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The Billboard charts, they are a-changin'

Jeffrey Remz  |  May 13, 2016

Great news for the Americana world. Billboard said on Thursday that it would rename its Folk Albums chart as the Americana and Folk Albums chart in early June.

The practical impact is unclear to me. Right now, if you take a look at the Billboard Folk Albums chart for the week ending May 21, for example, you'll find The Lumineers at the top with "Cleopatra," followed by Sturgill Simpson's "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," The Jayhawks "Paging Mr. Proust" and Bonnie Raitt with "Dig in Deep." A little further down are Loretta Lynn and Margo Price.

It strikes me that the Folk Albums chart already is the Americana chart. It's just not a particularly accurate title of what's on there.

I'm not sure if anyone ever accused Raitt, the fine blues singer, of being a folk singer. Ditto for Lynn and Price, who are hard core country. In fact, both were already on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with their excellent new releases. So was Simpson.

Americana Music Association Executive Director Jed Hilly was quoted in The Tennessean saying, ""I think it's a game-changer, and that's why it is a home run because this chart will represent the importance and sales potential of this genre, and we've never had that before. I think it will be one of the most significant charts artists will look at because they'll want to be associated with other artists, because these artists are writing songs to tell stories the best way they can from an artistic standpoint primarily."

Maybe. But I think artists are trying to make a dent wherever and however they can these days. If it's on the country chart, fine. If it's on the Americana chart, all good. Remember, any publicity is all good.

Americana has never really been a genre as indicated at least by what's on the chart. I used to call it a marketing term, and it probably still is. Americana remains the home of artists who maybe can't quite get a foothold on the rock or country charts whether a known or unknown quantity, whether playing country, folk, the blues, bluegrass or a mash-up thereof.

In that same Tennessean story, CEO Rounder Label Group head Cliff O'Sullivan referred to Americana "as a movement, not a genre." That's probably more like it, but it doesn't really matter.

The bottom line is that the more accurate a chart identities the type of music listed, the better for all. The Billboard Folk Albums chart just isn't accurate any more. If it helps the AMA, and more importantly artists in the Americana fold, that's a step forward.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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