You an Ameri-CAN-a, or an Ameri-CAN’T-a?

November 13, 2008

The musical front is a-flame today.  See this post at Upturned Earth for the full list of relevant links.

Anyway, I’m going to stay away from the Alison Krauss debate: gorgeous voice, and there are some wonderful songs, but I’m still more or less unopinionated on the whole.

But when Joe Carter puts scare-quotes around Noah Berlatsky’s description of Roses in the Snow as heartfelt, I can’t leave it all alone. Then he goes on to say:

“The ridiculously overrated Harris may be a critics’ darling but we rural folk use her name as a shibbolith: If you claim to be a fan of country/bluegrass/Americana and use as your example Emmylou, we know you’re a poseur.”

Just going to ignore “ridiculously overrated.”  Just going to ignore it…

I think it’s safe to say that you can’t define Emmylou as country or bluegrass, but I don’t think she’d define herself as that; she’s dabbled in just about everything but metal and rap during her career. Luxury Liner, Blue Kentucky Girl, Roses in the Snow, Cowgirl’s Prayer, Wrecking Ball, and Stumble Into Grace can’t all be put into one genre. You’d be hard pressed to fit any two into the same one. She’s more “country” than “rock” and sometimes more “bluegrass” than “country” or “folk” than “bluegrass,” but that just helps you put her in a record store, not actually listen to her.

As for “Americana”—well, I don’t think you can kick her out of that category. If there’s one thing Emmylou Harris is, it’s traditional. And “Americana” music is, if anything, precisely the type of genreless, tradition-minded music that she’s made a career of putting out (with the glaring exception of Stumble Into Grace, which you absolutely should not buy). You can make the same case, I’m sure, for either Krauss or Gillian Welch (whose name also came up, and whose Time (The Revelator) is fantastic).

And as for where I stand on examples: for country, it’s George Jones; for bluegrass, Bill Monroe; for Americana, Johnny Cash.  For stranded on a desert island for life with only one album, it’s Emmylou and Roses in the Snow.

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3 Responses to “You an Ameri-CAN-a, or an Ameri-CAN’T-a?”


  1. […] Comments You an Ameri-CAN-a, … on Bluegrass Wars!JL Wall on Obama and the War-Time Ex…Mark on Obama and the […]

  2. William Brafford Says:

    If I could time-travel for a bride, early ’70s Emmylou Harris would be right at the top of the list.

  3. JL Wall Says:

    Not if I get there first! But since I can barely get a dishwasher to work, you might have a headstart.


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