, RHH's drummer. So this release had to make my top 20, right?)
  19. Jeffrey Foucault - Shoot The Moon Right Between The Eyes (you cover Prine = you are in my top 20)
  20. Roseanne Cash - The List
I may spend a few entries over the coming weeks elaborating on some of my selections - including directing readers here to other fantastic blogs reviewing the releases.

Until then, sample these releases at Amazon or iTunes if you aren't familiar with them. Bum a bootleg off me or others to intro you to some of the songs before you buy official releases.And keep your eyes peeled for them to hit your town. Who knows - you might get to catch some great live music without breaking the bank.


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