A Little Americana Sounds from Unlikely Places

Lisa Tate

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Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer for many Americans, and with it comes a sense of nostalgia. This includes those good old Americana music sounds like folk, bluegrass, blues, and country.

Somehow, even those who haven’t set foot outside of the big city, and or listen to everything from the most hardened urban hip-hop and rap lover or classical music conneseur. That old back road, rural sound tends to creep into our soul, whether we want it to or not. Then things like “Old Town Road” became so hits.

Whether you’re still barricaded with family or venturing out among others, here’s a few examples of that sound coming from places we would expect.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about some comedians who are also tremendous musicians, and this includes the bluegrass sensibilities of Steve Martin. Recently another comic actor, John C. Reilly, celebrated a birthday, and as everyone was posting pictures of his memorable acting moments, I recalled what a good, mellow sounding voice he has. In addition to parodies like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story to musicals like Chicago, he’s proven his talent, and often performs folksy bluegrass sounds with others like Tom Brosseau or Andrew Bird.

Here he is with Becky Stark and Brosseau at the performing “Blues Stay Away From Me:”

That American rural sound has even intrigued people overseas, including Dire Straits’s Mark Knopfler, who has performed with several genres of musicians. In 1986, Knopfler and fellow Dire Straits member Guy Fletcher got together with some others to form The Notting Hillbillies, performing a mix of Americana music. I’m proud to say I still own that CD, and it holds up just as well today.

One of their breakout hits is a bluesy southern tinged mellow tune, “I Feel Like Going Home.”

In the 1950s and 60s folks like the amazing Chuck Berry incorporated blues, swing, jazz and a little county together into something complete new, Rock ‘n Roll, and with it came rockabilly music that incorporated even more of that country sound. This never went away, and long after modern rockabilly legends like Brian Setzer. His post-Stray Cats years included leading the new Swing Music craze, and making Christmas his own swinging dance floor. He also got to show off his instrumental chops with songs like "Earl's Breakdown" and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

At some point, everyone wants to show off their country skills, including the likes of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, who put out a whole rock-country and folk album in 2016. His biggest single was “Love is Your Name” where he tries out his best Jack Sparrow cosplay, but since it is summertime and Memorial Day, here’s his country rock celebration,"Red White and You.”

One of the best things about music of any genre is being able to pass it onto the next generation. In 2016 a family band The Kempsters let 14-year-old Chris (battling a few of his alter egos) take center stage in their rendition of the “Orange Blossom Special.”

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Keep your heads high and your hearts humble, but never lose that music in your soul, where even city boy Justin Timberlake will don some flannel and pair up with country star Chris Stapleton:

Cover image: The Notting Hillbillies © Warner Bros. Records.

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