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​Jeriann's Americana PlaylistPhoto of staff member Jeriann

Meet Jeriann

I grew up in a town of 513 people in the middle of cotton fields and BBQ shacks in rural Arkansas. Having eaten all the BBQ and decided not to farm cotton as a career, I moved to Phoenix without ever having traveled further west than Dallas or further north than St. Louis. I fully agree with all the transplants who insist that it's not the heat, it's the humidity.  I like sad music, documentaries, and books about the natural and social sciences. 

 

Meet the list

Are you looking for a playlist full of feel good, upbeat and perfectly arranged songs? This isn't it. 

Many of Americana's songs contain deeply personal (and often depressing) lyrics.  Seriously, there are a lot of songs about drugs, death and coal mining. They also sound like they could've be recorded in your living room one afternoon and personally, I like that. This list leans heavy on folk, traditional country and the bluegrass side of Americana because that's the music I was raised upon.


The Essential Willie Nelson

by Willie Nelson

Almost any Willie song could go on this list but I chose "City of New Orleans" because it includes just about anything you could want in a song from the Americana genre: trains, the Mississippi delta, drinking from brown paper bags, mamas and their babies, a dying industry, gambling, junkyards and Willie Nelson.

The Harrow & The HarvestThe Harrow and The Harvest

by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

Gillian Welch's folk/country music proves the adage that less really is more. Her voice needs nothing to highlight it but David Rawlings accompaniment on a solo guitar manages to make the sound both lush and simple at the same time. Like many of her albums, the lyrics in the Harrow and the Harvest sound like they were written a hundred years ago in a desolated Appalachian town full of heroin addicts, coal miners and murderers. "Tennessee" is one of my absolute favorites, an admission of the narrator's loss of faith and desire to sin without remorse.  Other recommendations include the songs "Scarlet Town" and "The Way it Goes."

Live from NC

and

We're Usually a Lot Better Than This

by Darrell Scott

"You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" has been covered by several artists, all of which are better known than Darrell Scott. I prefer this raw, haunting live version sung by Scott himself.  FYI, it's a serious downer. A look at his Kentucky upbringing, "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" is a song of poverty and the desperation of those longing to leave an area where coal mining is the only opportunity available.  Another of my favorites is the duet cover of the Townes Van Zandt song "White Freightliner Blues," which is much more uplifting.  The only way to improve a Darrell Scott performance is by adding Tim O'Brien.

Close TiesClose Ties

by Rodney Crowell

You've probably never heard Rodney Crowell sing but you've almost definitely heard one of his songs. A famed songwriter, Crowell's "Nashville 1972" is a love letter to the year he arrived in Music City, and the many artists that he ran with, several of which are on this list. How can you resist a song when the artist recounts going to a party, getting drunk, playing a terrible song for Willie Nelson and then throwing up in the yard? Another standout on this album is "East Houston Blues."

Harlem River bluesHarlem River Blues

by Justin Townes Earle

More so than other albums on this list, Harlem River Blues features blues, gospel and rockabilly influences. Most of the songs are excellent but my favorite is the title track.  Backed by a gospel choir, I orginally thought the joyful lyrics were a metaphor, referring to the protagonist heading up to the Harlem River to be baptised. He's actually intending to drown himself.

BestBest

by Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen's songs were meant to sing along to, whether that's in the car, at a concert or in a bar. For most of his songs, it's in a bar.  I suggest three of his best known songs, "The Road Goes on Forever," "Corpus Christi Bay" and "Merry Christmas From the Family." He's much more somber on the album Happy Prisoner, a collection of bluegrass collaborations.

The Essential Guy Clark

by Guy Clark

There's not much more I can say other than that Guy Clark is one of the most revered songwriters in country music.  Much like John Prine, his songs can be deeply personal or lighthearted singalongs.  One of my favorites is "LA Freeway," an enthusiastic goodbye to the City that he started writing on the back of a fast food bag. And the other is "Texas Cookin," a song I thought my grandma made up until I heard it as a teen.  She sang it while cooking and now I do as well.

High on Tulsa Heat

by John Moreland

John Moreland is really good at writing sad songs. In fact, there is actually Instagram account called Cheer Up John Moreland. Raw, heartfelt and unpolished, his performances usually consist of him and his acoustic guitar and sound like they're being sung on your porch.  This album's beauty lies in the vulnerable, confessional lyrics.  My favorites are "Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars" and "Heart's Too Heavy."

