top of page

Americana Music – 100 Great Songs

The lists of songs & lyrics selected for Great Americana Music listings on this website are purely subjective, chosen by the editorial team at Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation.


It makes no attempt to portray the selection as the result of polling and reviews or popularity based on sales or digital access.


However, the criteria for selection takes into account the popularity of the songs, not only with fans but also among artistic peers. So those songs which have been covered by a number of artists factor more favourably than a single recording.

Crossroads also places greater emphasis on lyric writing - favouring songs which demonstrate creative language and clever story-telling. An example of lyrics from each song is included to illustrate this point. 

In the 100 Great Americana Music Songs list, the editorial team has restricted the listing to three songs per artist or group. This is simply to provide a broader perspective to the genre, given the vast number of songs to choose from. However, there is no restriction on songs by any one composer.


The dates accompanying each song refer to the year of release for the particular track preferred.


Copperhead Road
Steve Earle 1988
(Written by Steve Earle)

Is this Rock, Country Rock, Heavy Metal, Bluegrass? Call it what you will. When you combine everything - as indeed the genre provides - it has to be the greatest Americana song ever written … even for just this line: I volunteered for the army on my birthday/They draft the white trash first ‘round here anyway. The tale of three generations of bootleggers - presumably in Tennessee - was produced early in Earle’s remarkable career and remains his most iconic song. It was the first single from his third album - by the same name - and while the album got mixed reviews at the time, this magical song has stood the test of time. And even since the digital transformation it is reported to have sold more than one-a-half million digital copies alone. Various live versions by Earle over the years only serve to illustrate the majesty of his creation.


I done two tours of Vietnam
And I came home with a brand new plan
I take the seed from Columbia and Mexico
I plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road
Well the D.E.A.’s got a chopper in the air
I wake up screaming like I’m back over there 
I learned a thing or two from ol’ Charlie don’t you know
You better stay away from Copperhead Road

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Pancho and Lefty
Emmylou Harris 1977
(Written by Townes Van Zandt)

This enduring song about a Mexican bandit and his treacherous friend Lefty was included on Townes Van Zandt’s 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Townes always claimed it was never based on the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Whatever the inspiration, it is a sensational ballad containing a string of lyrics any songwriter would crave. Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson no doubt contributed to Townes carefree lifestyle when their cover reached number one in the country charts in 1983. But it is the Emmylou Harris version six years earlier, for her Luxury Liner album, which stands as one of the great covers in Americana music. No doubt helped by producer-extraordinaire Brian Ahern and the “hottest musicians available” - Albert Lee, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Emory Gordy etc.


Pancho was a bandit boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his guns outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Well Pancho met his match you know
In the deserts down in Mexico
And nobody heard his dying words
Ah but that’s the way it goes

lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down
The Band 1968
(Written by Robbie Robertson)

As far as Americana music goes, this classic tale - about the last days of the Civil War though the eyes of a poor Tennessee farmer - is about as pure as it gets. Sadly it became embroiled in a controversy over Robbie Robertson's sole credit as song-writer. Levon Helm, the only American in The Band, clearly felt he made a major contribution to the lyrics, as his distinctive Southern voice clearly did as lead vocalist. Despite his successful solo career, Helm seldom, if ever, played the song, leading to speculation it was because of the authorship dispute. There have been countless covers, the most popular being by Joan Baez. And this too was not without controversy. Helm is said to have disliked her version and others have referenced subtle changes made to the lyrics which distorted the original meaning. There is a general belief among many fans - supported by random online polling - that The Band remains the quintessential Americana group.


Virgil Caine is the name
And I served on the Danville train
'Til Stoneman's cavalry came
And they tore up the tracks again

In the winter of '65
We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember, oh so well

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
Lucinda Williams 1998
(Written by Lucinda Williams)

Emmylou Harris once described Lucinda Williams as the best living songwriter. And this absorbing song lends support to such claims. From her Grammy-winning album of the same name, Lucinda - the daughter of an acclaimed Arkansas poet - takes you back to her southern, often-troubled childhood. The time-warped imagery of family life is simply stunning. Buddy Miller provides harmony vocals.In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine described the album as an alternative country masterpiece. It remains her best-selling album.


There goes the screen door slamming shut
You better do what you’re told
When I get back this room be better be picked up
Car wheels on a gravel road

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Hickory Wind
Gram Parsons 1974
(Written by Gram Parsons and Bob Buchanan)

What was to be Gram’s signature song, first appeared on The Byrds classic 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It was re-recorded for his own 1974 album Grievous Angel as part of the Medley Live from Northern Quebec, spoilt somewhat by “live” dubbing. Chris Hillman, Gram’s musical partner, best described the impact of this beautiful lament: “If Gram had never written another song, 'Hickory Wind' would have put him on the map.” It was Hillman who first alerted Gram to “this chick singer playing folk clubs in DC” and she (Emmylou Harris) provided back-up vocals on the track listed here. Emmylou was to include a beautiful solo version on Blue Kentucky Girl. Anyone who is anyone in popular music just loves performing this number. There has been a lingering dispute over authorship of the song - a folk-singer from South Carolina claimed in 2002 that she had written it in the early sixties. But Hillman is adamant it was a song by Gram and Bob: “I sincerely doubt he (Gram) was a plagiarist in any of his songwriting endeavours.”


I started out younger at most everything
All the riches and pleasures
What else could life bring?
But now when I’m lonesome
I always pretend
That I’m getting the feel of hickory wind

Copyright © Reservoir Media Management Inc, BMG Rights Management


Tear Stained Eye
Son Volt 1995
(Written by Jay Farrar)

After the break-up of Uncle Tupelo in 1994. the fans cried what next for Jay Farrar. The die-hard musician wasted no time providing an answer. He formed Son Volt and soon released Trace, an album one critic said “was a near-perfect collection of laid-back alt-country ballads.” "Drown" was released as a single and became a minor hit. But the star turn is clearly "Tear Stained Eye", which vies with "Windfall" as the group’s signature tune. Everything about this song is simply beautiful, whether it be Farrar’s soft vocals or the subtle integration of the banjo and pedal steel. There is a wonderful video of Farrar at his cool best during a 1996 recording of the song for Austin City Limits. Australian Kasey Chambers does a great cover.


If learning is living and the truth is a state of mind
You’ll find it better at the end of the line
Can you deny there’s nothing greater
Nothing more than the traveling hands of time
Saint Genevieve can hold back the water
But Saints don’t bother with a tear stained eye

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Warren Zevon 1976
(Written by Warren Zevon)

This song became notable not just because it was a great composition by a truly great artist, but because an alternate lyric introduced in cover versions changed the whole meaning of the song! Though it is still the subject of some debate, it is generally accepted that it started as a song about an addicted writer forced to pawn his tool-of-trade - a typewriter - to fund a drug habit.  When Zevon released his original on the self-titled album in 1976 - four years after its first release by Canadian Murray McLachlan - he sang: I pawned my Smith Corona (a typewriter). In McLachlan’s version and the most popular cover by Linda Ronstadt, in 1977, the line was: When I pawned my Smith & Wesson (a handgun). So the protagonist had switched from being a pathetic drug-addled writer - seeking solace with true-love Carmelita - to a more sinister gun owner. When a Zevon compilation album Preludes - Rare and Unreleased Recordings  became available after his death, it included a 1974 demo version in which Zevon himself says Smith & Wesson. This acoustic demo also includes a very odd additional verse - referring to Carmelita’s big Samoan boyfriend.  And this verse is also in the McLachlan cover, though not Ronstadt’s! Such intrigue only makes this song - one of the most covered in Americana music - so appealing!


Well, I pawned my Smith Corona

And I went to meet my man

He hangs out down on Alvarado Street

By the Pioneer chicken stand

Carmelita hold me tighter

I think I'm sinking down

And I'm all strung out on heroin

On the outskirts of town

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Tecumseh Valley
Townes Van Zandt 1993
(Written by Townes Van Zandt)

This classic ballad appeared on Van Zandt’s very first album For The Sake of the Song, released in 1968. And it reinforced the belief of Kevin Eggers, the man who first signed Townes, that “he was brilliant from the start”. The story of Caroline, the miner’s daughter who turns to whorin' out on the streets after falling on hard times in Tecumseh Valley, has been recorded by a host of Americana stars. There is a brilliant version by Nanci Griffith (middle-name Caroline) on her classic 1993 Other Voices/Other Rooms release in which Arlo Guthrie provides harmony vocals. The track listed here - also recorded in 1993 - is from Townes’ live compilation Rear View Mirror, among the best live albums in Americana music. During the set he is accompanied by fiddler Owen Cody and guitarist Danny Rowland who add suitable support that never overwhelms the great man himself.


They found her down beneath the stairs
That led to Gypsy Sally’s
In her hand when she died
Was a note that cried
Fare thee well Tecumseh Valley

lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LL


Desperadoes Waiting For A Train
Guy Clark 1975
(Written by Guy Clark)

About three years before he died, a writer for Garden and Gun asked Guy Clark what it was like to be regarded as a songwriter’s songwriter? Guy replied, as only Guy could: “It’s flattering, I guess, but you can’t make a fucking living being a songwriter’s songwriter.” Well this wonderful ballad - on his debut Old No 1. album in 1975 - probably helped. The Highwaymen had a high-profile hit single with it in 1985 and numerous artists have included it on notable albums. "Desperadoes Waiting For A Train" tells the story of old Jack, his grandmother’s boyfriend who treated Guy as his own when he was a boy growing up in Texas. Though he had heaps of fine songs to follow, this tune was to define Clark as indeed one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.


He’s a drifter and a driller of oil wells
And old school man of the world
He lets me drive his car
When he’s too drunk to
And he’d wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives were like some old western movie
Like Desperados waitin’ for a train
Like Desperados waitin’ for a train

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music


Romance in Durango
Bob Dylan 1976
(Written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy)

Dylan’s 1976 album Desire was one of story-telling - some based on facts ("Joey", "Hurricane", "Sara"), some purely fiction ("Romance in Durango", "Black Diamond Bay"). And much of the actual story-writing came from theatre director Jacques Levy. In fact Levy said he wrote most of the lyrics for "Romance in Durango", the story of an outlaw and his lover on the run in Durango, Mexico - a place familiar to Dylan, having filmed Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid there a few years earlier. It makes the list here alone on the superb imagery of the opening sentence - Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun. Levy said Dylan played him “some Mexican-type music” and the line was inspired by a postcard Levy had received featuring a “Mexican shack with a bunch of peppers on the roof in the sun.” Emmylou Harris does the backing vocals and somewhere, among the twenty-odd musicians credited on this magnificent track, is one Eric Clapton!


Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape
Sold my guitar to the baker’s son
For a few crumbs and a place to hide
But I can get another one
And I’ll play for Magdalena as we ride

Lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co


Boulder to Birmingham
Emmylou Harris 1975
(Written by Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff)

Together with successful songwriter Bill Danoff, Harris wrote this tribute to Gram Parsons less than two years after the man, with whom she found fame, died of a drug overdose. In later years, she was to detail the enormous shock and subsequent grief of his passing. The song first appeared on Pieces of Sky, Emmylou’s second studio album but the one which really launched her spectacular career. "Boulder to Birmingham" was to become Emmylou’s signature tune - and there are various live recordings. Perhaps the best came in January 2015 at a celebration concert for the star and included on The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris. Danoff did his own version as a member of the Starland Vocal. As with any classic, there are numerous covers -from the likes of Dolly Parton and Joan Baez, through to The Hollies.


I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face

lyrics © Reservoir One Music, Reservoir Media Management Inc, BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Angel from Montgomery
John Prine & Bonnie Raitt 1986
(Written by John Prine)

When asked how he came up with the central fictional figure for this classic, John Prine talks about going “in character” and on this occasion it was a middle-aged woman with “soapsuds on her hand.” He told Bluerailroad magazine: “She lived in Montgomery, Alabama, and she wanted to get out of there. She wanted to get out of the house, out of the marriage and everything. She just wanted an angel to come and take her away from all this.” This is one of the most covered of Prine’s many songs. And the most popular is clearly Bonnie Raitt’s wonderful version. So it is fitting to list here a stunning duet between Prine and Raitt which was recorded at an all-star memorial concert in Chicago in January 1985 for John’s friend and musical collaborator Steve Goodman. It was included in the Tribute to Steve Goodman album released in 1986.


