I’m a big fan of country music. The twang, heart, and stories. The way something can be both raw and melodious. Tender and gritty. The lyrics sweep you away to somewhere else, maybe somewhere familiar, someplace you long for, dragging your heart through the gravel and mud to get there.
The problem is that when I say “I love country music” people tend to get a very specific sound in mind, when it’s not the sort I mean. I say, “Johnny Cash” and everyone nods, because of course. I tell them, “Dolly Parton” and obviously, I’m a person with ears. I say, “Shovels & Rope” and I get a confused shake of the head.
So, maybe it’s something else now. Something not necessarily on country radio. Maybe if I say Americana. A nice definition according to the amazing PBS Arts documentary NASHVILLE 2.0:“Americana is roots-inspired music that draws inspiration from country, folk, bluegrass, R&B, blues, roots rock, bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly, honky-tonk, alternative rock, folk rock, and punk.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about. As a Latina who grew up in the south I’m a big fan of drawing upon homegrown cultural inspiration and mixing it up with the dirt and roots of the place you’re standing. I’m born from this sunburnt swamp as well as the Caribbean breeze that brought my father. I stomp to banjos and cry along to lonely trumpets. This music, like this place, is rowdy and folky. Heartbreaking and sweet as a lullaby.
Americana music. It’s a stage that invites you to take traditional boundaries and bend them to tell your story. It can be incredibly and maybe even surprisingly diverse and inclusive. It’s everyone’s roots all tangled up.
Here are some of my favorites:
One of the best, surest examples of what I mean (and have wailed to everyone about) is Shovels & Rope. A husband and wife duo from the low-country of South Carolina they’re soulful with their rowdy songs spiked with a shot of punk rock and twangy lo-fi ballads that’ll sing you all the way home. Just watch Cary Ann and Michael sing together. It’s electric.
Valerie June was a revelation for me. She’s folk and blues. Mountain music with the loveliest of Tennessee accents. Her sound is threaded with blues and gospel and country and will slip from the acoustic guitar to the banjo to the lap steel guitar. She’ll break your heart, steal your breath and leave you with a hell of a story she carved right on your ribs.
Just give a listen to David Ramirez. “The Bad Days” is the kind of love song that tells my favorite kind of love story. Unfiltered, honest and tender even in its heartache. His voice goes somewhere unexpected making his songs the kind that make you stop and listen to every line, rise and fall.
If you’ve got any favorites, please share! Y’all know I’m always adding to the playlists and searching out my next favorite song.