The music term “Americana” is as tired as the term “alternative.” It means nothing, just another label for multiple styles of music that already have a description.
Decades ago, “alternative” was the new word for “guitar-angst” music that leaned toward garage rock and punk, but now just refers to bad bands like “Candlebox.”
“Americana” is the term that gets tossed around for blues, folk and jazz when it could just as equally be used to describe Native American music, Ween, or Black Flag. When I think of “Americana” I think of the watered-down sounds of Alison Krauss.
Often there’s that clueless person that needs to elbow you to ask what kind of band they’re seeing. The proper response is “shut up and listen and you’ll figure it out.” Those people will be quick to pin “Americana” on Stillhouse Junkies, Durango’s newest acoustic trio. But it’s a label that, to the band, is unnecessary. From one listen, it’s obvious its music of America, with no identification needed.
“I don’t like the term ‘Americana;’ what is that?” asked guitar and mandolin player Fred Kosak. “We play a lot of stuff out of the American musical tradition; we play jazz, and we play blues. Its American music.”
Stillhouse Junkies – who are also Bruce Allsopp on National steel guitar and vocals, and Jeff Hibshman on bass – play each Friday afternoon at Durango Craft Spirits. They’ll also play Saturday at the Sunflower Theatre in Cortez.
The band came together earlier this year, born out of the jams at The Steaming Bean. Kosak is a newcomer to town, a musician who, upon arrival, sought out a jam to meet musicians. Allsopp was hitting up the jams also, and the chemistry worked.
“We actually found – and part of why we enjoy playing – is that we both know a lot of songs that aren’t what you call jam-friendly songs. You wouldn’t show up at a bluegrass jam and say ‘Let’s do this five-part song that changes keys three times,’” said Kosak. “It’s the kind of thing you can’t really do with a group of people that don’t know it already. In our catalog of songs, there is a lot of overlap that we like, and we’re both quick to pick up parts. We’re both willing to put the time in to figure it out if one of us brings a song that’s more ambitious.”
They then picked up Hibshman, who’s an all-around badass when it comes to playing any style of music, and a band was born.
People are quick to throw a bluegrass label on anything acoustic. It’s like seeing the Violent Femmes and assuming they’re a bluegrass outfit because of an acoustic guitar and stand-up bass. Yes, with this band there are some bluegrass leanings, but give these guys some credit; my conversation with them never once mentioned Bill Monroe, but it did mention gospel music, blues, and the drumming of Terry Bozzio.
“I’d say we’re an acoustic band. I like everything. Genre bending, or genre blending, that’s how I feel about it. If music is good then it’s good, so let’s play it,” said Allsopp. “We’re just playing a song, and we try to get the essence of a song. It’s important for me to ask ‘What makes this such a great song?’ Let’s get that essence and then you can go from there and turn it into whatever comes out as your own take on it.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]