The motel remains one of the great American gathering places.
As you drive through the parking lot, consider the diversity. There is a variety of vehicles, some seasoned veterans with the dents to prove it; others still exude that “new car smell”, trying to compensate with style for what they lack in experience. After all, cars are like pets: They resemble their owners. Complicating matters further are the colorful splashes of license plates, as diverse as America. It’s impossible not to wonder about the journeys of drivers, some headed to a new future, others forced onto the road by business or personal tragedy, and those simply on vacation.
But while at a motel, even if only for one night, those disparate travelers become a kind of family, sharing one roof and perhaps annoying each other with a loud television or a tiresome child, just as families do every day.
Generally, however, people just arrive at a motel and spend the night—maybe swim in the pool, or grab something from the restaurant or bar—before moving on, paying little attention to the surrogate family around them.
That’s not the case at the Americana Motel, though, which is both a literal motel in Arlington, Virginia, as well as the name of an exciting new alternative country collection from Bay Gumbo Music—you can find the motel’s address and phone number in the disc’s liner notes. If the record is any indicator, a visit to the Americana Motel requires a stop at the bar where there’s quite a party going on.
“Alternative country” tends to conjure up visions of Austin and Chicago, not the East Coast, but the fact is that Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have a thriving roots-rock scene. As producer Peter Fox puts it, “This community feels like Austin 20 years ago. It’s a vibrant scene that is just on the verge of national recognition”.
Fox’s use of “community” is particularly fitting given that Americana Motel is an album on which artists celebrate each other’s work and explore a wide range of musical styles and sources. For example, while Kevin Johnson & The Linemen perform a Karl Straub (The Graverobbers) number, Jumpin’ Jupiter throws in a Kevin Johnson song (“Buddy Love”) with Bill Kirchen (Bill and Louise Kirchen) adding his trademark Fender Telecaster. The collaborations are too many to mention here, but the musicianship is never less than top rate: These folks are accomplished players, and a number are WAMMIE winners and nominees.
In other words, like any good community, this one’s complicated—and it works.
Americana Motel gets off to a nice start—a kind of welcoming from a friendly desk clerk—with the country-rock “Been Awhile” from Last Train Home’s tight harmonies and pedal steel.
Other country-grounded tracks include Karl Straub’s “Blue Train”; Kevin Johnson & The Linemen’s “Carolina”; The Del Swathmores’ “Love on the Rebound”; Bill and Louise Kirchen’s “I’ll Never Be Free”, a duet made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr—the Kirchens never miss a beat—and The Rhodes Tavern Troubadours’ “Then You Can Kiss Me Goodbye”.
There’s plenty of roots rock ‘n’ roll, too: Jumpin’ Jumpiter’s “Buddy Love”; The Graverobbers’ “It Won’t Be Easy” (which moves easily from country to rock); The Grandsons’ “Real Real”; Ruthie and the Wranglers’ “Why Must You Leave Me?”, a wonderful version of a Vernon Taylor song; and The Kennedys’ “Tell Me How”, a Buddy Holly tune. Add to that Lisa Moscatiello’s “The Middle of Nowhere” and The Rhodes Tavern Troubadours’ cover of the J. D. Loudermilk classic “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”. Little Pink’s “Cathode Ray Blue”, with Karl Straub’s Telecaster and its Phil Spector-esque production, sounds, fittingly, almost other wordly.
Throwing in even more variety are Starling, Auldridge & Gaudreau with a bluegrass treat, “My Sally”. With the song’s mournful sound, the listener knows early on that bad things are coming: The singer stays in the country; his lover goes to town: “Hey, hey cloudy day, no sun in the valley / Every since she went away, I sure miss my Sally”. Unable to escape the loneliness, he plays one last fiddle tune (and there’s no fiddle in the song itself) before going to the city to see her. There’s a Tex-Mex version of “Day Go By” from Tom Clifford (with Dave Chappell adding some subtle accordion). Also not to be missed is a very fun, very Hawaiian number from The Hula Monsters, “Things I’m Not”.
Americana Motel ends like any good get together: with an all-star jam on a Karl Straub-penned song, “Don’t Take Advice”, credited to Americana Motel.
In the end, Americana Motel is an album as varied as any motel parking lot, a true gathering of American roots music.
Make your reservations soon.