Thursday, May 20, 2010
Hello everyone and welcome back to Americana Review. I’m writing today about a topic that, to my recollection, has never been discussed before in country music, regardless of the format. If it has been discussed, it’s only been under the rarest of circumstances. I speak of course of the recent “outing” of Chely Wright, her revelation that she is a lesbian. As the media is quick to report, Chely is the first “openly gay” country music singer.
I’ve been a fan of Chely Wright’s since she first debuted on Arista records in 1994. To the best of my recollection, none of the singles from the debut album cracked the country Top 40. Still, this didn’t mean they were bad songs. As anybody in the Americana format will tell you, radio is very fickle. If you step outside the so-called boundaries of the established mainstream country format, you’re not likely to have your music played on mainstream country radio. It was when Chely recorded for MCA Records, under the production of Tony Brown, that the hits came. And then, as suddenly as those hits came to her, they stopped. Chely has since been recording for independent labels, the most recent album released on May 4, Lifted Off The Ground on the famous and well-respected Vanguard label.
Lifted Off The Ground, one might say, is Chely Wright’s “coming out” album, no pun intended. Her first album in 5 years, this album has been released alongside a whirlwind of media attention. Very little of this attention is related to the release of the album, rather it is related to Chely’s revelation that she is gay. This is the first revelation of its kind in country music, and you can tell that because I don’t think anyone really knows what to say. No one really knows what to expect. After all, for a good chunk of the world, homosexuality is a part of the fabric of one’s city. I live in Toronto, which has the second largest gay community in North America, second only to San Francisco. When we’re talking country music in its many facets, we’re talking about something different. While I will love, honour and defend country and Americana music until my last breath, I will also admit it hasn’t always been the most progressive community. After all, this is the format that didn’t show Charley Pride’s face for a long, long time when he broke through in the 1960’s. While Charley Pride was the first African-American singer in country music, it would be nearly 40 years before country would see another African-American country music star in Darius Rucker. So, any fear that Ms. Wright may have had that revealing her homosexuality to the world would have a negative impact on her career, certainly appear to be well founded.
I hope this is not the case. I read an interview that Ms. Wright had with a Canadian press agency online on Tuesday May 18. I’ve included a link to that interview below this entry and I hope you will take the time to read it. As I read the article, a range of emotions washed over me. I can honestly say, my heart goes out to Chely Wright. In the article, Ms. Wright provides stark detail of the torment, conflict and confusion she had dealt with for so many years. She talks about how she knew she was gay from the time she was a child, then going to a corn field near her home to pray to God to make her not be gay. This must have been such a conflict for her as a young child, praying to the same God that she states her church often taught their congregation that God will condemn anyone who is a homosexual to burn in hell for eternity. She talks about the fears she had about what would happen to her country music career if she told anyone about her sexuality, and the struggle she went through to keep it hidden. And, she talks openly about the lowest point in her life, which ended up being the springboard to where she is in her life and her career today. All of this has led to the wonderful and poignant album, Lifted Off The Ground.
I, for one, am proud that Chely Wright is a country music singer, an Americana music singer and a damn good songwriter. What she has done is brave beyond belief. A person can’t help but feel better and be in a better place in life and in spirit with telling the truth about yourself. A truth Chely Wright can be very proud of. If anyone out there is struggling with themselves and who they are, take a look and listen to Chely Wright’s story. If her story helps even one person through their own confusion and struggle, then her story will have served its greater purpose.
I will say though, that I look forward to the day when a singer makes a revelation such as this and it’s met with resounding indifference. The real buzz that should be happening right now should be with respect to the album, Lifted Off The Ground. If you visit Chely Wright’s web site, www.chely.com, under the Albums link you will be able to listen to previews of the songs on the album. I have listened to all of the clips and let me tell you my friends, this is some of the finest, strongest work I have ever heard from any singer in any format. I will be picking up this album for a more studious listen and providing a review on this blog in the coming days. If you have the chance to pick up this album, go to your favourite records store and pick it up, you will love it, I promise. Indeed, it is some of the most personal work one could put on an album. Produced by the great Rodney Crowell, it is Chely Wright’s masterpiece.
I can only hope that in the coming weeks, we begin to hear more about the music from Chely Wright. It would be terrible for an album this great, this perfect, to be completely ignored in favour of what should be of no consequence to anyone, that being her sexuality. It would be a terrible crime, indeed.
To view the Chely Wright interview referred to in today’s blog, click on this link:
That’s all for now friends, take care and we’ll catch up Saturday.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Hello everyone, and welcome to Americana Review. If you’re a repeat visitor, welcome back! Today’s entry will talk about the genre that is Americana and what it entails. I’m sure there are many interpretations of what the Americana genre is, and this is the place to talk about it. As always, comments are not only welcome, but really encouraged!
I’ve been doing my best to listen to as many Americana artists as I can, in an effort to pin down what this brand of music is all about. I’ve come to the conclusion that really, you can’t pin this music down. That’s what I believe is the beauty of this form of music. It’s taking the best that all formats have to offer and mixing it up into something that’s unique, something that you can’t put your finger on ... but you know you like it. You like it a lot. Then you come back for more.
