Taylor’s Turntable: Americana leads three albums to front of the pack
Columnist Taylor Ysteboe on the multi-faceted genre sure to please all musical palettes.
The genre of Americana has many, many names. Alt-country. Roots music. And oddly, both my most and least favorite synonym is “y’allternative.” But what’s in a name? That by which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Because Americana sure is sweet.
Now, I’m not talking about faux-cana Brits Mumford and Sons or mainstream indie darlings The Lumineers. Those bands don’t really embody what Americana is. In Americana, you hear earthy and genuine lyrics paired with bare-boned guitar strumming. It’s just real music.
Plenty of recent releases have worn the Americana label loud and proud.
A personal favorite of mine from the genre is Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. Hailing from my home state of Tennessee, the band is comprised of power couple Drew and Ellie Holcomb, guitarist and keyboardist Nathan Dugger and bassist Rich Brinsfield. The group released “Medicine” on Jan. 27 as a follow-up to their 2013 album, “Good Light.”
The star of this new album is the first track, “American Beauty.” Now showcased in a Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial, “American Beauty” is reminiscent of “The Wine We Drink” from the “Good Light” album. It is intimate and beautiful, and the Holcombs’ harmonies wrap themselves all around you. Yet, the band is extremely flexible as they give a dark, bluesy flair to “Sisters Brothers.” Another star off of “Medicine” is “Here We Go,” a fun ballad set against a twangy guitar. I tip my hat to Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors — you guys never cease to impress.
On the other side of the country is Ryan Bingham. This L.A. musician released his fifth album, “Fear and Saturday Night,” on Jan. 20. Just like the Holcombs’ record, Ryan Bingham starts off his LP strong with “Nobody Knows My Trouble.” Reminiscent of classic country songs from John Prine and Johnny Cash, Bingham sings a simple melody alongside uncomplicated guitar. Despite its straightforward nature, this song is not even close to plain — it’s beautiful. In an era of electronic beats, Bingham is one of the few artists today to realize that less is truly more.
My favorite track from the album is “Snow Falls in June.” In this song, both Bingham’s voice and the instruments carry an intense and gorgeous yearning. Speaking of his voice, can we just talk about his signature rasp? It makes my heart go a-flutter. “Fear and Saturday Night” proves to be a heartfelt album where Bingham stays true to his roots.
Let’s hit up the other coast now with The Lone Bellow. Guitarist Zach Williams, mandolin player Kanene Donehey Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist all share vocal duties in this Brooklyn trio. On Jan. 23, they released their second album, “Then Came the Morning.” Though it’s only their sophomore effort, it is evident that the band is refining its songwriting and style while retaining all of its heart and soul. The album kicks off with the title track, a gospel-infused and lyrically driven piece. The orchestra pairs surprisingly well with the countrified guitar and mandolin. The Lone Bellow turns on their grittier side like a switch to play “Cold As It Is.” A foot-stomping track, the vocals and instruments are as powerful as ever. Yet, the trio can become gentle as fast as a wink in “Watch Over Us,” a minimalistic and harmony-centered piece. The album revolves around the trio’s trademark harmonies and proves to be more than a noble effort for their sophomore work.
I just love Americana. The combination of folk and rock and blues and gospel can please all musical tastes. So far, this year has been very good to Americana artists, and I’m excited to hear what else is waiting for our little ears.