Not so long ago, the Roots and Americana field was an open playing ground. It was a place where artists could take chances with their music and develop sounds that were outside the borders that corralled music into certain shapes and forms. Like any genre or style, once a bar is set, up and coming artists can choose to follow or lead into the future. Innovators like Buddy Miller, Bela Fleck, The Band, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas set the standard. Many bands have gone the easy route of simply sounding like the originals. Luckily, there are many others that avoid falling into the same old ruts and decide not to join the 'band wagons'. Here is a list of artists that are moving the genre forward, taking chances and deciding that is better to lead than follow, better to die on your feet than live on your knees worshipping at the altar of what has gone before.
These artists are the 'progressive' artists of the Roots Americana genre. Pushing the envelope in terms of sound, recording techniques, instrumentation and amplification. They are bringing new influences of Indie rock, swamp, post punk and psychedelic into the indigenous forms of music that lie at the roots of the sound. Risk takers, innovators and definitely worth checking out. Here are The Alternate Root's 20 Bands Pushing the Envelope.
1 - Uncle Lucius - Uncle Lucius is an Indie Rock band out of Austin, Texas that lets the roots of rock shine in its sounds and songs. The band borrows from classic rock, taking influence from The Black Crowes and The Tragically Hip. Lead vocalist Kevin Galloway takes to the mic like he is on a mission to save the world one song at a time. Uncle Lucius makes it all seem easy on their most recent release, And You Are Me.
Bow Thayer plays electric banjo, running the instrument through both a bass and guitar amp to get the desired sound. The band’s latest effort, Eden, is a Roots album that follows one story line throughout the entire release with the topic that it’s the economy that kills people, not guns. Thayer writes deep, heavily textured music with complex layers both sonically and lyrically and has the band and the chops to pull it all together.
Former Squirrel Nut Zipper frontman, Jimbo Mathus, drives Southern Rock, Blues, Soul and Roots sounds as a vehicle for his smart, Southern Gothic-influenced story lines. The music created could receive a Southern Gothic Rock name tag, with The Tri-State Coalition setting fire to notes and beats that send smoke signals to announce the start of something big on the album White Buffalo.
Two brothers decide to form a band, adapting the blues, folk and other roots‐music sounds they grew up with into a sound that is unique. They have that natural lonesome harmony and a blend that could only come from blood. For many years, the brothers took separate musical paths, Oliver brought soul, funk and country elements into the blues that he loved and Chris attended New England Conservatory of Music to study bass at the feet of jazz men. As the Wood Brothers, they bring family back together and create a new sound in the process on Smoke Ring Halo.
Birds of Chicago, is a collective based around JT Nero and Allison Russell. The group tours both as a duo and with the full family band. JT Nero has country soul vocals that fit well with the warm, sun-dappled voice of Allison Russell. Somewhere between street corner doo-wop and folk soul sounds, Birds of Chicago bring the power of voices and play them out over banjo and guitar accompaniment.
Los Angeles-based Vintage Trouble have a sound and live show best described as live-wired, straight-shootin’, dirty-mouth'd, pelvis-pushing juke music. The four-piece bring Soul back into a Rock’n’Roll band format using guitar, bass and drums to fuse songs. Manager Doc McGhee (Bon Jovi) took the band to England where they were honored with Music Weekly’s “Breakout Artist of the Year” title. Vintage Trouble have released The Bomb Shelter Sessions on home turf to grab the same love.
Elephant Revival filters their existence as a band through five words, “Where words fail... music speaks”. They believe that we can be moved by a rhythm and soothed by a song. The five souls in Elephant Revival share vocals and play an arrangement of instruments that include banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle, washboard, djembe, musical saw, and stompbox. Group member Bonnie Paine delivers additional beats via footstomps on plywood, her stockinged feet doing near jigs as her hands, encased in antique leather gloves, rub silver nickel against corrugated metal you can hear in beatiful scratchings on their most recent E.P., It's Alive.
The hills of Fayetteville, West Virginia are home to the three men of The Wild Rumpus. The band owns these mountains due, in part; to their marathon live shows and the pride they show for the hills in their songs. Andrew Adkins’ deep, soulful tones and Allan Sizemore’s playing his guitar like a banjo make for a combination that sets them apart from traditional bluegrass and string bands. The Wild Rumpus are set to release the floow-up to 304.
