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Americana Music Blog

America has been serving up slices of Americana since the mid-19th-century. The genre is an all-encompassing term for a variety of music styles that found their roots in America, including blues, bluegrass, country, and roots-rock. More often than not, Americana is a fusion of one or more forms of roots music, and it is commonly synonymous with folk-based country and singer-songwriter music.

Some of the most iconic Americana artists include Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earl. Steve Earl remains popular to this day; his 2021 album, J.T., was listed as one of the best Americana albums of the year. Other artists that featured alongside Earl on the albums of the year list included Brandi Carlile, John Hiatt, Jack Ingram and Strand of Oaks.

Prior to 2010, Americana was considered a niche genre, yet in a transition that no one anticipated, Americana moved into the mainstream. The artists responsible for pulling the genre into the limelight included The Lumineers, the Avett Brothers, and of course, Mumford & Sons. Despite being a British band, Mumford & Sons became one of the best-selling Americana artists in recent years. They made history when they became the first British band since Coldplay to make it big in the US and sell more than a million albums. Yet, Mumford & Sons held their hands up to admit that without The Lumineers, their success wouldn’t have been possible.

In the late 90s, the Americana Music Association was established in Nashville; and they still have their finger on the pulse to this day. In 2021, they named Black Pumas as the group of the year, Brandi Carlile as the artist of the year and Charley Crockett as the emerging artist of the year. It’s not surprising to see Black Pumas named as one of the Americana artists of the year; the Austin-based act has amassed over 100 million streams with their most popular soul psych song, Colors. They also picked up three Grammy nominations in 2020.

Americana received another uptick in interest with the release of the blockbuster film, A Star is Born, which followed a roots music raconteur (Bradley Cooper) on his quest for fame. Bradley Cooper’s character may have been fictional, but plenty of Americana history and culture was poured into the critically acclaimed film that became an overnight sensation; both Lukas Nelson and Brandi Carlile appeared in the film. It seems that as long as there are artists committed to planting roots of Americana into their music, it will never go out of trend.

Weather the storm with Chris Chism’s indie Americana folk exposition of introspection, When It Rains Down on School Street

Chris Chism’s single ‘When It Rains Down on School Street’ is a folk offering steeped in Americana and visceral emotion, reminiscent of a melancholic gaze through a rain-glazed window. This consolingly evocative release spills into the soul, embodying the essence of introspective folk music.

The gentle, finger-picked guitars in the track carry an alt-country flair, intricately woven and effortlessly carrying Chism’s vocal notes. His voice, a shot to the heart, resonates in the celestially timbered vein of Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and Ray LaMontagne. It’s this combination of delicate guitar work and soul-stirring vocals that elevates the single to the epitome of pensive solace.

‘When It Rains Down on School Street’ aches for both literal and metaphorical brighter days; Chism’s ability to capture this longing, coupled with a sense of cynicism that often accompanies life’s storms, makes the track a poignant reflection of the human condition.

Raised on a diet of bluegrass and classic country, Chism’s roots are evident in his music. His journey from metal and punk to the folk and country scenes has culminated in a sound that will see him go far. Now a fixture in North Carolina’s folk scene, his music reflects the stories and struggles of working-class people, infused with raw honesty and deep personal connections.

When It Rains Down on School Street was officially released on March 25; stream the single on YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Harmonising Gems: Nick Cody’s Journey Through ‘Covering These Tracks Vol II’

Nick Cody

This week, A&R Factory had the privilege of sitting down with Nick Cody, a maestro in the art of musical reinvention. We explored the intricate layers of his latest masterpiece, ‘Covering These Tracks Vol II‘. This album is a mosaic of musical exploration, blending classic hits with lesser-known treasures. Cody’s approach to this project was akin to a musical alchemist, transforming and transcending genres with a simple yet profound setup: a guitar, a violin, and the harmonious interplay of two distinct voices. As we delved deeper, Cody revealed the nuances of his creative process, the challenges of embodying other artists’ universes, and the exhilarating journey of bringing this ambitious project to life, both in the studio and on the stage.

Nick Cody, thanks for sitting down with us to discuss your latest release. Could you share the creative spark behind the conception of your second ‘Covering These Tracks’ album? 

Originally the plan was to create an EP with my Californian friends Towse and Corwin Zekley with Harry Orme from the UK. This EP idea became a mini album ‘Covering these tracks volume I” and we had so many ideas and magical moments, I decided to do a second album.

My rule of thumb was that we would only have two instruments, guitar, and violin and two vocals from Towse and myself. Covering these tracks volume II is even more ambitious than the first album.

