Classic Americana Albums: Mary Chapin Carpenter “Stones In The Road” (Columbia, 1994)

Mary Chapin Carpenter can be credited with bringing this reviewer out of the musical wilderness that was his post teenage decade; the 1980s. Struggling to identify with anything remotely described as popular at the time it was through the USA leaning Bob Harris and Paul Gambaccini that my ears were alerted to the what was going on that side of the pond and I realised that my early leanings towards Eagles and Jackson Browne were pointers I should have paid more attention to. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Mary Chapin Carpenter “Stones In The Road” (Columbia, 1994)”

Classic Americana Albums: John Stewart “California Bloodlines” (Capitol, 1969)

It’s February 1969 and while Woodstock is yet to happen, the sixties have peaked, psychedelia is a busted flush and Dylan and The Band are leading a return to more traditional American music. Dylan in fact is recording ‘Nashville Skyline’ and in the studio across the street, John Stewart, a folk singer who has spent six years with The Kingston Trio, is recording his first proper debut album with his producer, Nik Venet slyly stealing players from the Dylan sessions as he pulls in favours. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: John Stewart “California Bloodlines” (Capitol, 1969)”

Classic Americana Albums: Nick Lowe “The Impossible Bird” (Demon Records/Upstart, 1994)

Nick Lowe has reached the exalted position of a national treasure, with appearances on Breakfast TV and various TV chat shows and coverage in the national press. This was definitely not the case in 1993, when, after a period of falling sales, he found himself without a major record deal, his latest push for mainstream success, the group Little Village with Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, had not delivered artistically or commercially and, while he had a legendary reputation with fellow musicians, particularly in America, he was struggling to re-start his career. Fate then took a hand when Curtis Stigers was asked to record a cover of Nick’s ‘What’s So Funny ’bout Peace, Love And Understanding’ for ‘The Bodyguard’ film soundtrack. While the song didn’t appear in the actual film, it was included on the soundtrack album which sold 45 million copies giving Nick a seven-figure payday. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Nick Lowe “The Impossible Bird” (Demon Records/Upstart, 1994)”

Classic Americana Compilations: Various Artists “Cash Covered” (Mojo, 2004)

Johnny Cash had a career that would take a very large book or two to encapsulate and this Mojo sampler from 2004 offers 15 tracks that only represent the briefest overview with a variety of disparate artists offering their takes on the man’s work.  It is a good selection though and worth a listen; the cover versions fascinate in the way the somehow do. Continue reading “Classic Americana Compilations: Various Artists “Cash Covered” (Mojo, 2004)”

Classic Americana Albums: The Louvin Brothers “Satan Is Real” (Capitol Records, 1959)

What is it about an album by a god-fearing, religiously obsessed duo born nearly a century ago that appeals so much to a militant atheist? The answer: it’s all about the harmonies – so good at times they appear to be otherworldly. For roots music and all its different sub-genres, the Louvin Brothers date so far back they meet the classic Americana tag line probably better than most records to appear so far in this feature, but the ultra-clean production is quite extraordinary for an album cut in 1959 – and one which sounds almost futuristic at times. You could put the best microphones in the most expensive studios today and you’d still struggle to get a sound as good as the vocals here. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: The Louvin Brothers “Satan Is Real” (Capitol Records, 1959)”

Classic Americana Albums: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band “Will the Circle be Unbroken” (United Artists, 1972)

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, pop music was crawling with long-haired folk-rockers from California. Teeming with them in fact. But these god-damn Long Beach hippies, led by Jeff Hanna and McEuen, took themselves off to Nashville and coaxed some of the greatest names in ‘old time’ country and bluegrass music out of semi-retirement and semi-obscurity, to revisit their glory days. Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis and Doc Watson all showed up. Bill Monroe flat out refused to have anything to do with these freaks, which he may well have later regretted. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band “Will the Circle be Unbroken” (United Artists, 1972)”

Classic Americana Albums: Gene Clark “No Other” (Asylum, 1974)

Missouri born Gene Clark’s epitaph beautifully reads: ‘No Other’, the title of his 1974 magnum opus. It would be fair to say that fortune was not kind to Clark, his early demise at the age of 46 hastened by alcohol and drug dependency. In his few short years as a member of the legendary Byrds he wrote the glorious, ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Better’ and co-wrote the proto-psychedelic, ‘Eight Miles High’. Much has been made of the fact that it was a fear of flying that influenced him to leave the group at the height of their fame, though it is also true that Clark was a restless soul wanting to explore new directions through his own unique voice and vision.  Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Gene Clark “No Other” (Asylum, 1974)”

Classic Americana Albums: Gregg Allman “Laid Back” (Capricorn/Polydor, 1973)

A friend once offered me the thought that music, as with all art, could and should offer the listener the opportunity to experience the depths as well as the heights of feeling. He suggested two examples, ‘Berlin’, by Lou Reed, and, ‘Laid Back’, by Gregg Allman. I’m not intending to review, ‘Berlin’The thing about perceived emotional content is that one man’s meat is almost bound to be another’s poison. Often it seems to relate to nothing more than the faces that are pulled or the amount of sweat generated. But then why do we swear that A is all soulful connection and intent whilst B is lightweight and lacking any emotional depth, based solely on the sound that comes out of their mouths? Why are we seduced into thinking that guitarists that play at one end of the neck are more ‘emotional’ and ‘heartfelt’ than someone at the other? Any answers are very welcome.    Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Gregg Allman “Laid Back” (Capricorn/Polydor, 1973)”

Classic Americana Albums: The Ozark Mountain Daredevils “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils” (A&M, 1973)

Mention the Ozark Mountain Daredevils these days and most responses would be along the lines of “didn’t they have some soft, country-ish single in our charts years ago?”. Yes, that was ‘Jackie Blue’ in 1974 but their repertoire contained far more than 1970s country-pop. For the real Daredevils go back a year to their debut, eponymously titled, album. ‘The Quilt Album’, as it became known, is classic Americana because it takes country-rock as in The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers not to Nashville but deep into to the real roots of their Missouri home. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: The Ozark Mountain Daredevils “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils” (A&M, 1973)”

Classic Americana Albums: Ry Cooder “Into The Purple Valley” (Warner, 1972)

Ry Cooder has a unique and special place in the Americana realm, his reputation based on his consummate skills on guitar (especially slide, where many rate him among the world’s best) and mandolin, and as an arranger of roots and traditional music, from the USA and beyond. His musical legacy now spans five decades, 17 solo albums, as many collaborations again, including ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, and a similar number of movie soundtracks, most notably for Wim Wenders’ ‘Paris, Texas’. Continue reading “Classic Americana Albums: Ry Cooder “Into The Purple Valley” (Warner, 1972)”