The Howlin’ Brothers sound is as old as the mountains that gave birth to bluegrass. The band honors traditional music and gives it a touch of today by incorporating slide banjo with old time fiddle, harmonica, and upright bass, letting the scratch of dancing feet keep the beat. Produced by the Raconteur’s Brendan Benson, their recent release, Howl, lets out a roar that will shake tradition into something new.
Sons of Fathers open their recent release, Burning Days, with a forceful thrust of sound. Moments into the opening track, “Hurt Someone”, that sound drops out to let the soul of the combined vocals and swaying Roots mix with psychedelic guitar licks, genre-bending folk rock, and gospel harmonies to create their own Texas rock sound.
Over The Rhine consist of southern Ohio-based husband-and-wife team of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. The duo adds humanness to the music that they have been creating since their 1991 debut. Their most recent album, The Long Surrender (produced by Joe Henry), has the feel of a living thing, its senses alert, feet planted firmly on the earth.
Jonny Fritz is a Nashville-based songwriter set to release an ATO Records’ debut under his real name, dropping the Jonny Corndawg tag he has used for the past ten years of recording and performing. His upcoming release, Dad Country, was produced by Jonny and Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, recorded at Jackson Browne’s Los Angeles studio and finished up in Music City. The album balances Jonny Fritz humor and unfiltered worldview with a Nashville sound born on a Southern Californian wind.
Kingsley Flood spend their time between two home bases-- Washington, DC and Boston. The band debuted in 2010 with a sound that used the dusty tones of Americana mixed with a punk rock sneer. Their upcoming release, Battles, ups the ante with songs that blend Dylan-esque storytelling, Kinks-inspired melodies, and the urgency of The Clash. The albums songs are inspired by everyone from delusional dictators to spray-tanned politicians to laid-off workers trying to get back on their feet.
Pete Ahonen is a San Francisco East Bay area native. Pete is a singer-songwriter that blends Alt Country with Folk/Rock and partners the mix with an incredible knack for storytelling. There’s never been anything marginal about Pete Ahonen’s commitment to the art of putting words to music to describe life being lived in all its glory and complexity, as evidence on In The Blood.
Henry Wagons’ recent solo release, Expecting Company, follows the form and feel of his band’s 2011 album effort, Rumble, Shake and Tumble, with a more personal take on his tunes. The album features duet performances from artists such as Allison Mosshart (The Kills, The Dead Weather), Jenn Grant and Robert Forster among others. As a group, Wagons will use 70’s arena rock bombast for the gut bucket glory of the sound that they create.
Hymn for Her may be your local band depending on where they parked their 16 foot, 1961 Bambi Airstream last night. The Airstream comes complete with dog, baby and recording studio. Their latest release, Hymn for Her Present Lucy and Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames, is a gritty, distorted cacophony of sound that bleeds through your speakers and tears a hole in your brain…..sweet!!
Boo City formed in Providence, Rhode Island in 2009 by singer/songwriters, and longtime friends, vocalist Tai Awolaju and guitarist Andrew Moon Bain. Boo City is a creative mix of music that goes from Country-blues to Indie Rock, channeled through Soul and Folk. The vocal blend of Awolaju’s smokey, sultry voice and Bain’s deep tones are a foundation for the dual lead voices. Horns and a determined rhythm section cement the sound on their recent E.P. release, Anchortown.
The Crackling’s debut release, Mary Magdalene, delivers Roots music in a slow motion sound that lets the songs flow over the listener, letting every nuance of emotion seep in. The Vancouver-based band revolves around the man that set the fire burning, Kenton Loewen, known for his work with Dan Mangan and Mother Mother. Kenton Loewen is a trained jazz musician, best known for his work as a drummer. The Crackling is Kenton’s first project as composer and singer.
Spindrift sprinkle psychedelia liberally over their Roots music. The western sound of the Los Angeles band can be viewed through a kaleidoscope of musical colors, channeled and corralled by an electroacoustic backdrop. The most recent release, Classic Soundtracks Volume One featured theme songs to film scores and showcased the band’s music through a diverse mix of genres such as Bollywood, Sci-Fi, Exploitation films, and Film Noir.
20- Sam Marine and County
The music of Sam Marine and County contains lots of well-used styles such as straightforward classic rock n' roll, country, blues, and folk. What makes them different is the way the band jumble it all together with the passion of punk rock deliveries over an acoustic force of rhythm.
Not sure about some of the outstanding musicians? Here's a taste of 20 tastemakers...enjoy the ride!
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