Dan Herman on music genres

Earlier in 2012 in several of my weekly missives steering my audience to news of the show, I openly mused on several genres of music.  I sought to clarify my own definitions of music after musing on this long enough.  So I took fingers to keyboard and added some that came to mind right away.  I’ve added a few since then.  I hadn’t dwelt on these commentaries since.
Fast forward to September, and I had heard from Beth DeSombre on Facebook, who cited that she was not to appear in a local (Massachusetts) folk blog, because she was ‘not folk enough’.  I gave my sympathy and also provided my homespun definition, which she later declared “What a fantastic definition, of folk, Dan! It’s perfect!’

Beth furthered spelled out her own definition of folk here.

I, in turn now share my definition of folk with you, followed by my further thoughts on other genres and expressions:

FOLK is old-style journalism and editorializing. Folk tells stories of what
goes on down-home, across the hall or across picket fences to the neighbors.
Folk comments on politics. Sometimes it even politicks. Folks presents a sense
of community, at once urban, rural, and metaphorical. We can relate to the
music. We can relate to the songwriter. It is our kin, our kinfolk, as it were.
Relatedness. Get it? Listen to storytellers in song like Danny Schmidt as a good

ROOTS music is about our yearning and search for one’s security, one’s roots,
one’s place in one’s heart, one’s earth, one’s universe, as well as one’s
community as with folk. Roots takes us back in time; it doesn’t preach
necessarily. There is a time warp, a reminder of days gone by, as you might have
possibly remembered it, or even imagined it. The first roots albums were in a
comparative way, roots rock, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s take on
rockabilly. or Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’. For an indie comparison, how about
Kathleen Edwards, or Mark McKay? And how do we explain Spuyten Duyvil, with
those old-time instruments and a youthful spirit making songs fit for the urban
landscape? Or The Defibulators, who go steps further and brand something
totally their own?

AMERICANA appears to be something that’s not necessarily in the pop category.
Akin to folk, it’s about realism, and not always positive realism. The songs
contain innate meanings of what today’s America is like. Would the songs suggest meanings relevant to the days of yesteryear, they would be called ‘roots’.
Americana differs from roots for its modernism. Remember, there is still the
Great American Songbook, all those jazz standards and easy listening songs out there. That’s not Americana, just a different interpretation. Americana
resembles roots and country and pretty much anything that are not on the major (Billboard, etc.) radio/sales charts. Suggested artists: Mark McKay, LarryMcMurtry, Andrew McKnight, Mark Erelli

INDIE…as in ‘independent’. Indie is anything that has the backing of an
indie label, or otherwise is more of a DIY approach. Indie types might have
their own vanity label and studio.  Schwervon! comes to mind as a great success story.

ALTERNATIVE: Alternative to what? Alternative to the majors, Billboard, and
the like. That’s about it, really. There’s no ‘alt’ sound, just the level
of exposure that’s given. An artist can be both indie and alternative but
once one flirts with a major or is on the charts, there goes the alternative
UNDERGROUND firmly suggests what you think it is..bands and songwriters who are generally unsigned, performing in venues that don’t advertise very much and generally doesn’t have the name recognition as their alternative peers, much less your true household-name types.


One response to “Dan Herman on music genres

  1. Dave Wingate Rubin

    Thoughtful,intelligent analysis made even more valuable by linking to some wonderful music,esp.Danny Schmidt and Spuytin Duyvil-But I’d like to suggest that the definition of folk music changes over time…I think the classically defining feature of a folk song is that it’s a song that nobody knows who wrote it-and the verses are added,changed and dropped over time and different verses& versions circulate in different regions.At any rate Dan’s deconstruction of some of the commercial and critical categories soulfully exposes the irrelevance of the semantics that all too frequently overshadow the music.And the exclusion of Beth DeSombre was obviously an act of mean-spirited stupidity……………..DR..Nite Life Exchange ………………


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