As much as I like many artists who have been put under the "Americana" umbrella, I've never been entirely convinced that Americana is a distinct genre. Whenever I've asked who/what is Americana, people point to Steve Earle, as if one genre-crosser does the job. Dave Alvin - that's two, but Allison Fensterstock seemed to get it more or less right when she decided it was roots music that shared its fans' progressive politics. At the last Americana Music Conference, I saw honky-tonk holdout Dale Watson, blues man Tony Joe White, retro string band Chatham County Line and nouveau Bakersfield country band the Hacienda Brothers. For No Depression, the one-time Bible of Americana, I wrote about Cajun band the Pine Leaf Boys, Amanda Shaw, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and reviewed Irma Thomas. All merit attention and love, but a genre that incorporates all that has some pretty broad defining characteristics.
But I guess they're defining enough. I received this press release just moments ago:
NASHVILLE, June 9, 2009 – The Recording Academy will officially recognize the Americana genre next year when it awards the inaugural Grammy for Best Americana Album. NARAS recently announced the restructuring of several Grammy Award categories, establishing a Best Americana Album award and a corresponding American Roots Music field. Both the new award and category will debut at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
The move further underscores the increasing significance of the Americana music format and brand, accelerating the Americana Music Association’s already substantial momentum as it approaches its 10th Annual Americana Festival and Conference.
“Americana music resonates with a growing legion of listeners,” said Jessie Scott, President of the Americana Music Association Board of Directors. “These are the country’s preeminent artists, who not only pay homage to roots, but truly shape modern music. The Americana community couldn’t be prouder of NARAS’s decision.”
For more information including details on this year's Americana Music Conference and Awards, which take place in Nashville September 16-19, go to AmericanaMusic.org.