It’s time, folks, for another instalment of our feature in which the writers of AUK attempt to put into words their personal reflections of what our genre is and why they love it so much. This time Richard Phillips, lover of cheap records and twelve-string guitars tells us where it’s at musically speaking.
I can trace my love of Americana back to when I was a young teenager exploring London in the company of friends. We mostly trawled the cheap West-End record shops bringing home various bargains, though I also remember a journey out to Abbey Road studios for a personal tour as my mate’s Dad knew someone who worked there. London was also the place I fell in love with the instrument at the heart of the Americana genre, the acoustic guitar. It was the sound of those six and twelve strings accompanying buskers’ laments, reverberating around London Underground walkways, that made me want to hear more.
Through further investigation, I discovered Carol King’s recording of ‘Wasn’t born to follow’ which was first recorded by the Byrds and also features some great banjo playing. My friends at the time had decidedly retro tastes introducing me to The Bryds, Gram Parsons, Manassas, Crosby Stills & Nash and it was the acoustic guitar work, particularly of the latter that continued to fuel my interest. The glorious harmonies of Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt and those of CSN seemed addictive. Joni Mitchell became a favourite, particularly some of her innovative tunings on the album, ‘Blue’. Listening to Gram Parsons inevitably led to seeking out more of Emmylou Harris, then Iris Dement; the acoustic guitar remained constant. For me these classic American artists created a pathway to the likes of Corrine West, Kelly Joe Phelps, Gillian Welch, Diana Jones and many more. So, thanks to those buskers who inspired me and I hope you are still singing and playing wherever you are.
Manassas: “It Doesn’t Matter” Pedal steel guitar mixes with Latin rhythms
The Be Good Tanyas: ‘Rain And Snow” Driving banjo and harmonies that mean business.
Carol King: “I Wasn’t Born To Follow” Impossible not to foot tap to
Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt: “In My Hour Of Darkness” Harmonies to melt the hardest heart
The Byrds: “Chestnut Mare” The Byrds at their jangling best
Emmylou Harris: “The Boxer” A beautiful solo rendition
Corrine West and Kelly Joe Phelps: “Amelia” Fab sounding acoustic guitars with intertwining harmonies
Iris Dement: “Let The Mystery Be” A unique song that poses existential questions and answers them with a pretty sound philosophy
Join Mitchell: “This Flight Tonight” Amazing track that features some insistent strumming and Joni’s trademark angst