“Country music,” “concept album,” and “Hindu mythology” are not phrases you often hear said in one breath. But Americayana, the new album from Chicago-based songwriter Aaron Rester, sounds like what you might get if you crossed Willie Nelson’s classic Red-Headed Stranger album with the ancient South Asian epic known as the Ramayana. Each song on the album tells a story inspired by an episode in this widespread and incredibly diverse narrative tradition—a story of exile, of the blurry lines between right and wrong, of a love story for the ages, peppered with betrayal and murder. Along the way, Rester brings the listener on a tour of mid-20th-century American music, from the country-blues shuffle of “Shirley" to the high-desert psychedelia of "Potter’s Ground," and from the boozy folk of “Dreamland" to the 1950s torch song-inspired “In the End”. "Got to Go" is straight-up rockabilly, while a cover of actual rockabilly classic "Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache" gets a plaintive reworking. All of these styles are brought together in a high-tech, lo-fi way that could only happen in the 21st century: on a laptop with a single microphone, including both digital samples from around the world and the creaking floors and steam-heat hiss of the 1920s bungalow where it was recorded.
Read more about the stories behind the songs on Aaron's blog.
A note from Aaron
"While my inspiration for this project draws from a narrative and religious tradition that I deeply respect, admire, and love, I feel that it is important to note that the characters depicted in these songs are not Rama and Sita. I recognize that they are important spiritual figures for millions of people, and that some of the behaviors the characters in these songs engage in might be considered offensive if attributed to Rama and Sita. This work is, in its own way, an act of bhakti, and my intent is only to share a wonderful narrative tradition with those who might never have otherwise discovered it. If it offends you, I offer my apologies, but also the hope that you will spend some time, with an open mind, digging into the vast universe of ways that people have told this story over thousands of years. You will find that there are truly as many Ramayanas as there are people who have ever told, or listened to, the story."