What is Americana? The simple answer might be that it’s music (or literature, art) that refers to America, in particular to that continent’s (primarily the US of A) heritage. So a broad church with country, bluegrass, jazz, swing and god knows how many others getting a shout in. But are, for example, Kings of Leon Americana? U2? Jack Johnston? The answer of course is yes and no. Or rather, it depends. It depends on the singer, the song, the listener, the situation and for an awful lot of folk in the end it doesn’t matter. And perhaps therein is the rub. For if it does matter to you then you probably know the answer already.
Americana is a feel, an intuition, a knowledge of and respect for, well, Americana. It has depth, history, tradition. Tradition that harks back to the great immigrations that peopled the USA, that recalls the natives who were displaced by the newcomers, the poverty and violence experienced by the Negro slaves, the violence of the civil war, the culture that grew out of all of these. The tradition continued in modern times, the civil rights struggles, the protest songs, the discovery of their own culture by the late sixties generation which fed into the No Depression generation of the eighties which in itself reached back into the distant past also.
It’s easy for anyone anywhere in the world to be captivated by Hollywood cowboys, Lonnie Donegan records or books by Cormac McCarthy. Dig deeper and chances are you’ll find Americana, a fabulous land with a fabulous story. And best of all you don’t have to be American.
Jim Dead is a man who I reckon has done his fair share of digging. So much so that he inhabits a mythical Americana hometown, Deadsville. Deadsville is a mixture of all of the above however Dead has sculpted it into shape. A dust blown dread place with frontier justice, where gunslingers are replaced by guitar slingers, where the blues are amplified and dragged from the past and shot into Technicolor glory.
Calling up a new version of his band The Doubters consisting of Craig Hughes on guitar, James Duffin on bass and Tommy Duffin on percussion and harmonica, Dead offers up twelve songs that portray Deadsville as a scary place to be. Telling stories of lynchings, drugs and death the band walk throughout the landscape with a powerful swagger. Several of the songs here reach epic proportions both in length and delivery. The combination of Dead’s and Hughes’ guitars conjure up visions of Crazy Horse and the Drive By Truckers. While there are quieter moments such as the opening song Silence has No Place Here, Hotel, (with a touch of Willie Vlautin about it) and My Heavy Heart, My Aching Bones, there remains a sense of doom, of hopelessness in them. However the big hitters here are when the band plug in. The loping Bone Blue Moon has the feel of hank Williams backed by Creedence Clearwater, the song does indeed feel as if Dead is howling at the moon. Untitled has some spooky, almost psychedelic tinges, when Dead repeats the refrain Baby, Baby there is a sense of what could have been if Led Zeppelin were an American band. Hughes’ playing on this epic is spectacular, full of menace, coiled, ready to kill. Mean–Eyed River Snake is a mean tale of the death of a girl as retold by a confused, possibly pilled up youth who may have seen too many drive in horrors. It ends in a confusion of babbling while Hughes’ guitar rumbles in the background. The Hallelujah Revolver perhaps tries too hard here to achieve a proper dynamic, a gospel song from hell it’s the one song where the feel is muddied, Having seen a gobsmackingly good live version done by this line up of the band it’s possible we were spoiled beforehand. Honours must go to the stand out song here however. Jim Landstrom Must Die is a killer track. A deceptively jaunty riff leads into a sorry tale of a jive travelling salesman who gets lynched after selling bottles with “stars that fell from from the sky.” Peckinpaw in parts, “ hang him up by his legs, slit his throat so the streets turn ruby red” the band really gel with some tremendous bass playing and a cracking vocal performance from Dead.
If this album was by a crew from the south west of the USA chances are it would be hailed to the heavens. As it is it’s perhaps the best example I’ve heard so far of a local band setting up residence in that fabled Americana. Definitely one to buy.
Jim Landstrom Must Die