“What Is This Americana Thing Anyway…?” – Paul Villers

Well we haven’t had a piece for a while (lots of things going on but people are staying safe, thankfully) so the ‘developer’ of this feature is going to put his own ten pence worth in. We hope you, dear reader, enjoy this latest instalment of “What Is This Americana Thing Anyway…”

I’ve always been into music. From as long as I can remember – right back to playing my mum’s copy of ‘Please, Please Me’ and using her knitting needles to drum along on the sofa. I got into glam, then prog, then punk came along, then I (almost) grew up… One thing that always stayed with me was my dad’s love (nay passion) for country music. Naturally I loathed it. George Jones, Tom T. Hall, Don Williams, Marty Robbins – they were all anathema to me simply because it was my dad’s stuff and a boy can’t be listening to his dad’s stuff and have any self-respect. Johnny Cash and C. W. McCall were OK but I couldn’t let him know that. I took great pleasure in playing him The Dickies’ cover of ‘Eve Of Destruction’ and delighted upon the fact that he considered the cassette machine to be broken. Then, some years later, my dad died unexpectedly and I couldn’t listen to any music whatsoever due to my bereavement and grieving. And then a very curious thing happened. I came across the term ‘alt-country’. My interest was piqued. An ‘alternative to country’? What is this thing you speak of? I was probably reading ‘Uncut’ magazine at the time and casually flicking through their give-away CD. And I heard some stuff which, contrary to expectation, was actually quite good. Some of it had steel guitar on it. That bloody instrument that had tormented my childhood. Yes – but they were using it in unexpected ways. The songs were well written generally, catchy, edgy, toe-tappingly good. There might be something in this, I thought.

Then, thanks to Google (or more likely Netscape Navigator or its ilk at the time) I found Americana-UK. My god – there was a whole group of people out there whose lives seemed dedicated to being alternative to country music. So I tentatively posted a couple of things on what used to be ‘The Forum’ and the rest, as they say, is history. I started reviewing some stuff, I got further and further involved. Now The Editor, Mark Whitfield, is one of my very best friends in the world and my life has been enriched to the Nth degree by some fabulous music. I became a huge champion of ‘Scandicana’ (the Norse version of country music) and have merrily gone on my way ever since. I’ll still never admit to liking country music but, y’know, with every grey hair comes a little realisation that your Dad was probably right.

Nicolai Dunger: ‘I’d Rather Die’
From avant-garde jazz to lo-fi collaborations with Will Oldham (Bonny Prince Billy to you) Nicolai Dunger has been there, seen that and probably flogged you the T-Shirt without you knowing. You’re going to need this song in your lives – trust.

Thomas Dybdahl: ‘Bird’
Dunger is Swedish but Dybdahl is Norwegian. That’s important in Northern climes. But for an English lad the only term I need is ‘Scandicana’ which is the literal translation of ‘alt-country’ for those who like a wobbly accent, strong liquor and exemplary singy/songwritery stuff. Much like this.

The Miserable Rich: ‘Pisshead’
When you write reviews for a website like Americana-UK you get all sorts of stuff sent to you. It’s a broad church (which is a phrase we never tire of). The album from which this song is taken dropped into my postbox one day and life wasn’t quite the same again. The first time I gave a 10/10 review. The string section went on to play live for Mumford & Sons. However, vocalist/writer James De Malplaquet is the absolute heart of this tune.

Ryan Adams: ‘The Rescue Blues’
Apparently we’re not allowed to like Ryan Adams anymore due to past transgressions. Not to belittle that but this appeared on my radar before we knew any of that stuff. ‘Gold’ was the first CD I bought following the events detailed above. A live version here which, if possible, transcends the original.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones: ‘Broken Bones And Pocket Change’
If you can track down their ‘NPR Tiny Desk’ concert then do so. It would be cheating to post the whole thing here so I’m going with this alternative track. Americana isn’t Americana without paying it’s debt to ‘black’ music. Trust.

Bernard Fanning: ‘Thrill Is Gone’
Mark said to me one day ‘Have you heard this?’ and ‘Songbird’ from the same album popped up. Naturally I downloaded it and the whole thing is fantastic from start to finish – no, really, not a duff track on the record. I’m choosing this because it resonates personally.

JT and Clouds: ‘Wildin’Blues’
A fellow writer (William Bray, drummer, used to be Interviews Editor on the site) said to me “Here, Paul – you’ll like this” and chucked me something by JT Nero (now one half of Birds of Chicago) and I did. I absolutely loved it. I feel humbled and privileged to now call him and Alison friends. If there were angels they’d have voices like this.

Josh Rouse: ‘Come Back (Light Therapy)’
Are you sweet or sour? Rough or smooth? I’m going sweet and smooth. Josh Rouse is a little bit saccharin for many but with bass-lines like this you need a dollop of honey to make things gateau rich. More proof that more funk is more.

The Gourds: ‘Hooky Junk’
When you lose yourself next time in an alcohol-induced fever ask for this to be played. Then, when you wake up with a banging headache the next day, play this again for an instant cure.

Wilco: ‘War On War’
And so you come across this ‘thing’. This Americana ‘thing’ which had turned all sorts of ‘things’ upside down in your personal musical universe. Then you found a band that turned that ‘thing’ upside down and presented it as their own ‘thing’. This. This is a ‘thing’. This is that ‘thing’. The best ‘americana’ album ever. Fight me 🙂

Author: Paul Villers

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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