Category Archives: Americana

Country Music & The Blues

The beginnings of Country Music and the beginnings of Blues are very similar. These genres were first recorded in the 1920s, and at the time the difference between country, then called hillbilly music, and the blues, then called race music, was really only the race of the artist, which was often confused. The famous Bluesmen of the 1920s like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Mississippi John Hurt sang mostly traditional and religious songs, later moving onto songs about other topics such as personal and cathartic stories. These types of songs were also sang by those such as Jimmie Rodgers and Eck Robertson. If you listen to the songs of this period one after another the similarities between these two genres of music are apparent

In the time since the beginning of these genres Country and Blues have have undergone many changes and gone in many different directions. For blues the biggest change was during the Great Migration when many African Americans moved out of the rural south for big northern cities like Chicago. During this time the blues was electrified and artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were revolutionizing the genre. In the meantime country, music was undergoing many changes like honkeytonk music and the Nashville sound. At this time country music and blues were definitely distinct and very different despite sharing similar roots.

Today I think that blues and country are closer than they have been in a long time. There has been a push towards more traditional ways for each genre while also having a modern spin. I am glad to see this trend because hearing new music from two of my favorite genres. Gary Clark Jr. is one of the artists keeping the blues alive and revolutionizing it at the same time. He keeps the iconic electric guitar and soulful lyrics while adding a modern sound. On the country side of things Chris Stapleton, winner of the 2015 CMA Male Vocalist award, is leading the movement back to a more roots based music with his own modern spin.

Listening to these two artists really shows the similarities that they have in their music. These two genres shared similar roots as traditional music that were initially recorded as “hillbilly” and “race” music. The genres grew up in the 1900s into very different types of music but due to their roots and changing tastes the genres are beginning to become more similar.


Filed under Americana, Blog Post 4, Hillbilly

Crawfish and Country Music

Thanks to cold temperatures, rain, and “ice”, the last few weeks in Austin have felt more like Seattle than Texas. Because of this, the 60-degree forecast full of sun and devoid of precipitation for this past Saturday had me excited. While the weather alone could have brightened my mood, my enthusiasm was heightened because Mother Nature was cooperating for my favorite party of the year.

turnpike-truEvery March, my fraternity puts on our “Ranch” party. Good friends, crawfish, and most importantly live country music highlight the event. While past years have boasted big name artists such as Pat Green, I was ecstatic when I heard this year’s party would be featuring one of my favorite country artists, Turnpike Troubadours. While they are still a relatively small group, they have gained momentum in the last several years, even playing the ACL Music Festival this past October. Regardless of this being the third time I would be seeing them perform in the last year, I was still looking forward to the concert.

As people flocked to the crawfish tables, Shane Smith & the Saints took the stage as the warm-up act. Although I was not familiar with their music, I was quickly impressed by their sound. Lead vocalist Shane Smith had a great voice and was accompanied by a classic Texas country sound featuring a fiddle, guitar, drums, and bass. The band recently released their first album, a feat that was over two years in the making. The album, Coast, reflects the relationships and memories made while on the road in the years leading up to the release. They have a great sound and the album is definitely worth checking out.

While I was impressed with Shane Smith & the Saints, Turnpike Troubadours finally took the stage and stole the show like they have done every time I have seen them perform. All hailing from southeastern Oklahoma, the members of Turnpike Troubadours clearly enjoy performing. Lead vocalist Evan Felker truly knows how to take over a stage and engage an audience. He writes almost all of their songs and his passion is clearly evident when he performs. Aside from turning the microphone to the crowd or joking around with other band members on stage, they sounded just like they do in recordings and delivered a great show.

FullSizeRender (1)I chose their most recent album Goodbye Normal Street as my album to analyze for the current class project. My research really allowed me to see their performance in a new light compared to past shows. While songs like “Good Lord Lorrie” and “Gin, Smoke, Lies” have been some of my favorites since they were released in 2012, my research allowed me to listen to them differently this time. For example, I read in an interview with Felker that he writes almost all of his songs about authentic life experiences and real people that have crossed his path. Knowing that Lorrie is a real person with a real story helps explain the passion Felker sings with when performing the song.

Whether at historic Gruene Hall singing on the same stage as many of country music’s biggest names, at Zilker Park for ACL, or in the front yard of a college party, every time I have heard Turnpike Troubadours perform they have delivered the same genuine and authentic performance. They are bonded by their rural roots and sincerely enjoy performing their life experiences to a crowd, regardless of who it might be.


Filed under Americana, Austin, Live Music, Texas

Angaleena Presley Goes Out On Her Own

Angaleena 2Angaleena Presley, a member of the Pistol Annies, recently released a solo album called American Middle Class. In it she establishes herself as an alt country force with smart honest lyrics, and a wide array of musical influences. Her slightly husky voice is at times haunting, and then blunt, confronting life’s tragedies and disappointments without pretense. Each track leaves the listener with the sense that Presley has seen her fair share of hard living, and she wants the rest of America to see it too.

The first song, “Ain’t no Man,” sets the tone for the album, immediately laying on Americana guitar and introducing the electric organ. She uses a series of vivid metaphors to describe a woman who has closed herself off from love. For example she sings, “Sturdy as a trailer in a hurricane, sweet as the smell of turpentine,” and, “mean as a snake in a small town zoo, ain’t nobody who could ever get to her hear.” Ignoring the traditional verse chorus form popular on the radio today in favor of uninterrupted narratives, its clear Presley is a different kind of country artist.\

It’s easy to pick out the gospel and blue grass influences throughout the album, both in instrumentals and the imagery of her lyrics. The steel guitar and banjo can be heard throughout the album alongside acoustic and electric guitars. She also sings about church, the devil, and sin in a way that places those things as symbols of the culture she is representing.

AngaleenaPresley also tackles the problems small middle class communities are facing that are often ignored or pushed under the rug. In “Pain Pills,” and “Dry County Blues,” she confronts boredom as a disease that people are self-treating with alcohol and drugs, and the damage that creates in the community. She subtly draws attention to the fact that much of this is due to the economy, and the loss of middle class jobs, “half the county’s laid off, laid up, or getting high.”

In my opinion, Presley really shines in her ability to root the album in a physical place and time. “All I Ever Wanted” ends with a recording of a drug addicted neighbor reciting scripture, and the title track, “American Middle Class,” features her father, a Kentucky coal miner, talking in an actual mine where he works. Though Presley is not shy about bringing up sensitive issues, she maintains a respect for the people and place she is singing about. She comes across more as if she is sympathizing rather than condemning.

I truly enjoyed American Middle Class and its more traditional country sound. It’s not an album you put on for background noise, but something you really listen to and reflect on. It’s not all serious though. “Knocked up,” and “Drunk,” provide some offbeat humor to contrast with some of the other tracks. Angaleena Presley’s style is somewhat like Kasey Musgraves, so if you like her, and even if you don’t, I highly recommend you give this album a listen.


Filed under Americana, Reviews