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Album Review: Americana
Doug Hammer
Cover image of the album Americana by Doug Hammer
Doug Hammer
2016 / Dreamworld Productions
76 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Doug Hammer’s Americana is a magnificent album in so many ways. The beauty of Hammer’s original music and arrangements, the generosity of spirit that flows throughout the album, the eighteen tracks and 76 minute running time are all super-sized to create a project that is soul-stirring and inspiring as well as an exceptionally fine listening experience. Some of the pieces are solo piano, three are vocals, and several are orchestrated with both live musicians and Hammer’s own Dreamworld Symphony. I have to admit that patriotic albums often leave me kind of cold even though I love folk music, but this one really speaks to me. A few of the orchestrations have a big full sound, but many of the songs are slowed down and stripped to their essences, giving them a fresh take and deeper meaning despite the frequency we’ve heard and sung them since we were children. Pride, idealism, nostalgia, solemnity, honor and joy run throughout this album. In the liner notes, Hammer says: “This album is dedicated to the United States of America, its people and its ideals. But mostly, I dedicate this to all the men and women who have served or who are serving in our Armed Forces. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten….. I wanted to capture the spirit of America, for it is alive and well. And it is unbreakable.” This is undoubtedly Doug’s most ambitious work to date, and it will definitely have a spot on my Favorites List for 2016!

Americana opens with “The Spirit of America,” which sets the mood for the album. Beginning with a somber bugle call, strings and piano enter, and then the full orchestra with a big cinematic sound that evokes images of sweeping landscapes and wide open spaces as well as a sense of freedom. The title track begins with banjo, piano, and fiddle, growing to include guitar, drums, bass and cello with a sound reminiscent of barn dances and county fairs of a more innocent time. Hammer’s arrangement of “Yankee Doodle” is like nothing you’ve heard before. Piano and rousing drums begin in a march style and then cut loose in a variety of jazz styles that are danceable and exciting. It gets a “WOW!” out of me every time! Next is a series of American classics that we all know so well. “The Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America” and “America The Beautiful” are all performed as piano solos with the focus on the melodies - so simple and yet so poignant. A little later in the album, “My Country ’tis of Thee” is given a similar treatment. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a duet for piano and electric guitar - again, the focus is on the melody, but the electric guitar gives it a contemporary feel that you don't often hear. All five of these songs put a lump in my throat! “The Good Old Days” is the first of the vocals. Sung by Brian Maes, it recalls a time “not so long ago” when people had time to be friendly and everyone felt safe. “Heartland” is a beautiful piece for piano and strings. Somber yet quietly peaceful, amber fields of grain seem to wave gently in the breeze. “Shenandoah” and “The Water Is Wide” have always been favorite folk songs, and Mia and Ariel Friedman sing them so soulfully with very simple accompaniment on piano, cello, and fiddle - pure Americana! “Simple Gifts” is another folk classic, and Hammer’s solo piano arrangement is stunning. “Taps” is a slow, very haunting piano solo with atmospheric synth and echoey reverb - also stunning. “Elegy” and “Redemption” follow, honoring those whose lives have been lost - so beautiful and so intensely emotional! “The Dream Is Alive” offers hope and a sense of optimism. The closing track is a gem. Beginning and ending with the sound of a scratchy old phonograph record, “Sunnyside Rag” is in a piano style that is so purely American.

Doug Hammer has produced some awesome music over the years, but Americana is a masterpiece! It is available from DougHammer.net, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. I give it my highest recommendation!
December 17, 2016
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