There's almost something patriotic about the notion of Americana. Drawing from roots-oriented strains of country, folk, blues and rock, the sound is as American as apple pie.
But you don't have to be American to play it.
Indeed, some of the most interesting variations on the American approach can be found north of the border, thanks to bands like Cowboy Junkies. Like fellow Canadians Blue Rodeo, Spirit of the West and the Waltons, the Junkies are intimately familiar with Americana's musical vocabulary.
Unlike their American counterparts, however, these Canadian bands have no compunction about taking those elements and twisting them into something unique and different.
"I think it has to do with being outsiders," says Cowboy Junkies guitarist Michael Timmins, from his home in Montreal. "The Americana sound, and a lot of those references within the lyrics, are not things that we necessarily grow up with. We're on the outside, looking in at them.
"So they're not borne in our blood. They're something that we adopt, and then we take our own influences - the other influences being Canadian - and warp them a little bit, give them a different look."
Still, he says, it's not as if American culture is exactly foreign to Canadians. "There is definitely a closeness," he says. "I think that's what makes it fascinating for us, because the culture that is celebrated in Americana music is, as I say, something that we don't really live in, but we certainly are very familiar with it. There's enough in it that we can identify with, and we can immerse ourselves in.
"It's not like a band from France trying to interpret it. We're definitely a lot closer."
Timmins adds that this is hardly a recent phenomenon among Canadian musicians. "It's been happening for years," he says. "The Band would be the most obvious example of that, and Neil Young to a certain extent."
To Timmins' mind, though, what matters most about a band's sound has less to do with the influences going in than it does with the sound coming out. Listen to the Cowboy Junkies' current album, "Miles from Our Home," and you'll hear everything from the Indian-tinged drones of "Blue Guitar" to the dark, raging rock of "Hollow As a Bone" to the bittersweet acoustic balladry of fTC "No Birds Today."
But between the lean, expressive guitar work, the low-key rhythm section and Margo Timmins' inimitable alto drawl, it all sounds like the work of the same band.
"We have a very distinctive sound," says Michael Timmins. Moreover, he believes that the band's sound has been consistent throughout its nine-album career.
"So even though we've played with different types of recording strategies, and added different instrumentation and that, I think the actual sound of the band - the four of us - always is there," he says. "And that's important to us.
"That's us, that's the band. That's what you get when you buy a Cowboy Junkies record. You get Cowboy Junkies."
When: Tonight at 8
Where: Bohager's, 515 S. Eden St.
L Call: 410-481-7328 for tickets, 410-563-7220 for information
Sundial: To hear excerpts from the Cowboy Junkies' new release, "Miles from Our Home," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6110. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.