There was a time when the free CDs glued to the front of magazines were something other than a revenue stream for the publishers, and every so often a reminder of the glory days pops up. Back in September 1998 Uncut Magazine came with a CD called ‘Sounds of The New West‘. It was designed to accompany an article introducing New Country/Alt. Country/Americana to those scared of the word Country. What you got was a cracking compilation that should have sent you off to investigate the rest of the genre, whatever you wanted to call it. Now fully 19 years and change later we have volume five. The series of CDs makes for a good study in how tastes in Americana have shifted over the last couple of decades.
Star attractions on this first disc, and new to me at least, were Hazeldine, The Pernice Brothers and The Walkabouts. In fact the latter’s ‘Death Valley Days’ album that their cover of ‘On the Beach‘ was extracted from remains a favourite album. With better-known names like Calexico, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris, ‘Sounds of The New West‘ stands up as a primer for Americana all these decades later.
The acclaim for the disc was such that in 2001 they came back for a second round. A similar format, in fact similar artists. The Burritos and Emmylou again, with the standout new discovery being Allison Moorer. The whole thing edged a bit closer to the C word by including Merle Haggard and Slaid Cleaves.
When volume 3 arrived in February 2002 the big name was Ryan Adams, with The Handsome Family promoted up the table from their lowly positions on the other 2 discs.
While we had to wait until 2016 for volume four, Uncut did have other Americana CDs to offer. ‘Americana 2004′, from August of that year highlighted Josh Ritter, Jay Farrar, and Iron & Wine. The genre was stretched a bit to include bands like The National. 2007 brought us ‘The New Frontier, Americana The Next Generation‘. Mostly lesser known names with Bright Eyes, Josh Ritter and PG Six as the headline attractions.
When volume four ‘Sounds of the New West – The Class of 2016‘ rocked up there was quite a shift in the names being featured. Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell and Hiss Golden Messenger were top of the list. Which brings us to volume five. Drive-By Truckers and Courtney Marie Andrews return from volume four but no one from any of the earlier discs. Stalwarts of the series like The Handsome Family and Jay Farrar are long gone, replaced by new names, a lot of them on their debut albums.
You would expect a shift in emphasis over such a long time but for me the best news is that rather than relying on names from way back to make you pick up the disc the focus is on new material from new artists. And I am well aware that some of it is only there because the records label wanted to promote it. The older CDs all crop up in charity shops quite regularly and are all worth picking up.