An interview with the venerable band Elbow brought this thought round to me the other day. The state of “Americana” music. It has taken a turn to the middle. Away from the twang of “No Depression” the title that spawned a second coming of “Outlaw Country” and so many great bands in the late 90s and early 00s. Maybe it has been diluted. Or compromised. But artists like Andrew Bird seem to hold the key these days. They’re writing songs that are organic but far from the back porch vibe of Wilco and Son Volt.
America (and “Americana”) have/has changed. American artists, many of them in the vein of Guthrie have embraced experimentation, loops and samples and all that they entail. For me, it started with “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” an album that fused Floyd with Willie. For me it was a comfortable place. Now, I don’t know where I sit. Being over here has offered an interesting juxtaposition of music. Riding around on a Prague city tram listening to the latest by Reckless Kelly or Mickey and the Motorcars seems, well, out of place.
Andrew Bird somehow bridges the gap. A classically trained musician fuses everything. There’s no overt twang but there is the feeling that things are where they should be as I sit on my balcony with the fall rolling in over the horizon and the whole world at a turning point. That’s the back porch vibe.
People are sick of Bush and aching for some sort of change. Change is good, they say. America/na is changing. Is it good? In music, maybe. The verdict is still out in politics. We’ll know in 2 months and a day. We’ll see where foreign policy meets music soon if/when there is an Obama presidency and those political newcomers that have been so captivated by his talk of change get beaten across the brow with political reality. A politician is just a politician after all. Will “hope” and “change” get diluted in Washington like a glitchy sample in a Wilco song? Does anyone really want four years of “Less Than You Think?”