What do you see when you picture Americana music? Maybe some acoustic guitars, some banjos, a fiddle. Ironic and non-ironic cowboy hats. Beards. Bluegrass. Lots of flannel. Trampled By Turtles or whatever. Also: a whole lot of white.
That last bit is challenged by “Americana,” a lovely, sad, and at-times scathing new single from Milwaukee duo Nickel&Rose. Written by Carl Nichols, the song highlights the largely forgotten role of African music in Americana and roots music. It’s far from a dry history lesson, however—Nichols uses his own experience to give the song a devastating personal touch.
“Lyrically this song explores my personal experience as a black person growing up with black heroes in folk and rock music and growing up to feel as an outsider within ‘Americana,'” Nichols says. “I touch on the lack of diversity in the audience, the lack of credit given to black artists, and how black Americans have been denied access to their own culture.”
Indeed, Nichols doesn’t pull any punches in his lyrics. Here’s the opening verse:
If I wasn’t standing on this stage, would you wonder why I was here
Would you ask me if I was lost or if I came to sell you pills
Well I thought this was for everyone, not just a few
But I guess you won’t be satisfied ’til it all belongs to you
From there, Nichols celebrates Sister Rosetta Tharpe, throws shade at Elvis Presley, and wonders if there’s “room for me” in the living history of the genre. The song—recorded and mixed by Josh Evert at Silver City Studios, and featuring Ernest Brusubardis IV on fiddle—also scores big on the distinctive upright bass playing of Johanna Rose, as well as a West-African Bajourou guitar solo.
“Americana” is the title track to Nickel&Rose’s upcoming EP, due September 14. An album release show is set for September 1 at Company Brewing. Before then, listen to the song below, and catch Nickel&Rose this Friday at the Lakefront Colectivo for the Friday Nite Music series.