Classic Americana Albums: Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Myer and Mark O’Connor “Appalachian Journey” (Sony Music, 2000)

Collaborations with classical artists are often an uneasy fit, a cue for an unholy alliance of partners.  Non-classical artists bask in the status and virtuosity of the conservatoire sorts, while the orchestral players demonstrate they are adaptable and groovy.  However, when it works it can provide luminous, unforgettable music.  This recording is a classic because it does that.  The world would be a diminished place without this meeting of musical minds and its gorgeous moments. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Myer and Mark O’Connor “Appalachian Journey” (Sony Music, 2000)”

Classic Americana Albums: Butch Hancock “West Texas Waltzes and Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes” (Rainlight Records, 1978)

When we think of legendary Texas band, The Flatlanders, we tend to regard them as the band that launched the careers of Texas music icons Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The third member of the band, Butch Hancock sometimes gets overlooked by comparison. Given that Hancock wrote four of the songs on the Flatlanders fabled ‘One More Road’ album, whereas Gilmore wrote three and a further co-write and Ely wrote none, it’s fair to say that Hancock’s part in that celebrated band has sometimes been understated. After the initial demise of The Flatlanders, Hancock continued to write songs throughout the 1970s which were used by both Jerry Jeff Walker and Joe Ely. In fact, Hancock contributed eleven songs to Ely’s first three albums. Nevertheless, it was Hancock’s own debut LP ‘West Texas Waltzes & Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes’ that singled him out as a truly original and innovative artist. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Butch Hancock “West Texas Waltzes and Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes” (Rainlight Records, 1978)”

Classic Americana Albums: Warren Zevon “Warren Zevon” (Asylum, 1976)

With his third album release, ‘Excitable Boy’ Warren Zevon hit the charts with the single ‘Werewolves of London’. It is still his best-selling album overall. But the self-titled album that preceded it set the seal on his reputation as a songwriter and performer. With the support of his producer Jackson Browne, he had a cast of the L.A. scene’s great and good to draw on and some fine songs of which Linda Ronstadt alone covered four. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Warren Zevon “Warren Zevon” (Asylum, 1976)”

Classic Americana Compilations: Various Artists “Acres For Cents” (Zippo 1987)

What is a compilation album? A bespoke tribute to a singular artist might be considered to be a compilation, but for this writer it’s basically a bunch of otherwise available songs slung together for one reason or another. Usually the reason is to sell more records of course. Much has been made in these pages of Uncut’s series of Americana themed cover mount CDs. It’s like your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer wheeling you in as he whispers, “The first one’s free…” And ofttimes, that dealer was a record label. There’s an honourable tradition of labels selling compilations of their artists at loss-leading prices, sometimes with an otherwise unavailable track as an additional incentive. Some of those albums are now revered. Think of Island Records’ ‘We Can All Join In’, the CBS sampler, ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’, or Atlantic Records’ ‘Age Of Atlantic’. Here we’d like to make a case for this 1987 release to join that pantheon. Continue reading “Classic Americana Compilations: Various Artists “Acres For Cents” (Zippo 1987)”

Classic America Albums: Cracker “Kerosene Hat” (Virgin, 1993)

The early nineties was a weird time in America. It was weird socially. It was weird culturally. A lot of that weirdness was voiced in music and a lot of that music found an audience. Of course, weird is a relative term. Compared to the present moment, the early nineties seem like a Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Good Old Days”. But it’s worth remembering that in 1993 the U.S. was emerging from a 12-year run of conservatism defined by trickle-down economics, the war on drugs, and Cold War brinkmanship. Continue reading “Classic America Albums: Cracker “Kerosene Hat” (Virgin, 1993)”

Classic Americana Albums: The Band “The Band” (Capitol, 1969)

There are a number of albums that can claim to have kicked off Americana, Flying Burrito Brothers, Dylan, or CSN, but the one that really embodied the American spirit and turned it into a new sort of music was The Band’s self-titled second album. The context for this record was 1969 and the key albums were ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ by Iron Butterfly, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ and ‘Led Zeppelin II‘. Into this came an album with a cover picture that looks like Matthew Brady’s Civil War portraits, and an organic acoustic sound that contrasted sharply with the Mellotrons and fuzz guitars that dominated the charts. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: The Band “The Band” (Capitol, 1969)”

Classic Americana Albums: John Murry “The Graceless Age” (Bucketfull of Brains, 2012)

I owe a lot to Uncut magazine. In September 1998, the publication gave away a compilation CD called ‘Sounds of the New West’, which opened my eyes – and ears – to alt-country and Americana. A couple of years later, Uncut turned me on to Ryan Adams’s first album, ‘Heartbreaker’, now one of my favourite records of all time, and then in 2012 it published a review of John Murry’s ‘The Graceless Age’, calling it a “masterpiece.”
Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: John Murry “The Graceless Age” (Bucketfull of Brains, 2012)”

Classic Americana Albums: Son Volt “Trace” (Warner Bros, 1995)

When Jay Farrar sings, “May the wind blow your troubles away,” on ‘Windfall’, about a long-distance drive to escape one’s problems and the opening track of Son Volt’s 1995 debut album, ‘Trace’, it came across like a hopeful sentiment of looking forward for the talented songwriter following the tragic implosion of Uncle Tupelo, his first band with Jeff Tweedy.  The album was Farrar’s first since the ugly dissolution of Uncle Tupelo the prior year.  In addition to the ugly, personal drama, and turmoil that led to the end of the seminal-band, the release of ‘Trace’ carried with it an unmatched burden of expectations.  Those expectations weighed not only on Farrar, but also on former bandmate Tweedy.  Every move they made in the months following the end of Uncle Tupelo was preceded by the question, “What does the after-life following the breakup look like for both Farrar and Tweedy and how do you follow up the genius that was Uncle Tupelo?” Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Son Volt “Trace” (Warner Bros, 1995)”

Classic Americana Albums: Indigo Girls “Swamp Ophelia” (Epic, 1994)

Sometimes, arriving late to something like a previously unknown band or a music genre or perhaps an album that everyone seems to have owned and played forever is not always a bad thing. It provides the exciting opportunity to trawl through a back catalogue, to seek out live performances online and best of all to track when a newly discovered artist is touring locally. Living and working in Boston in about 1999, a colleague was playing songs in the office by a group unknown to me on her cassette player (young ‘uns….look it up). Upon enquiry, I was informed it was The Indigo Girls, the tracks being ‘Closer to Fine’ and ‘Hammer and a Nail’. My introduction to the musical delights of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray was complete. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Indigo Girls “Swamp Ophelia” (Epic, 1994)”

Classic Americana Albums: Witness “Under A Sun” (Universal Island, 2001)

I fell in love with this album the first time it was played, it seemed faultless and distinct then (and still does two decades later) but never quite understood why it made such an impact for me. I had zero concept of Americana then, so was unaware that the fledgeling AUK made ‘Under The Sun’ its very first Album of the Year, in 2001. In reflection, that makes so much sense. If it was released in 2020 in the context of the Americana genre topicality, and marketed correctly, it would surely be hailed as one of the best UK Americana albums. Which I guess is what I’m now claiming? Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Witness “Under A Sun” (Universal Island, 2001)”