This column has wrestled repeatedly (ad nauseam, some might say) with the notion of what constitutes Americana. But what about the other half of the prescribed beat: How does one define roots? If additional factors like Alex Haley, hair color, or turnips are part of the chat, then the topic is easily narrowed. But roots music? Well, it can mean almost anything.

For starters, there is the school that categorizes roots music as a style from a bygone era, performed in traditional fashion by contemporary players. Which means that Son del Pacífico, the full-length album by Seattle quintet SuperSones, definitely merits discussion here. Practitioners of Cuban son—a vintage strain of dance music from the Eastern side of the island nation, popularized via recordings in the 1920s—the quintet's lively arrangements on this swell CD, full of nimble guitar and percussion, neatly emphasize the intersection of Spanish and African traditions unique to Cuba.

Others consider roots music something that merely takes inspiration from older sources. A primary example is the Byrds, who reintroduced country music tropes to rockers via their 1968 classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and are, coincidentally, casting an audible shadow over the music of Oregon ensemble Cabinessence (the Beach Boys pop up in the mix a lot, too; their name is plucked from a Brian Wilson song title). Featuring Jacob Arnold and Nathan Maricle, formerly of power-pop quartet Marigold, this group retains the songwriting hooks of their old band, but married to slower tempos, and embellished with banjo and slide guitar. The band mark the re-release of their debut, Comes Back to You, with a Seattle appearance at High Dive on Thursday, October 20.

Then there is the idea of roots as a way of referring to a geographical source (as in, "I spent my formative years in L.A., but my roots are in Poughkeepsie"). Detroit and its surrounding environs are some of the richest such domains in musical history, and a new compilation, Searching for Soul: Rare and Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan, 1968-1980 (on the Luv N' Haight imprint), reminds listeners that Motown Records only represents a fraction of the Great Lake State's legacy on wax. The 14 well-chosen selections include Robert Jay's superlative "Alcohol, Pt. 1," a furious slab of electric blues, rounded out with a finger-waggin' female chorus, that is the closest thing to the restorative powers of an AA meeting that a troubled soul could hope to find in an iPod-friendly format.

Support The Stranger

Roots can also refer to origins springing from a community of people, rather than a place. "Gay Fun," from singer-songwriter Don Lennon's 2002 release, Downtown, offered a nifty, toe-tapping window into queer culture, winning him praise in LGBT publications like Out. Alas, Lennon doesn't actually bat for the team-that-throws-like-a-girl, but his lyrical acumen and catchy melodies, as featured on his new disc Routine, are comparable with Magnetic Fields, Jill Sobule, and Aluminum Group, and can be enjoyed by all at the SS Marie Antoinette on Friday, October 21. recommended

kurt@thestranger.com

Sponsored
2021 Social Justice Film Festival: ACTIVATE | REFUGE Online
Screening 50+ films that inspire and demand community action, October 7-17 at socialjusticefilmfestival.org.