I am an old woman
Named after my mother
My old man is another
Child that’s grown old
If dreams were lightning
Thunder were desire
This old house would’ve burned down
A long time ago

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Hello In There
John Prine 1971
(Written by John Prine)

It is widely accepted that the two songs John Prine  wrote specifically about  ageing and loneliness - "Angel from Montgomery" and "Hello In There" - are his finest compositions. And both appeared on his debut album when he was in his early twenties! The critics seem to prefer "Hello In There", though audiences love "Angel From Montgomery", especially the live duets he has crafted in later years. When asked where he got the phrase “Hello in there, hello”, Prine told Bluerailroad he was motivated by delivering newspapers to an old people’s home when he was young: “When I was writing the song, I thought that these people have entire lives in there. They’re not writers but they have stories to tell. Some are very very down, deeper than others.” It is almost impossible to choose one song above the other, but "Angel from Montgomery" gets the higher listing because of its broader musical interpretations.


We had an apartment in the city
Me and Loretta liked living there
Well, it'd been years since the kids had grown
A life of their own left us alone
John and Linda live in Omaha
And Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davy in the Korean war
And I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore
Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello"

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Nebraska Live
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band 1984
(Written by Bruce Springsteen)

Purists might argue that Springsteen’s original - the title track of the 1982 album in which he seems to expose the underbelly of modern America - should be listed here. But the live version, recorded on August 6, 1984 in East Rutherford N.J. with the E Street Band, gives this bleak ballad the vitality seemingly lost in the sparseness of the original. When Bruce was promoting his biography on a late-night TV show, he was asked to list his top-five Springsteen numbers. He lost little time in naming "Nebraska"among his favourites. The opening stanza is simply a jaw-dropper! Steve Earle’s spine-tingling live recording - on his Copperhead Road (Rarities Edition) album - was a strong contender for this list.


I saw her standin’ on her front lawn
Just a twirlin’ her baton
Me and her went for a ride sir
And ten innocent people died

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Clay Pigeons
Blaze Foley 1999
(Written by Michael David Fuller)

If you want the most tragic figure in country music, forget the likes of Hank Williams and Gram Parsons. Blaze Foley takes the biscuit! Being Townes Van Zandt’s close friend probably helped. The singer-songwriter was born Michael David Fuller but changed his stage name after his infatuation with country music star Red Foley. Blaze was 39 when he was murdered in 1989 by a friend’s son. He left behind a legacy of wonderful songs, the recordings of many being lost in a comedy of errors no fiction writer could invent! Much of that story has been told in various media - the most significant, the documentary Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, released in 2011, and in the quirky HBO series Mike Judge’s Tales from the Tour Bus in 2017. And to cap it all, the Ethan Hawke-directed movie Blaze was released in late 2018. Of course, an old friend, Lucinda Williams, paid her own tribute with the wonderful song "Drunken Angel". Fortunately, much of Blaze’s music which survived was accumulated and distributed across a number of albums. This gave him the true recognition he deserved, long after his death. It also helped that Merle Haggard recorded  two versions of "If I could Only Fly"' a personal favourite, and that John Prine included "Clay Pigeons"on his Grammy Award winning album Fair and Square. The best of Foley’s work is documented in the 1999 release Live at the Austin Outhouse, which includes this wonderful version of "Clay Pigeons", described by one reviewer as "an anthem for all ages". It is interesting to note that in the live version, Blaze had changed the original line - Going to find a big fat lady with two or three kids - to one more gentle - Going to find that lady with two or three kids. Prine too preferred the change.


I'm goin' down to the Greyhound station
Gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids
And sit down by her side
Ride 'til the sun comes up and down around me
'Bout two or three times
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talkin' again when I know what to say

lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Choctaw Bingo 
James McMurtry 2002
(Written by James McMurtry)

James McMurtry packs almost more plots, characters and descriptive language into the eight or so minutes of this popular song than his famous father Larry puts into just one novel. "Choctaw Bingo", off the 2002 Saint Mary of the Woods album, tells the somewhat politically-incorrect story of a family reunion in Oklahoma to visit Uncle Slayton, who no longer travels but is spry enough to make crystal meth because the shine don’t sell. It has become the most requested number at live performances. The audience is often encouraged to dance during the raunchy reference to the second cousins who wear them cut off britches. As one might expect, it was also included in the 2004 Live in Aught-Three album. One critic best described "Choctaw Bingo" as “one of the greatest if unheard-of songs” in country music. Another said simply: “The song is my candidate for new American anthem.”


Uncle Slayton's got his Texan pride
Back in the thickets with his Asian bride
He's got a Airstream trailer and a Holstein cow 
He still makes whiskey 'cause he still knows how
He plays that Choctaw bingo every Friday night
You know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why
He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala
Caught a great big ol' blue cat on a driftin' jug line 
Sells his hardwood timber to the shipping mill
Cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sell
He cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sell
You know he likes his money he don't mind the smell

lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Gulf Coast Highway  
Nanci Griffith 1997
(Written by James Hooker, Danny Flowers, James H. Brown Jr, Nanci Griffith)

Described by one critic “as the most heart-wrenching love song”, "Gulf Coast Highway" was a collaborative writing effort between Nanci and band-mates at the time. The music came first, from her then keyboardist James Hooker. Nancy penned the immortal lines after Hooker played it to her on a late-night bus trip. "Gulf Coast Highway" first appeared on her 1988 Little Love Affairs album, but the track listed here was re-recorded for her 1997 Blue Roses from the Moon album with supporting vocals from Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish. In 1990 Emmylou Harris combined with Willie Nelson to record a wonderful version for her Duets album and it’s a song which justifiably appears on other artists’ playlists - nonetheless Bruce Springsteen!


Highway 90, the jobs are gone
We kept our garden, we set the sun
This is the only place on earth where blue bonnets grow
And once a year they come and go
At this old house here by the road
And when we die
We say we’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
And we will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet blue bonnet spring

lyrics © Demi Music Corp. D/B/A Lichelle Music Company


Sin City  
The Flying Burrito Brothers 1969
(Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons)

Regarded by many as the first “country rock” band, The Flying Burrito Brothers was formed by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman after they left The Byrds in 1968. "Sin City" was included in their first album The Gilded Palace of Sin and the song competes with "Hickory Wind" as Gram’s finest composition. Hillman later said the song - about the pair’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles - was written in about 30 minutes after he came up with the line: This old town’s filled with sin/ It will swallow you in.  “It actually wrote itself,” he said. It has certainly sustained its importance in Americana music, with a host of artists - led by Emmylou Harris and Uncle Tupelo - producing great covers.


This old town’s filled with sin
It will swallow you in
If you’ve got some money to burn
Take it home right away
You’ve got three years to pay
But Satin is waiting his turn

lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group


Old Five And Dimers Like Me  
Billy Joe Shaver 1973
(Written by Billy Joe Shaver)

Like many of his Texan singer-songwriter contemporaries, Billy Joe Shaver has mixed hard living with some hard luck. Strangely enough though, his career was launched by an amazing stroke of good luck. In the same year, 1973, that Shaver released his debut album Old Five And Dimers Like Me, Waylon Jennings put out his now-famous Honky Tonk Heroes - an album jam-packed with Shaver songs. How the collaboration between a star (Jennings) and a then-nobody (Shaver) came about cannot be condensed into a couple of sentences, but it is nicely recounted in the excellent BBC documentary Beyond Nashville. Many of the songs Jennings included, and Shaver was to put in his own album, became classics and were to be recorded by other superstars including Bob Dylan. Music reviewer Thom Jurek was spot on when he wrote: “Old Five and Dimers Like Me is a masterpiece not only as a genesis for outlaw country, but of American songwriting at its very best.”


I've spent a lifetime making up my mind to be
More than the measure of what I thought others could see
Good luck and fast bucks are too far and too few between
Cadillac buyers and old five and dimers like me
She stood beside me letting me know she would be
Something to lean on when everything ran out on me
Fenced yards ain't hole cards and like as not never will be
Reason for rhymers and old five and dimers like me

lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


Mama’s Hungry Eyes 
Merle Haggard 2007
(Written by Merle Haggard)

Merle Haggard was almost 70 when he recorded this brilliant acoustic version of what many regard as one of the greatest songs in country music and the best of his astonishing library. It came 37 years after the original was released and such was the quality that an Amazon reviewer was prompted to call Merle’s “most disciplined singing of his career.” He was no doubt helped by wonderful backing vocals by Alison Krauss, the only track in which she made an appearance on the 2007-released The Bluegrass Sessions album. It was produced for the Del McCoury label by Ronnie Reno who spent almost a decade playing with Merle. The album’s liner notes, written by Marty Stuart, are as informative as any you’ll ever read.


A canvas covered cabin in a crowded labor camp

Stand out in this memory I revive

My daddy raised a family there

With two hard working hands

And tried to feed my mama’s hungry eyes

He dreamed of something better

And my mom’s faith was strong

And us kids were just too young to realise

That another class of people

Put us somewhere just below

One more reason for my mama’s hungry eyes

lyrics © Sony/ATV Tree Publishing,BMI


The Flatlanders 1972
(Written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore)

There is little surprise to learn that when in 2014 the Dallas Observer decided to list “The 20 Best Songs Ever Written About Dallas” this classic was their number one. Writer Jeff Cage summed it up nicely: “There may no more iconic image of the city than when Jimmie Dale Gilmore sings, Did you ever see Dallas from a DC9 at night?” It was Jimmie Dale indeed who wrote the song which was a commercial flop when released as a single by the newly formed Flatlanders  (Gilmore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock) in 1972. The trio went their solo ways a year later, but when they eventually reunited in the nineties, "Dallas" became their most popular number. So popular that it makes Rolling Stone’s Greatest Country Songs of All Time.


Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?
Well Dallas is a jewel, oh yeah, Dallas is a beautiful sight
And Dallas is a jungle but Dallas gives a beautiful light
Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?
Well, Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down
But when you are up, she's the kind you want to take around
But Dallas ain't a woman to help you get your feet on the ground
And Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down

lyrics © Shelby Singleton Music Inc


L.A. Freeway  
Guy Clark 1975
(Written by Guy Clark)

When it comes to a one-liner in Americana music, is there any better than this?: If I can just get off this L.A. Freeway/ Without getting killed or caught. As you might expect, the line came to Guy Clark while on the road - probably in a VW van somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles. The story goes it was written on a burger packet, using an eyebrow pencil belonging to soon-to-be wife Susanna. Whatever the origins, it marked the early scribblings of one of America’s greatest songwriters. The line turned into "L.A. Freeway" and was the second track on Clark’s impressive debut album Old No 1.


If I can just get off of this LA freeway 
Without getting killed or caught 
I'd be down that road in a cloud of smoke 
For some land that I ain't bought bought bought

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Hard Times (Come Again No More)  
Bob Dylan 1992
(Written by Stephen Foster)

A host of big names - Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Bruce Springsteen - have produced impressive recordings of the Stephen Foster classic. But somehow you think Foster would be most pleased with Dylan’s version in his 1992 Good As I Been to You album, a simply incredible compilation of traditional songs which saw the Nobel Laureate return to his acoustic roots. One Dylanologist best summed up this effort: “It is surprising that an artist so famous for so many years can express so much suffering in his interpretation.”

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

Copyright © Traditional


Fort Worth Blues 
Guy Clark 1999
(Written by Steve Earle)

A tribute song to Townes Van Zandt, written by Steve Earle and performed by Guy Clark! In the world of Americana music it hardly gets better than this - the Great Bluebird Cafe in the Sky! (“See you when I get there Maestro,” Steve added to the liner notes.) It was a toss up whether to list the original, off Earle’s El Corazon album, or Clark’s version two years later on Cold Dark Soup. Clark got the nod, mainly due to the beautiful harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris and a soft, almost serenading acoustic instrumental collaboration between Clark, and old cohorts Verlon Thompson and Darrell Scott. When listening to Earle’s poetical lyrics, you somehow think they’re the kind of lines Townes would have written - especially about himself!

