September 20, 2012

NOTHING WRONG WITH OLD:

How Americana Stays True (JIM FUSILLI, 9/19/12, WSJ)


Americana can seem kind of old. Through no fault of the AMA, the Grammys have focused on veteran artists over newcomers in its three-year-old Americana category. But at this year's 11th annual AMA Honors & Awards ceremony, among the first three performers were Booker T. Jones, who played his 1962 soul hit "Green Onions"; Tom T. Hall, who joined Peter Cooper and Lee Ann Womack for his song "I Love," which he released 30 years ago; and Guy Clark, mourning the recent death of his wife of four decades, who sang a heart-piercing version of his "My Favorite Picture of You."

In Americana, burnished talent rather than longevity is a measure of merit in the community. Messrs. Hall and Clark might be considered model standard-bearers, artists to whom the song matters most. Mr. Jones, who received a Lifetime Achievement award, represents another skill set prized in Americana: He plays what needs to be played as well as can be. Accompanied at the awards ceremony by ex-NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, Bonnie Raitt sang with characteristic beauty and authority on a gorgeous reading of "Not Cause I Wanted To," from her fine new disc, "Slipstream." Richard Thompson, a Brit by birth whose early career was inspired by American folk and country, showcased his impeccable guitar playing and distinctive songs. Ms. Raitt and Mr. Thompson also received Lifetime Achievement awards.

Events throughout the weekend illustrated that Americana is neither dull nor predictable. At the AMA gala, the Punch Brothers played their impossibly clever chamber bluegrass tune "Flippen (The Flip)." Alabama Shakes, featuring 23-year-old Brittany Howard on vocals, sang its gritty blues "Boys & Girls." The string band Carolina Chocolate Drops performed its spry tune "Country Girl," and Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, in from Australia, gave a somber reading of their Appalachian folk ballad "Rattlin' Bones." Sarah Jarosz performed her Song of the Year nominee, "Come Around," backed by a cello played percussively, before returning to Boston to attend classes at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Posted by at September 20, 2012 4:51 AM
  

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