What Is This Americana Thing Anyway…?

This week in our occasional series in which we ask the Americana UK staff writers and contributors to give us a handle on the what, whys and wherefores that got them into the genre, Tim Martin goes up before the beak to explain himself to the gathered hoard. Apparently he’s not a punk or a heavy metal drummer (at least not anymore if ever he was). Read on to find out exactly where he does stand…

I started listening to music seriously about 1977 in the heyday of punk. Frankly a lot of that left me fairly cold. Where were the tunes? Fortunately Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and Tom Petty were all “ah-ha” moments. I can’t find a way to tie Talking Heads to a love of roots music, but the other two… When the third Petty album “Damn the Torpedoes” came out I played it to death. The stand out track for me was the last one…”Louisiana Rain”. The contrast with the pace of the rest of the album and the lyrics that told of an altogether different world to Keynsham in the late 70s worked for me. The slide guitar solo (maybe the first I had heard) fitted right into the mood of the song. The only problem was that all of the studio stuff on the front made it hard to include in mixtapes. A couple of years later Elvis Costello produced “Almost Blue”, his album of country covers. The song that worked best for me was “I’m Your Toy” and I filed the names Parsons and Etheridge away for future reference. In the meantime John Peel had played the whole of Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus one night and it took up residence on my favourite albums list where it has been ever since.

There’s now a slow fade to the mid 90s. ‘alt.country’ and Americana have become a thing, being nudged along by magazines like Mojo and Uncut. Cowboy Junkies, The Jayhawks and Mark Olson’s Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers all remain with me from that time. There was also a band called Over The Rhine. Having found them on a free CD and an article about their album “Ohio” in Paste magazine further investigation was required. Now by far and away my favourite band in the genre they keep producing albums of a quality that most artists aspire to once in a career. Then in 1998 Uncut gave away a CD called “Sounds of The New West”. This featured ‘Sin City’ by The Flying Burrito Brothers. I was hooked. I bought the first two albums, discovered that ‘I’m Your Toy’ was called ‘Hot Burritio #1’ and the rest, as they say, is a ruinously expensive music buying habit.

Little Feat: “Spanish Moon”
The best song from the best live album ever.


Over The Rhine: “Latter Days”
The album “Good Dog, Bad Dog” saw the transition from ‘proper band’ to the duo of Karen Bergquist and Linford Detweller. why aren’t they household names? They Don’t want to be is my guess. My favourite song ever.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: “Louisiana Rain”
Where I started to get into this americana thing (although I didn’t know it was called that then).

The Flying Burrito Brothers: “Hot Burrito #1”
It took reading the book “Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and his Cosmic American Music” beifre I understood Parsons. Listening to his music again now I’m a big fan.

Cowboy Junkies: “A Common Disaster”
I missed the early albums and started here. The appeal is quiet music played and sung with emotion.

The Band: “Rag Mama Rag”
From another classic album that took me a while. In a sense it recalls the earliest New Orleans jazz. If you can sit still to this you need help.

Alison Krauss and Union Station: “So Long, So Wrong”
I fell in love with Alison Krauss’ voice because of this song. And people get sniffy about the banjo but when Ron Block plays a solo like this you cab see what it’s good for.

Gillian Welch (and David Rawlings): Look At Miss Ohio”
I was lucky enough to be at their concert at The Union Chapel, London. Acoustic music is best.


Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band: “(You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie”
From a BBC concert featuring a band that was worthy of the name. It’s just so…’happy’. And it’s got Albert Lee on it.

Warren Zevon: “Mohammed’s Radio”
Maybe Warren is slowly drifting out of public consciousness after his death. A shame since this is only one of a dozen of genuinely classic songs that he produced. And he has great song titles.

About Paul Villers 187 Articles
I am a professional curmudgeon. I don't care and neither should you. Buy me gin and we can possibly be friends.
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Colin Sim

What a fantastic article ! A well written , witty and very true to life description of the enduring appeal of Americana in its many forms.It certainly ticked many boxes for me including buying the same issue of “Paste” magazine and discovering hitherto unknown gems thereby sending me scurrying off to the local CD shop ( remember them ? ) to try and buy some of the recommended artists.
I’ll be sharing this article with a number of people !
Great selection of music to illustrate the article —you’ve really nailed it .