Fort Worth neon shinin’ bright
Pretty lights red and blue
They shut down all the honky tonks tonight 
Say a prayer or two, if they only knew
You used to say the highway was your home
But we both know that ain’t true
It’s just the only place a man can go
When he don’t know where he’s travelin’ to

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me Waylon Jennings 1973
(Written by Billy Joe Shaver)

Waylon Jennings heard Billy Joe Shaver sing "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me" in 1972 and, so the story goes, invited him to Nashville to write songs for his next album. It took a few months, but they eventually teamed up. Firstly, Jennings wanted to record just the Willy song but he changed his mind when Billy Joe sang a few more compositions. And that is how all but one of the songs on the legendary Honky Tonk Heroes album belonged to Shaver! Billy Joe put it nicely in a 2008 interview: “Oh it was great because the songs were bigger than me. And I couldn’t possibly sing as good as Waylon.” Waylon just nails this wonderful song - written for life-long friend (of both men) Willie Nelson. In fact there is a most wonderful You Tube video of Billy Joe singing the song to Willie during a gig they shared in Austin.

Three fingers whiskey pleasures the drinkers
And moving does more than the same thing for me
Willy he tells me that doers and thinkers
Say movin' is a closest thing to being free.

lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Christmas in Washington
Steve Earle 1997
(Written by Steve Earle)

This was the opening track on El Corazon, a stunning variety of original songs, released in mid-1997, which, of course, featured "Fort Worth Blues" and was dedicated to Townes Van Zandt who had died on New Year’s Day that year. It firmly established Steve’s musical return from his addiction troubles, with one critic noting: “El Corazon is the capstone of this remarkable comeback.” It was also another example of his uncanny ability to stack a song like "Christmas in Washington" with biting lyrics, given that he was now starting to wear his political heart firmly outside his chest.

It was Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Getting into gear for four more years
Of things not getting worse
The Republicans drank whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said he cannot serve another term
There’ll be no more FDR’s

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Red River Shore
Jimmy LaFave 2012
(Written by Bob Dylan)

There’s an old saying: “Nobody does Dylan like Dylan!” But Austin roots man Jimmy LaFave comes closest! His fabulous catalogue is peppered with Dylan covers from the popular copycat "Girl from North Country" through to the likes of "It’s Not Dark Yet" and "Shelter from the Storm". But he left his best to the 2012 album Depending on the Distance. As in most of his works, this album is a mix of excellent covers - three Dylan’s, one each from John Waite and Bruce Springsteen - and eight original compositions. Once again though it is a Dylan song, "Red River Shore", that stands out - helped by Jimmy’s soft melodic vocals, nicely interwoven with piercing guitar. "Red River Shore" almost flew under the radar, if that is possible with any Dylan work. It was apparently recorded during the sessions for Time Out of Mind but first appeared on the 2008 bootleg series compilation Tell Tale Signs, listed as an unreleased track. It quickly attracted the attention of Dylanologists, especially because of the intriguing final verse which refers to the raising of the dead. Whatever Dylan was thinking, "Red River Shore" is a most endearing lost-love song. Jimmy made it even better.

Now, I've heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man full of sorrow and strife
Whenever someone around him died and was dead
He knew how to bring 'em on back to life
Well, I don't know what kind of language that he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
Except the girl from the Red River shore

Lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co


If I had a Boat
Lyle Lovett 1987
(Written by Lyle Lovett)

Who said Americana had to be serious or sacred. It can be fun - just listen to this exquisite ditty by Lyle Lovett which got into Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Country classics. Nothing is sacred here, not even poor Roy Rogers.

And if I were Roy Rogers
I‘d sure enough be single
I couldn’t bring myself to marrying old Dale
It’d just be me and Trigger
We’d go riding through them movies
Then we’d buy a boat and on the sea we’d sail

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


Caleb Meyer
Gillian Welch 1998
(Written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings)

Much has been written about this dark mountain ballad - including even a “back-story” composition - primarily because it tells the first-person tale of a woman killing a rapist. It is the opening track on Gillian’s second album Hell Among The Yearlings, which, like the first, was produced by T-Bone Burnett. The album is musically stark, concentrating on innovative acoustic guitar-playing and vocal harmony between Welch and David Rawlings. "Caleb Meyer" gained a wider audience in 2003 when Joan Baez including it on her Dark Chords on a Big Guitar album which also featured another Welch/Rawlings composition "Elvis Presley Blues". Nothing beats the haunting original!

I drew that glass across his neck
As fine as any blade,
And I felt his blood pour fast and hot
Around me where I laid.
Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
Wear them rattlin' chains.
But when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Sam Stone
John Prine 1971
(Written by John Prine)

There are some lines in music that simply amaze. This has to be one: There’s a hole in daddy’s arm/ Where all the money goes. John Prine’s tragic classic, about the ex-serviceman junkie who overdoses, makes no reference to Vietnam. But he acknowledges he had in mind several buddies from his army service who were having trouble adjusting to life after returning from the conflict. The song was included on his debut self-titled album, which is now regarded as a masterpiece and signaled the matter-of-fact, character-driven stories which brought him fame. It was early songs like this which also labelled Prine with “the next Bob Dylan” tag - which unfortunately proved something of a hindrance in the formative years of his 50-year career.

And the gold roared through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin' other peoples' clothes...
There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


If I Needed You

Lyle Lovett 1998
(Written by Townes van Zandt)

If you intertwine melody with lyrics, this song lays claim to be the most beautiful in Americana music. Townes van Zandt once said "If I Needed You" came to him while sleeping so he hurried to remember it when he woke up. It was probably the most lucrative slumber of his too-short life. Emmylou Harris and Don Williams were to make it a huge cross-over country hit. Countless other artists would also record it - there is an endearing rendition by Guy Clark on the posthumous The Best of the Dualtone Years album and there is a simply stunning version by Kimmie Rhodes on her 2008 Walls Fall Down release. But no one nails it as an Americana song like Lyle Lovett. Soft harmony vocals from the wonderful Alison Krauss help. It crops up on Lyle’s double album Step Inside This House and the accompanying lyrics booklet includes a fabulous photo of Lyle and Guy holding a framed photo of Townes. So nice!

If you needed me
I would come to you
I would swim the seas
For to ease your pain



© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


Crescent City

Lucinda Williams 1988

(Written by Lucinda Williams)

From the much-acclaimed 1988 Lucinda Williams album, which featured "I Just want to see You so Bad" and "Passionate Kisses". It was reissued in 1989 following the success of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and sold more than 100,000 copies in the U.S. alone. Some songs just want to take you places. Crescent City places you firmly in Louisiana and the good times Lucinda enjoyed with her siblings in the late sixties. Sing-a-long, honkey-tonk Zydeco at its very best.

         Mama lives in Mandeville

         I can hardly wait until

         I can hear my Zydeco

         And laissez le bon ton roulet 

         And take rides in open cars

         My brother knows where the best bars are

         Let's see how these blues'll do

         In the town where the good times stay


lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight

Rodney Crowell 1978

(Written by Rodney Crowell and Donovan Cowart)

By the time Rodney Crowell’s first album Ain’t Living Long Like This was released in 1978, he was already an established song-writer and indeed performer, being a member of the famous Emmylou Harris Hot Band. Harris and several members of the ever-evolving Hot Band dominate the musician credits for the original album. Though it failed to enter the country album charts, most of the songs were later recorded by other artists - "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" among them. Emmylou included it on Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town (1978) and the following year The Oak Ridge Boys made it a country number one single. There is also a very appealing version by Shovels & Rope. But Rodney’s original deserves the listing here.


This is down the swampland, anything goes

It’s alligator bait and the bars don’t close

It’s the real thing down in Louisiana

Did you ever see a Cajun when he really got mad

When he really got trouble like a daughter gone bad

It’s gets real hot down in Louisiana


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


If You Were a Bluebird

Joe Ely 1977

(Written by Butch Hancock)

The musical depth, and sheer longevity, of the relationship between Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (known collectively as The Flatlanders) is no better illustrated than in Ely’s debut album Joe Ely, way-back in 1977. Half of the ten tracks were composed by Ely, four were written by Hancock and the remaining one by Gilmore It was the Butch numbers which had the greatest impact. "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me" became a cult classic and "If You Were a Bluebird" got exposure in 1989 when Emmylou Harris included it on the critically-acclaimed Bluebird album. Over the years there are various versions of this song by each of the Flatlanders - in various permutations - including a duet by Butch and Jimmie Dale on a little-known, but very appealing, live album Threadgill’s Supper Sessions. But it is Ely’s original which stands the test of time.


If you were a bluebird, you'd be a sad one

I'd give you a true word, but you've already had one

If you were a bluebird, you'd be crying

You'd be flying home


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LL


No Time To Cry

Iris DeMent 1994

(Written by Iris DeMent)

Duets with some of the big names in Americana music, has given Iris DeMent’s career a resurgence in recent years. But she cannot be under-estimated as a wonderful singer-songwriter in her own right. Her second album My Life, in 1994, was dedicated to her father Patric who died two years earlier. It remains a classic and was brought into prominence when Merle Haggard covered "No Time to Cry" on his 1996 album. The song and Haggard’s treatment received much acclaim. Merle took a shine to DeMent and there is nice documentation of their musical relationship in the excellent book In the Country of Country by Nicholas Dawidoff. DeMent’s original is listed here. Only she can convey the true emotion and sentiment of this personal song relating to the loss of a parent.


My father died a year ago today,

The rooster started crowing when they carried Dad away

There beside my mother, in the living room, I stood

With my brothers and my sisters knowing Dad was gone for good

Well, I stayed at home just long enough to lay him in the ground

And then I caught a plane to do a show up north in Detroit town

Because I'm older now and I've got no time to cry

lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos



Emmylou Harris 1995

(Written by Daniel Lanois)

There is a strong argument that Emmylou’s 1995 work Wrecking Ball, her eighteenth studio album, was her finest. It marked a change of direction for Harris, then in her late forties, for she teamed up with rock producer Daniel Lanois who had worked with the likes of U2 and Bob Dylan. The success of the collaboration is undisputed. The album got rave reviews and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. The work of some of Americana’s best writers - Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young etc - are covered in 12 tracks, but the stand-out is one of Lanois’ compositions, "Blackhawk". Emmylou’s vocal treatment of the song is simply unbelievable - listen carefully to the soft sigh (“Ahh’) she instinctively adds before Blackhawk where are you now during the final chorus. Nearly 20 years after the release of the album, Harris and Lanois teamed up again for a successful tour. There is a wonderful duet of them both performing "Blackhawk" live on the The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris album, recorded in 2015 at a celebration concert for the star in Washington DC.


Well I work the double shift

In a bookstore on St. Clair

While he pushed the burning ingots

In Dofasco stinking air

Where the truth bites and stings

I remember just what we were

As the noon bell rings for

Blackhawk and the white winged dove


Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

It is hard to describe what Gillian Welch and David Rawlings can achieve with just two voices and two instruments. You really have to experience one of the best live acts in Americana to appreciate their musical inventiveness! Every performance is memorable. "Red Clay Halo",off the 2001 Time (The Revelator) album, best illustrates their unique musical style, both in writing and recording. Rawlings’ robust - sometimes downright frenetic - hot picking flows effortlessly off their precise two-part harmonies as the pair take you down-and-dirty through the heartland of rural America. There is an alternative live version on the 2006 Music from the Revelator Collection.


