Not all Americana songs are about trucks and trains, but the same subjects do pop up over and over again. So here's a some suggestions for thematic CD samplers.
The list is in no particular order and is, of course, entirely subjective and primarily based on the contents of my CD collection. Click below the list to make your own suggestions. Or submit an entire list for future publication here.
Country songs are traditionally about trains and trucks. Since this site isn’t really about country music, this is a list about train and truck crashes.
Brian Burns is up first, with the story of an extraordinary incident in the history of the west – the deliberate crashing of two trains into each other as a publicity stunt in 1896. More than 30,000 spectators turned out to see the crash, and two died when the boilers unexpectedly exploded on impact. Burns has another true story song that could also have made this list – “The Train Wreck at Kiowa Creek”.
An awful lot of Christmas songs can be categorised as either sentimental or celebratory. This list, by Backroads contributor Yellowmoon, features Christmas songs with a touch of grit to them. The writers focus on the sad, the lonely and the dispossessed. So if warm, homely tales of peace, happiness and goodwill to all men get too much for you, this may be just what you’re looking for.
This is a list of rhymes to make you cringe, or laugh out loud in the middle of a song. Some of them are writers being daring, or deliberately obstreperous, but sometimes the problems with the rhymes are cultural, being mostly about accent – clipped British accents can’t handle them but a southern drawl does the trick – try Tom T. Hall’s line that way. Maybe that can also explain the two entries on this list for rhymes with the word “mirror” – or maybe not.
Horses and their riders have been tackled in song factually, symbolically and just as the basis for a good story. Corb Lund offers a remarkable history in five minutes of the use of horses in warfare, Tom Russell rides with Pancho Villa, while Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Stud” is emblematic of power and strength. For Caitlin Rose, learning to ride symbolises growing up, just like the heroine of Sam Baker’s “Truale” raised on a ranch surrounded by horses.
Most of the women in these songs are fighting back. Some are the victims of very serious situations, such as Eliza Gilkyson’s song based on the true story of a woman driven to kill after a lifetime of abuse. Others are just discovering they can live their lives differently, such as the woman in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song, inspired by a 1970s TV commercial: a man lists his wife’s many attributes and sums up with “I think I’ll keep her.” The woman has other ideas.
Kathy Mattea made this coal-mining list potentially very easy by putting out an entire thematic CD of her own on the subject – the album Coal. But there are plenty of songs about mining, so here’s a list of some of the songs that Kathy didn’t use (under a title that she did).
When I started this list, I imagined that it would be 10 artists and 10 sports, but it soon became obvious that that would be inappropriate since most Americana songs about sports are about baseball, with boxing running a distant second (I didn't let fishing in). Still, Australian Perry Keyes sneaks in with one that is surely unique. I challenge anybody to find another song for this list on the subject of rugby league!
This is a rather short list – which is probably a good thing since it’s about lynching – and it stretches the limits of the genre somewhat. But I wanted to include it because it was the reason I thought it would be interesting to put songs into thematic lists in the first place. Hmm, I thought while listening to “Colly Davis”, I wonder how many songs there are about lynching. Please do add comments with more suggestions (as long as they aren’t Toby Keith!)