No More Kings

The other day I     saw a tweet from  the American Songwriter site a story title that caught my eye, like many of the tweets from excellent @AmerSongwriter. Writer Austin L. Ray story on Robert Plant and his new musical venture Band of Joy “The Unlikely King Of Americana.” It’s an excellent take on how a once rock-god followed his muse from the amped-up Blues side of the tracks to where the American genre flourishes wild.

Though it is a great story of a learned musical journeyman I take exception to the title of the piece. Please allow be to indulge the petty grievance of a genre blogger.

My first quibble is with the method of Americana regal ascendancy. Plant was not born into a legacy of Americana lineage, like say Rosanne Cash or Justin Townes Earle, that would align him in a place in whatever a genre monarchy we might imagine. So his crown must be earned.  Putting aside the concept of a violent coup I will focus on the work to goal.

Granted Plant has released two excellent Americana albums, Raising Sand and the current Band of Joy, and Led Zeppelin sometimes infused their sound with an Americana  spice (Black Country Woman and Bron-Y-Aur Stomp are great examples of this) his body of original Americana material is scant. Aside from the few Zeppelin pieces, Raising Sand and Band of Joy are comprised primarily of covers. Though excellently interpreted; these covers do not mount an argument toward an Americana crown
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If we weigh personal legacy and quality, original material a list to regal ascendancy would be long – Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Marty Stuart, John Mellencamp, Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt etc. And why not a queen? Emmylou and Lucinda come to mind. And it’s not a Nativism issue. I believe Plant’s fellow English countrymen Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson have more of a right to any imagined throne.

Like America itself the Americana genre is a work in progress. And like America many of the settlers in this new land are from another land – rock, country, folk, hip-hop – and the borders are porous and the genre is stronger for it. Not all of these emigres are going to be in simpatico.  Guy Clark fans may have very little in common with Hank Williams III fans, but the bloodline that ties them are there for those who take the time to look.

Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, when asked about Plant’s possible crowning is quoted as saying “Without question.” I have no argument with Hilly’s opinion on this. Hilly heads up a trade group who’s primary objective is to raise awareness. Plant, along with his well-chosen guides, Allison Krauss, T Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller and others as well as the excellent songwriters chosen to be included on his albums, has led to the addition of a an Americana GRAMMY (which I am fortunate to be covering this year) and brought significant awareness to the genre.

But as a blogger for the cause I take exception to this coronation, or in fact any coronation. Like America we serve under no crown but for the exceptional beauty of the music itself. But I do nominate Gram Parsons as it’s patron saint.

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8 thoughts on “No More Kings

  1. 19 December, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    He’s a Brit, a local (to me), rock God and legend, but he’s not the King of Americana, thought both albums were over hyped and for me authenticity is key.

    I’ll stand on Robert Plant’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say it too.

  2. Baron Lane
    19 December, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Steve Earle would be proud!

  3. 21 December, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Concur with your assessment. We don’t need kings or queens, but I’ll go with Gram as Patron Saint as long as we also add Emmylou as another.

  4. Wade J Handy
    8 January, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Little Feat was the most Americanaist to me. To me Americana is the celebration of the sounds of different areas of the country. Bluegrass, blues, country…etc are all under the sphere of Americana. Its not what you wear when you perform, or the vintage of your guitar that makes it Americana. One of the primary tenants of the style is open-mindness. This is where most “Americana” artists fail.

  5. 13 January, 2011 at 11:08 am

    @Gregory Luce, in fact, Emmylou *has* been added, but her mentor, the Patron Saint, has not.
    Will James
    Gram Parsons Petition Project & Gram National

  6. 13 January, 2011 at 11:24 am

    As clicking on my name to go to the petition is not obvious: http://www.gramparsonspetition.com.
    Gram thanks you.

  7. paul
    30 March, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Gram was one of the pioneers, the most glamorous in some ways, perhaps.
    But King?

    How about Chris Hillman? He has roots everywhere.
    Go listen to what he was writing in, what, ’66, on The Byrds ‘Younger Than Yesterday’. Gram was a few steps behind this pioneer.

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