As well as recording classics like Joni Mitchell’s “Case of you” and Nick Cave’s “Nobody’s baby now” I also chose some hidden gems like “Gold” from Peter Blegvad and “Name Hoppin” from Ray Wylie Hubbard, two fantastic songs that deserve to be heard. So, the creative spark was finding well known and hidden gems that have great melodies and sharp lyrics, transporting the listener to a new space of magic and fascination.

How does it differ from your previous projects? 

This project is more ambitious in that when you step into another artist’s universe when recording and that’s a very different experience than simply listening to their songs. A good example is one of the verses on Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” . This is where on the second line Bruce adds a huge number of words that all need to fit with the melody.

The first part – “Now I been looking for a job, but it’s hard to find” is simple enough, BUT the next line is –

Down here, it’s just winners and losers and “Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line”.

This requires the singer to really focus in articulating every word and delivering it all in the same bar.

Bruce is mostly about telling stories and the lyrics are invaluable in every song with no waste. I first came across him with the brilliant Born to Run album and have been listening ever since.

With Joni Mitchell it’s a very different style, but also with killer lyrics including the following first verse of “Case of you

“Just before our love got lost you said,

“I am as constant as a northern star,”

And I said, “Constantly in the darkness,

Where’s that at?

If you want me, I’ll be in the bar.”

This project is about travelling to and inhabiting other artist’s universes in creating new versions of their songs. This is both equally fascinating and challenging. I’m really pleased with the final results and can’t wat to play these tracks live.

How did the collaboration with Towse, Corwin Zekley, and Harry Orme shape the sound and direction of this album? What unique elements did each artist bring to the table?

On this album, Harry Orme plays all the guitar parts. Harry is a truly gifted player and quite brilliant at 100% nailing the sound. If he were a chef, he’d have three Michelin stars, without doubt. Once I have the guitar parts, I’ll lay down my vocals. The mix then goes to Towse, and I will say “Do what you think works best, I trust your musical instincts”.

This is our third album, and this has always been my approach. Towse always knocks it out of the park and Carl Rosamond (my producer) and I love to receive those parts. It’s like Xmas day opening a great present when those files land.

Once we do the mix with towse, the file then goes to Corwin who has a unique sound unlike anyone else. Corwin and Towse are like creatures from another dimension and the result is to my ears pure magic. I played Jon Gomm a couple of the new tracks “Gold” and “Crashing and Burning” by Fred Eaglesmith and his response told me we really had something with this collaboration.

With the live showcase in Leeds on the horizon, how are you feeling about bringing this album to life on stage? What can your fans expect from this performance?

Leeds April 26th will be a special album launch with sets by Harry, Towse and Corwin as well as all of us playing together with other members of the expanded Heartache ensemble that include David Bowie Jnr on bass, Rich Ferdi on percussion, Jon Burr on Harmonica. I’ll also be doing a set with my Caravan of Dreams ensemble that includes the brilliant vocalist “Agi” who I have been working with for many years.

This new album is more challenging, so we are rehearsing hard to deliver the very best performance. At times there will be up to eight of us on stage, so that’s a lot of moving parts! We’ll be playing many of these tracks for the very first time, so are rehearsing hard in the forthcoming weeks.

How does the dynamic of your fluid band line-up influence your creative process and the final output? 

My producer Carl calls this way of working “The Steely Dan model” where I surround myself with a tapestry of great musicians who can be brought in as and when needed on several projects. This fluid band line-up allows for a huge number of sonic possibilities and of course, I’m often working on a number of projects simultaneously.

Really excellent musicians are of course always busy and not sitting at home waiting for calls. I have a 12 – 18-month timeline for projects and I often choose songs and write with specific musicians in mind. With the Covering these tracks albums, I deliberately chose to work with three other musicians from the core group and the results have been so good, we’ve kept going with releasing a second album as well as more material “in the vault” for future release.

Rich Ferdi and Dave Bowie Jnr are my live ensemble choices for bass and percussion and of course, I’ve been working with these guys for years, so the dynamic works well. On the April 26 launch at times all eight of us will be playing live, so it’s going to be one of those “I was there!” nights I’m always on the lookout for exceptional talent to add to the growing ensemble and recently joined a choir as a side project where I’ve already spotted some gifted artists…

With performances planned from Leeds to Osaka, how do you approach adapting your music to resonate with such diverse audiences?