Trail

by Jimmy Lafave

Jimmy LaFave is a great singer/songwriter but he's an amazing interpreter of others' music.  Trail is mostly an album of covers, heavily featuring Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. LaFave reimagines the originals, making them his own with his distinctive voice and by incorporating different instruments. It's often hard to tell until partway through the song that it's actually a cover.  My favorite on this album is the Hank Thompson-penned "Oklahoma Hills," a simple and sweet love song to the prairies in his home state.

​Healing Tide

by The War and Treaty

When I first heard a song by The War and Treaty, I sought out all of their albums and listend to them on repeat. A married duo, they've been described as a cross between Ike and Tina and Johnny and June. I don't think there is anyone else like them, mixing gospel, blues, country and folk influences.  The music is fantastic but their voices are what make this duo exceptional.  Not even Emmylou Harris contributing her voice can steal their spotlight.  If you can find it, definitely listen to their debut album Down to the River as well, it's worth the search.

Downey to LubbockDowney to Lubbock

by Dale Alvin and Johnny Gilmore

Alvin and Gilmore are a bit of an odd couple, with Alvin being a roots rocker and Gilmore coming from a folk country background. My favorite on Downey to Lubbock is the autobiographical title song, in which they trade stories about their musical journeys. Other excellent songs include covers of the song "Deportee" by Woody Guthrie and "Buddy Brown's Blues" from Lightnin' Hopkins.

O' be joyful​O' Be Joyful

by Shovels and Rope

Much like the name of the album suggests, this is one of the few suggestions on this list that contains a little more rock and roll, a little more blues and overall, less sadness.  O' Be Joyful is full of handclaps, harmonica and horns but the standout here is Cary Ann Hearst's voice, a big, beautiful mix of Janis and Loretta.

Small Town Heroes​Small Town Heroes

by Hurray for the Riff Raff

Vocalist Alynda Lee Segarra is a Bronx-born Puerto Rican who started her career busking on the streets of New Orleans. Her sound easily layers folk, country, bluegrass and rock and are often supported by the other New Orleans artists. Her songs most often consist of blended music with smart, contemporary lyrics.  My favorite on the album Small Town Heroes is the more traditional bluegrass song  "Blue Ridge Mountain," which will get stuck in my head for days.

John Prine​John Prine

by John Prine

John Prine has released many, many great albums since 1971 but his first album is my favorite.  Every song sounds like a short story, which makes sense, as Prine has been referred to as the Mark Twain of songwriters. This album contains some serious fare, such as the heavily covered bluegrass "Paradise," the anti-war classic "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" and the gorgeous tale of a daydreaming lonely housewife in "Angel From Montgomery" (find the Bonnie Raitt version).  In contrast, the bouncy singalong "Spanish Pipedream" is a ton of fun and the advice from the dancer is seriously my retirement dream.

The Best of Townes Van Zandt

by Townes Van Zandt

Steve Earle once said "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that."  He's right.

A Sailor's Guide To EarthMetamodern Sounds in Country Music

and

A Sailor's Guide to Life

by Sturgill Simpson

Are you looking for an artist that sounds alternately like Waylon Jennings and Randy Travis singing about reptile aliens and LSD while backed by an orchestra and the horns of the Dap Kings? You're looking for Sturgill Simpson's albums Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and A Sailor's Guide to Life. Simpson's first 2 albums labeled him as a country artist but his genre crossing sound demonstrates that he refuses to be defined.  My favorites are "Voices," "Life of Sin," "Sea Stories," and "Brace for Impact."

Americana Master Series: Best of The Sugar Hill Years​Americana Master Series: Best of the Sugar Hill Years

by Doc Watson

Doc Watson is an Americana legend whose songs have influenced hundreds of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel musicians. You could pick out almost any album he released during his prolific career.  Considering those years spanned 1964-2003, there's quite a selection to choose from. My favorite songs on this album are "Country Blues," "Let the Church Roll On" and the instrumental "Whiskey Before Breakfast."

​Southeastern

by Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell is one of the best known modern Americana artists, having won several recent Grammys and American Music Awards.  I think they're fully deserved and like many of the musicians on this list, he's spent years creating a solid body of work while being underappreciated.  Southeastern is my favorite album from him and I have several favorite tracks. "Songs That She Sang in the Shower" is similar to many of Isbell's songs about the ladies who left him while he was an addict and "Cover Me Up" is a redemption song that he wrote for his wife, fellow musician Amanda Shires. Another favorite is "Elephant," which Isbell admits is one of the saddest songs he's written.  Also check out his work with the Southern rock band Drive By Truckers.


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