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SOUNDS LIKE A PIECE OF AMERICANA : ROUGH-EDGED, HOMESPUN MUSIC RISING.



Byline: Andrew Revkin The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 Times

Chris Smither performs alone with a guitar, an amplifier the size of a toaster See intranet toaster and Video Toaster.

(jargon) toaster - 1. The archetypal really stupid application for an embedded microprocessor controller; often used in comments that imply that a scheme is inappropriate technology (but see elevator controller).
 oven and a thin sheet of plywood that he scuffs with his brown shoes to add percussion to his bittersweet bittersweet, name for two unrelated plants, belonging to different families, both fall-fruiting woody vines sometimes cultivated for their decorative scarlet berries.  country blues Country blues (also folk blues, rural blues, backwoods blues, or downhome blues) refers to all the acoustic, guitar-driven forms of the blues. After blues' birth in the southern United States, it quickly spread throughout the country (and elsewhere), .

Smither is not exactly the type of musician one would envision riding near the top of a weekly top 40 chart of radio's most-played songs. But when the chart is tracking an emerging musical category called Americana, Smither is there (No. 5 this week) - along with acts ranging from veterans such as Johnny Cash Noun 1. Johnny Cash - United States country music singer and songwriter (1932-2003)
John Cash, Cash
 and Jerry Jeff Walker Jerry Jeff Walker (born March 16, 1942) is a country music singer. Biography
Walker was born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York. During the late 1950s, Crosby was a member of a local Oneonta teen band called The Tones.
 to quirky new groups such as the Freight Hoppers and Bad Livers, a punk-bluegrass band.

Americana, roots, alternative country - all of these terms have been applied to a genre that floats between country, folk and rock. Mainly recorded on small independent labels, the sound has been creeping onto the airwaves and into small concert halls.

Many critics praise this rough-edged, homespun music; they are drawn to its emphasis on songwriting in the tradition of Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt Van Zandt, a surname, may refer to:

People

  • Billy Van Zandt, an American playwright and actor
  • Donnie Van Zant, brother of Ronnie Van Zandt and founder of the band 38 Special.
  • Charles C.
. But until recently, Americana has been largely irrelevant to the business end of the music world, selling records in the thousands, not the millions, and occupying little more than ``a pimple pimple, small pointed elevation of the skin that may or may not contain pus. The formation of pimples is frequently associated with infection, irritation, or overactivity of the sebaceous and sweat glands. Repeated eruptions of pimples are often termed acne.  on the radio landscape,'' in the words of Keith Hill For the football manager, see .

Trevor Keith Hill, known as Keith Hill, (born 28 July 1943, Leicester) is a politician in the United Kingdom who has served in a variety of Government roles as a Whip and a junior minister.
, a consultant who advises 19 commercial country stations on what to play to draw listeners.

Now, though, an audience is slowly building, and it could spark a shift in commercial country music, which recently has suffered sagging sales after a decade of growth and is being derided increasingly as the bubble-gum pop of the '90s.

The category Americana was created two years ago by Rob Bleetstein, an editor at Gavin, a weekly radio industry magazine. He compared contemporary country to rock in the '70s, when sound-alike bands such as Boston dominated. ``These days,'' he said, ``commercial country is basically Boston with a belt buckle.''

In pursuit of fringe acts

Major record labels have begun pursuing the hottest of these fringe acts, hoping that one will break out and do for alternative country what Nirvana and Counting Crows did for alternative rock. Two of the most visible acts are the hard-charging rockabilly band BR5-49 and Junior Brown, who plays a double-necked guitar and emulates Ernest Tubb. Both were among a half-dozen alternative country acts that were among this year's Grammy nominees.

Brown's fans in the entertainment industry include David Letterman David Michael Letterman (born April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.) is an award-winning American comedian, late night talk show host, television producer, philanthropist, and IRL IndyCar Series car owner. , who has had him on his television show three times, and James Hetfield, lead singer of Metallica, who whistled his approval from a front-row table as Brown held forth in a Manhattan club the night before the Grammy Awards Grammy Awards

Annual awards given by the Recording Academy (officially the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). The first Grammies (the name is a dimunitive of “gramophone”) were given in 1958.
.

For the moment, performers in the genre, such as Smither, rely more on concerts than radio to sell records. They typically play 150 to 200 shows a year and sell their CDs out of cardboard boxes at intermission.

During a recent visit to New York City's only Americana station, WFUV WFUV Wide-Field Ultraviolet
WFUV We're Fordham University's Voice (Fordham University's Radio Station) 
 at Fordham University Fordham University (fôr`dəm), in New York City; Jesuit; coeducational; founded as St. John's College 1841, chartered as a university 1846; renamed 1907. Fordham College for men and Thomas More College for women merged in 1974.  in the Bronx, Smither said that having a name for the category on a music chart was helpful.

``The chart has a value from a commercial standpoint because It shows the industry that there are a lot of people listening to this,'' he said as he packed up his blue guitar after taping an interview about his new album, ``Small Revelations.''

Naming the genre has other benefits, he said. ``Before, if someone asked me what I play, I used to say I play the same stuff as Ry Cooder Ryland "Ry" Peter Cooder (born 15 March 1947, in Los Angeles, California) is an American guitarist, singer and composer, known for his slide guitar work, his interest in the American roots music and, more recently, for his collaborations with traditional musicians from many  and John Hiatt,'' he said. ``Now I can say Americana. People in this business may not relate to the music, but they know that if you can name something, you can sell it.''

