Cover Image: Americanaland

Americanaland

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I am a HUGE music fan so this was definitely the book for me! I love Americana music and if you do as well, this is a must-read!!!
Was this review helpful?
There are two ways to define Americana. The simplest is to differentiate modern practitioners of traditional country and country rock from the contemporary form of commercial country that has dominated since the 1990s -- alt.country, eschewing the conservative and commercial side of the genre in favor of a more authentic roots- and rock-based form. 

A broader definition can be quickly culled from the Americana Music Association: "Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw."

John Milward subtitled Americanaland to make clear his angle -- C&W meets R'n'R. If that's not enough, he states quite plainly that he has chosen not to include blues influences, not only because he already wrote a book about the blues (Crossroads), but also because blues roots should be taken for granted as underlying all American forms of music. He also points to Merriam-Webster's overly simplistic 12-word definition of Americana as "a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music" (which did he not notice does not include rock'n'roll?).

So I must thank to NetGalley for an advance copy of Americanaland. For me to provide an honest review begins with being honest about my lack of objectivity -- as a roots guitarist, I've studied with and have otherwise met a number of artists who are among this book's subects, as well as some who should be in this book but aren't (more on that later).

The best thing about Americanaland is how Milward's writing weaves in and out of the various musical influences and personalities much like the music weaves in and out of the roots of Americana. It's a masterful work that traces the threads through early country music, bluegrass, the folk revival, the roots of rock and roll, even a bit of the blues, gospel, and R&B, despite his narrow definition. The mastery remains evident as he winds through various stages of these root forms and the cross-pollination between them that ultimately became Americana.

One result of Milward's narrow definition, especially in leaving out the blues and by extension traditional jazz, is that Americana is portrayed as almost lily white -- too much emphasis on country, even if the Americana side of country is not conservative country. I wouldn't want to suggest that this is by the author's design, but surely Milward is aware that this criticism has been leveled even by its own practitioners -- for example, by Rosanne Cash in a Rolling Stone article about how the blues must fall under the umbrella of Americana in order to acknowledge a broader level of diversity.

Despite the nod to Rhiannon Giddens, we will not find any mention of Keb' Mo or Dom Flemons (although he was part of the Carolina Chocotate Drops with Giddens). But it's not just black artists who are overlooked. Where is Jorma Kaukonen, whose Blue Country Heart album is quintessential Americana featuring an all-star cast of Americana musicians, and whose Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp has become an epicenter for Americana and roots study, again featuring an all-star cast of Americana musicians who have played and/or taught there (I know Milward knows about Jorma and FPR since they are in Crossroads).

Even more egregious is the complete omission of David Bromberg, whose half century body of work constitutes a master class in Americana long pre-dating the coinage of that term. And where are the Allman Brothers and their heirs, Tedeschi Trucks? Hello, Little Feat? They were more than just the inspiration for the Dixie Chicks name. In a book that is mostly a list of artists and songs, there's a whole list of essential artists left out or too lightly mentioned -- if you want to know who they are, just look at the AMA awards list.

There is more to Americana than Dylan, Gram Parsons, Steve Earle, and Wilco -- although I won't argue with the prominence paid to The Band, the original and probably still the best practitioners of the genre. With the amount of space given to these important figures, even when they veered away from Americana, surely Milward could have made room for others.

Finally, I feel that the story is told in reverse. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a linear history that begins with early influences and chronicles how various streams grew into the confluence of Americana over time. But I was already feeling how backwards this approach is when, 80% into the E-book, I read about Larry Campbell's experiences with Dylan and Levon Helm.

Never mind that Milward doesn't get into all the other people Larry worked with (e.g. Jorma and Bromberg, among many others), or that Larry and Teresa's first two albums are absolute gems of Americana that showcase all the genres via original songs and covers, or how underappreciated Teresa's pure country voice is compared to other singers. But the story would have made so much more sense if it started with current practitioners of Americana like them and traced the roots via their influences and the people they grew up with.

Overall, I average Milward's five-star writing, along with just the pleasure of having a book devoted to Americana, with three stars for these problems with approach, definition, and scope, for a four-star rating. This book will probably appeal to fans of country, country rock, and Americana, but will be probably leave some devotees like me wanting for more.
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to NetGalley and the University of Illinois Press for an advanced copy of this new music history.

The genre of music known as Americana can be hard to define. Country based rock, or rock infused country with a soupçon of blues and or jazz, either or could work. However it is easier for the ears to make the determination, if the song sounds like Billy Joel with a steel guitar then it is probably modern country, guitars with autotune that could be modern rock. Live instruments with singers who write their own songs on the the way to an open mike, songs about people places and real things, that is probably Americana.

John Milward in his new book Americanaland: Where Country & Western Met Rock 'n' Roll tries not to define but to give examples of what shaped Americana music and where it came from. Not so much on where it might be going, which makes sense since music today is in flux as never before. Mr. Milward starts way back to the early blues days, moves up to Hank Williams and Earl Scruggs and proceeds to cover all the decades and the major minor players which are quite abit. The book doesn't go to far in depth, songs are mentioned but not really analyzed for what makes that song Americana,and the shadow that Bob Dylan casts is quite large over the landscape. 

Also I never knew the importance of fast food bags to musical history. Two different artists with a lack of writing paper used the bags to write lyrics down for songs that later became famous for the artists. There are many more interesting facts and stories in this book, and why I enjoyed it. For a burgeoning music fan, just getting an idea of what is behind the music, or for fans wanting to know more.
Was this review helpful?
I am astonished and disappointed that the University of Illinois Press, long known for publishing good scholarship on American music, is publishing this book. This is a collection of poorly-connected anecdotes about mostly male performers, with a strange and gruesome interest on the deaths and burials of such figures (no one needs to know that Hank Williams's ankles were broken so he could be buried wearing cowboy boots). Almost everything in the book is already published online, a lot of it on sites like Wikipedia. The author offers little to no analysis or commentary on the music or people he discusses, instead providing lists of song titles, unsupported conjectures about the creation and response of songs, and a handful of sexist and racist terms and thoughts. I'd really like to ask Illinois' music editor what on earth they are doing putting out a book like this.
Was this review helpful?
While scores of books have been written about Rock and Roll music, African-American soul, R&B, and blues, and country, not much has been written about the offspring of all these genres - Americana. Americanaland gives a good overview of the history of rock, rhythm and blues, and country music, and how they started to intersect in the 50s and then blossom in the 1960s with bands like the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Americanaland delves into the life of Gram Parsons, one of the founders of the genre, who called it "cosmic American music" and explains how the music evolved into the Alt-Country or Americana music of today. This is a great starting point for a person who doesn't know much about the genre, but is an enjoyable read even for those of us who do. Highly Recommended,
Was this review helpful?
A comprehensive and riveting history of that most eclectic of genres of American music, Americana, offering new insights into the recordings of both household names and lesser known artists
Was this review helpful?
I’ll admit, there was a moment that this book felt as if it rambled too much, but I realized that to cover the topic of Americana music, one must ramble. It’s a perfect companion to the music, from its start to almost this very moment. Thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Was this review helpful?