This Rough Guide contains the sweetest, bleakest, songs from the Americana scene in recent years: there's dogs, there's cars, there's saints and there's Jesus - and a whole lot of twisted love gone wrong.. Welcome to the world of Americana.
Award winning rock writer and musician Sylvie Simmons handpicked the tracks on this album to showcase the genre's best twenty-first century takes on the themes of old country.
Pain and trouble are rife in country music: you can barely sink a whiskey in Nashville without a side-order of melancholy and fries. Delivering a healthy dose, Giant Sand opens the album with anguished track 'Man On A String'. Closing the album with dark desperation, Mary Gauthier too intones her sadness on 'Oh Soul'.
Religion also makes regular cameo appearances in Americana and the Lord's watchful eye pops up in more than a few of tracks here. Chuck Prophet's 'I felt like Jesus' is a sour-tasting love-song with one spurred boot in country, the other firmly planted in goodtime rock and roll. Spiritual paean 'Saint On A Chain' comes from legend Julie Christensen and her new outfit Stone Cupid. Christensen has authored five albums and sung with the glitterati of American music, from Leonard Cohen to Lou Reed. Far from the saccharine carols of yore, on Malcolm Holcombe's tack 'Words of December', his heroine 'prayed on her knees and cried in the bedroom'. American giant Patty Griffin's laidback feel and striking high voice contemplates God as 'a wild old dog, someone left out on the highway'.
Drink, many a wandering musician's muse, also features. Robbie Fulk's delicate 'I'll Trade You Money For Wine' contrasts to James McMurthy's pensive track. 'The Copper Canteen' is more measured in its approach to the "sauce", referencing a troubled couple's night out at a bar of the same name.
Jim White's story-telling skill takes on automobiles in his humorous history of his car nicknamed, 'The Rambler'. Robert Earl Keen transforms Richard Thompson's 1952 track 'Vincent Black Lightning' about the motorcycle of the same name into foot-stomping bluegrass. Dawn Mc Carthy and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Everly Brothers cover lays tribute to the 'Milk Train' that 'Used to rumble my shack / Used to stop outside o' my door'.
And of course bleeding hearts feature heavily in any self-respecting country singers repertoire. Noah Gundersen's contemporary indie-folk frustrates over a lover 'Why didn't you pick a better man?' Dedicating his love song to 'Caroline' Reed Foehl is more upbeat in his dedication. Sean Taylor, the only Brit on the record, passionately sings 'Tienes Mi Alma En Tus Manos' or 'You had my soul in your hands'.
Giant Sand If any Americana band deserves to be called legendary, it's Giant Sand - 30 years and 28 albums old this year and better than ever.
Patty Griffin A Grammy-winning American folk singer, Griffin was born in Maine and based in Texas.
Noah Gundersen This memorable midtempo beauty comes from the debut album of a young Seattle indie-folk singer-songwriter, raised in a strict religious family but sounding more influenced by Ryan Adams at his most spacious and bittersweet.
Robert Earl Keen There's a lot of miles between Central Texas and the Appalachians, and quite some distance between the kind of smart, sometimes raucous country Keen is known for and the bluegrass he plays on this covers album with such respect and skill.
Sean Taylor A London-based singer-songwriter in his early thirties, Taylor recorded his sixth album in Texas.
Robbie Fulks Since his 1996 debut, this Chicago singer, once tagged 'insurgent country 'singer, has taken an eclectic, sometimes humorous, subversive approach to his material.
James McMurtry A Texan country-folk singer-songwriter, McMurtry specialises in lean, mordant, story-songs about Americans on the losing end.
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, aka musician/actor Will Oldham, has a fragile haunting, backwoods voice and highly distinctive lyrics.
Chuck Prophet Prophet made eight albums with 'paisley underground' band Green On Red before releasing a dozen acclaimed solo albums.
Stone Cupid With Julie Christensen Born in Iowa and living in Nashville, Christen sang western swing, jazz, blues and punk (with Divine Horsemen in '80s L.A) before becoming Leonard Cohen's backing singer and finally releasing released her solo debut in the '90s.
Reed Foehl Born in Boston, based in Colorado, Reed fronted jam band Acoustic Junction for more than ten years - until he became a father and decided to spend more time at home.
Jim White Since his unforgettable and influential 1997 debut Wrong-Eyed Jesus -later a movie - White has made albums of haunting, dreamy, highly-literate songs, often set in the American South he calls home.
Malcolm Holcombe A gravel-voiced writer of stark, authentic folk-Americana, Holcombe was born in a small town in N.Carolina 60 years ago. Releasing his solo debut in the mid 80s, he became a respected figure in the folk underground.
Mary Gauthier Born in New Orleans, resident in Nashville, Gauthier is an award-winning recording artist and short story writer whose own life story reads like an American novel.