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American Roots Music Enjoys Another Good Year


American Roots music can be found any day of the week in the clubs of urban centers; at the many concerts performed on university campuses; and at hundreds of bluegrass festivals in towns large and small. Despite a devoted legion of fans, and albums that receive much critical acclaim, roots music rarely emerges at the top of the sales charts. As VOA's Katherine Cole reports, that doesn't mean 2006 was a bad year for fans of American Roots music.

Sometimes called "Americana," American roots music can include blues, country, gospel, folk, bluegrass, zydeco and other homegrown music. The past year was filled with solid releases in all those styles. A few, like The Duhk's Grammy-nominated Migrations, seemed to blend them all on one disc.

Some think roots music is just made by "old people" who can't get a hit on the Top 40 charts, but there are many young performers playing this music.

In addition to The Duhks, best-selling roots performers in their 20s include Chris Thile who released How To Grow A Woman From The Ground to much international acclaim, the all-woman string band Uncle Earl, Old Crow Medicine Show, and award-winning Australian performer Kasey Chambers, who proved that you don't have to be from America to perform Americana music. James Hunter also falls in that category.

Despite 20 years performing in the U.K., Hunter was a virtual unknown here in the States before the March release of People Gonna Talk. The All Music Guide calls Hunter, a former London railroad worker, "one of the best blue-eyed soul singers to emerge in the late-20th century." While the 14 songs on People Gonna Talk sound like they could have been culled from a Jackie Wilson or Sam Cooke (1960s R&B singers) album, they are all James Hunter originals, written in just the past few years.

James Hunter's People Gonna Talk, has been nominated for the Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy, and is sitting atop many critics' Best of 2006 lists.

Equally praised is Rosanne Cash's Black Cadillac. This dark, intense album is very personal, with songs written during a two-year period that saw the singer-songwriter lose her mother, father and stepmother. While the songs on Black Cadillac are sad, they are never maudlin or overly sentimental. Instead, they are comforting.

In all, 2006 was a very good year for fans of Americana music. Other releases worth seeking out include Tom Russell's Love and Fear, Jon Dee Grahams Full, and Laps in Seven by Sam Bush, along with other titles from Tres Chicas, Slaid Cleaves, and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, also deserves recognition. Not only is it the first album of "covers" ever recorded by Springsteen, it is a very loose and live-feeling album that was completed in just two one-day recording sessions. Known as a perfectionist, Bruce Springsteen usually labors over recording, spending months tweaking and reworking tracks before releasing them. In his more than 30 years of recording, Springsteen has never made an album that feels as alive as does this Best Traditional Folk Grammy nominee.

The Seeger Sessions, featuring songs written or made popular by folksinger Pete Seeger, has turned out to be a worldwide hit, charting in the Top Five in 12 European countries, and selling well elsewhere around the globe.