If you’re like me, a new fan of Americana, you may also be a bit of a country music nerd (also like me). Americana can be traced back many, many years. Americana is based in folk music, but its roots and branches are limitless. There have been many avenues for Americana music to be heard. If anyone reading was alive in the early 1970’s, perhaps you will recall The Johnny Cash Show. I’m fortunate enough to have a Best of DVD, I was too young to remember the show. Every week from the Home (at the time) of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, the Ryman Auditorium, The Man In Black would welcome the biggest stars in country music to the stage to be heard around the world. Perhaps more importantly, Johnny Cash would invite the biggest stars of the day in other genres of music to the hallowed shrine of country music to perform. Stars such as Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young and Ray Charles all graced the stage of the Ryman on Johnny’s show. The Johnny Cash Show only ran for three seasons on ABC television in the United States, but what an important three years it was. I’m quite sure Mr. Cash realized it at the time, that what he was doing with his television show was showing the world that it was okay to not have your music labelled. It was okay to just let the music and the song tell the story. It was okay to be different. It was okay to let the music make you feel something, whether it was country, blues, folk or straight up rock and roll. It was all about the music. Although the “label” did not exist in the early 1970’s, I believe this was the first mass media introduction of what would later become known as “Americana music.” This is what Johnny Cash stood for. And this is one of the many reasons why Johnny Cash has the rare distinction of being inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If and when the time comes that there is an Americana Music Hall of Fame, I can pretty much guarantee that Johnny Cash will be a charter inductee.
I guess you could say that Americana is what you make of it. It’s what you want it to be and what you want to get from it. While its focus remains on the musical roots of country music in its purest form, it’s a constant evolution of stories and musical styles. It’s a sense of community and inclusion, and the encouragement to be different, to not be or sound like anyone else. It’s the push an artist needs to just be and sound like themselves.
The Americana music scene is the most vibrant, creative and thoughtful musical community out there today. I look forward to this journey that I’m on, where I will discover great artists who write and perform for the music and stories that exist within them. I look forward to sharing these stories and the music with you, as long as you will keep reading and listening. I look forward to hearing back from you and hearing of the many artists that all of you are digging right now. As always, feel free to post comments directly to the blog, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks again for your time everyone. We’ll catch up on Thursday May 20. Take care and safe travels, my friends.
Thanks again for your time everyone. We’ll catch up on Thursday May 20. Take care and safe travels, my friends.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Hello readers from around the world, and thanks for taking the time to read my brand new blog, Americana Review! When I say brand new I mean that it’s brand new to me too, I’ve never blogged before in my life. What the hell, there’s a first time for everything, and this is the debut writing of this blog.
What’s this blog about? This blog is about music, specifically a musical discovery that I had a few months ago which I’ll talk about in a moment. If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ll briefly go back to the beginning. Well, my beginning anyway. As a kid, I grew up listening to country music, all the old stuff from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Man, did I take some heat from the kids in school for listening to country. Still, I stuck with it. I kept on listening. I didn’t realize it then, during that time I was developing an appreciation for the craft that is country music. The song writing, the arrangement of the music and the different voices that would emanate from my little radio kept me mesmerized for hours at a time. Country music from the 60s to the 80s, at least as a kid growing up, was viewed amongst my peers as something slightly less than cool. Then, along came the 90s, with Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson and of course, Garth Brooks. The floodgates to country superstardom were opened by these and a few other artists of that time. Imagine my surprise and how much I would gloat when in high school the same kids that would razz me for listening to country music were now coming up to my locker as if it were a covert drug deal and asking to borrow that latest Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw CD I would no doubt have.
Lately though, I’ve been feeling disillusioned with this form of music that has consumed much of my life. The music in mainstream country seems to be so factory oriented these days. Recently, I’ve become a HUGE fan of what seems to be a relatively new form of country, yet it’s been around forever. The form of country music I speak of is a wonderful blend of music that you’re not likely to hear on too many radio stations, which is a crying shame. I’m speaking of Americana.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge fan of mainstream country. I’ve got my new favourites to go along with all my old favourites. Keith Urban is one of the most God-gifted talented performers and musicians out there. But as I’ve recently discovered, so is Jason Isbell, who performs as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Amanda Shires could rival any fiddle/violin solo that the Dixie Chicks could muster. And, I’m proud to say that I’ve found out what so many others in Texas have known for years when they crank up the volume to Cross Canadian Ragweed and Reckless Kelly. Fantastic acts all of them, and their music should be heard and heard often by anyone who is willing to listen and give their music a chance.
As I mentioned, this is my first blog entry. What do I see for this blog in the future? Well, I really hope it becomes part of your daily reading. If you love to talk about music, I invite you to please leave your comments. I would like this to be interactive, there’s very little that’s not on the table to discuss. I plan on doing album and concert reviews. And please, if there is any artist out there that you recommend, I am all ears. The ultimate goal is to move everything to an exclusive web site where we can properly promote artists and their albums, provide news updates from around the world of Americana, and produce a subscription service to a podcast where everyone who wishes to subscribe can listen to some of these great artists on a weekly show.
Thank you very much for checking this out, it has been a pleasure to write it. Please feel free to leave your comments or suggestions, or drop an e-mail at email@example.com
Check back Tuesday May 18, 2010, when the discussion turns to what is Americana music.