Looking for rural West/Midwest-ish americana music.
March 26, 2009 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for americana music that comes from, or is roughly evocative of, the (romanticized?) rural West and Midwest.

I'm looking for americana music played on stringed instruments (with or without vocals, but preferably without) that comes from, or is roughly evocative of, the (romanticized?) rural West and Midwest: long train rides, endless farmland, blue skies, small cozy towns, miner's songs...

Sorry for the vague description. I've only heard a few songs in the style, so I'm not exactly sure what the common characteristics are. Fretkillr and the first track on this album come the closest to what I'm looking for.

Any album suggestions?
posted by archagon to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Bill Frisell has a way of maintaining his own style while sounding kinda backwoodsy. You might like his "Gone, Just Like a Train" and "Nashville" albums.
posted by davebush at 3:47 PM on March 26, 2009

Ry Cooder - Paris, Texas soundtrack
World Standard - Country Gazette
posted by rhizome at 3:55 PM on March 26, 2009

Seconding "Paris, Texas" - haunting and gorgeous.
posted by davebush at 4:03 PM on March 26, 2009

Tin Hat Trio's The Rodeo Eroded, especially the first cut, Bill.
posted by rtha at 4:49 PM on March 26, 2009

I think the following bands have made sounds and songs which evoke what you're after, even though in the case of, say, Bon Iver the music wasn't made in the west.

Band of Horses
Grant Lee Buffalo
Bon Iver
The Shins
posted by lottie at 5:09 PM on March 26, 2009

Josh Ritter
Josh Rouse
Seconding band of horses, Bon Iver..
Fleet Foxes
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
posted by the_epicurean at 5:28 PM on March 26, 2009

Here in the Midwest, Peter Ostroushko is often used by local media when they want to convey "heartland."
posted by ericc at 6:37 PM on March 26, 2009

First artist who comes to mind, Greg Brown. Well-written songs - reflections on the vagaries of life and foibles of we humans - delivered in a rich, gravelly, nuanced, melancholic voice, often with subtle humor, he's is a fav of mine and might fit the bill for you. Grew up in Iowa, has pentecostal roots and once ran hootenannies. How's that for credentials? Very homespun sounding, textured guitar and arrangements, funky, poetic, self-deprecating, reverent, and ironic. Of the recordings I know, I highly recommend

In the Dark With You (1983)
Dream Cafe (1992)
Covenant (2000)

Titles like "Who Woulds Thunk It?", "Who is that Guy?", "Spring Wind", "It's Nice when it Rains", "Blues Go Walking", "Just a Bum", "Who Do Ya Think You're Fooling?"...I could go on and on... love songs, too....
posted by sparrowdance at 7:15 PM on March 26, 2009

John Fahey
Leo Kottke (feel free to ignore anything with vocals)

Tom Brosseau's What I Mean to Say is Goodbye is gorgeous, and I think "West of Town" includes all your requested themes except mining.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:34 PM on March 26, 2009

I think these are pretty close to what you're looking for (mostly instrumental, too):
Appalachia Waltz - Mark O'Connor, Yo Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer.
Heartland - Bela Fleck, et. al.
David Grisman - I'm thinking of the album Tone Poems that he did with Tony Rice, too.

I also just have to mention Leadbelly (traditional blues, recorded in the 1930's & 40's).

Last one: Smithsonian Folkways recordings have a wealth of songs that might connect you to some neat music. Specifically the bluegrass category but maybe others too.
posted by belau at 9:23 PM on March 26, 2009

Thanks for the suggestions so far, guys! By the way, by "stringed instruments" I meant stuff like the guitar and banjo.
posted by archagon at 10:19 PM on March 26, 2009

Don't forget Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad! The New Timer is one of the single most heart-rending songs about riding the rails I've ever heard.

Califone does a kind of avant-rustic experimental Americana... think banjos crossed with electric pianos crossed with broken radiators. A few of my favorites: Bottles and Bones (Shade and Sympathy); Fisherman's Wife; When Leon Spinx Moved Into Town; 3-Legged Animals)

Quite a bit of Tom Waits's Island trilogy (swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, Frank's Wild Years) is evocative of a kind of mythic midwest. Johnsburg, Illinois is a lovely song about his wife's home town, but there are all sorts of geographic references scattered throughout the records ("9th & Hennepin" is about a neighborhood in Minneapolis; the main character in "Gun Street Girl" has "gone to Indiana, ain't never comin' home"; in "Time" he mentions being "East of East St. Louis," etc.)

16 Horsepower's work is a ultra-mythic fire-and-brimstone take on the Old West. (This is slightly amusing to me, because I went to high school in Denver with the lead singer, David Edwards, and he really didn't seem like the banjo-toting pentecostal preacher type back in chem lab.)
posted by scody at 11:48 PM on March 26, 2009

You might want to give Jimmie Dale Gilmore a listen. There's something about his voice that evokes, in me, the sense you describe.
posted by lpsguy at 6:54 AM on March 27, 2009

is john prine too obvious for this discussion?
posted by msconduct at 8:59 AM on March 27, 2009

Seconding Springsteen's Nebraska as pretty much embodying my utterly stereotypical view of the midwest, and it is an amazing, amazing record. Springsteen's Born To Run has a much different vibe, but I still think of it as pretty solidly midwest.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:20 AM on March 27, 2009

For the "preferably without vocals" part, I would n-th John Fahey, whose sound is exactly what you describe - every song is a story told with a patchwork of different American folk and blues guitar styles. A good box-set, featuring early Fahey, is the Fonotone Records Boxset, a label specializing in re-creating that old-timey sound - they claimed to have been the last 78-rpm label. The true Bible of Americana sound, however, has to be the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. Without exaggerating too much, its the box set that all the musicians recommended here based their song-writing and instrumental style on, either directly or second-hand.
posted by caminovereda at 11:03 PM on March 27, 2009

Harry Partch's Barstow, a sublime setting of "Eight Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California."
posted by speicus at 11:30 PM on March 27, 2009

Maybe southern IL's Woodbox Gang? They call their style of music "Trashcan Americana."
posted by illflux at 7:21 AM on March 28, 2009

Public Domain by Dave Alvin.
posted by marxchivist at 6:17 PM on May 13, 2009

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