Americana is a peculiar label, isn’t it? Whenever we attempt to identify the most authentically American musical form, the one that most accurately captures the history and culture of the United States, we end up debating all night, just as we do every year here in the PopMatters offices and recreation areas when it’s time to write our year-end Americana list. What we can all agree on is that Americana music ought to be music that incorporates some traditional elements of any number of American musical forms (blues, country, jazz, folk, gospel, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll) and works those traditions into a new roots-based hybrid.
However, too often the contemporary Americana category is limited to twangy (and, let’s face it, white) singer-songwriters strumming acoustic guitars. Or those acts labeled as Americana tend to be country-leaning artists who are either too classicist or indie-oriented to be embraced by today’s country mainstream. But the rootsy releases of 2018 proves that Americana is (and always has been) actually experiencing a Rainbow Wave. Our Top 20 Americana albums of the year is a multicultural, polysexual, cross-genre lineup of cool Americana music that, as with the best parts of the American promise, pays tribute to the musical wells from which they spring but also takes the artform wherever their rugged individualism and talent-rich hearts lead them. (Steve Leftridge)