Though I do my best with soap and water

That damned old dirt won’t go

But when I pass through the pearly gates

Will my gown be gold instead

Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings

And a red clay halo for my head

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Red Clay Halo

Gillian Welch 2001

(Written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings)


This Old Porch

Lyle Lovett 1986

(Written by Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen)

Someone once quipped that Lyle Lovett puts too many words in his songs. This classic, co-written with wordsmith Robert Earl Keen, paints a poetical portrait of Texas with cluttered lines pleading to be heard. Only Lyle could of find of way of seamlessly implanting enchiladas and guacamole with musical chords. The story goes that Robert Earl started the composition and Lyle finished it!  The pair were student friends in Houston and jammed together on the front porch, as you do on a hot Texas evening. Robert Earl cut his own version, titled "The Front Porch Song", for his 1984 debut album No Kinda Dancer. There is also a wonderful version of the pair performing it live on Keen’s very listenable Live Dinner Reunion. But Lyle’s solo, off his debut self-titled album, scores the listing here.


And this old porch is like a steaming, greasy plate of enchiladas

With lots of cheese and onions

And a guacamole salad

And you can get them down at the LaSalle Hotel

In old downtown

With iced tea and a waitress

And she will smile every time


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Mr Bojangles

Jerry Jeff Walker 1968

(Written by Jerry Jeff Walker)

Contrary to popular assumption, the character at the centre of one of the most recorded Americana songs was white. Jerry Jeff Walker has long insisted the song was based around an alcoholic tap-dancing drifter he encountered in a New Orleans jail cell in the early 1960’s. He could not have been black, says Jerry Jeff, as the police cells in the south in those days were segregated. Whatever the origins, "Mr Bojangles" has a special place in musical history. Jerry Jeff first released it on his album by the same name in1968. Two years later The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version was a cross-over hit and from there the delightful tale has been recorded by countless artists from Garth Brooks to Robbie Williams. Even more reason that the song-writer’s original gets listed here.

I knew a man Bojangles and he'd dance for you in worn out shoes

Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants, that old soft shoe

He'd jump so high, he'd jump so high, will he likely touch down

Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.


lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


FDR in Trinidad

Ry Cooder 1971

(Written by Fitz McLean)

There’s an old saying: “There can be four seasons in the one day.”  As far as music is concerned, Ry Cooder can certainly fit four genres into one album. He could claim to be most inventive and flexible recording artist of his life-time. This was illustrated no better than on his album Into the Purple Valley, a fascinating blend of rock, blues and folk songs which were all covers of big-name artists like Johnny Cash, Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. However, Ry makes each one his own, especially "FDR in Trinidad", a calypso song written by Fitz McLean to commemorate U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1936 visit to Trinidad.


We are privileged to see the democratic president of the great republic

With his charming and genial personality and his wonderful urbanity

We were struck by his modest style and we were intrigued by the famous Roosevelt smile

No wonder why everybody was glad to welcome Roosevelt to Trinidad


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amco


We Can’t Make It Here

James McMurtry 2005

(Written by James McMurtry)

When James McMurtry wrote this political missive about the working poor falling through the cracks, Donald Trump was probably still counting his first billion. Little was McMurtry to know that a decade later a Presidential election would be won, and indeed lost, on the disfranchised American worker who, as he forecast, was working two jobs and living in cars. In the liner notes to the Best of Sugar Hill Years compilation, Craig Havighurst wrote: “Agree with his disenchanted view of American life and politics or not, it’s hard to deny the song’s impact or potency.” From the outstanding 2005 Childish Things album – this is Americana at its potent best!


You see those pallets piled up on the loading dock

They're just gonna sit there til they rot

Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack

Just busted concrete and rusted tracks

Empty storefronts around the square

There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere

You don't come down here unless you're looking to score

We can’t make it here anymore


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


She Never Spoke Spanish To Me

Joe Ely 1977

(Written by Butch Hancock)

This Butch Hancock classic first appeared on Joe’s Ely debut self-titled album, a compilation of songs by Ely, Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore - better known as The Flatlanders. Ely’s second album, Honky Tonk Masquerade, got universal critical acclaim and really established him as an Alt-Country somebody. But there was something special and refreshing about his first release which also included the delightful "If You Were a Bluebird" and "I Had My Hopes Up High". Hancock wrote a follow up "She Finally Spoke Spanish To Me" which appeared on Ely’s Letter to Larado album.  It was never going to eclipse the original.


She said if you’re from Texas son

Where's your boots and where's your guns

I smiled and said I’ve got guns no one can see

We laughed at that and both agreed

Spanish is a loving tongue

But she never spoke Spanish to me


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Back in the High Life Again

Warren Zevon 2000

(Written by Will Jennings and Steve Winwood)

In an age of internet trivia, is about as trivial as it gets. Users not only get to vote on the song they prefer, but can comment accordingly. On the site, Steve Winwood’s 1986 pop classic "Back in the High Life Again" is compared with Warren Zevon’s 2000 cover. Of the 900-odd votes, more than 60 per cent prefer Zevon’s softy-softly acoustic version. Make of that what you wish, though Zevon provides yet another fine example of an artist effortlessly switching the musical genre from whatever to Americana. He leaves a great legacy, only reinforced by this magic interpretation.


It used to seem to me that my life ran on too fast

And I had to take it slowly just to make the good parts last

When you're born to run it's so hard to just slow down

So don't be surprised to see me in the brighter part of town

I'll be back in the high life again

All the doors I closed one time will open up again

I'll be back in the high life again

All the eyes that watched me once will smile and take me in

Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.


Etta’s Tune

Rosanne Cash 2014

(Written by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal)

Rosanne’s 13th studio album The River and the Thread was inspired by trips through the American South with her husband and musical collaborator John Leventhal. It was her first release for four years and much anticipated. The critics were not disappointed, one paying probably the ultimate tribute: “It’s a record that her late father would have been enormously proud of.” It won her and Leventhal three Grammy Awards. "Etta’s Tune"  was the first song written for the album and has a remarkable back story. It was named after Etta Grant, who was married to Johnny Cash’s original bass player Marshall Grant for 65 years. Cash and Leventhal weaved true facts about Etta and Marshall’s life in Memphis - central to it, Marshall’s other life on the road. So beautiful!


There were days when you paced the kitchen

There were nights that felt like jail

When the phone rang in the dead of night

You’d always throw my veil

No you never touched the whiskey

And you never took the pills

I travelled for a million miles

While you were standing still


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Leave the Light On

Chris Smither 2006

(Written by Chris Smither)

Chris Smither is another unsung hero of Americana music. He has more than spent 50 years writing, singing, recording and touring - often in the shadows of artists more famous like Bonnie Raitt, Dave Alvin, Tom Russell and Rambling Jack Elliott, all of whom came to admire his wonderful finger picking! Raitt is said to have described him as “her Eric Clapton.” "Leave the Light On", from the 2006 album by the same name, has to be the most beautiful of his countless compositions. He does a nice duet with Rusty Belle, but the original gets listed here. Since that very first recording, Smither has had fun with the lyrics: I’ll live to be a hundred/ I was born in 44/  39 to go but I ain’t keeping’ score, In live performances over the years he has changed that (39 to go) line accordingly. It is now in the twenties! Long may the countdown continue.


But the race we're running now is never-ending

Since space and time are bending

There's no finish line

I’ll live to be a hundred

I was born in '44

39 to go

But I ain't keepin' score

I been left for dead before 

But I still fight on

Don't wait up

Leave the light on

I'll be home soon

lyrics © 


You Ain’t Going Nowhere

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, featuring Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman 1989

(Written by Bob Dylan)

A Rolling Stone reviewer once described the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as “a group that has expertly woven country, folk, pop, blues and bluegrass together into a rich musical tapestry” - perfect credentials to be included in an Americana list. Their greatest achievement was no doubt the Will The Circle Be Unbroken trilogy which featured the most diverse collection of musicians from the various genre that indeed constitute Americana music! And what better than to persuade former Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman to reunite for a duet of "You Ain’t Going Nowhere", the Bob Dylan song recorded by the Byrds in1968, three years in fact before Dylan’s release. The reunion was included in Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol 2, released in 1989. It was also put out as a single and not surprisingly reached the Top 10 of the Hot Country Songs charts. There have been countless covers of this famous song - penned during Dylan’s post-motorcycle-accident exile - but none as good as McGuinn, Hillman and friends.


Clouds so swift

Rain won't lift

Gate won't close

Railings froze

Get your mind off wintertime

You ain’t goin' nowhere

Whoo-ee, ride me high

 Tomorrow's the day

My bride's gonna come

Oh, oh, are we gonna fly

Down in the easy chair

lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co


Gallo Del Cielo

Tom Russell 1984

(Written by Tom Russell)

There is nothing more satisfying to a song-writer, especially one striving for recognition, than to find out that a superstar admires one’s work. In a blog, Tom Russell recalls a cold night in Brooklyn in the 1990’s when he returned home after a gig to find a pile of mail outside his door. One of them was postmarked Bristol, England. It was a letter, in scrawling writing, telling him how much this person admired his song "Gallo Del Cielo". Tom thought it was a nice compliment from just another fan. He tossed it in the trash and passed out in a chair. After his slumber something made him retrieve the letter. It was signed - Bruce Springsteen! Joe Ely had played Bruce the song and The Boss remarked “Who in hell wrote that?”  Russell added: “It was a wonderful, warming moment for me when I was struggling, and this great and kind man took the time to send that note off.” Of course, Ely was to record "Gallo Del Cielo" with much critical acclaim. But Tom’s wonderful original is listed here.


Hola my Teresa I'm thinkin of you now in San Antonio

I have 27 dollars and the good luck of your picture framed in gold

Tonight I'll put it all on the fighting spurs of Gallo Del Cielo

Then I'll return to buy the land that Villa stole from father long ago


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Hard Promises to Keep

Kimmie Rhodes and Willie Nelson 1995

(Written by Kimmie Rhodes)

Country music has always embraced duets, whether it be George and Tammy, Gram and Emmylou or John Prine with, well just about anybody! Some voices seamlessly fit. Kimmie Rhodes, with her little-girl-lost voice, and Willie Nelson, the ultimate Texas crooner, are a perfect match. They teamed up for two excellent tracks - "Hard Promises to Keep" and "I Never Heard You Say" - on her well-received 1995 album West Texas Heaven. There are also duets with two other country greats - Waylon Jennings and Townes van Zandt - on the same album. But Kimmie and Willie work wonders together, especially on "Hard Promises to Keep", described by one critic as “a masterpiece of a song.” Interestingly, two years earlier Nelson supported Trisha Yearwood with harmony vocals (though strictly not a duet) on the same song. Nice as it is, the union between the actual songwriter and Willie, listed here, is heaven-sent!


Promises are like little diamonds.

Promises are like little hearts

You meant to give away.

I thought you'd want them back someday.

I've kept them for you anyway,

But I know when I've been given

Hard promises to keep.

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


Sunday Morning Coming Down

Kris Kristofferson and Buddy Miller 2016

(Written by Kris Kristofferson)

This was the song Kris Kristofferson said allowed him “to quit working for a living.”  It contains one of the most delightful lines in modern music: And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad/ So I had one more for dessert. The song was also a hit for Ray Price and Johnny Cash, among others, while Willie Nelson’s rendition on his masterful Willie Nelson Sings Kristofferson album is as good as any. But the songwriter gets listed here, though not the original version. This is a recent rendition he did with every musician’s favourite, Buddy Miller, in 2015. It is off the must-have 2016 album Camayo Sessions at Sea. Rolling Stone noted: “Kris Kristofferson offers up a powerful and pensive rendition of his signature song, "Sunday Morning Coming Down", as Miller’s unmistakable baritone guitar rings throughout.” Spot on!   


On a Sunday morning sidewalk

 I'm wishing Lord that I was stoned

'Cause there's something in a Sunday

That makes a body feel alone

And there's nothin' short of dyin'

That's half as lonesome as the sound

Of the sleepin' city sidewalk

And Sunday mornin' comin' down


lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


A train Robbery

Levon Helm 2007

(Paul Kennerley)

Levon Helm sang the lead role on Paul Kennerley’s star-studded 1980 concept album The Legend of Jesse James, but this song was not included in the original release. It first surfaced, sang by Kennerley, as an extra track in the 1999 CD re-issue. Levon’s version appeared on his stunning Dirt Farmer album, released in 2007. A live recording can be heard on Ramble at the Ryman, arguably one of the finest Americana concerts ever released on CD/DVD. Helm’s contribution to Americana music is simply incalculable!



