DISClaimer: Americana Saviors

Come and save us, please, Americana music.

Country has created a radio format that’s almost unlistenable, with faceless men singing songs about nothing. Hip-hop all sounds the same. The pop teen-queens are just for kiddies. It seems that the only real, authentic artists are plying their trade in Americana.

We have two groups that are so strong that they are sharing the Disc of the Day prize today. They are Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit and The Jerry Douglas Band. Buy them both.

The DisCovery Award contest is among Paul Childers, The Hymn River Suite and our winner, the gripping Rod Melancon.

Writers: Rod Melancon; Producer: Brian Whelan; Publishers: Rod Melancon, SESAC; Blue Elan (track)
– The album is aptly titled Southern Gothic, because the songs of this Louisiana native are dark and sometimes scary. Stark drum beats and spare electric guitar licks accent this spooky, dryly-sung saga of a serial killer. Elsewhere on the collection are rage, restlessness, psychedelia, yearning and righteously rocking grunge rock. Highly recommended.


JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT/Hope The High Road
Writers: Jason Isbell; Producer: Dave Cobb; Publishers: Southeastern, BMI; Southeastern
– Americana king Isbell returns with a collection titled The Nashville Sound. This melodic, jangling country rocker urges romantic reconciliation while conceding none of his fierce integrity and individuality. Urgent and essential. All of the musical conversations on this album will remain with you long after the speakers go silent.

Writers: none listed; Producers: Wes Sharon, Justin Mathenia, Amy Snyder; Publishers: none listed; CEN (track)
– This is a Midwestern brother-sister duo comprised of Justin Mathenia and Amy Snyder. Its Hundred Proof CD kicks off with this rouser. They do their best to stir up excitement, but the band sounds sort of thin. More production, please.

Writers: Billy Roberts; Producer: Jerry Douglas; Publisher: Third Palm, BMI; Rounder (track)
– Just because he’s with The Earls of Leicester and Alison Krauss & Union Station, don’t expect Jerry’s new band to come out with any kind of traditional sounding CD. The dobro master leads the group through a lickety-split acoustic take on this Jimi Hendrix/Leaves/Cher classic from the ‘60s, embellished with jazzy horns, no less. Elsewhere on the album, you’ll find a soul/blues version of a Tom Waits tune, a bebop jazz outing, complex time signatures and an almost symphonic feeling. Ear tickling in the extreme.


Writers: Amanda Anne Platt; Producers: Amanda Anne Platt & Tim Surrett; Publishers: Birdie May/Asheville Forest, SESAC; Organic (track)
– I have always liked this band. Formerly known as The Honeycutters, the new billing and album title accurately reflects the fact that Platt has always been the centerpiece as its singer, songwriter and producer. This kickoff track has a laid-back, meditative, philosophical, conversational vibe that is extremely endearing. This sidles right up to you and becomes your instant buddy. I remain a fan.

PAULA COLE/God Bless The Child
Writers: Billie Holida/Arthur Herzog Jr.; Producer: Paula Cole; Publishers: none listed; 675 (track)
– The “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait” hit maker of the ‘90s is back with a self-produced collection called Ballads. It covers standards (”Blue Moon:”), torch tunes (”I Cover the Waterfront”), folk (”The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”), country classics (”Ode to Billy Joe”), jazz chanteuse chestnuts (”What a Little Moonlight Can Do”) and more. This version of Billie Holiday’s 1939 gem demonstrates the clarity of tone and sure footed phrasing she brings to all 20 tunes. It’s the American songbook of the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Rodgers & Hart, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Green, plus a whole lot more.

PAUL CHILDERS/Music Pulls You Through
Writers: Paul Childers; Producer: Paul Childers/Ace Lutz; Publishers: none listed; LP (track)
– This Nashville singer-songwriter is only 22, but there is striking maturity to be found on his disc debut, Naked Poetry. This jazzbo, horn-bedecked, soul goover is pop paradise. And, yes, those are his own Strat lead-guitar lines that you hear on this CD. A strikingly accomplished first-time effort.

Writers: Slaid Cleaves/Rod Picott; Producer: Scrappy Jud Newcomb; Publisher: Magic Rat/Welding Rod, BMI; Candy House
– This soft-voiced Americana veteran has been in the trenches for years. He’s one of the genre’s finest songwriters, as this portrait of an aging manual laborer makes plain. You’ll find it on Slaid’s latest collection, Ghost on the Car Radio.


ALAN RHODY/I’ll Be True To You
Writers: Alan Rhody; Producer: Alan Rhody; Publishers: Sony/ATV, BMI; Ashwood (track)
– Music City troubadour Alan Rhody has a new CD titled Farther On. It features his songwriting collaborations with Guy Clark, Murray McLauchlan and Don Henry, as well as a feast of solo works. Not the least of the latter is this No. 1 hit sung by The Oak Ridge Boys in 1978. Rhody’s guitar-vocal version is stunning, revealing just how powerful the original, long version of the song really was/is. This fellow is one of those rare individuals who can hold you completely spellbound with just his axe and his voice.

Writers: Woody Guthrie; Producer: Jon Newfeld, Joe Seamons, Bill Murlin; Publishers: Woody Guthrie/Ludlow, BMI; Smithsonian
– On the double CD Roll Columbia, you’ll find members of R.E.M., The Decemberists and Black Prairie plus a host of Americana solo acts reinterpreting 26 Woody Guthrie songs. Among his so-called Northwest songs are some of his best known — “Hard Travelin,” “Roll On Columbia” (the state song of Washington), “Grand Coolee Dam,” “Talking Columbia,” “It Takes a Worried Man” and the like. Here, Greenwich Village folk vet Michael Hurley sings another of Guthrie’s timeless tunes. Guess what? Things aren’t much different for migrant agricultural workers today.


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About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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