When spoken outside Nashville’s amber walls, “Americana” typically conjures up specific, sepia-toned notions of Cracker Barrel kitsch—tinned peanut brittle and John Deere-emblazoned wire-mesh trucker hats, homemade blueberry jam and aluminum lunch buckets. For the Americana Music Association, “Americana” works better as a broad, umbrella term, a genre devised in the last decade and engineered to cover a variety of disparate styles (country, traditional folk, bluegrass, alt.country), united by a shared appreciation for… acoustic guitars?
Well, sorta: the Association officially defines Americana as “roots music based on the traditions of country,” a proclamation just vague enough to allow for the impressive stylistic scope of their flagship compilation. Selling for less than two bucks (with proceeds benefiting the NARM Scholarship Fund), This Is Americana collects tracks by legendary strummers (Rosanne and Johnny Cash perform a duet of the haunting “September When It Comes,” while Willie Nelson and Ray Price expertly co-croon the slow-dancer “I’m So Ashamed”), contemporary standards (songs by Alison Krauss + Union Station, Jay Farrar, Lucinda Williams, The Jayhawks), and fresh, up-clawing talent (Fairfax, Anne McCue). Presumably arranged with the uninitiated in mind, This Is Americana offers an impressive array of fiddle-heavy stomps, providing a solid and surprisingly cohesive introduction to an oft-misunderstood—or just plain unheard of—field.
Still—given the sprawling diversity of America itself, and the colossal range of its “roots-based” music—it’s unfortunate that this particular brand of Americana can’t stretch to include a few more deviant approaches (see Drive-By Truckers, Holopaw, Wilco). Tradition stands.