Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden

The Dumbest Magnets

Evil Teen

Americana music is hard to define. If you were to try to define it, you’d probably sound something like Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk when he was doing the Fool The Guesser bit at the carnival. Everything on these top two shelves is Top 40. Anything on this next shelf, below this line and above here, within these two inches, is, well, that’s Adult Contemporary, but all the other stuff around it, especially the stuff on the fringes – that’d be Americana.

Being “Americana” generally has more to do with attitude and execution than it does with the style of music. It generally ignores trends. You are not going to find electronica or rap in this category, but you could find samplings of almost anything else. Americana embraces a wide variety of styles ranging from hardcore bluegrass and insurgent country, through some of the more eclectic folk music, and on to offerings such as the classic soul styling of Shelby Lynne, as well as music by groups such as the Continental Drifters, a group that we probably would’ve at one time called pop.

Americana is usually more art than craft, as it is generally less formulaic, and less market-driven than Top 40 Pop or country music is. In Americana, the song is all-important. Americana started out with some rather loose definitions and the definitions have been expanded on as bands whose audience is mostly the over-30 crowd have found that they have more relevance in this pond than they do in Billboard‘s ocean of multi-platinum selling teenagers.

If Americana were a sovereign country, Dolly Varden would occupy a territory somewhere between the Continental Drifters and maybe a Richard and Linda Thompson. They all share a familial quality with the focus being mainly on relationships. The imagery on this release is very strong, and the musicianship – especially the guitar of Mark Balletto – is stellar. The vocal interplay between the co-lead vocalists – the husband and wife songwriting team of Diane Christiansen and Stephen Dawson – is nothing short of powerful. This, the third album by this Chicago group, is their best yet. Totally focused, brimming with confidence, and full of all sorts of textures, this excellent Brad Jones production may very well end up being the Sleeper of the Year.

Evil Teen Records, PO Box 577084, Chicago, IL 60657-7084, http://www.dollyvarden.com

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