AmericanA to Z: Brittany Howard

There have been some pretty impressive entries in the AmericanA to Z feature under the letter “H” already. We’ve had Ed Hamell and Emmylou Harris. It’s a letter so loaded down with talent that no-less-than Ray Wylie Hubbard had to get in where he fit in under “R” (or was it under “W”?). Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Brittany Howard”

AmericanA to Z: Golden Smog

Golden Smog is a loose and occasional association of musicians centring around various members of The Jayhawks, Wilco and Soul Asylum. On occasion they have also been joined by members of The Replacements, Big Star and The Honeydogs. The only members to play on all their recordings are guitarist Kraig Johnson from the lesser-known Run Westy Run, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman from The Jayhawks and Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy. To all intents and purposes, they are what we might have referred to in the past as a ‘supergroup’. But we would not use such crude terminology today, would we? Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Golden Smog”

AmericanA to Z: Simone Felice

When Simone was thirteen, he died. He flatlined in a frozen New York state January after suffering a brain haemorrhage. No one expected him to make it, but somehow he did. The doctors had to remove a part of his brain associated with music, art, and creativity. He should never have been able to play music, but somehow he did. Felice has spoken about this experience on stage, and about the resultant feeling that his life is borrowed, or somehow not his own. He speaks with a strangeness and intensity that seems to flow out of the depths of his very being. This same, almost spiritual, intensity is embodied in all his music, from the frenetic, joyful caterwauling of The Felice Brothers, to the intimate vulnerability of his solo records. He is Lazarus Presley. Risen from the dead to play rock’n’roll. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Simone Felice”

AmericanA to Z: Steve Earle

Steve Earle was a tough choice for this slot. On the one hand, what can you write about him that has not already been well documented? On the other hand, how can you omit one of its prime movers from an A-Z of Americana? To try and get a different perspective on the man, I’ve decided to write from a  personal perspective; me and Steve Earle if you like. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Steve Earle”

AmericanA to Z: Danny Schmidt

The A-Z rolls around, once again, to the letter ‘D’, which offers a wealth of possibilities. This time, we’ll shine a light on a personal favourite, Danny Schmidt. Texas has produced more than its fair share of outstanding musicians and Austin’s Schmidt continues this long tradition of roots-based excellence. Since he released ‘Live at the Prism Coffeehouse’ more than twenty years ago, Schmidt has been lauded by critics for his songcraft and poetic lyricism. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Danny Schmidt”

AmericanA to Z: John Cougar Mellencamp

This A-Z  is taking a small liberty. For ‘C’  we are looking at, and appreciating, the transformation of John Cougar Mellencamp from AOR-radio-friendly hit seeking pop-rocker, to gritty roots activist. Somewhere in the early to mid-1980s John Cougar seemed to lose his desire to emulate highly produced ‘heartland rock’ and emerge under his own name. And along the way he dropped the (much needed for this feature)[C]ougar too.  Maybe 1983 was the time he felt it right to assert himself and not pander to what record companies wanted. Maybe he cottoned onto the connotations of the term Cougar. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: John Cougar Mellencamp”

AmericanA-Z – Buffy Sainte-Marie

Beverly Sainte-Marie was born in February 1941 on the Cree nation’s Piapot 75 Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada.  As a youngster, she fell victim to the hideously shameful Sixties Scoop – a catch-all name for a series of policies, originating in the early fifties, enacted by provincial child welfare authorities which saw thousands of Indigenous children taken from their homes and eventually adopted out to white families from across Canada and the United States. These children lost their names, their languages, and a connection to their heritage and sadly, many were also abused and made to feel ashamed of who they were. Continue reading “AmericanA-Z – Buffy Sainte-Marie”

AmericanA to Z – Hoyt Axton

OK, you’re left with X, Y & Z they said. Not wanting to give short shrift to any Zandt or Young icon, Hoyt Axton contains an x and a y, but is he Americana? Well he started as a folk singer, ended as a country fixture, and in between had a TV special called ‘The Hoyt Axton Country Western Boogie Woogie Gospel Rock and Roll Show’, which touches a lot of Americana bases. Without ever being a major star, Axton’s talents exhibited an almost Zelig-like tendency through his career, not just through music, but on screen. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z – Hoyt Axton”

AmericanA to Z – Suzanne Vega

Last week was Tom Petty and so AmericanA to Z reaches the letter U. And since Uncle Tupelo have been covered already, skips directly to V. It was that or The Upsetters, and really that was a stretch too far even for our generous definition of Americana. Instead, let’s go back to the mid-eighties and a sad time for female singer-songwriters. Joni had put out the reasonable ‘Wild Things Run Fast‘, had the patchy ‘Dog Eat Dog‘ ready to go and would follow this up with the ho-hum ‘Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm‘ – Joni’s doing covers and using co-writers? Not good. If she were ever really the next big thing Carly Simon had got into a rut of banal songs for movies – with ‘Coming Around Again‘ only a partial exception. Continue reading “AmericanA to Z – Suzanne Vega”

AmericanA to Z – Tom Petty

Tom Petty is one of the strongest and most resonant of all the artists connecting the 1970s to current Americana. In a desperately shortened career that still spanned over 41 years he wrote songs that appealed to the plaid wearing beer-drinking hell raisers, the shiny popsters with their beatboxes and hip shoes, the blue-collar workers heading out to their dead-end jobs singing to their dashboards about freedom and every other social grouping besides.  Continue reading “AmericanA to Z – Tom Petty”