Now some say the Devil had taken his soul

 Some say his spirit survived

But we all know he was nothing

But a Missouri farm boy

Just fightin’ to stay alive

High above that railroad bed

On a ridge where the pines grow tall

 If you listen to the wind

There’s a ghost of a chance

You can still hear ol‘ Jesse call


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amco



Slaid Cleaves 2017

(Written by Slaid Cleaves and Nathan Hamilton)

In its review of Slaid Cleaves impressive 2017 album Ghost on the Car Radio, Rolling Stone got straight to the point: “Slaid Cleaves may be Americana’s most under-appreciated writer.”

The Irish Times chose the headline “Instantly Likeable Tales of Everyday Life”, nicely noting “some might describe his characters as losers but he gives them dignity.” In true Americana tradition, Cleaves gives voice, and verse, to the dispossessed, love lost and simply forlorn. And he does it all with folksy musical grace. Ghost of the Car Radio covers a broad spectrum of hard times from a world gone wrong - "Drunken Barber’s Hand" - to ageing bar rats - "The Old Guards" - and indeed ageing itself - "Junkyard". But it his take on man’s folly over natural resources - "Hickory" - which elevates this Austin-based singer-songwriter to a new level. This soft ramble, nicely stitched together with mandolin, is truly memorable!


Now the mountain top’s flattened, the hickory’s gone

And the streams run black as a curse

My father’s been out in the barn more and more

Since the mining went bad and then worse

Well I heard his old saw, I heard his old plane

I heard his cough worsen with time

Now I stand where he lays in a box that he made

Out of hickory, walnut and pine

© Slaid Cleaves, Magic Rat Music BMI/Nathan Hamilton, Irondust Music BMI


Harlem River Blues

Justin Townes Earle 2010

(Written by Justin Townes Earle)

If terroir, as in wine, applied to music, then Justin Townes Earle would be first-growth vintage. The son of Steve Earle and named after his Dad’s mentor Townes Van Zandt, Justin certainly has the genes and heritage to stamp his contribution on roots music. And he has certainly achieved that with a brand of music often praised for its “timeless” quality and “fits all” style. From the 2010 album of the same title, "Harlem River Blues" was made Song of the Year at the 2011 Americana Music Awards and earned him an appearance on David Letterman’s Late Show. Jason Isbell, who plays on most album tracks, is listed in the back-up “choir” which has its own 30-second reprise of the "Harlem River Blues" chorus at the end of the album. Nice touch!


When you see me walking up the FDR

Just a singin’ and a-clappin’ my hands

Tell my mama I love her

Tell my father I tried

Give me my money to my baby to spend

Lord I’m going uptown

To the Harlem River to drown

Dirty water’s going to cover me over

And I’m not going to make a sound


Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LL


’Til I Gain Control Again

Van Morrison 2006

 (Written by Rodney Crowell)

Could this be the most beautiful love song ever written? It first emerged with a magical performance by Emmylou Harris on her 1975 Elite Hotel album. Though Crowell was by then a member of her backing band, he is not listed among the musicians for this particular track. He was to record his own very fine version on his 1981 self-titled album. The following year Crystal Gale was also to cover the song. But the true measure of the song’s place in Americana history - and indeed Crowell’s true value as a songwriter - came in 2006 when Irish legend Van Morrison included a stunning soulful version on his Pay the Devil album, which included covers of several country standards. His performance of the Crowell classic amazed critics, one writing: “Even Morrison’s most emotional material in the past never projected such pretty frailty.” Van the Man was rightfully honoured by the Americana Music Association in 2017.



Just like the lighthouse I must stand alone

Landmarks to mark the sailor’s journeys end

No matter what sea I’ve been sailing on

You know, you know

I will always roll this way

This way again


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Seven Bridges Road

Steve Young 1969

(Written by Steve Young)

Steve Young was once asked to name a couple of high points as a musician. He replied: “When Waylon Jenning did 'Lonesome, Ornery & Mean' (but) everybody else was thrilled when the Eagles did 'Seven Bridges Road'.” Any talented, but struggling, song-writer deserves a break, and it often comes when superstars record one of their seemingly-lost songs. The Eagles did that for Young when they included "Seven Bridges Road" on their 1980 blockbuster Eagles Live album and then released it as a single. It became a Top 40 hit and certainly helped Young to be “kind of free” as he liked to put it.



There are stars

In the Southern sky

Southward as you go

There is moonlight

And moss in the trees

Down the Seven Bridges Road


Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


Ben McCulloch

Steve Earle 1995

(Written by Steve Earle)

Ben McCulloch was born in Tennessee, died in Akansas and fought for Texas in both the Texas Revolution and Civil War - the kind of man you could hang an Americana song on! And that’s exactly what Steve Earle did in his 1995 release, the Grammy-nominated Train a Comin - one of the finest acoustic albums ever produced. It was his first recorded work after his troubled addiction period and probably his best compilation of songs. The majority however, were written early in his career. The stand-out tracks include "Mercenary Song" and "Goodbye". But "Ben McCulloch" gets listed here because it’s the best example of Earle’s uncanny ability to prick our conscience by turning historical facts into downright clever lyrics, accompanied by an easy-on-the-ear melody. Earle’s song is a first-person account of a foot soldier in McCulloch’s infantry who doesn’t know what I’ m fighting for, ‘cause I’ ain’t never owned a slave. Americana writing hardly gets any better than this!


And on the way to Fayetteville we cursed McCulloch's name

And mourned the dead that we'd left behind and we was carrying the lame

I killed a boy the other night who'd never even shaved

I don't even know what I'm fightin' for, I ain't never owned a slave

So I snuck out of camp and then I heard the news next night

The Yankees won the battle and McCulloch lost his life, yeh

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


King of California

Dave Alvin 1994

(Written by Dave Alvin)

Like many of the Californian musicians of his generation, Dave Alvin has mixed his musical genres into various appealing cocktails during a distinguished career as a guitarist, songwriter and producer. He had early recognition as a founder member of the Blasters and in the late eighties as a songwriter when Dwight Yoakam recorded "Long White Cadillac". Alvin’s career as a solo performer consolidated over the years with a host of excellent albums including the Grammy-winning Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land. But for many his best was the impressive King of California, featuring the popular title track - an old-fashioned ballad of love, and life, lost during the Californian gold rush.


Now the dead man's lying at my feet

Who tried to steal my earnings

Yet I still recall your tender kiss

Though this bullet in my chest is burning

But my darling dear, please have no fear

For I think that it's fair to warn you

That I return to claim your hand

As the King of California


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Drive South

John Hiatt 1988

(Written by John Hiatt)

Another old fashioned troubadour, known for turning up for a solo gig in various parts of the globe, John Hiatt has had more success with his songs being recorded by other artists. And "Drive South" - somewhat his signature tune - fits the bill. Various versions have turned up on the country charts, the most successful by Suzy Bogguss, who launched it as a single from her 1992 Voices in the Wind album. But Hiatt’s original still burns bright with his gruff drawl harmonising nicely with driving guitar riffs.


I heard your mama callin', I think she was just stallin'

Don't know who she was talkin' to, baby me and you

We could go down with a smile on, don't bother to pack your nylons

Just keep them pretty legs showin', it gets hot down where we're goin'

We were always looking for true north

With our heads in the clouds, just a little off course

I left the motor running, now if you're feeling down and out

Come on baby drive, come on baby drive south, come on baby drive south


Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


Dixie Chicken

Little Feat 1973

(Written by Lowell George & Fred Martin)

What a wonderful genre-mix this song is - a classic example of Americana music. Having the word Dixie in the title probably helps! In fact, the song contains one of the most inventive Dixie lines in music, and there’s been a few: If you’ll be my Dixie chicken/ I’ll be your Tennessee lamb. Little Feat founder and front-man Lowell George wrote "Dixie Chicken" with  boyhood friend Fred Martin (aka Martin Kibbee) who explained that "Dixie Chicken" was motivated by a restaurant of the same name in Laurel Canyon, L.A. “It also reminded me of a girl I knew at the time,” he says. “I basically followed Lowell around with a typewriter and we would work on the lyrics to songs for months. I think it shows.”  Dixie Chicken is now regarded as a classic album, the first that George produced. And yes this is the same much-respected Lowell George who was in Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.


Then one night in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel

I chanced to meet a bartender who said he knew her well

And as he handed me a drink he began to hum a song

And all the boys there, at the bar, began to sign along

If you'll be my Dixie chicken, I'll be your Tennessee lamb

And we can walk together down in Dixieland

Down in Dixieland


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Lonesome L.A. Cowboy

Old And In The Way 1973

(Written by Peter Rowan)

On October 1 and 8, 1973, the bluegrass supergroup Old And In The Way  - Jerry Garcia, Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Vassar Clements, John Kahn - performed at The Boarding House in San Francisco. The two concerts were recorded by eight microphones (four per channel) and mixed live onto a stereo Nagra tape recorder. The tapes ended up holding one of the most valuable recordings of bluegrass music. The self-titled first album of the October 8 concert was released two years later and was one of the biggest selling records in bluegrass history. Subsequently three more compilations were released, culminating in 2013 with Live at the Boarding House: The Complete Shows. It contains the full concerts from both dates, with 55 tracks, 14 previously unreleased. Relix’s Jesse Jarnow best summed up: “While it was Peter Rowan’s sweet silvery holler and the quintet’s close dynamics that sold the Stinson Beach supergroup to audiences, it was Jerry Garcia’s presence that sold the band’s live LP to hippies, and — in turn — linked banjos to beardos forevermore.” It is Rowan’s whimsical take on drug-fueled Californian musicians of the 1970’s, "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy" that makes the Americana list, even though the standout number in the collection is an astonishing version of the gospel-bluegrass standard "Drifting Too Far From the Shore".


I'm just a lonesome L. A. cowboy,

Hangin' out, hangin' on to your window ledge,

callin' your name from midnight until dawn

I been smokin' dope, snortin' coke, tryin' to write a song

Forgettin' everything I know ‘til the next line comes along

Forgettin' everything I know ‘til the next line comes along


lyrics © 


The Gardens

Texas Tornadoes 2009

(Written by Chris Gaffney)

Southern Californian Chris Gaffney was largely unknown outside the Southwest until he died in 2008. For it was in the following year that his best friend and musical collaborator Dave Alvin, once of The Blasters, put together a superb album Chris Gaffney Tribute: Man of Somebody’s Dreams with first-class covers of Gaffney’s songs. Joe Ely, Boz Scaggs, Tom Russell and James McMurtry are among the big names on the album. But the star turn is the inclusion of the Texas Tornadoes’ 1996 rendition of "The Gardens", a song Gaffney wrote about life (and death) in the L.A. ghettos. Freddy Fender’s vocals were described by one critic as “aching and evocative.” Fender, of course, was dead by the time the Gaffney album was released so it also provides a fitting tribute to the great Tex-Mex musician. Alvin was to later do his own fine version on his 2018 Downey to Lubbock album with Jimmie Dale Gilmour.


When the Sun goes down

And the heat stays on

Young men fight

And they carry on

It’s just the way or life

Down here in The Gardens


lyrics © Yep Roc Records


No Depression in Heaven

Sheryl Crow 2004

(Written by A.P. Carter)

Redefining Carter Family Music has become somewhat of an industry in itself. Perhaps the finest tribute to the first family of country music came in 2004 with the release of the John Carter Cash-produced album The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family. Interestingly, the stand-out track of the compilation was not produced by John, but by the singer herself, Sheryl Crow. There have been many versions of this Depression-era favourite - most notably Uncle Tupelo’s Appalachian-roots treatment on their debut album in 1990. But Crow’s ballsy rendition stands above most. A wonderful live version can be heard/seen on Levon’s Helm’s classic Ramble at the Ryman.


