When looking at current music, one can’t help but notice the fascination with subcategorical breakdowns. A subgenre is a subordinate within a genre. So, in musical terms, it’s a subcategory of a musical genre that adopts its basic characteristics but also has its own set of characteristics that distinguishes and sets it apart within the genre. A subgenre is also often referred to as a “style” of the genre. In today’s popular music, there are over 1,200 definable subgenres of music. We can now define our music of choice in specific terms like “adult/alternative music” or “roots/country.”
One musical category that’s been gaining more and more acceptance for the past 20+ years is “Americana.” The Americana Music Association claims multiple genres under their big tent, but do we really know what it is?
Let’s look to the AMA definition: “Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”
That’s a broad description, and it seems to favor but not limit itself to acoustic instruments. I would go so far as to say the musical gumbo that happened because of the start of our nation and the joining of numerous cultures is still evolving today. Americana music is ever changing and ever growing, adapting, and evolving on an almost daily basis.
My musical upbringing may seem alien to some musicians from urban areas. My family played string instruments and focused on harmonies and singing stories. Musicians raised in bigger cities would be more accustomed to seeing bands with horns and drums.
To a boy from the Ozarks, that element wasn’t introduced to me until I took up saxophone in the school band. Before that I had played old-timey string band music. I grew up playing at an 1880s theme park (Silver Dollar City) that stressed that era’s music, and I was thoroughly schooled in this genre’s roots. But Bill Monroe, the Carter Family, Jim & Jesse, and Flatt & Scruggs were as far as we would go for our musical repertoire. So, when I heard rock ‘n’ roll for the first time, or when I started diving into the history of the blues and R&B, it had a very profound and lingering effect on my singing and writing styles.
I love traditional bluegrass. It still has a solid hold on the core of my music. But my singing styles have adapted to the modern mix of what I hear on a daily basis. I’m comfortable with acoustic instruments and I’m comfortable with rock and soul vocals. I think it’s a perfect mix. I believe the style of Bluegrass/Americana, or let’s use the term “Grassicana,” has the appeal for a wide audience.
My songs still sing stories of love and life lessons, just like I was raised on. And more often than not, the musical ensemble I perform with is made up entirely of acoustic instruments. But a lot of modern Americana artists such as myself sing with the vocal conviction and energy derived from the roots of country, blues, and rock.
The emergence of Americana as a musical preference just might be the answer to a computer saturated market. We have become accustomed to an autocorrected “sterile sound” rather than musical roots from the soul. All shades of Americana offer raw emotion exposed and not corrected, along with driving rhythms played and sung that breathe and speak, with a power to move audiences deeply. Roots, Americana, Grassicana – whatever you want to call it – is the heart of American music.
So, listen outside your box. Search some subgenres and maybe you’ll connect with a new or old artist who you wouldn’t have given a chance before. There’s some amazing music being made right now. Don’t let it pass you by.
Ray Cardwell is represented by Luminary Leaders. Contact him at (909) 519-3712 or visit raycardwell.com.