Exploring Americana Music: Four Albums

What sort of music do you notice as you travel in the United States?

The United States is one of the larger countries in the world, which means its cities, countrysides, and communities are home to people — including musicians– with all sorts of backgrounds and interests. Learn about the work of four artists through whose work you will see varied aspects of America’s heart and heartland.

Depending on which song you are listening to, you might think of Terri Hendrix as a jazz singer, a rockabilly artist, a country musician, or place her some other genre entirely. Her range of interests are as wide as her native state of Texas, and she’s the chops to execute them all with courage and originality. Her music can be gentle and thoughtful as well as lively and outspoken. She is also a fiercely independent artist, having worked out a crowd funding model and started her own label long before such business models were common.

musician Terri Hendrix by Kim Maguire

Her recent project is a two parter, comprising a full length album called Talk to a Human and an EP called Who is Ann? A mix of originals and well chosen covers, Talk to a Human’s title track was came about after she read an article about a space craft exploring the planet Mercury, and began wonder what such an exploration might show about Earth. Hendrix’s country side comes out in her cover of Cindy Walker’s Don’t Meddle in My Mood. In addition to being a singer who well knows how and when to nuance a story with her voice, Hendrix is also a fine guitar and harmonica player, skills you will enjoy hearing her put to use on both these recordings. WASP is a tribute members of the women’s air corps during World War II, while the piece Grieve from Who Is Ann? allows threads of hope to rise through its sadness. You’ll want to explore the other places Hendrix travels on these recordings, including the affirmation in I Hear Your Song and a lovely version of the traditional song The Water is Wide.

inidana farm barn tim grimm music

Tim Grimm’s part of the American heartland is in Indiana. In fact, he’s called his recent album Heart Land Again. Two decades ago, he and his wife moved their young family back to Indiana after a time in California,. That’s when the first Heart Land collection (now long out of print) was released. With his sons and wife as full members to The Grimm Family Band, Tim Grimm has revisited those songs, created fresh arrangements with their help, and added a few new pieces along the way.

The centerpiece of the music, though, remains Indiana farmland and people who live. work, and from communities in it. The family band, with Tim as lead voice and wife Jan sons Connor and Jackson backing on harmonies and a range of instruments. are fine tellers of their tales. Listen out especially for She Remembers, Down the Road, That Old Man, and Pumpkin the Cat.

north carolina mountains

North Carolina is a state with wide ranging geography, communities, and musical personalities. For his album Carolina Chimes, Rudi Ekstein focuses on the bluegrass side of things. His instrument is the mandolin. With a dozen upbeat original tunes, he and musical friends including Mark Schatz on bass, Jeff Autry on guitar, and Stuart Duncan on fiddle celebrate landscapes, people, and memories.

Rockalachia gives respect to Bill Monroe and the influence the bluegrass master had on rock musicians as well as those who follow bluegrass. Dixie Sunset is a waltz time tune with a bit of a twist. Cornerstone weaves Eckstein’s heritage as the son of an immigrant from Austria with his love of bluegrass, while banjo and mandolin intertwine on the title track to evoke the sound of bells from a country church. Listen out also for tunes including Hoot Owl Hop, Indian Rain, and All Night in Kentucky.

Pete Seeger would have turned one hundred years old in 2019. He made it to 94 years of age, spending much of that time creating and sharing music, building musical communities, and encouraging folk to sing along with him, and with each other.

Seeger was from New York state. His songs often reach beyond his beloved Hudson Valley communities. You will likely know of and have sung Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, and many other songs he wrote himself or brought to public attention.

One of those out there listening was a boy growing up in Wisconsin named John McCutcheon.

musician John McCuthcheon by Irene Young

McCutcheon would go on to become a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and also meet and become friends with Seeger. To honor what would have been Seeger’s centennial year, McCutcheon decided to put together fifteen of his favorite Seeger songs. He chose the title from one of the songs: To Everyone in All the World.

Guantanamera has a Cuban inflection and a duet vocal from Katia Cardenal, Turn Turn Turn is given a bluegrass tinge with The Steel Wheels. If I Had a Hammer takes on Cajun rhythms with members of Beausoleil sitting in.

There is a lovely version of Seeger’s instrumental Living in the Country, with McCutcheon leading on hammer dulcimer. Waist Deep in the Big Muddy is as relevant now as it was in the 1960s. Sailing Down My Golden River is love song to Seeger’s well known and well loved Hudson River. They are all stories of travel and place, of community and connection.

Travel and place, community and connection: those form background and foreground of all the music here. Explore what these artists have to say through their music. It will enhance your own travels, as you explore communities and stories around the United States and across the world.

texas license plate americana

Photo of Terri Hendrix bu Kim Maguire
Photo of John McCutcheon by Irene Young

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