Americana: Uncharted Territory

Jason-Isbell-Press-by-David-McClister Photo by David McClister Twenty years ago Gillian Welch released her seminal Revival into what can only be called uncharted territory. Almo Sounds, her label with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, was hoping for a country album, à la Patsy Cline, since that was a charted territory in Billboard magazine. They had high hopes that “Paper Wings” would be the first single released to country radio, but its David Lynch feel and Jay Joyce’s especially esoteric guitar solo pretty quickly put country in the rearview mirror. The entire album was that way: an amalgam of folk, rock, alt-country and bluegrass, later to become known as Americana. Americana in now charted territory in Billboard, thanks in part to Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and T Bone Burnett’s insistence on remaining true to their vision of what Gillian Welch music should be. They opened the way for many artists to follow, reflected currently in the work of Jason Isbell, among others. Americana continues the traditions of its parents and grandparents. It tells stories in the dialects of its characters. Its characters are real, and they, for the most part, are smart and relatively self-aware. There are fewer “ain’t-sayers” here than in country and country’s step-child, Southern rock. Its images are vivid and specific and, at its best, cliché free. Most important, it keeps us involved in the forward progression of the story. Not the easiest thing to accomplish. The song form of much Americana is verse/chorus and, though there is occasional bridgework, it relies more on its roots in bluegrass as a two-function journey, eschewing bridges for instrumental solos over the same chord patterns. Assuming... Sign In to Keep Reading

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