Make Americana Great Again: Why We Cherish Those Amazing Polls

donald-trump-neil-young-rockin-free-worldThat is one helluva picture. You might recall that it surfaced this past June after Neil Young demanded that Donald Trump stop using “Rockin’ in the Free World” at his campaign events. Utilizing his standard and preferred method of statesmanship, Trump went on the morning news shows, called Young a bad name, and then tweeted this: “A few months ago Neil Young came to my office looking for $$$ on an audio deal and called me last week to go to his concert. Wow!”

Young, no slouch himself when it comes to using social media, seemed to confirm Trump’s assertion of capitalistic hypocrisy when he wrote on Facebook: “It was a photograph taken during a meeting when I was trying to raise funds for Pono, my online high resolution music service.”

That Neil Young would choose Trump to get cozy with as a potential partner is enough to cause the price of flannel futures to tumble. Besides, in the past several months, Young’s digital entree has entered and floundered into the ether of a disinterested marketplace.

Pushing that particular random thought-bubble aside, it’s time to talk about the annual readers and critics polls that focus on one type of music or another. These are soon to occupy much of our collective time and space via traditional and social media, using the skill sets and wisdom of random cubes tossed together in a Yahtzee cup and spilt onto the countertop. Can we all agree that this excercise produces an inaccurate and imperfect list of superlatives? At the very least, I hope it will open up new avenues of exploration for some folks, as well as simply serving to bolster our own opinions based on an album’s popularity.

It is the former that most excites me because, with well over 120,000 new albums being released each year, there is no possible way to see all, know all, or hear all. It’s the depth and diversity of new music that makes scanning these polls so much fun. Nothing beats discovering something that slipped through the cracks.

In late October, the editor of No Depression:The Roots Music Authority requested a list of my favorite titles (I think she used the word “best”), and this is the list I sent her:

Jason Isbell, Daniel Romano, John Moreland, Pharis and Jason Romero, Tom Brosseau, Noah Gundersen, Watkins Family Hour, Joan Shelley, Milk Carton Kids, and an exceptional concert compilation called Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of a Dreadful Film. (Note to self: Going forward, try to be nicer.)

I’m sure y’all can spot the problem. It was way too exclusive. Narrowing my favorite albums of the year down to ten is just plain silly.

I also would have loved to include releases from Calexico, Jessica Pratt, the Westies, Kristin Andreassen, Joe Pug, Shakey Graves, Sufjan Stevens, The Kennedys, Kepi Ghoulie, Leon Bridges, Meg Baird, the Lonesome Trio, the Deslondes, Frazey Ford, the Skylarks, Kacey Musgraves, Ana Egge, Darrell Scott, Nikki Talley, Lindi Ortega, Dave Rawlings Machine, Jill Andrews, Darlingside, Decemberists, Daniel Martin Moore, Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band, and my friends Spuyten Duyvil.

I really like the duos and duets too. Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield, Anna and Elizabeth, the Lowest Pair, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Not to mention the Honey Dewdrops, Iron and Wine and Ben Bridwell, Dave and Phil Alvin, and both the Wainwright and Chapin Sisters.

Don’t forget compilations with really long names that may or may not have been released this year, that I’ve been enjoying regardless: Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers, The Brighter Side: A 25th Anniversary Tribute to Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs By Karen Dalton, and Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music On the Mason-Dixon Line.

And then there are the names you already know: Iris Dement, Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Leonard Cohen, Jesse Winchester, Dwight Yoakam, Mark Knopfler, Fairport Convention, and Bob Dylan (the old new stuff, not the new old stuff).

I haven’t counted them up, but this longer list of mine can’t be more than 50 or 60 albums — a pitiful, sickly and puny little list. Seriously, I’m ashamed. There are at least 119,940 or more to choose from and I know that you can do better than me. Whether you participate in the No Depression poll or any of the thousands of others that lurk out there, relax and enjoy. Have fun, don’t stress, don’t argue. It’s all about exploration.

Postscript: For the record, Americana is a radio format and an association, not a genre.