I’m choosing to only play very specific live dates these days and after the album launch, the Osaka date will be with my good friend Brian Cullen. Brian is an excellent mandolin and guitar player as well as a great vocalist. My experience is that most audiences love something that is performed really well and engages them both musically and lyrically. This is universally true regardless of whether I’m in New York, or at The Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal.

The Lagoa Guitar Festival main stage in Portugal was only my third-ever live performance back in 2016, a baptism of fire, equally (at the time) terrifying and inspiring! Since then, I have had a lot more experience and doing support for artists like Jon Gomm and Martin Simpson has really helped me develop my skills when playing live. 

How has working with Carl Rosamond influenced the production of your music? Can you share any insights into this creative partnership?

Carl Rosamond is like my “George Martin”, the hub of the sonic wheel in all my projects. We’ve worked together now for many years, and I’ve always had a policy of sitting in with him throughout the whole mixing and mastering process. He’s massively in demand, so I block book studio time for projects, and we’ve always got something on the go. We also work in a very relaxed manner and since COVID I’m doing all my vocal parts in my own studio with the excellent Austrian Audio mics. The Covering These Tracks project is the most stripped-down work I have done to date, with two instruments and two vocals, but it’s a huge sound. The press feedback increasingly highlights just how great the production is and of course that helps massively with radio plays.

We have our recording ritual where we start at 10 am on a weekday. We have all the raw tracks ready to be mixed and I turn up with vegetarian sushi made that day by my wife Sue, for the session. We then go to work and the rule of thumb is that we’ll work straight through until 6 pm to mix a track. I estimate we’ve worked on around 80 – 90 tracks to date and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.

Is there an element of your music that you feel is best captured in a live setting?

The live setting is unlike any other experience. I spend a lot of time designing a set to make sure like a movie, there’s a beginning, middle and conclusion. I really like to stretch out and improvise with some songs and am reminded of the many years when I saw The Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theatre in New York. They would invite special guests and have great sections of improvisation in songs that are sonically pure magic.

I’m interested in creating the same dynamic and when you have access to artists of the calibre of Corwin, Towse, Laurent Zeller from France, Michael Ross from Nashville, and Jon Burr, live performances can be pure magic. Some of my original tracks like “Slow News Day” and “Perfect Place” are great for showcasing fantastic improvisational passages and letting these great artists really go for it!

Looking beyond the release of ‘Covering These Tracks’, do you have any future projects or directions you are particularly excited about exploring?

For the first time involved in a choir project and have become absolutely fascinated by the experience. It’s a totally different way of working, essentially ‘an orchestra of 60 voices”.

I’m pondering a cover single release using a choir for 2025. This is extremely ambitious, but I can already hear how this would work on one of the tracks I already have “in the vault”.

The plan is for a third “Covering These Tracks” album, but this will be with an expanded ensemble and there’s no rush to complete this, I’m taking my time. As well as all this I’m finalising the second electric Nick Cody & The Heartache album, “This is Love and Heartache”.

One thing is certain, there’s a lot more music in the pipeline and we’ll as always be pushing the boundaries of what we are creating.

Stream Covering These Tracks Vol II from April 19th on Bandcamp.

www.nickcody.co.uk

www.greeneyedrecords.co.uk

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Sarah McCulloch painted a mountainous vignette with her honkytonk hit, Back In Them Hills

Sarah McCulloch’s single Back In Them Hills is a vivid portrayal of the landscape her soul calls home, offering listeners a sanctuary in its upbeat honkytonk rhythms. The track goes beyond a mere tribute to country folk’s roots; McCulloch becomes a conduit for the genre’s enduring spirit. Her vocal lines which spill over with soul are as panoramic as the landscapes she paints with her lyrics.

McCulloch, a renowned folk singer-songwriter and country artist from Florida, is known for her exceptional storytelling and poignant lyrics. Her ability to weave captivating stories through her music has earned her a loyal fan base and critical acclaim, with Americana-UK and Lonesome Highway praising her previous works for her modern yet traditional sound.

McCulloch’s upcoming full-length acoustic album, Driving Me Home, produced by Jim Bickerstaff and featuring Florida musicians like Raiford Starke and Jeanie Fitchen, is an inspiring collection of aural stories which reflect themes of triumph over adversity and the courage to embrace vulnerability. Born in Miami and raised near the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, McCulloch’s music, recognised by the State of Florida’s Division of Arts and Culture, draws inspiration from her unique upbringing.

Back in Them Hills was officially released on March 22nd; stream the single on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

As Was sold indie alt-country sanctuary in his latest single, Borrowed, featuring Joshua McBride

Off the back of his successful sophomore LP, Open Container, the LA native singer-songwriter As Was (AKA Kosta Stanisavljevic) collaborated with Joshua McBride on his latest single, Borrowed, and exhibited his freshly honed alt-country meets indie sonic signature.

