If you think the best Americana is forever confined to the underground 60’s in acts such as the Flying Burrito Brothers or Bruce Hornsby, you would be sorely mistaken. Americana has even surfaced beyond the trap of its apparent prime. When the Civil Wars released their debut and immediately broke up a year later, their stamp on mainstream country was enthusiastic and sincere enough to leave a lasting impression. And so it goes, with acts such as the Decembrists progressive-Americana sound and Zac Brown Band’s mainstreamization of a progressive Americana sound.
But what we are seeing in this new current is a stronger rhythm. The latest incarnation of Americana is less Uncle Tupelo and more Mos Def. You got a band such as the Plain White T’s breaking out with ‘Hey There Delilah,’ and then trying to craft surf-pop-Americana in little manufactured nuggets. You got guys like Jack Johnson adding a little R&B to their formulaic approach of moody ‘sad guy folk.’
It is all rather fun, and deceptively simple. Joe Con is a suggestive artist. On the surface, his calculated blend of country pop with some thick hip-hop inspired rhythms seems so simple, quaint- a mix of organic quality. But when the guy can slip in as a supporting act for Snoop Dogg while working with one of Madonna’s most popular producers, you have a gentleman immortally emerging the ethos of Americana and hip-hop into a somewhat new beast entirely.
Joe Con is like a weird amalgamation of Beck, Jack Johnson, Talib Kweli, and John Mellencamp. His EP release ‘I Choose You’ exemplifies that with definitive Beck styled imagery, some Jack Johnson mastery over ‘less is more’ songwriting, and a strong influential rhythm and R&B style that propels the song through its self-aware lyrical evocation. Oh and of course a little Mellencamp, only because Con holds onto that old Americana aesthetic with subtle country hooks intact.
The amorphous sounds of Con’s voice and instrumentation suggest easy listening and easy composing, like the guy just sat back with a guitar and penned all the lyrics on the spot. The gravity of his voice completely natural, and his perfectly pitched rhythms an extension of on the spot composing. Con is the epitome of beachside guitar player and impromptu songwriter.
But adept listeners would know this is an illusion. Few things as wonderfully simple are ever such. Like a Rude Goldberg device gone haywire, Con does so much with so little. His pacing is eloquent. His sound is, albeit not original, is certainly new in the sense of all these genres and their history. Con is soaking in California sun the right way- doing it with a guitar in hand and only after he masterfully perfected his sound in the long, dark, dingy days in the recording booth.
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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