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Recent Book Reviews

At Randy Travis's Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Garth Brooks said, ""Name me any artist from any genre in the history of all music that took a format, turned it 180 degrees back to where it came from and made it bigger than it has ever been before." And that is not an exaggeration. Travis's first album "Storms of Life" arrived like a bomb in 1986, shaking up country radio that was then dominated by pop sounds from people like Marie Osmond, Dan... »»»
Americana Music – by Lee Zimmerman
The number of books about Americana music has been few and far in between. A few readers came from the vaults of No Depression magazine and website, which were characterized more as books about alt.-country. So, for that alone author Lee Zimmerman deserves credit for his extensive look mainly at the artists that are part of Americana. But that also would be selling Zimmerman and his book short. Zimmerman is a most compassionate supporter of Americana, and that comes through loud and clear throughout... »»»
Bluegrass Generation: A Memoir – by Neil V. Rosenberg
Neil V. Rosenberg has, quite literally, written the history of bluegrass music (see "Bluegrass: A History"). An academic and banjoist, in no particular order, Rosenberg has captured the essential narrative of bluegrass music over many years. Rosenberg's memoir, "Bluegrass Generation," seems to have a modest field of vision; namely a telling of his early academic days and their interrelation with the nascent bluegrass music scene of the early 1960s... »»»
Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock – by Steve Forbert with Therese Boyd
Particularly if you've been listening to Steve Forbert's music for many years, you're bound to have some fun with his new memoir, "Big City Cat." The book, which lifts its title from that of a track on "Alive on Arrival," his 1978 debut LP, offers lots of commentary on the inspiration for Forbert's songs and the making of his albums. You'll also discover mentions of many of the artists he admires - some predictable (assorted folkies), some rather... »»»
Smiling Banjo: A Half Century of Love and Music at the Philadelphia Folk Festival – by Eric L. Ring, Jayne Toohey and John T. Lupton
Music Festivals come and go. Most feed a need and fill a particular niche. But there are some that endure, despite the vagaries of the music business and challenges to the working musician. The Philadelphia Folk Festival has endured for a half-century. The PFF has reflected then-current cultural sensibilities and grown with the times. Eric L. Ring, Jayne Toohey and John T. Lupton have authored a remarkably rich and beautiful compilation of stories reminiscences and photos... »»»
The Horseshoe Tavern is a modest throwback bar, which has endured through Toronto's growth as an international city. Even today, it exists as an island amongst shiny steel and urban growth. It shares its DNA with the countless anachronistic outposts that dot the cityscapes of North America: reminders of barnstorming days of country and western and bluegrass artists. Nashville's Station Inn, situated as it is in the chrome and glass of the modern-day Gulch might be a close analog for... »»»
Bluegrass music fans are gently, but constantly, reminded that theirs is a niche interest. This, however, does not stop the devoted from mining the veins of bluegrass artists, old and new, to create a narrative for a style of music that started in the Appalachian and Mountain, but burst forward as a new genre in the 1940s, thanks to Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys. Given the short time span of its existence, and the powerful personalities which formed the bluegrass tale, discussion of early... »»»
Guy Clark. The name conjures any matter of images: songwriter, hellcat, luthier, soul mate, story-teller, music icon. Clark's life and work cry out for an appreciation, if not an organization. Clark died in 2016, and his life was messy business, but never wavering from his singular focus to tell stories through music and lyrics. No one doubts his talents as a songwriter, spanning the length and breadth of country music and Americana for nearly 40 years. But, as Clark would have been the first... »»»
T Bone Burnett, one of the most successful modern music producers, doesn't like to call what he does a career. Instead, he chooses to see it as a 'pursuit,' hence the title to his biography, "A Life in Pursuit." Lloyd Sachs' book is an overview of Burnett's various accomplishments, which have included overseeing some of today's most outstanding albums. He'll likely best be remembered as the man behind the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art... »»»
