Classic Americana Albums: Tom Petty “Wildflowers” (Warner Bros.,1994)

Tom Petty’s first studio album for his new label Warner Brothers found him escaping the uber-producer Jeff Lynne whose hand had influenced every musical decision on his previous 3 outings; twice as a Heartbreaker and once as a Wilbury. He needed a fresh start and by God did he get it with Rick Rubin. Stripped down to a hyper-real production sound, Petty was given full licence to write and record what he wanted, when he wanted, with whom he wanted. The album eventually was scheduled to be a double given the amount of material available but record company pressure ensured that half the tracks were shelved – until this year! Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Tom Petty “Wildflowers” (Warner Bros.,1994)”

Classic Americana albums: Alejandro Escovedo “Gravity” (Watermelon Records, 1992)

After a decade and a half of recording with a series of bands (including The Nuns, who opened for The Sex Pistols USA tour) and gradually mutating from punk to Americana, Alejandro Escovedo finally emerged fully-grown in 1992 with his first solo album. By all accounts, it had been a hard slog to get there. His New York scene with The Nuns imploded and he relocated to Texas where he formed Rank And File, one of the progenitors of the so-called cowpunk scene (“we wanted to marry the sounds of George Jones with The Clash”), in tandem with True Believers, a band bedevilled by record label problems. Personal tragedy preceded his solo debut as, in the midst of the pair splitting up, his wife killed herself. Her death informs many of the songs on ‘Gravity’ and its equally excellent follow-up, ‘Thirteen Years.’ Continue reading “Classic Americana albums: Alejandro Escovedo “Gravity” (Watermelon Records, 1992)”

Classic Americana Album: Mercury Rev “Deserter’s Songs” (V2, 1998)

Deserter’s Songs’ was released in 1998 by Mercury Rev, a band who appeared to be down on their knees expecting to be counted out.  The band had escaped to the Catskills to record their fifth album and were on the verge of imploding.  They needed to bring in a new drummer, the manager left, and the bandleader Jonathan Donohue was depressed.  Their previous releases only hinted at what was to come on this record.  ‘Deserter’s Songs’ was borne out of troubled times but ended up being one of the band’s most coherent, beautiful collection of songs they have released to date.  The album sounds timeless and effortless but has enough rough edges (scattered throughout) to allow the listener to find something new every time you hear it. Continue reading “Classic Americana Album: Mercury Rev “Deserter’s Songs” (V2, 1998)”

Classic Americana Albums: Bob Dylan “Blonde on Blonde” (CBS, 1966)

For those less initiated (are there any?) or less interested in Bob Dylan, a pertinent question might come up here – when did the connection between Dylan and Americana start? The answer is quite clear – from the beginning. Even as a young music enthusiast when he still responded to the name of Robert Zimmerman, Dylan was completely enamoured with what was then divided into very neat genres of folk, blues, roots, and country (& western). While he started out as a full-fledged musician/singer/songwriter and stuck strictly to the folk part of this equation, at the well-recorded horror of folk purists at the time he started incorporating elements of other musical genres into his music. Whether it was something that was influenced by his ever-expanding lyrical imagination or it was the other way around (or most probably both) makes no difference. Once he strapped on an electric guitar he never stopped or looked back. OK, sometimes he did, but it was with completely different eyes, ears, and voice. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Bob Dylan “Blonde on Blonde” (CBS, 1966)”

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)”