I’m going where there’s no depression

To the lovely land that’s free from care

I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble

My home’s in heaven

I’m going there


lyrics © Peermusic Publishing



Mary Gauthier 2018

(Written by Mary Gauthier & Brandy Davidson)

There have been so many concept albums, across all musical strands, that there are even best-of-all-time-concept-album lists! But few can be as original and out-there as Mary Gauthier’s 2018 album Rifles and Rosary Beads. All songs were co-written with military veterans she met while participating in a “Songwriting with Soldiers” program. Gauthier manages to merge cutting lyrics with appealing melodies, especially with "Iraq", co-written with Army veteran Brandy Davidson. It tells a raw tale of a female mechanic fighting, not enemy combatants, but the scourge of sexual harassment.


I stood my ground, I didn't give in

I drew a line again and again

When they whistled and whispered

When the wind kicked up dust

I looked to the sky, asked the lord why I had no one to trust

It was so hard to see 'til it attacked

But my enemy wasn't Iraq

A salute and a wink, a little pat on the back

My enemy wasn't Iraq


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Killing the Blues

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss 2007

(Written by Roly Jon Salley)

Match a grizzled, ageing rock legend with a beautiful young fiddle-playing bluegrass star and you get: Raising Sand - a delightful album which turned out to be a big seller and won a Grammy to boot! Producer T Bone Burnett can take much credit and, in true style, he strums various guitars on this wonderful version of a much-covered Roly Salley song that John Prine first brought to prominence.


Leaves were falling just like embers

In colours red and gold

They set us on fire

Burning just like moonbeams in our eyes

Somebody said they saw me

Swinging the world by the tail

Bouncing over a white cloud

Killing the blues


© O/B/O Apra Amcos


I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

- Keb Mo 2001

(Written by Hank Williams)

Tribute albums have got somewhat of reputation for being … well, two-a-penny. But when they’re good …. well, they’re very good. Timeless, the 2001 tribute to Hank Williams, is very good, not only because of  the artists included - Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Keith Richards etc  - but also for the way the album producers allowed each performer to individually interpret these “timeless” Hank classics. The best example is Keb Mo doing the gut-wrenching "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry". You somehow believe the steel guitar in indeed that lonesome whippoorwill or that the violin is in fact a robin weeping. Timeless was rewarded with a 2002 Grammy for Best Country Album.


Hear that lonesome whippoorwill

He sounds too blue to fly

The midnight train is whining low

I’m so lonesome I could cry


lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


Return of the Grievous Angel

Gram Parsons 1974

(Written by Gram Parsons & Thomas Brown)

In a late attempt to find new material for the Grievous Angel album, Gram wrote this dynamic track while recording sessions were taking place in California in mid-1973. He was to die in September and the album was released four months later. There are differing opinions from those involved as to Gram’s physical and mental state during the sessions. But all agree Emmylou Harris played a pivotal role in bringing the magical music together. Her vocal input to this particular gem is emphatic, yet still distinctive for its remarkable harmonising with Parsons - as it is on "Hearts on Fire" and "Love Hurts". James Burton too is at his finger-pickin’ best! While Gram was listed as the sole songwriter when the album was released, it is now acknowledged that friend and poet Thomas Brown wrote most of the appealing lyrics.


The news I could bring I met up with the king

On his head an amphetamine crown

He talked about unbuckling that old bible belt

And lighted out for some desert town

Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels

And a good saloon in every single town


Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Billy (Live)

Gillian Welch 2006

(Written by Bob Dylan)

There is no doubt that Gillian Welch is best served live. Her concerts - with David Rawlings - are simply mesmerizing! But Welch’s catalogue has limited live material, though it’s not hard to trawl You Tube for videos of their various concerts. However, the 2006 Music From The Revelator Collection has just eight  live songs songs – a mix of covers and takes on such popular Welsh/Rawlings originals as "Revelator" and "Red Clay Halo". There is an outstanding interpretation of probably the best bluegrass song ever written - Bill Monroe’s "I’m On My Way Back To The Old Home".  But the attention-grabber is clearly how she and Rawlings treat the Dylan classic "Billy". There is nothing wrong with the Dylan original but Welch and Rawlings add a sophisticated dimension to one of the greatest western ballads ever written.


Hang on to your woman if you got one

Remember in El Paso once you shot one

She may have been a whore but she was a hot one

Billy you been running for so long

Guitars will play your grand finale

Down in some Tulqarosa alley

Maybe in the Rio Pecos Valley

Billy you’re so far away from home

Copyright © 1972 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2000 by Ram’s Horn Music


Love at the Five and Dime

Nanci Griffith 1986

(Written by Nanci Griffith)

A song to warm the heart and with a classic Americana line: She made the Woolworth counter shine. In live performances, Nanci has often introduced "Love at the Five and Dime" by explaining how the ‘ting' in the music represents the sound of an elevator in a Woolworth store. It is nicely captured in a delightful live version on her 1988 One Fair Summer Evening album. The endearing love story between Rita, the dime-store clerk, and Eddie, the steel-guitar player, was originally released on Nanci’s Last of the True Believers album in 1986, the same year that Kathy Mattea scored a break-through hit with her version.


One of the boys in Eddie's band

Took a shine to Rita's hand

So Eddie ran off with the bass man's wife

Oh but he was back by June

Singin' a different tune

Sporting Miss Rita back by his side

And they'd sing

Dance a little closer to me

Hey, dance a little closer now

Dance a little closer tonight


lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


My Father’s House

Bruce Springsteen 1982

(Written by Bruce Springsteen)

This song tingles the spine of anyone who has ever ventured to places of a past life. Emmylou Harris transformed it effortlessly to country with an outstanding version on her 1986 album Thirteen. But Springsteen himself makes this list with his ghostly, haunting original about his much-publicised relationship with his, at-times troubled, father. Yet another fabulous track off the Americana classic album Nebraska.


         I walked up the steps and stood on the porch

         A woman I didn’t recognise

         Came and spoke to me though a chained door

         I told he my story and who I’d come for

         She said I’m sorry son

         But no one by that name

         Lives here anymore


lyrics © Downtown Music Publishing LLC


Feeling of Beauty

Tift Merritt 2012

(Written by Tift Merritt)

Tift Merritt burst onto the scene with a classic self-penned song "Bramble Rose", the title track on a debut album one critic described as only “ a bit short of perfect.” In subsequent years she stayed in the shadows of the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patti Griffin and Emmylou Harris. But she reasserted herself as a solo performer with her 2012 album Traveling Alone, in which she assembled an impressive ensemble of musicians. It is a wonderful collection of original songs, including "Drifted Apart", which features guest vocalist Andrew Bird. But the standout is the simply-seductive "Feeling of Beauty". Check out You Tube for a soft and soothing live rendition with Chatham County Line.


And every once in a while, the feeling of beauty

Catches my heart, runs right through me

If you don’t mind, I’ll stay on another couple of days

If it’s alright with you, I’ll stay on another couple of days


lyrics © 


Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can

Ray Wylie Hubbard, featuring Eric Church & Lucinda Williams 2017

(Written by Ray Wylie Hubbard)

As far as music goes, this song is about incestuous as it gets! But then again, it could only be the work of an unsung Americana hero like Ray Wylie Hubbard who spent years floating in a swirling sea of country/blues/folk music on the West Texas landscape. He is now among the most recognised and respected of Americana artists and largely as a result of albums like his 2017 release Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can. It is a stunning compilation of work, none the least the title track. Hubbard told Rolling Stone: “Tell the Devil is a rock & roll fable about hanging your life on a guitar, holding on to a dream no matter what or how long it takes.” The opening verse is a clever take on a misspent musical life. Just wonderful writing! Two big names - Lucinda Williams and Eric Church - creep into the song nicely and help end it with real grunt!


Screamin’ in a mic, playin’ a Strat through a Vox AC-30

Gives a troublesome back and a ringin’ in ears

My last band covered the Clash, the Kinks and the Replacements

Seems my soul is as misspent as my years

Now I got a Princeton reverb, it’s in an old Anvil case

It’s in the back of a Ford Econoline

It’s a 6-hour drive to Austin and the Continental Club

I got to change the strings on my ES-335


lyrics ©


The Ballad Of Ira Hayes

Johnny Cash 1964

(Written by Peter La Farge)

Much has been written about Peter La Farge's chilling story-in-song of the sad life of Ira Hayes, the marine of Pima Indian descent who helped raise the American flag on Iwo Jima. Not only did it serve to remind future generations of the bravery of all who participated in the famous 1945 battle, but it drew attention to the post-war treatment of the native people who served during World War 11. There have been many fine versions of La Farge’s classic - Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, among them. But Johnny Cash’s version, for his 1964 concept album BitterTears, had the most impact. It was the only single released from the album and reached No. 3 on the Country Charts. But there is a fascinating backstory to this. Cash is reported to have purchased a1000 copies of the single and sent them to radio stations he accused of being too gutless to play the song because of its controversial social and political connotations.


They battled up Iwo Jima Hill two hundred and fifty men

But only twenty seven lived to walk back down again

And when the fight was over and Old Glory raised

Among the men who held it high was the Indian Ira Hayes

Call him drunken Ira Hayes he won't answer anymore      

Not the whiskey drinking Indian or the marine that went to war


lyrics © Carlin America Inc


Lake Charles

Lucinda Williams 1998

(Written by Lucinda Williams)

Fans love the fact that Lucinda seems to keep this bitter-sweet tribute to an old boyfriend in her ever-evolving concert play-list. And why not! It is a gem from the classic album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. And what is more it is a requiem from the heart - simply a stunning piece of writing! Jim Lauderdale provides backing vocals.


He was born in Nacogdoches

That's in East Texas

Not far from the border

But he liked to tell everybody

He was from Lake Charles

Did an angel whisper in your ear

And hold you close

And take away your fear

In those long last moments


lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


The Lucky One

Alison Krauss & Union Station 2001

(Written by Robert Lee Castleman)

Alison Krauss singing a flirtatious number about giving you a song and a one-night stand was always destined to be a hit. It was the first single off her New Favorite album, which was released in 2001, the same year as the hugely popular O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack which, of course, featured Krauss and her band. The multi-talented group cashed in on the sudden popularity of bluegrass, with much publicity and tours, both in their own right and as part of the Down From The Mountain cast. It also lifted the profile of her long-serving musicians such as Dan Tyminski and Jerry “Mr Dobro” Douglas. There were deserved Grammys the following year for both the album and the song.


You're the lucky one always having fun

A jack of all trades, a master of none

You look at the world with a smiling eye

And laugh at the devil as his train rolls by

Give you a song and a one night stand

You'll bee looking at a happy man 'cause

You're the lucky one


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos



Son Volt 1995

(Written by Jay Farrar)

This has become a classic road song and was from Trace, the first album from the new group Jay Farrar formed after leaving Uncle Tupelo. There is a seamless synergy between Farrar’s vocal and the fiddle and pedal steel. When American Songwriter featured it as “Lyric of the Week” in February 2015, writer Jim Beviglia noted: “On 'Windfall', Son Volt seems to say that the best you can do in this life is prepare yourself for harder times that the road may uncover and hope that the winds of fate send more help than harm. And, at all times, you should make sure to have wonderful songs like this Son Volt classic on hand as your travelling companions.” Nice!


Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana

It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven

May the wind take your troubles away

May the wind take your troubles away

Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel,

May the wind take your troubles away


lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc



Drive-By Truckers 2003

(Written by Jason Isbell)

Much is made of Jason Isbell’s time with Drive-By Truckers. But he made only three albums with the band before heading off for a dynamic solo career. The first was Decoration Day in 2003 for which he wrote just two songs - the title track and "Outfit", a whimsical tale in which he relates the advice his father gave him. Nice lines like Call home on your sister’s birthday proved a forerunner of what was to come from this clever lyricist!


Don't call what you're wearing an outfit

Don't ever say your car is broke

Don't sing with a fake British accent

Don't act like your family's a joke

Have fun, but stay clear of the needle

Call home on your sister's birthday

Don't tell them you're bigger than Jesus

Don't give it away


Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.