Foggy Mountain Troubadour – by By Penny Parsons
Curly Seckler was a key contributor to one of the iconic "first generation" bluegrass groups - The Foggy Mountain Boys. The group, formed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, after their nasty split from Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys in the later 1940s, featured Seckler on and off for nearly 15 years. Seckler's tenor complimented Flatt's lead on countless recordings, live shows and television appearances during the years of the Flatt/Scruggs sound. Seckler may seem an... »»»
Though it is billed as in the "vein" of "Johnny Cash: The Life," at about a third of the length, this book is more a capillary compared to that aorta. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. One night's drunken inability to sing (or even speak,) or one coke-fueled rampage, is about like another, and we don't need chapter and verse of each and every one of the Possum's moral failings. The gist is good enough. George Glenn Jones was only a few minutes old when he... »»»
A life. . . well, lived. – by By Ray Wylie Hubbard with Thom Jurek
You can't judge a book by its cover - unless of course you're Ringo Starr. That bygone Beatle's blurb for Ray Wylie Hubbard's freewheeling memoir goes like this: "Ray has written a book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm sure it's great." Ringo the reluctant reader is absolutely right. It's a great book even if it doesn't exactly read like a book. If you were ever fortunate enough to sit down with Ray Wylie Hubbard and listen while he talked to... »»»
"Wayfaring Strangers" is an informative look at the musical history of the Appalachia region, which has its origins in Scotland and Ulster. Included is a foreword from Dolly Parton and a CD that includes 20 songs, including the likes of Pete Seeger and Dougie Maclean with songs that provide a companion to the coffee table collection. As a physical offering, "Wayfaring Strangers" is a beautiful book. There is a blend of full color artwork and photos with black and white historical pieces... »»»
Kentucky Traveler: My Life In Music – by Ricky Skaggs with Eddie Dean
Ricky Skaggs has lived a life of music, and he's not done yet. Most folks would be proud of having accomplished in their lifetime what he does in a year. Skaggs decided a few years ago to write about how he got to this point, and the work is better than most celebrity "as told to" books. "Kentucky Traveler" is not a work of hagiography, nor does it settle scores. This is unfortunate, since he probably has a few. Skaggs is a killer mandolinist (or fiddle player or... »»»
The Music of the Stanley Brothers – by Gary Reid and Neil Rosenberg
The Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley as a solo artist, are iconic figures in bluegrass. Despite recognition of their names, many would be at a loss to relate details of their lives or their lives in bluegrass, their knowledge limited to the recordings they hear, the festivals where Ralph Stanley appears, the stories around campfires. Gary Reid's interest in the brothers has been obsessive. There's no other way to describe a man who spent over 40 years in research for this book... »»»
Buried Country – by Clinton Walker
Fifteen years ago Australian music critic and historian Clinton Walker published the original version of "Buried Country," which at the time also included a documentary film and accompanying soundtrack album. Those latter two pieces are not present with this expanded and reissued update to the book, which makes a simple reading - only pass at it an exercise in imagination and running back and forth from page to YouTube in search of the music to go with the written words... »»»
The influence and impact of the career of Ralph Peer on popular music worldwide is in inverse proportion to his notoriety or name recognition outside of the artists he impacted and those who read liner notes and credits. Peer was a music publisher, part of the "business" side of the music business; as such one might not expect his biography to be all that exciting or revealing, but author and longtime music critic Barry Mazor makes even the mundane seem monumental while relating Peer's story... »»»
Ode to Billie Joe – by Tara Murtha
"It was walk away softly or stay until I flipped my wig; I left the stage, the lights, the headlines and the limousines, too; now time is my time, I do what I want to do..." - "Ode to Bobby Gentry," Sid Griffin Whether "Ode to Billie Joe" is the greatest song to combine elements of commercial county and southern soul with elaborate pop structures is open to debate, but its place in the history of popular culture is well-established. A Billboard Number 1 hit for... »»»