I love America. I have done ever since my first visit there with my friend, John, in our early twenties. Stumbling into a hire car at LAX and driving to a friend’s place in West Hollywood, I immediately fell head over heals in love with the country. My love affair with the US has continued and strengthened – and, luckily, has been inherited by the rest of my family too. We now look for any excuse to visit the States. We take most of our holidays there, generally in LA and Southern California, but we are also regular visitors to NYC, to suck up the culture, the shopping and the vibe.
Right now, we’re mulling over a West Coast road trip for next summer. We’re planning to fly into Vegas; spend a couple of nights in the libertarian capital of the world; drive across the desert to LA and spend a week or so hanging with friends; then driving up PCH 1 to Big Sur, Carmel; on to San Francisco; and finally to Napa to check out The French Laundry and re-enact some Sideways moments (not).
America is the greatest country in the world to drive, and I have covered huge chunks of it behind the wheel of cheap rented cars, travelling across the empty cattle country of Oklahoma and Northern Texas, the boiling deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, California and Utah, into the mountains and high passes of Colorado and across the never-ending plains of Kansas and Missouri: the mythical ‘real America’. I love taking long, leisurely drives with family and friends with country stations, the occasional shock jock and endless albums and mixtapes providing the musical back drop to our adventures.
I love stopping in small towns to gas up and have a coffee. I love spending the evenings talking to the always-friendly locals in bars and the nights in local motels. But the real pleasure is the driving on endless traffic-free highways, with music playing, and watching the beautiful American big country pass by while listening to the steel radials hum on the asphalt. It’s my idea of heaven.
This Spotify playlist of lo-fi Americana and country is my tribute to the great American road trip – a journey from sea to shinning sea; from Springsteen’s Atlantic City to Sheryl Crow’s LA – and is dedicated to the road trips of my youth and the many more miles of open road I hope to drive in the future.
Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
From The Boss’s best album – Nebraska – this is a lo-fi masterpiece that fits modern recession hit America perfectly.
Simon & Garfunkel – America
Simon & Garfunkel take the ultimate Greyhound trip across America, with a little Cold War paranoia thrown in.
America – A Horse With No Name
Okay, I know it’s a bit cheesy and the lyrics don’t make any sense, but I really love this early 70’s soft rock anthem.
Bon Iver – Re: Stacks
This instant lo-fi classic was my favourite track from Justin Vernon (AKA Bon Iver)'s wonderful album For Emma, Forever Ago, which he recorded over three months alone in a log cabin in the woods.
Sufjan Stevens – Chicago
A road trip in its own right, this song by Sufjan Stevens always reminds me of a modern version of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’.
Willie Nelson – He Was a Friend of Mine
This Bob Dylan song, covered here by Willie Nelson, was just perfect for the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain and is one of the moving songs about friendship ever written.
The Felice Brothers – Don’t Wake the Scarecrow
I bought the Felice Brother’s album in Rough Trade on a whim. I’m so glad I did: it’s a stone cold classic and ‘Don’t Wake the Scarecrow’ is one of the very best songs on the album. This lyric is Dylanesque in its perfection: ‘In that cold room / Your breath would twist just like ghosts do’.
Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas
Ry Cooder is at his sublime and haunting best in this classic bootle-neck guitar track from the iconic soundtrack to the Wim Wenders film of the same name. (Nobody has ever filmed Texas better than Wenders, and Nastassja Kinski just looked so gorgeous.)
The Blue Sky Boys – The Banks of the Ohio
This country classic has been a firm favourite since Alex Massie featured the song in his wonderful Saturday morning Country blog posts.
Laura Cantrell – Churches off the Interstate
Singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell was a favorite of John Peel, and I saw her play this marvelous song at Peel Day tribute gig, just after the great man had died.
The Felice Brothers – Frankie’s Gun!
I know I’m breaking the unwritten rules of mixtapes by featuring two songs by the same band, but this marvellous track by The Felice Brothers is worth breaking a few rules for.
Counting Crows – Goodnight Elisabeth
A huge personal favourite from back in the day, this song showcases fantastic guitar playing and a roll call of the America I love. It’s perfect driving music.
Cat Power – Lived In Bars
The best song about alcoholism since Gil Scot Heron’s ‘The Bottle’, this speaks to me of small town hotels and bars, and the loneliness of addiction. This is a very special song for me.
Eddie Vedder – Guaranteed
Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam scored Sean Penn’s excellent Into the Wild, the moving true story about going on the road and going off the grid.
Alison Krauss – Your Long Journey
Who would have thought that bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and Led Zep screecher
Robert Plant would have come up with such a fine album as Raising Sand? With the T-Bone Burnett twiddling the knobs, anything is possible.
Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do
We end our journey on Tuesday lunchtime in a bar on Santa Monica Boulevard, pulling the labels off bottles of Bud. And all is well with the world!