Americana may not have a definitive, universally-recognized definition. But it now has it’s own classification on Billboard’s weekly album’s chart, which is a new layer of legitimacy for the genre if nothing else. When the new Americana chart was announced, the next question was how chart managers would decide which acts would fall under the Americana distinction. And now that we have our first glimpse at the inaugural list (see below), we’ve got a pretty good idea.
Overall, it appears that the Billboard staff got it just about right. Despite a few wild cards, they were able to distinguish which artists are considered more Americana than country, rock, blues, or whichever other chart these hard-to-define artist would end up on before the Americana chart came into being. Now these artists can all be put in one place, and perhaps that in itself can make the borders of Americana that much less nebulous.
The only complaint I could find is why Americana is listed as a subset of the rock charts online as opposed to country where it makes more sense.
Here are some things we learned from the first Americana chart:
Major Label Artists Will Still Be Included If They’re More Americana Than Not
Americana doesn’t necessarily mean independent, but it does distinguish itself from the mainstream by including more independently-minded artists who may have trouble finding traction for their music on mainstream radio, though their music still happens to be distributed by a major label. By including Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Billboard is showing they’re not interested in going too far outside the lines of what people expect “Americana” to mean already, and will not exclude major label artists just because they may show up on the country chart as well. Stapleton and Sturgill didn’t get moved from country to Americana; they’re now included on both.
Big Names Previously Included in Rock Make The List
The Lumineers and the Alabama Shakes are highly-popular acts that would never fit on the country charts, but also felt like oddballs topping the rock charts. These are two acts that illustrate why an Americana chart was needed, just as much as acts like Stapleton, Sturgill, and Jason Isbell did. By including these bigger acts, it puts a lot of gusto behind the Americana chart as a serious contender in the music world, and not just an “also ran” home for critically-acclaimed singer songwriters with little commercial prowess or influence. You can also expect to see acts such as The Avett Brothers on future charts once they release a new project, and possibly string bands like Old Crow Medicine Show.
Country Legends Make The Cut
With Loretta Lynn’s recent record Full Circle coming in at #15, it symbolizes the soft landing Americana has become for so many country legends who have passed their commercial prime in the mainstream, but still have plenty of great music to share, and deserve continued recognition for their strong pure album sales among dedicated fans.
Blues and Soul Will Also Be Included
Similar to what we’ve seen from the Americana Music Awards over the years, the blues and the roots side of soul are also represented as major influences in Americana. Blues goddess Bonnie Raitt is included on the inaugural Americana chart, and so is a newer soulful blues act in Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. Also expect artists like Leon Bridges and Keb Mo to appear on the Americana chart with future releases.
Expect Some Wild Cards
Who is Sawyer Fredricks, and what is he doing on the Americana charts? He’s a former winner of The Voice who plays acoustic-style singer songwriter music, and you can expect to see some of these wild cards on Billboard’s Americana chart moving forward. Though they may not exactly fit in the Americana “scene,” the music probably necessitates they get recognized in Americana instead of residing solely on the rock charts. Sawyer Fredricks is also very similar to British-based singer songwriter James Bay who also made the chart. The new chart is not exclusively for Americana, but is being called the Americana/Folk chart by Billboard. It also means you could see artists like Frank Turner and Billy Bragg on the chart moving forward.
Billboard’s Inaugural Folk/Americana Top 15 Albums:
- Traveller – Chris Stapleton
- A Good Storm – Sawyer Fredricks
- Cleopatra – The Lumineers
- A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
- Rest in Chaos – Hard Working Americans
- Chaos And The Calm – James Bay
- Self-Titled – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats
- Dig In Deep – Bonnie Raitt
- The Intro (ep) – Ruth B
- Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes
- The Things That We Are Made Of – Mary Chapin Carpenter
- The Wild Swan – Foy Vance
- Paging Mr. Praust – The Jayhawks
- Hope – The Strumbellas
- Full Circle – Loretta Lynn