Boots of Spanish Leather

Nanci Griffith 1993

(Written by Bob Dylan)

Of all the albums that personify Americana music, Nanci’s Other Voices, Other Rooms would be hard to beat. Produced in collaboration with the great Jim Rooney, Nanci set her mind on a project which became “a full grown family tree of the songs, voices and writers” whose music gave her the strength to branch out as a writer herself. No such project would be complete without a song by Bob Dylan. Nancy chose well. She does instant credit to this love song and even got the great man to play harmonica! Some Dylanologists speculate that this ballad may have been inspired by the traditional song "Blackjack Davey" in which the heroine is wearing high-heeled shoes made of Spanish leather! Whatever, it remains one of the great love songs.


So take heed

Take heed of the western wind

Take heed of stormy weather

And yes there is somethin’ you can send back to me

Spanish boots of Spanish leather


lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


All the Roadrunning

Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris 2006

(Written by Mark Knopfler)

Given their history of musical collaboration, it was no surprise when Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris finally got together for the All The Roadrunning album, released in 2006 after many years in production. It produced the usual cliches from the critics, including “match made in heaven” and “seriously good music.” The critical acclaim was matched by commercial success - it made number one in the album charts in three countries - and produced a popular 23-concert tour of Europe and North America. (There is a most wonderful photo of the two stars posing with their proud grey-haired mothers at one of the concert venues.) Knopfler penned all but two of the 12 tracks, including the title number in which he reflects on a lifetime of performing on the road in the guise of a “wall of death” circus rider. The line Air miles are owing/But they don’t come for free is another example of the lyrical brilliance of the artist who gave us money for nothing and chicks for free! Check out Mary Chapin Carpenter’s wonderful version on the must-have 2016 tribute album The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris.

A million miles of vagabond sky

Clocked up above the clouds

I'm still your man for the roaming

For as long as there's roamin' allowed

There'll be a rider

And there'll be a wall

As long as the dreamer remains

And if it's all for nothing

All the roadrunning's been in vain

lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Motherless Children

Rosanne Cash 2009

(Traditional: Arranged by Roseanne Cash and John Leventhal)

When one of the greatest names in modern music writes a list of his top 100 Country songs and hands it to his 18-year-old daughter for life-long reference, what’s there to do? If that daughter is Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny, the obvious thing is to make an album and call it The List. This of course is what Rosanne Cash did, choosing 12 of the songs to re-interpret for a simply delightful album of covers.  Add the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Rufus Wainwright and Elvis Costello and you have a real winner. Three tracks stand out - "Sea of Heartbreak", with The Boss, and the Patsy Cline classic "She’s Got You". But it is the Blind Willie Johnson blues standard Motherless Children which is the pick of the crop!


Father will do the best he can

When the mother is gone

Father will do the best he can

When the mother is gone

Father will do the best he can

But there’s so many things he just don’t understand

Motherless children have a hard time

When the mother is gone


lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Wild Horses

The Flying Burrito Brothers 1970

(Written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger)

How does a song by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger end up on an Americana playlist? Well if the famous said composers allow one of the pioneers of country rock to release a version first, that’s why? Gram Parsons convinced his great mate Keith to let him include a version of "Wild Horses" on Burrito Deluxe, the second album by Gram’s band (at the time) The Flying Burrito Brothers almost a year before The Rolling Stones released it on Sticky Fingers. Of all the Stones songs, it is probably one of the most covered, by artists of many genres from bluegrass to soul. Two outstanding covers are from Old & In The Way (bluegrass) and Buddy Miller, featuring Shawn Colvin, (contemporary folk). But Gram’s ground-breaking version deserves the listing here.


Childhood living is easy to do

The things you wanted I bought them for you

Graceless lady you know who I am

You know I can't let just slip through my hands

Wild horses couldn't drag me away

Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away


Wild Horses lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc


Trucker Speed

Fred Eaglesmith 2012

(Written by Fred Eaglesmith)

Americana music has enough slit-ya-wrist road songs to fill a cemetery. But "Trucker Speed" leaves them all for dead! It is the closing track on Canadian Fred Eaglesmith’s 2012 album 6 Volts which was recorded live off the floor using one microphone onto reel-to-reel. One critic summed it up nicely: “The results are muddy and occasionally unbalanced. However, this was a successful gamble. There is warmth in these songs.” Well there is not a lot of warmth in a song about a death-wish truckie who drives around with an empty load, steering with his knees so he can mix up a concoction of drugs. But such a brilliant song keeps Fred’s fans - known as “Fredheads” - lining up for more at his countless gigs.


And it's trucker speed, benzedrine

Percocets, amphetamines

Black beauties and west coast turnarounds

When the coast is clear I drive with my knees

I mix it all up like a recipe

Coca-cola and coffee to wash it down

Sometimes I feel like my wheels ain't touchin' the ground


lyrics ©


That’s How I Got to Memphis

Buddy Miller 1995

(Written by Tom T. Hall)

This classic by Tom T Hall was a hit single for Bobby Bare in 1970. There have been numerous other covers, by a variety of big names from Bill Haley to Roseanne Cash. But it was 25 years after Bare’s release that the song got probably the best treatment. It came from Buddy Miller on his acclaimed debut solo album Your Love & Other Lies, supposedly recorded in his living room! Miller’s career took off soon after and he and wife Julie mix it with best of Americana these days. But his early interpretations  - especially "That’s How I Got to Memphis" - still make for great listening. Tom T’s fine song got a much-deserved wider audience in 2014 when Jeff Daniels performed a credible version in the finale of the popular HBO series The Newsroom.


Well I know if you'd seen her you'd tell me 'cause you are my friend

I've got to find her and find out the trouble she's in

If you tell me that she's isn't here I'll follow by the trail of her tears

That's how I got to Memphis, that's how I got to Memphis


lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


Icy Blue Heart

John Hiatt 1988

(Written by John Hiatt)

John Hiatt’s ninth studio album Slow Turning got a lot of air play thanks mainly to the popular title track. But it is what other artists, and media, did with such a fine selection of songs that made this album so significant. Three numbers - "Slow Turning", "Tennessee Plate", "Feels like Rain" -  were included in soundtracks of significant movies. Suzy Bogguss had a country hit with "Drive South" and Emmylou Harris included a haunting version of "Icy Blue Heart", helped by backing vocals by Bonnie Raitt, on her 1989 album Bluebird. Hiatt’s powerful original gets listed here.


He said, Girl, you're a beauty like I've never witnessed

And I've seen the Northern Lights dancing on air

I've felt the cold that can follow the first kiss

And there's just not enough heat in the fires burning there

To melt your icy blue heart

Should I start?

To turn what's been frozen for years

Into a river of tears

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


Midnight Communion

Russell Smith and The Amazing Rhythm Aces 2007

(Written by Russell Smith, Delbert McClinton, Gary Nicholson)

Over the years, Russell Smith and The Amazing Rhythm Aces, in various forms, have emerged as one of the finest “small-venue” live bands in the business. This quirky ditty first appeared on co-writer’s Delbert McClinton’s  2005 Cost of Living  Grammy-winning album. Smith provided backing vocals before recording a version for his own album, by the same name, two years later. His interpretation is a little more honky-tonkish than McClinton but both men can be proud of this clever bar-room sing-along composition.

It’s midnight communion

Down on second avenue

They take the wine till closing time

A fellowship of fools

Confessions heard, forgiveness given

From twelve o’clock till two

Midnight communion

Down on second avenue


lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos


Wedding Bells

Buddy Miller & Richard Thompson 2016

((Written by Claude Boone)

The album Cayamo Sessions at Sea is a collection of songs recorded during the annual Cayamo Festival Cruise in the Caribbean. Originally Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale recorded a number of jam sessions on the cruise to play on their satellite radio show. Eleven performances were eventually fine-tuned for Miller’s album. There are stars-a-plenty, from Kris Kristofferson to Lucinda Williams, at their very best. But top prize has to go to English folkie Richard Thompson who all but weeps on the Claude Boone classic "Wedding Bells", which, of course, Hank Williams is best remembered for. Buddy’s backing is the icing on the (wedding) cake!

I have the invitation that you sent me

You wanted me to see you change your name

I could’t stand to see you wed another

But dear I hope you’re happy just the same

Wedding Bells are ringing in the chapel

That should be ringing out for you and me

Down the aisle with someone else you’re walking

Those wedding bells will never ring for me

lyrics ©


Wagon Wheel

Old Crow Medicine Show 2004

(Written by Ketch Secor and  Bob Dylan)

This is one of the most popular songs in Americana music, not only because of the Old Crow Medicine Show release in 2004 but the 2013 cover by Darius Rucker which was a number one country single. The origins of the song are as intriguing as its success. Bob Dylan wrote the chorus and melody as a demo during the sound-track sessions for the Sam Peckinpah movie Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. It ended up an out-take, listed as "Rock Me Mama" after a refrain in the chorus. OCMS’s Critter Fuqua heard it years later when the Dylan song was released as a bootleg. He alerted band-mate Ketch Secor who added verses around the chorus about hitchhiking his way home -  full of romantic notions put in his head by the Beat poets and, most of all, Dylan. Secor and Dylan signed a co-writing agreement, with a 50-50 split of royalties.

Heading down south to the land of the pines

I’m thumbing my way into North Caroline

Staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights

I made it down the coast in seventeen hours

Picking me a bouquet of dogwood flowers

And I’m a-hoping for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight

–Ketch Secor


So rock me mama like a wagon wheel

Rock me mama anyway you feel

Hey mama rock me

Rock me mama like the wind and the rain

Rock me mama like a south-bound train

Hey mama rock me

–Bob Dylan


lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


Not Dark Yet

Jimmy LaFave 2007

(Written by Bob Dylan)

Jimmy LaFave’s output has been a nice mix of original material ("Only One Angel", "Darkest Side of Midnight", "Car Outside") and innovative cover versions ("Walk Away Renee", "Catch the Wind", "Walk a Mile in My Shoes"). But it was his distinctive treatment of Dylan material that caught the ear. He told No Depression in 2005: “I learned a lot about how to play the guitar from trying to play along to Dylan records. And I think Dylan is one of the greatest vocalists ever. His phrasing is as good as Frank Sinatra: he’s a master.” Jimmy’s 1992 album Austin Skyline  featured his first interpretations of Dylan, but there was even better to come 15 years later when his well-received Cimarron Manifesto included "Not Dark Yet". Jimmy’s versions deservedly got a wide audience when it was used on the TV drama Californication.

I was born here

And I’ll die here

Against my will

I know it looks like I’m moving

But I’m standing still

Every nerve in my body

Is so naked and numb

I can’t even remember

What I came here to get away from

Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer

It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there

lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


When We’re Gone, Long Gone

The O’Kanes 1986

(Written by Kieran Kane & Jamie O’Hara)

There were only three albums produced by the O’Kanes in the 1980’s before the duo (Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara) disbanded to go solo and embark on other career challenges, like establishing a record label. But they left behind a wonderful legacy as both performers and song-writers, one critic labelling their high and lonesome bluegrass sound as “perfect front-porch harmony.” "When We’re Gone, Long Gone" was not one of the ten singles released between 1986-1990, but it gained the best possible exposure when Dolly, Linda and Emmylou including it on the Grammy-winning blockbuster Trio 11 in 1999. Kieran Kane did a nice live version with Kevin Welch for a rather obscure, but appealing, Live in Melbourne album. It has become something of “a funeral song” but that should in no way detract from its simplistic beauty.

Trouble, we have known trouble

In our struggle just to get by

Many times the burden's been heavy

Still we carried on side by side

And when we're gone long gone

The only thing that will have mattered

Is the love that we shared

And the way that we cared

When we're gone, long gone

lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kieran Kane Music


St Olav’s Gate

Tom Russell  1984

(Written by Tom Russell)

American roots music has long been popular in Scandinavia, with many popular performers making successful tours there over the years. Tom Russell is no exception. His great grandfather was born in Norway and the capital Oslo became a home away from home for Tom and his band. They recorded albums there and the city proved the inspiration for one of his most endearing compositions "St Olav’s Gate". Friend and musical collaborator Nanci Griffith gave it well-deserved prominence by including it on her successful The Last of the True Believers album in 1986. And Tom joined the panel of backing vocalists.