Following the gentle finger-picked notes of the guitar strings, ethereal with melancholy vocals drift into the simple yet stirringly profound production as the lyrics unravel as a narrative of ennui from someone who only finds comfort in isolation.

Haunting enough to rival Tom Odell and Elliott Smith, arcane enough in its alt-country atmosphere to stir in the same vein as Kurt Vile and San Ilios, As Was effortlessly succeeded in sonically visualising the aching emotions which inspired Borrowed, which explores the anxiety-fraught sensation of feeling like you’re living on borrowed time, relentlessly seeking reasons to keep hanging on.

Part of the affecting intimacy of As Was can be attributed to his stint away from listening to other artists as he was cutting his teeth as a singer-songwriter. He felt the influence of other artists diminished his own ability to achieve sincerity at a time when he truly tried to find himself. Now he’s a well-established artist, he continues to ground himself deeper in his distinction, and his discography is all the more deeply felt for it.

Borrowed was officially released on February 29th; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Backwoods Creek delivered the ultimate Southern soul-rock anthem ‘Alright’

Sensing cynicism in the universal waters, Backwoods Creek prescribed a potent dose of optimism with their latest single, ‘Alright’. The refreshing take on bluesy soul-swathed Southern rock played fast and loose with the genre constraints while keeping the instrumental arrangement tight enough to unravel as every rock-inclined muso’s wet dream.

Part lyrical mantra, part musical Tour De Force, the UK-based quintet exhibited ‘Alright’ as a masterclass in balancing raw, overdriven guitars and whiskey-soaked vocals with an undercurrent of hope and redemption. It’s a track that carries the dynamic energy of power pop while remaining true to its bluesy rock and roll roots.

The virtuosic cohesion of the instrumentals showcases their skill and chemistry, honed through years of friendship and collaboration, and you don’t have to buy tickets to their live shows (even though you really should) to witness their infectious energy performance energy; the band’s electrifying aura is perfectly captured in this track.

No one can deny that while life is on a downward trajectory hearing everything will be alright prises ennui out of your perception. This life-affirming hit goes beyond reassurance –  it’s transformative.

Alright will hit the airwaves on March 15; check out the release via the official Backwoods Creek website.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

The country rock rapture arrived through The Whiskey State’s latest single, Where I Need to Be

In the valleys of Hampshire, The Whiskey State, comprising Tom Stride and Jordan Tate, has distilled a sound that resonates with the soul of country and the riotous heart of rock. Their latest single, “Where I Need to Be,” is a testament to their journey from college companions to creators of exhilaratingly sticky-sweet euphoria.

Imagine extracting the quintessence of The Manic Street Preachers, Bruce Springsteen, and Sam Fender, then blending it into a musical elixir. The result? A flavour profile as affecting as “Where I Need to Be,” a song that pays homage to the sanctity of country surrounds. It’s a track that stirs the soul so profoundly, that you might find yourself questioning if any roots-reverent rock track has ever touched it quite like this before.

The song encapsulates tender homecoming yearning through the guitar chords that wrap you in nirvana and endlessly ensnaring vocal hooks which make it impossible not to want to make The Whiskey State your sonic poison of choice. The songwriting prowess of the duo is as evident as their ability to catapult listeners into the soulful aura of their music.

Few things feel better than returning to whatever constitutes home, but this track comes a close second. With their debut EP “Welcome to…”, The Whiskey State not only showcases their distinctive blend of country and rock influences but also cements their place as one of the most captivating country-influenced rock duos in the Uk and beyond..

Stream the official music video for Where I Need to Be via YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Little Jane and the Pistol Whips – Montana Can’t You See: A Heartfelt Homage to Americana

Little Jane and the Pistol Whips‘ single, ‘Montana Can’t You See’, from their 2023 LP ‘Long Road Ahead’, is a vibrant tribute to the heart and soul of Americana. The aural entryway into the nostalgic realm of Honkytonk is wrapped in the beauty of Montana’s landscapes.

The panoramic vignette of Montana’s magnetic trappings envelops you from the first verse as the upbeat country folk arrangement, including folk strings, ensures that a flood of feel-good momentum courses through the sepia-tinged ravines of the single that, despite the polished production, could have been released in any era.

