One of the great strengths of Americana music is that it celebrates and honours both the traditional and contemporary aspects of the many strands and variations of country, folk and blues music. Musicians and songwriters are always moving forward, singing about modern times while incorporating the instruments and compositional structures of those who came before them. In the past, learning about the history of these musical forms was restricted to libraries, live performance and recordings but in the last decade another medium has emerged that provides another avenue to educate and contextualise the musicians and their music – the podcast.
Chris Shiflett is best known as the guitarist for Foo Fighters but alongside his healthy country-leaning solo career he also hosts Walking The Floor which takes its name from the iconic song by Ernest Tubb. As the name suggests, Shiflett has guests who are mostly, but not exclusively, from the world of country and folk music. Over the last couple of years he’s published conversations with legends such as Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard and Lucinda Williams as well as the new generation of Americana artists including Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, John Moreland, Robert Ellis, Patterson Hood and Ryan Bingham. It’s always a fascinating discussion between the guest and Shiflett, a fellow musician and fan.
Another musician who has added the podcast to his CV is folk singer Joe Pug. The Working Songwriter takes a closer look at the process and approach to songwriting by a range of artists including Kasey Chambers, Sara Watkins, Hayes Carll, Tift Merritt, Robbie Fulks and James McMurtry. Pug has a low-key demeanour and always seems to dig deeper than others, to investigate his guests’ creative drive, quirks and the manner in which they negotiate their craft.
One of the most prominent podcasters in the world of music and film, television and comedy is Marc Maron. He’s taken the format, shaped it and owned it since 2009 and over that period he’s had a number of notable guests on WTF who are active participants or influential figures orbiting the world of Americana music. A quick glance through the years throws up notable names such as Dave Alvin, Jack White, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, John Fogerty, Robbie Robertson, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Adams, John Prine and more. Maron is the exception here in that he isn’t a professional musician but that naivety and his natural curiosity generally make for a fascinating interview.
Two other podcasts that are less concerned with personality and the bigger names are Music Makers And Soul Shakers, hosted by musician Steve Dawson and Thanks For Giving A Damn, hosted by songwriter Otis Gibbs. The former is only a year old yet it has already hosted Bill Frisell, Mary Gauthier, Van Dyke Parks and John Hammond – all musicians with strong and unique musical styles yet all with their place at the Americana table. Otis Gibbs’ podcast is the most homespun and low-key of the one’s we’ve showcased, full of anecdotes from his own travels plus stories from his guests about their own careers and encounters with legends of the country and folk music scenes. He’s about to hit 150 episodes, including notable some chats with Ray Wylie Hubbard, engineer Lou Bradley, Billy Bragg, Dale Watson, Paul Kelly and Tim Easton.
It’s hard to truly contextualise music in the 21st century without some understanding of where it has come from, literally and creatively. Podcasts provide a direct line to the source and for that they are an invaluable resource for fans of both Americana and all genres of music.
All of these podcasts can be found in the iTunes podcast store.