‘Americana’ is the latest release from Milwaukee duo Nickel & Rose, following on from last year’s acclaimed ‘Oh Sweet Love’ EP. The new record sees the duo follow a more introspective path, which garners some interesting results. The title track sees co-vocalist Carl Nichols questioning where he belongs within the parameters of Americana – being a racially-diverse artist coupled with the love/hate relationship with performing the music that he loves. He sings “I thought this was for everyone, not just the few, but I guess you won’t be satisfied until it all belongs to you” in a stinging tirade against the barriers facing him within the genre. Using art to vent his anger, the track itself is a sonically gorgeous Americana song, with glorious finger-picked guitar, in contrast to the anger which emanates from the lyrics. Proof, if it was ever needed, that race has zero relevance to authenticity within the genre.
The rest of the EP fails to live up to these heights and is a pleasant enough, but often mundane, listen. Opening track ‘Dog River’ is a fantastic swampy country stomp, complete with haunting harmonies, while the traditional folk of ‘Moving Pianos’, led by Johanna Rose’s sugar sweet vocal over a jaunty fiddle, is reminiscent of Mandolin Orange. ‘Americana’ ends with a whimper, though. The simplistic ‘Life Goes On’ is uninspiring, before the limp ‘Hard Day’s Work’ wraps things up.
The duo is clearly at their best when they are at their most impassioned. They are talented lyricists, and the title track, with its observational take on the Americana musical hierarchy, is easily one of the best tracks you will hear all year. With a little more consistency, ‘Americana’ could really have been something special.
‘Americana’ is unashamed in what it stands for, and who it stands against.