American Songwriter quoted Young as having said the following regarding the tone and intent of the album:
Every one of these songs [on Americana] has verses that have been ignored. And those are the key verses, those are the things that make these songs live. They’re a little heavy for kindergarteners to be singing. The originals are much darker, there’s more protest in them — the other verses in "This Land Is Your Land" are very timely, or in "Clementine," the verses are so dark. Almost every one has to do with people getting killed, with life-or-death struggles. You don’t hear much about that; they’ve been made into something much more light. So I moved them away from that gentler interpretation. With new melodies and arrangements, we could use the folk process to invoke the original meanings for this generation."
Americana received generally positive reviews from music critics. It holds an average score of 68 out of 100 at Metacritic, based on 31 reviews.Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune gave the album three-and-a-half out of four stars, writing that "Americana reveals the hard truth inside songs that have been taken for granted." Dan Forte, in Vintage Guitar, said "this may be his best since Rust [Never Sleeps]." In a mixed review, Michael Hann of The Guardian found the album "impossibly pointless" and felt that some songs exhibit "sloppiness" and "unnecessary lengths".Robert Christgau named Americana the best album of 2012 in his year-end list for The Barnes & Noble Review.