Number 10: Cowboy Junkies
Longstanding favourites from their seminal release ‘The Trinity Sessions’ recorded live in the Church of the Holy Trinity Toronto and released in 1988, their recorded output has retained the unique character that makes them so special, with Margo Timmins’ ethereal vocals soft and understated, but always upfront, over the subtle groove created by brothers Michael on guitars and Peter on drums, with Alan Anton on bass. Their live shows are magical, combining originals with covers that completely re-imagine songs in their special style. My selected clip is a fabulous live version of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane‘, which featured on ‘The Trinity Session
Number 9: Gillian Welch
My introduction to Gillian Welch was her 2001 release ‘Time (The Revelator)’, about the same time as her contribution–in hallowed company–to the soundtrack to ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’. Although badged in her name alone, her life and musical partner Dave Rawlings is a significant part of her recordings, and even more so her live performances, where his acoustic guitar work goes to unexplored and exciting places. Together their music is stripped back and emotional, Welch’s lyrics often raw, as evidenced on my chosen clip, ‘Time (The Revelator)’ performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2004, which I was thrilled to be present at– a long-term live music highlight.
Number 8: Mary Gauthier
A big favourite ever since I first heard her 2007 release ‘Between Daylight and Dark’, having subsequently explored her back catalogue, and later releases. Her honesty shines through her songwriting, and she is one of the finest storytellers in song. A great live performer, my selected clip is a heartfelt version of her best-loved song, ‘Mercy Now’.
Number 7: Ron Sexsmith
Canadian Sexsmith has established a reputation as one of the finest songwriters, on piano and guitar, my selected clip has him performing ‘Former Glory’ from his 2002 album ‘Cobblestone Runway’ with characteristic sensitivity.
Since discovering Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks through the Californian girlfriend of a fellow student in Nottingham the music of Dan Hicks has been a constant companion, and without exception is guaranteed to raise a smile on the darkest day. A classic clip from Hicks and his band back in the early 70s, performing ‘Milk Shakin’ Mama’ complete with a cool dude dance sequence
Number 5: Guy Clark
Although Guy Clark’s reputation as one of the truly great songwriters on the human condition dates back to his classic albums ‘Old No. 1’ and ‘Texas Cookin’ from 1975 and 1976 I was a relative latecomer to his music some 20 years ago, since when I’ve been an avid fan and regular listener. His last album before he passed away in 2016 was ‘My Favorite Picture of You’, released in 2013, and this clip is a live performance of the title track, a beautiful piece of writing inspired by a Polaroid photo of his wife Susanna.
Number 4: Lucinda Williams
Williams needs no introduction to Americana UK readers, and is only kept from my top three by the strongest of competition. Her live show a few years back when she described the inspiration for her classic album ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ will remain a top ten live show of all time, for sure. My clip is a live performance from around the time of the album’s release of ‘Drunken Angel’, inspired by her friend Blaze Foley.
Number 3: Nick Lowe
Lowes’ talents as a songwriter, musician and performer have been honed over the decades from the 1960s to the present, developing through different styles, but always in a manner which sees his personality shine through. I’ve followed his career through all but the earliest era, and he remains my all-time favourite UK artist. From the early days with Brinsley Schwarz, when The Band were a key influence, music from the other side of the pond has always been in his musical DNA–as in his collaboration with Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner in Little Village–and he has a deserved place in this particular hall of fame. ‘(What’s so Funny ’bout’ ) Peace Love and Understanding’ has been a staple since those Brinsley Schwarz days, here in its latest incarnation with backing from Yeproc Records stablemates Los Straitjackets.
Number 2: Jimmie Rodgers
Rodgers makes my number two as a recognition of his role in introducing me to not just his own recordings from his relatively short recording and performing career from 1927 to his death in 1933, but to innumerable covers over the years since. Known as his career blossomed as ‘The singing brakeman’, he blended influences from ” hillbilly, gospel, blues, jazz, pop and mountain folk music into timeless American standards” ( tribute when he was the first musician inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970). I first heard his music through a cover of ‘Hobo Bill’s Last Ride’ by Andy Roberts (a long-term member of Plainsong, as well as a fine solo performer), and this took me to his catalogue. There’s a very fine tribute album put together by Bob Dylan in 1997, featuring Dylan and artists including Bono, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jerry Garcia, Dickie Betts, Dwight Yoakam, Aaron Neville, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson, but my clip is a rare survivor of Rodgers himself from his brief heyday, singing his first major hit, ‘Blue Yodel No 1( T for Texas)’.
Number 1: Ry Cooder
Always at the top of my favourite Americana artists list, I discovered his music on the Radio London show ‘Fresh Garbage’ hosted by Andy Finney in the early 1970s. With an unrivalled back catalogue, from his early roots exploring American folk, country and blues from past decades, his Tex Mex era with Flaco Jiminez ( Chicken Skin Music) to his collaborations with musicians in Cuba (‘Buenavista Social Club’) and Africa ( ‘Talking Timbuktu’, with Ali Farka Toure), Cooder has constantly explored new directions, with his fabulous but understated work on guitar and mandolin always shining through. My selection is from his most recent album, a live in-the-studio recording of his version of ‘Straight Street’