THIS JOURNEY, which at its heart is about the US South, starts in England, of all places, with an obscure television broadcast, of all things, and stretches across 40 years, tens of thousands of miles and multiple media formats – vinyl, cassette, compact disc, mp3, streaming. The narrative is presented in a neutral mid-Atlantic accent that contains only the smallest of nods to a folksier existence. It is no less southern for all that.
The paths to be trodden follow connections and belonging and distance; they are about identity, about missing something that sometimes you are not sure you really want to be a part of, about family and mythology and reality and music. But mostly music.
Any individual, it is often said, is a product of genetics and environment, tempered by experiences, reactions and memories. The soundtrack to that journey, whether encouraged and controlled or accidental and simply part of the background amid so many other factors, or perhaps even both of those extremes, is important. That is why a random song on the radio can force you to sit down suddenly at an empty-house kitchen table, ignoring the morning's breakfast dishes and a growing-cold cup of coffee, and quietly reconsider your entire existence, while a crackly track over a substandard PA can produce a sly smile and perhaps a little solo dance in a small town Piggly Wiggly supermarket aisle otherwise devoid of custom.
In some cases – well, in my case – separation from the source, in time and/or space, can magnify the effects, the miles and months initially providing the illusion of immunity but eventually creating a slingshot pull of nostalgia for what came before. To deny the connection to the good, bad and ugly of the past is impossible, the gravitational drag – be that music, food, religion, family, sports or books – is irresistible.
The chapters ahead are a catalogue of that pull across five records, or what used to be called records, interspersed with a random, meandering and unapologetically personal exploration of various elements of a broad slice of musical culture that includes country, Americana, bluegrass and roots, among others.
For me it is very much a southern journey, even though the narrative stretches to the Pacific coast, into the Midwest, over the border into Canada and across oceans; I do not seek to downplay or diminish the contributions from the rest of North America and beyond, and do not maintain for a moment that the music is only ever a southern thing, defined by a certain set geography. My south is someone else's west, another person's big city, maybe a suburban escape or a foreign country. But I must reflect and relate my own experience; please filter and translate as necessary to meet your own requirements.
Taken in its entirety, Americanaville describes the decades-long re-establishment of an orbit to which I never even realised I was enslaved, drawn from deep memory masquerading as genre. The proximity to ground zero has ebbed and flowed over the decades but the journey has throughout been subject to, and shaped by, the universal, relentless inevitability of the elemental forces of identity outside of anyone's control.
Accompanied by some toe-tapping. And, god forbid, a bit of air banjo.
All text © 2020 by Todd Westbrook. May not be reproduced without express written permission of the author.