Refuge for former mainstays

The 80-odd radio stations that report the songs they play to Bleetstein - plus the dozens more that do not use the Americana name but play the same rootsy sound - are the only radio refuge these days for former country mainstays such as Cash, Dolly Parton par·ton  
n.
Any of the point particles believed to be a constituent of hadrons, now known as quarks. No longer in technical use.



[part(icle) + -on1.]
 and George Jones. The mainstream country stations are essentially ignoring them in favor of attracting younger ears.

Cash's new rock-oriented album, ``Unchained,'' has sat near or at the top of the Americana chart for weeks. While many albums on the chart have sold fewer than 20,000 copies, the black-clad balladeer's latest effort has sold 99,000 copies since its release in November, according to Soundscan.

At the small-label level, that figure constitutes a raging success, but the sales are dwarfed by those of mainstream country's top stars. Alan Jackson's latest record, for example, was released a month before Cash's and has sold 1.2 million copies, Soundscan reports. In part, those numbers reflect the dominance of commercial country radio. The 2,600 country stations in the United States far outnumber stations playing any other kind of music.

Some large record companies, beginning to gamble that alternative country is ready for a breakthrough, are creating small offshoots to snare snare (snar) a wire loop for removing polyps and tumors by encircling them at the base and closing the loop.

snare
n.
 talent and test the market.

One of these experiments is Rising Tide Records Rising Tide Records was the record label started by Doug Morris, former head of Atlantic Records, and Daniel Glass, who became President.

The label had success in breaking new artists, including the multi-platinum debut of Erykah Badu, Billie Myers, Goldfinger, Lost Boyz,
 in Nashville, a label owned by Universal Music Group, formerly MCA MCA
 in full Music Corporation of America

Entertainment conglomerate. It was founded in Chicago in 1924 by Jules Stein as a talent agency. In the 1960s it bought Decca Records and Universal Pictures, and today it produces films, music, and television shows.
. The label, headed by Ken Levitan, is producing albums both by the neglected old guard, including Parton, and by newcomers such as Jack Ingram, 26, a rockabilly singer from Texas.

Levitan said the style of music had been around for more than a decade, as exemplified by acts he managed before becoming a label executive, including Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith. But now, he said, having a core of radio stations and a weekly chart of popular songs ``offers a place for these artists who don't fit squarely into parameters of any other format.'' ``It gives them a radio home,'' he said. ``From there, they can explode.''

Shared hope

Levitan's hope is shared by people at shoestring outfits such as 1-800-PrimeCD which is operated by a part-time family doctor, David Seitz, out of a Manhattan loft and saves on advertising with a self-explanatory name.

For labels such as 1-800-PrimeCD, Diesel Only, Flat Earth and Watermelon watermelon, plant (Citrullus vulgaris) of the family Curcurbitaceae (gourd family) native to Africa and introduced to America by Africans transported as slaves. Watermelons are now extensively cultivated in the United States and are popular also in S Russia. , frequent airplay air·play  
n.
The broadcasting of an audio or audiovisual recording on the air over radio or television.


airplay
Noun

the broadcast performances of a record on radio
 on stations such as WFUV can provide a critical boost to sales - albeit a boost of hundreds or thousands of CDs, company executives say. But such labels, like small presses specializing in literary novels, can turn a profit even with that level of business.

Seitz said his main concern was that many radio stations carrying alternative country would quickly shut out the independents, once major labels took an interest and began flooding the stations with CDs and promotional material.

Smither said that small labels already had been pushed out of the radio format called Triple A, or album adult alternative, which was adopted by

hundreds of radio stations four years ago and spawned platinum-selling acts such as Sheryl Crow.

When he had an album pop onto the Triple-A chart four years ago, Smither said, half of the top 50 records were from independent labels. Two years ago, only 10 percent were independents, he said, and now the stations play only major-label albums.

About two-thirds of the stations playing Americana are commercial, and one-third are public radio, Bleetstein said. The ones doing best, he added, have cultivated small, loyal audiences in cities where a few big stations dominate the mainstream.

Station of the year

One recent success is WMLB, a 5,000-watt AM station on the northern fringe of Atlanta that had been playing gospel and conventional country and losing money until it switched to Americana, said Chris Marino, a disc jockey there who has become something of an evangelist for the format. Last month, Gavin, the industry magazine, singled out Marino's station as the Americana station of the year.

``When I was growing up listening to radio, you could just hear anything,'' Marino said. ``That would keep people tuned in more than just playing the same old stuff. We're bringing that back.''

Despite the small success stories, Americana has a long way to go. The power of the status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy.  was evident last fall when WZPC, one of three FM country stations in country music's capital, Nashville, abandoned a two-year experiment in which it had mixed alternative fare with mass-market acts. Taking on the name Power Country 103, WZPC reverted to the same commercial mix as its competitors.

Dale Jones, the station's operations manager, said that brute economics dictated the decision. ``Familiarity breeds ratings,'' he said, and audiences had drifted away because ``we were not playing enough familiar stuff in that format. Perhaps if we had enough time and endless pockets to channel money into it, then it could take off. But we didn't.''

The sheer quality of the music in the alternative scene probably will ensure that ``it will eventually have its day in the sun,'' Jones said. ``We were probably just ahead of our time.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) The category Americana was created two years ago by Rob Bleetstein, an editor at a weekly radio industry magazine.

(2) Performers in the Americana genre, such as Chris Smither, at WFUV at Fordham University in the Bronx, rely more on concerts than radio to sell records.

The New York Times
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 10, 1997
Words:1527
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