Local Wire

Various Artists

The name "Americana" is a little like a supermarket -- waffles and plastic forks don't have a lot in common, but you can find them both under the same roof. Musically, Americana can mean everything from Joni Mitchell to The Cramps, and in its stricter sense, the granddaddy stylistic progenitor of Americana is The Band, which is, like Ms. Mitchell, largely from Canada, making it Canadiana, I suppose.

Having said all that, this collection is a nice bunch of tunes, call it what you will. Mixing pop country with alt-country with retro country with eclectic country and some bluegrass and folkie noise is a swell idea. BR549, Lucinda Williams, Junior Brown, Jay Farrar, the Jayhawks and Tift Merritt -- a subtle pattern does seem to emerge -- Johnny and Rosanne Cash, Ralph Stanley and the Nitty Gritties. And who ever imagined that Kris Kristofferson would ever actually learn how to sing on key? Turns out he's getting better, and more touching, with age, which is kind of comforting.

Profiling music stinks, but it's often difficult to avoid without elaboration. Still, it's good to remember when that old Oxy-guzzler Limbaugh asks why liberals resent being categorized, you can tell him that while conservatives are proud to be referred to as such, thinking people don't like being labeled. It won't shut him up, but it'll help.

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Henry Cabot Beck