Ashly ‘Little Jane’ Holland’s dynamic voice is the centrepiece of this musical masterpiece. Her ability to infuse serotonin into the souls of her listeners is unparalleled, bringing a sunny disposition that’s infectious. Her vocal style, reminiscent of legends like Loretta Lynn, adds a vintage country feel to the song, yet across her expansive discography, her range allows her to traverse from haunting ballads to up-tempo cowgirl romps with ease.

No true Americana fan would be able to resist the temptation of the rest of her repertoire after hearing Montana Can’t You See.

Montana Can’t You See is now available to stream on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Bristol’s Most Strident Troubador, Alex Comaish, Augmented the Ultimate Indie-Folk Anthem with ‘Brother’

Alex Comaish’s latest single ‘Brother‘ is a poignant narrative wrapped in an augmented fusionist production that splices jangly indie pop with warm echoes of Americana, transmits the essence of college radio rock, and throws back to the 90s Britpop era while following in Billy Bragg’s footsteps. The crisp and unpretentious production allows the song’s emotional core and Comaish’s raw talent to shine through and illuminate the airwaves with affectionate fervour.

This Bristol-based troubadour brings a fresh sincerity to the genre as he elucidates that brotherly bonds may not always tie you to the perfect person, but those connections are worth their weight in gold. His strident vocal performance is an energetically affecting testament to the unspoken love and unbreakable ties between siblings.

The vignette behind the song is as compelling as the track itself. Comaish’s lyrics, penned in the throes of adventure, are imbued with genuine gratitude and affection that’s often left unsaid in the hustle of daily life.

As the first of a series of releases planned for the year, ‘Brother’ sets a high bar. It’s a track that not only showcases Comaish’s songwriting prowess but also his ability to connect with his audience on a deeply personal level.

Brother was officially released on March 1st; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Strange Tides chartered a voyage into indie ingenuity with ‘Out of Deep Waters’

Out of Deep Waters by Strange Tides, extracted from their Differentiation EP, is a striking illustration of indie music’s boundless potential. This multifaceted single is a masterful fusion of Grandaddy-esque synth melodies, crunchy grungy guitars, and an air of theatrical piano pop. It embodies the instrumental grandiosity of a rock opera while maintaining the intimacy of a bedroom indie pop track, presenting a revelation in experimentalism.

Kirsten Bale, the principal architect behind Strange Tides, based in Vancouver, BC, demonstrates her expansive musical vision and her folkish poetic eloquence in this sweetly sentimental track. Her role as both a songwriter and a producer, alongside sound engineer Dan Ponich, is evident in the meticulous crafting of this piece.

Bale’s relentless pursuit of new musical territories, experimenting with instruments, chord patterns, and genres, ensures a constantly engaging and fresh listening experience. For fans of Mitski and Lucy Dacus, Out of Deep Waters is an irresistible draw. The track exudes a sense of joy and creative liberation, evident in its playful composition style that knows no bounds. It’s an aural elixir, inviting listeners to savour its unique blend of sounds time after time. As for the lyricism, it could leave any of the great romantics weak at the knees.

Out of Deep Waters was officially released on February 15th; stream and purchase the single on all major platforms via this link.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Ami Leigh darkened Americana’s Door with the Luxe Beguile in Her Ground-breaking Single, Foretold ft Neil Gibson

Ami Leigh, hailing from County Durham, UK, has long been an aurally beguiling chameleon. Her latest single, Foretold, marks a striking foray into country rock, infused with the essence of Portishead and the chill of rock-licked post-punk.

Foretold is a poignant narrative of doomed love regaled through Leigh’s crystalline vocal lines. Her voice, imbued with soulful clarity, weaves through the hauntingly reimagined Americana soundscape, creating a contrast that is both striking and harmonious. The cold, instrumental chill she introduces strips the genre of its traditional warmth, yet the ensuing guitar solos ignite a familiar country rock fire. This juxtaposition is Leigh’s genius, offering a fresh, yet respectful nod to her influences, ranging from The Cure to Pink Floyd.

Neil Gibson’s contribution cannot be overlooked. His guitar work echoes the emotional turbulence of the song’s narrative while elevating the release and adding layers of complexity and familiarity, ensuring Americana aficionados won’t feel lost in the artfully arcane textures. Foretold doesn’t just belong to the country rock genre; it expands it.

If you have ever endured a relationship fated to meet an ugly demise and come out the other side imbittered by your own naivety, expect Foretold to hit hard as the guitars shimmer and the harmonies bring you to rapture.

Watch the official music video for Ami Leigh’s latest single on YouTube, add it to your Spotify playlists, or purchase the track on Apple Music.

Review by Amelia Vandergast