Last week saw the Americana Music Festival hit Nashville, Tennessee. Think South By Southwest but with more banjos, beards and BBQ, the annual roots and down-home folk music event follows much the same template as its Austin equivalent. NME went to showcases from Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons’ Communion in a church that resembled an ancient Egyptian casino and at a barbeque set up in the back of The Groove record store, as well as other divey venues to try and find the best new sounds in Americana. Here are our top finds.
HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF
Murder ballads, swamp soul and southern gothic with a cowgirl lilt, Hurray For The Riff Raff are fronted by the magnetic Alynda Lee Segarra – who apparently legged it from New York as a teenager to live a Woody Guthrie style hobo life of traincar hopping. Endearingly tumbledown and enticingly ragged around the edges, they’re based in grittily decadent New Orleans and are the kind of romantic but ballsy folk band you might stumble across in a barn at 3am whilst three sheets to the wind on local moonshine.
With a name like Sturgill Simpson, there’s only a limited number of career options. One is a truck driver in the 1970s. Another is a country musician. So Sturgill did the only thing he could without the assistance of a TARDIS and picked up a guitar to craft some classic cocaine country. Following in the lizard skin booted footsteps of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, this is real outlaw music. “I’m looking for the end of that long white line,” he drawls during his Saturday afternoon gig, which also includes a rather fetching bluegrass interlude.
Serving up theme music for evil but frightfully well-dressed 1960s movie villains are instrumental five-piece Steelism. Local Nashville lads – but with a Brit frontman on the pedal steel - their shtick is very ‘Don Draper accidentally necks some psychedelics’ and when NME sees them at The Basement, it goes down a treat. A party-centric cover of ‘Apache’ by The Ventures sees some excellent drunken dancing happening down the front, the sign of a show well played and some tequila well imbibed.
JC BROOKS & THE UPTOWN SOUND
Chicago’s JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound are actually on their third album – releasing their last LP, ‘Howl’, earlier this summer Stateside. They’re one of the few soul bands playing the Americana Fest, but going by their showstopping performance, they’ll be opening the door for more at Americana 2014. Cooing ritzy preach-funk numbers about weed, frontman JC Brooks is a charisma overload, a hype man who can do sweet whispered falsettos and belting blues, all under-pinned by some killer dancemoves.