Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Get your mind off wintertime, rock ain’t goin’ nowhere
By August March
I am going to write this week's concert preview column as if it were a sleepy dream coming from the future, a place in space where rocanrol is a mere curiosity, and except for random, archived versions of recordings by the likes of performers such as the Dylan, Bikini Kill and Prince—no longer exists. Here goes.
Whenever the American version of rocanrol got ponderous, overly complex and also found itself lagging behind other popular music genres, artists in outlying subgenres asserted themselves and their work in response. In the early 1970s such was the case with a burgeoning folk-rock and country-rock scene. During the second decade of the 21st century, under similar conditions—including the failure of a social revolution and a rising right-wing social and political agenda waiting in the wings—a similar trend could be discerned.
In the case of 2016, that revitalizing sub-genre is called Americana. For lack of more precise descriptors, this form of music is generally plaintive, earthy … and twangy. With its roots firmly planted in the American and Western folk traditions, Americana's allure lies in the form's clarity of sound and simplicity of execution; in many ways it's the antithesis of other subgenres, notably EDM and hip-hop, that've also leapt into the pop culture consciousness post-millennium. Anyway, it's in that combination of qualities related to comfort, quietude and introspection that listeners may find solace and hope even as the louder, more prominent wall of sound surrounding their aural activities crashes.
For Burque that means Americana is a big deal, especially this week. With a plethora of performances elucidating the art form's rising popularity and intense musicality, Burqueños y Burqueñas have an opportunity to get in on the succession of sound in the popular post-rock world.
Weekly Alibi: Is rocanrol alive or dead?
Brett Sparks: Oh it's alive, but it's dying. It's not the central form of pop music anymore. So, it had about 80 good years—about the same longevity as the ragtime craze. But it is certainly still alive. I'm on the road about half the year and I'm living in the world of rock and roll. Whether they call it Americana, folk-rock, alt country, whatever, there are hundreds of bands out there still playing rock and roll.
Hip-hop, EDM, Americana: Successors to rocanrol or just side roads?
Brett Sparks:I'm trying to envision a big family tree, but I really think the diagram should be more like a big, nasty tangle of wires. I think all things feed off one another. Maybe side roads yeah, or offshoots. But hip-hop would have roots in other places—R&B, jazz, soul. EDM from dance music, art-rock, Kraftwerk, etc. After the CMA awards, I guess Beyoncé is country now. If you listen deep enough one can find good music in any genre.
How does the term “Americana” fit or not fit your music?
Brett Sparks: ... Well, we play American music. I don't really like labels, but "Americana" is pretty benign and inclusive, non-specific. What is Americana anyway? Roots music? I guess. I see Americana as essentially the country structure, style and attitude informed by other elements, especially folk and rock and roll. The best example of this is probably still Sweetheart of the Rodeo. You know, if Rubber Soul or Let it Bleed were released today, they'd call those records "Americana."
Speaking of influences, Rennie what informs your work in The Handsome Family?
Rennie Sparks: The garbage along the sides of highways. Birds living high in the rafters of big-box stores. The wrinkled faces of desert dwellers. The way the sun lights up the world as it falls.
Contrariwise, the music of Pawn Drive, fronted by Brett's brother and Alibi employee Robert Darrell Sparks, uses a more rambling, brightly meandering formula to achieve its twangified yet genre-transcending goals. To paraphrase the Radiohead, an obscure electronic god of the early 21st century, one is whispered while the other is shouted. That is to say, the musical emanations coming from The Handsome Family seem like intensely quiet yet extremely potent incantations while the work of Pawn Drive has a chattering, almost ghostly ring to it, as if Darrell and and his outfit are sitting in an extra-large automobile noisily navigating towards a railroad crossing maelstrom whose existence has been beautifully implied by Brett and Rennie. In any case, it will be a hell of a gig, featuring some of the best players this town has ever seen. Tickets are 10 bucks for those 21+; the doors to equally grand but ironically divergent sounds and visions open at 8pm.
Since this is America, after all, I am kindly asking that you take Sunday as a day of rest and put your shoulder to the wheel dutifully on workaday Monday—both are traditional in these parts—so that the resumption of sonic explorations on Tuesday can be as fruitful as possible. Given the parameters for said searchers seeking soulful meaning, we should all be in luck. The Cooperage (7220 Lomas NE), in coordination with AMP concerts, presents East Coast-style folkies and Americana adherents Darlingside to town as an entreaty to the proposition that the road currently traversed has less to do with fantastic flows than it does with soaring harmonies and a richly textured, sunny and melodic melancholy. Blending their voices and vision around one collectively responsive condenser microphone, Darlingside uses songs like “The God of Loss,” to examine the heroic responses that figure so prominently in the American experience. Using late ‘60s folk and country-rock as jumping off points, the quartet employs masterful attention to their instruments (like most in Americana they are better players than DJs or rappers) to achieve a humble confidence seldom seen in practitioners of competing popular music forms. Chicago-based folk duo Frances Luke Accord opens this recital of longing and rhythmic redemption. $17 in advance or $22 at the door grants one access to this 21+ invocation, starting at 7:30pm.
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