Music

Various Artists: The Rough Guide To Americana (Second Edition)

It's not that rough to embrace this expertly curated 14-track slice of Americana.


Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Americana (Second Edition)

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2016-02-26
UK Release Date: 2016-02-26
Amazon
iTunes

Sylvie Simmons isn’t just a familiar byline to lovers of quality magazines, she’s also a musician who not that long ago (in the grand scheme of things) released an album under her own name for the world to feast on. But what she’s also done, as she did back in 2000, is compile a Rough Guide to Americana release, offering us her pick on some of the best voices in that loosely defined genre. We and, as she admits, she could have picked many other selections for this compilation but the selection here is still just fine and hangs together nicely with some of the less usual suspects.

The collections opens with the soon-to-be-defunct Giant Sand and the track “Man on a String” from the LP Heartbreak Pass. Giant Sand has it supporters and the band’s dust, roots music sound demonstrates why: These aren’t just songs, they’re slices of the American landscape, splayed out before our very ears like images on our phone screens. Patty Griffin’s irreplaceable “Wild Old Dog” from the equally brilliant American Kid reminds us that we need to ask more questions about why Griffin hasn’t come to occupy a more significant parcel of land in our consciousness.

The same goes for Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie “Prince” Billy whose excellent tribute to Don and Phil Everly, What the Brothers Sang gives us “Milk Train” while the ever-reliable Mary Gauthier’s “Oh Soul” is the parting shot. In between we’re treated to Robert Earl Keen’s take on an Old World writer’s “52 Vincent Black Lightning” cast as a bluegrass tune. Its author, Richard Thompson, is curiously absent from this collection though he surely has plenty in common with many of the voices from the corner of the globe he’s called home for several decades now. And like many of the artists here, he’s smart, literary, and maybe a little too good for the mainstream.

Those same things may be said about James McMurtry who gives us “Copper Canteen” from the easy to love Complicated Game, which sits nicely next to Robbie Fulks’ “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine”. Those voices too are exceptional ones to be in room with, voices that should and sing and suggest that even if everything in the world ain’t right we can make a little better a little bit at a time.

It may be embarrassing to admit that one has never heard or heard of some of the artists represented here, but Sean Taylor, who gives us “Tienes Mi Alma En Tus Manos”, and Reed Foehl who damn near carries away the whole shebang with “Caroline”. (The same might be said for Stone Cupid’s “Saint on a Chain” (with Julie Christensen). But the joy of compilations such as this one is that you can hear new voices and place them in new contexts and maybe even rediscover a voice or two that you’ve lost contact with. Then, of course, there are the names that should be more familiar to everyone, including Jim White (“Rambler”, from Sounds of the Americans is represented here) and Noah Gundersen (“Boathouse”), and the almighty Chuck Prophet whose “I Feel Like Jesus” is refreshing to find again.

At one hour the compilation doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it wear us out as it tries to do spectacular leaps in an attempt to over-impress. That approach as well as the simply but stately packaging and Simmons’ nifty liner notes make this a nice pick up for the price. So, hang on to this and in five years, compare its listing with those artists you’ve welcomed into your permanent collection. There are bound to be some matches. And that’s as it should be.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image