“Global Americana” sounds like a genre, and it certainly could be. But it’s also the title of the new album by local trio The Billy Sea (Billy Cardine on slide and acoustic guitars and piano, River Guerguerian on percussion and Jake Wolf on electric bass).
The title is worthy of some thought: Less than a decade ago, Americana was alt-country and global was world music in the Putumayo and Real World compilation sense. Americana was a generic-sounding catch-all for what wasn’t as slick as rock or as twangy as country, but referenced old-time, blues, Appalachian and folk. World music was a generic-sounding catch all for everything that wasn’t North Americana or Western European rock and pop.
The Billy Sea’s take on the genre/title is a blending of influences (a hint of a raga here, a hand drum there) but with neither self-consciousness nor self-importance. Album opener “Going Back Home” (written by Wolf) is rhythmically driving and melodically drifting, a summer night witnessed from a car ride down a firefly-lit country road. “With A High Hope” seems to build on the atmospherics and organic landscape. It is credited as a Bengali folk song, but even with hand drums (a tabla?) and Eastern chord progressions, there’s a light feel and a jazz sensibility. It’s a song that belongs to the east of India, but also to a picnic beside a burbling Appalachian stream.
Cardine’s “The Mare’s Day” is one of the album’s longer tracks. It’s a gauzy and expansive melody with complex guitar work accented by a shimmer of cymbals and syncopated beats. Like most of Global Americana‘s offerings, the song builds in layers of complexity, of exotic rhythms and warm guitar tones. Here, the pace picks up to a canter, but the sound is of absolute ease form start to finish.
Guerguerian’s “Seven Tambourines” (a short and a long version) reaches farther to the east and features a kind of vocal percussion along with hand drumming. Worth noting: It’s one of very few vocalizations on a lush instrumental album that never misses lyrics. Thematically, it pairs nicely with the equally-India “Bil Bhi Rav” (Cardine). That song is darker, thicker and studded with nimble guitar and bass riffs.
Cardine’s “Hawnk,” which dives back into sun-dappled Americana soundscapes, jogs effortlessly through rounded melodies and interesting time signature changes. It’s a road map of hairpin turns and wide sky above: that juxtaposition of difficulty and openess that keeps the listener engaged.
Global Americana also includes a cover of Jónsi’s “Stars in Still Water.” It’s sung by Mary Lucey, whose vocal style is vastly different from that of the Sigur Ros frontman, but the effervescence and delicacy of the song is perfect expressed. The Billy Sea transforms the cover into something unique (the tasteful flourishes of percussion, the resonate bass, the high voice of the guitar) while maintaining the spell of the original.
The Billy Sea holds a release party for Global Americana at The Isis on Saturday, July 13. 8:30 p.m., $12 in advance.