Americana and Canadiana

Some recent Americana releases and one Canadiana album:

Like the equally understated and private Tony Joe White, Otis Taylor‘s quiet authority draws listeners in. He keeps his blues tight, using as few words and chords as possible, and creates a musical whirlpool without ever seeming to try. He’s slightly more expansive on Clovis People Vol. 3 (Telarc) (there is no volume one or two), with guitarist Gary Moore adding a free-flowing lead guitar that sprawls out across the tracks. For me, it detracts from the incantory quality of Taylor’s songs, but Moore makes the blues in Taylor’s music explicit.

John Prine was a New Dylan when he started, and he’s been well-served by time’s passing and that context fading. He’s become as idiosyncratic as Dylan, but he’s a completely different artist. Aging seems to have taken Dylan outside time and outside community; it has helped Prine find his place in both, and the live presentation of In Person & On Stage (Oh Boy!) emphasizes his affability and a voice that has become more distinctive with time.

It’s easy to hear why Canadian band the Blue Shadows were never more than a big cult band, and why its cult was well-deserved. The recent reissue of 1993’s On the Floor of Heaven (Bumstead) shows remarkable pop sense, and there are four or five songs that I’ll put on my iPod starting with “Deliver Me.” The album art includes newspaper headlines, most of which comment on the Everly Brothers-like harmonies between the late Billy Cowsill (Susan’s oldest brother) and Jeffery Hatcher, and they give the songs personality. At the same time, the songs are written so completely in the rockabilly/country vocabulary that you connect only to the songs, not the artists behind them. On the Floor of Heaven doesn’t throw any curveballs or hold any musical idiosyncrasies that invite contemplation. The closest this reissue comes to a personal touch is the inclusion of two Canadian covers – Joni Mitchell’s “Raised on Robbery” and “What the Hell I Got” by Montreal’s Michel Pagliaro. Like everything else on the album, they’re wonderful, but they don’t give you a reason to think about the band when the album’s over.

Andreya Triana isn’t really Americana (unless all roots music including soul is Americana), but she has an appealing, breathy voice that brings Corinne Bailey Rae to mind. At first, that seems like a fair comparison with the jazz-lite touches, acoustic guitars and the general air of quietness on Lost Where I Belong (Ninja Tune), her debut album. The looped drums carbon date this as post-hip-hop soul, and the album’s emphasis on mood marks it as head music. As such, it passes by pleasantly and promisingly until, a half-hour later, the promise has yet to be realized. You’ve only heard one or two fully developed choruses and a lot of mid-tempo jams. Bottom line – I’m interested in this but more interested in what comes next.