Genres are tricky things, full of implication and assumption. Pop music isn’t always popular, soul bands don’t always connect deep down and not all blues is melancholic. Similarly the term Americana might imply that it is a sound taken from the American music psyche or that references past glories from that country. But maybe some music is less about geography and more about the similarities between the people making it. If the modern urban sprawl has given us intense, minimal rapped deliveries put to a empty industrial-tribal beat and conversely slow-paced agrarian comments produce gentler, lilting folk, maybe all Billy Roberts is doing is channelling the natural pace and pulse of hard-working, regular communities, wherever they may be found.
And maybe the term Americana is a bit misleading, some of the hall marks are there for sure but Greenbah also wanders many other roads, it is rough around the edges rock, outlaw country, rhythm and booze; it grooves, it boogies, it motors. It is the sound of the perfect bar band, one that you could have stumbled across anywhere from 60’s San Francisco, 70’s New York, 80’s London and a hundred other scenes and cities across the decades. I guess it carries a torch that stems back to the early blues players and then has evolved, grown, got sonically tooled up but always been around in some form or another.
If album opener, Old Friend, ticks off more than a few of those American country references and has a certain Springsteen vibe about it, Greenbah also has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Blood and Bones is a raw, blues rock workout, Only One is a pacy ballad as blistering as it is beautiful and No One Knows Me is a west coast country punk anthem. There is even room for a moment of Cohen-esque bar-room introspection with Don’t Tell Mamma and Little Johnny is a song that Tom Waits would kill for, bent to his will and then probably re-written with a tuba in mind.
To say that it is a solid album is an understatement, The Rough Riders as a pack are a force to be reckoned with, they get the job done with the minimum of fuss, with an attitude of “I’ve had my union card a long time, I know what the job is, don’t mess with me when I’m working.” The charm comes from the fact that although it is the sound of a group of musicians playing at the top of the gruff, country-rock game, they rarely give away all the goods at once, preferring instead to serve the song and wait for their rare, individual moment in the spotlight, teasing and taunting the listener. Any showboating is reduced to intricate motifs and clever sonic designs which spice the music rather than lime-lit ego massaging that modern music is infamous for.
People are people, music is where you find it and the world is a small place. All cliches I’ll grant you but it does explain why Billy Roberts and The Rough Riders are difficult to place in every sense of the phrase. So why not raise a glass to the post-genre, post scene, post-everything world…then finish the bottle whilst listening to this intriguing Antipodean band.