Americana joins around 100 other words whose use is now widely recognized as new entries in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. According to the dictionary’s editors Americana music is defined as: “a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music” Now after many a heated battles for going on 13 to 15-years (No Depression magazine was first published in 1995 ans the Americana Music Association was founded in 1998) concerning the fine distinctions of Americana music this seems to be simultaneously as clear and murky a definition as you’ll find.
It’s my view that when producer Ralph Peer set up his record studio Bristol, Tennessee in 1927 the distinction between “county” and “folk” was nonexistent. The elements of both genres laid fused in the sounds of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and the art form was cleaved apart for marketing and political reasons some 30 years later.
I applaud the recognition Merriam-Webster has bestowed on the Americana genre but saying that it has “roots in early folk and country music” overlooks what much of the music that performers like Gillian Welch and William Elliott Whitmore do to define their sound. They reach to a time before the genres were distinct entities and the styles of both were found in the hollers, plains and porches of our European ancestors. They reach back to the original source to remind us all how great the music is and while giving it their own personal slant.