She was a lady, she came down from Bergen she said

She spoke little English, they laughed and drank whiskey instead

In the mornin' he found it, a rose with a note on his plate

It said, "meet me at midnight on the corner of St. Olav's Gate"

Here's to the ladies you love and don't see again

The night is warm whiskey, the mornin's a cold bitter wind

The blue eyed madonna leaves town while the drunken man waits

Leaves him standing alone in the shadows of St. Olav's Gate

lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Cigarettes and Wine

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit 2009

(Written by Jason Isbell)

If anyone wanted a good reason as to why Jason Isbell became a superstar just trawl through any of his early work once he left Drive-By Truckers, where he was already on everyone’s radar! His first solo album was released in 2007 a few months after leaving the Truckers. His next album Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit came two years later with, by now, his own band, the 400 Unit, named - as you do - after a psychiatric hospital in his home state Alabama. The star track "Cigarettes and Wine" is about a bar girl and has lyrics like: Money and liquor and lust had taken my heart and my trust/ I could see ashes and dust were headed my way. More clever lyrics - and numerous Awards - were to come. But this song remains one of Jason’s best.

She smelled like cigarettes and wine

And she kept me happy all the time

I know that ain’t much of a line

But it’s the Gods’ own truth

She lives down inside of me still

Rolled up like a twenty dollar bill

She left me alone with these pills

In the last of my youth

lyrics © BMG Rights Management


City of New Orleans

Steve Goodman 1971

(Written by Steve Goodman)

This has to have had one of the most air plays in Americana music. But it was not the original version which proved a hit, but rather covers by Arlo Guthrie (1972) and Willie Nelson (1984). At least Willie’s version earned Steve Goodman a posthumous Grammy in 1985. Goodman, a native of Chicago, was inspired to write the song while travelling on the Illinois Central line to visit his wife’s family. His break came when Arlo decided to record "City of New Orleans" after,  so the story goes, Steve cornered him in a bar and begged to him to listen to the song! As nice as Guthrie’s version is, Goodman’s original gets listed.

And the sons of Pullman porters, the sons of engineers

They ride their fathers' magic carpet made of steel

And mothers with their babes asleep, go rockin' to the gentle beat

And the rhythm of the rails is all they dream

Just singing good mornin' America, how are you

Saying don't you know me I'm your native son

And I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans

I'll be gone 500 miles when day is done

lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


It’ll Shine When It Shines

Ozak Mountain Daredevils 1974

(Written John Dillon & Steve Cash)

This band - with probably the best name in Americana music - had its roots in Missouri in the early seventies and soon made an impact with a nice blend of rock, country and bluegrass. This is the title track off the second album (1974) which was actually recorded in an old pre-Civil War farmhouse near Aldrich, Missouri. The album included the chart song "Jackie Blue", considered a little too popish for inclusion in this list. The harmonies on all tracks are simply infectious!

Seems like everyone

Is out looking for the sun

Singin’ rain and pain

On he who hesitates

But it’ll shine when it shines

You might think I’m wasting time

But I’m just a good old boy

That’s learned to wait

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


The Road Goes on Forever

Robert Earl Keen 1989

(Written by Robert Earl Keen)

In 1988 Robert Earl Keen was down to his “last nickel and dime” when he went into a Nashville studio to record his third album. He told CMT News the story of how the great alt-country producer Jim Rooney demanding a song “to hang our hat on” before going ahead with the recording session. Keen then spent two days finishing off this Bonnie and Clyde-style ballad about Sherry and Sonny. In fact, it was enough for Keen to hang his career on!  It became his anthem. The Highwaymen and Joe Ely were among the big names to cover.

It’s Main Street after midnight just like it was before

Twenty one months later at the local grocery store

Sherry buys a paper and a cold six-pack of beer

The headlines read that Sonny is going to the chair

She pulls back onto Main Street in her new Mercedes Benz

The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group


Loco Gringo's Lament

 Ray Wylie Hubbard 1998

(Written by Ray Wylie Hubbard)



What is with these Texan singer-songwriters? This song is pure Americana music.
Seemingly inspired by Leon Payne’s "Lost Highway", Hubbard almost redefines that song.
There is such a beautiful synergy with his guitar and his message - both the instrument and singer weep together. Where did this line come from?: He waits alone in heaven's shadow/
With a stolen horse and tequila tears
.  It is the title track of his 1994 album produced by West Texas steel-guitar legend Lloyd Maines, father of Natalie.The version selected here is from Hubbard’s 1998 release Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club - another artist best served live!

    Now Hiram Williams was in the back seat
    Of a Cadillac it’s on New Year's Day
    He closed his eyes and sang his last song
    Mister Leon Payne's "Lost Highway"
    That same old song with a sad sweet ending
    Is playing somewhere south of town
    By a band of hard young rockers
    Who never think they'll see the sun go down

Copyright ©



Mrs Hank Williams

Fred Eaglesmith 2006

(Written by Fred Eaglesmith)

In the age of the #MeToo movement and the Ryan Adams controversy, this delightful ditty may not be entirely appropriate. But Fred Eaglesmith paints harmless fun at infidelities and the like on musical tours that go all the way back to … well at least the Hank and Audrey days. Fred has never been shy of telling-it-like-it-is in songs about musicians - from "Stars" to "Betty Oshawa". But he was at his clever best with "Mrs Hank Williams", off the superb 2006 album Milly’s Cafe. One reviewer called it “a road trip record in the classic sense.” There is nothing more road-trippy than a song inspired by the shenanigans of poor Hank and Audrey.

She doesn't watch the show

She just stays in the car

And watches the young girls

Outside the stage door

And they're there to tell you how much

They'd be ready and willing

To take the place any day

Of Mrs. Hank Williams

Mrs. Hank Williams crying all night long

Mrs. Hank Williams waiting up to dawn

When they talk about her

She's one in a million

And when they introduce her

She’s Mrs. Hank Williams

lyrics © 


Rise Again, Handsome Johnny

Tom Russell featuring Nadine Russell, Max De Bernardi & Veronica Sbergia 2017

(Written by Tom Russell)

Tom Russell may feel Americana is “a dumb term” but that can be nothing more Americana than a song honouring JFK. And strangely enough, there have been very few songs over the years dedicated to the slain President. "Rise Again, Handsome Johnny" is included in Tom Russell’s superb 2017 release Folk Hotel - an album so good it prompted No Depression to speculate it “maybe even the best of all the items in his catalog.” Russell seems to excel all lyrical expectations on Folk Hotel, with vivid stories of heroes, real or imagined. It is fitting that Russell chose the centennial year of Jack Kennedy’s birth to release such a moving and personal tribute.

As I left the Colosseum

That championship night

I thought I saw Jack standing

Neath the lamp post light

I went to shake his hand boys

But he disappeared from sight

Oh Rise again handsome Johnny rise again

This country could use a few good men

lyrics ©


California Stars

Billy Bragg and Wilco 1998

(Words by Woody Guthrie, Music by Jay Bennett & Jeff Tweedy)

This beautiful song is the result of one of the more inspiring collaborations in modern music. It came about when Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie, asked British folkie Billy Bragg to set some of her father’s unrecorded lyrics to music. He enlisted Wilco and Natalie Merchant in the project and the result was the Grammy-Nominated Mermaid Avenue album, released in 1998. Two other volumes followed. It is not exactly known when Guthrie penned the simple lyrics to "California Star", but the music was the work of two Wilco members, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, and it later became a standard in Wilco’s playlist. Bragg is reported to have had a falling out with Wilco relating to the production of the original album, but it in no way detracts from the distinctive quality of the material produced, much of the credit going to the Woody Guthrie Estate.

I’d like to dream my troubles all away

On a bed of California stars

Jump up from my star bed and make another day

Underneath my California stars

They hang like grapes on vines that shine

And warm the lovers glass like friendly wine

So I’d give this world just to dream a dream with you

On our bed of California stars

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Portland Oregon

Loretta Lynn & Jack White 2004

(Written by Tom Russell)

Who said Nashville doesn’t take music risks? Every so often an album comes out of nowhere that not only stuns traditional fans but dispels the myths and cliches that somehow dog the country music industry. There is no better example than Van Lear Rose, the cross-over country/rock/blues album seventy-something Loretta Lynn put out with twenty-something Jack White in 2004. This unlikely pairing produced a critically-acclaimed blockbuster which was certified gold and won two Grammy Awards. Most of the tracks were written by the country legend, with one critic nicely describing the work as “a brave, unrepeatable record that spreads to her whole life.” White takes a shine to them all. His musical interpretation is soft and subtle when needed - like on the more country "Van Lear Rose", "Family Tree", "Miss Being Mrs" - yet gusty and bluesy on the likes of "Have Mercy" and "Mrs Leroy Brown". Yet the “gee whiz” track has to be "Portland Oregon", the only duet the pair perform. Jack goes full flourish with the electric guitar yet somehow it never drowns out Nashville’s most-awarded songstress!

Well, sloe gin fizz works mighty fast

When you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass, uh huh, uh huh

Hey bartender, before you close

Pour us one more drink and a pitcher to go

lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC


Forever Has Come to an End

Buddy & Julie Miller 2001

(Written by Julie Miller)

Of all the husband and wife songs in country music – and there have been a few – this has to be among the best. Buddy and Julie had appeared on each other’s solo recording, but the Buddy & Julie Miller album in 2001 was their first official release as a duo. Julie wrote all but three of the 11 tracks, the best being "Forever Has Come to an End". The harmony is sheer perfection. The album won Best Album of the Year at the inaugural Americana Music Association Awards.

Now the sun need no longer to shine dear
And the world need no longer to spin
For your love it has run out of time dear
And forever has come to an end

 lyrics © BMG Rights Management


In Your Own Time

Calexico, Iron & Wine 2019

(Written by Sam Beam)

Two unsung heroes of Americana music – Calexico (Joey Burns and John Convertino) and Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) - gained overdue international recognition when their first full-length album was nominated for Best Americana album at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Years to Burn was released to critical acclaim in June 2019 and came 14 years after the two acts first collaborated with an E.P. In the Reins. The combination also scored a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Performance with “Father Mountain” which is included in Years to Burn. But the outstanding track on this stunning album is clearly “In Your Own Time”, a thought-provoking song penned by Beam  - Cause we only want a life that’s well worth living/And sleeping ain’t no kind of life at all. It first emerged around 10 years ago as a solo, stark effort by Beam.  The full-band version with Calexico takes this beautiful song to a richer, sophisticated level, with Beam and Burns trading verses.

      In your own time, you'll dance in the moonlight
      Smoke like a freight train and fuck like a dog
      Don't be scared if I tell you I love you
      I'll be good to you and then I'll be gone

      'Cause we only want a life that's well worth living
      And sleeping ain't no kind of life at all
      Come meet the family and get warm by the fire
       Someone will catch you if you want to fall

       Someone will catch you if you want to fall

llyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc



First Aid Kit 2012

(Written by Klara & Johanna Soederberg)

This endearing song is from The Lions Roar, the much acclaimed second album from First Aid Kit, the Swedish folk duo comprising of sisters Klara and Johanna Soederberg. When Rolling Stone listed it as number 10 of the 50 Top Singles of 2012, it noted: “Sometimes we Americans need outsiders to remind us of our awesome heritage.” The duo brought a tear to the eye of Emmylou Harris when they sang the song at a gala honouring Harris when she was made a Laureate at the 2015 Polar Music Awards in Stockholm.

I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June

If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too

No I’m not asking much of you

Just sing little darlin’ sing with me

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc



The dates accompanying each song refer to the year of release for the particular track preferred.


Crossroads respects all creative copyright by songwriters and performers and lyrics and recordings are used for review purposes only.

All factual errors and omissions are regretted.

bottom of page