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Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary

By Richard Carlin

Routledge, 540 pages, $95

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz, January 2003

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If "Country Music A Biographical Dictionary" bears a strong resemblance to "The Big Book of Country Music," there's good reason. This is an updated version with extended biographies of artists in the first book along with new artists that have been on the scene since the version came out in 1995.

The format is similar to most books of this genre - listings of artists, bands and others in the country scene plus information about such topics as "honky tonk music" and mandolin." Each receives a very readable biography.

Carlin deserves credit for giving a good amount of ink to artists most of us have never heard of. For example, consecutive biographies of the Adelyne Hood, Hoosier Hot Shots, Al Hopkins and the Hill Billies and Doc Hopkins appear.

Carlin certainly isn't afraid to state his opinions. He rakes SHeDAISY over the coals saying the trio crosses "the high fashion of the Spice Girls with the peroxide-induced looks of the Dixie Chicks" and says it's "Nashville's (latest) attempt to score big bucks off high-gloss makeup." Ouch.

Of course, there are points of contention. Far more extensive discographies should have been included.

The listing for Bryan White closes "although his material is strictly mainstream country, it is well crafted and sincere." How about formulaic and bland?

Carlin goes out on a limb with Tracy Byrd, saying he was having trouble establishing himself long-term, at least as a chart-topping artist." Seems like he didn't do too badly with "Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo" though. Why bother saying he "could probably make a good living touring the country circuit." We're not looking for predictions.

There are other little errors or omissions here and there. Billy Joe Shaver is credited for writing all of the songs on Waylon Jennings' "Honky-Tonk Heroes." He wrote all but one. Wild Rose is credited with a hit, "Go Down Swingin'," but that only made number 38 on Billboard's charts and is mistitled.

A murder charge against Johnny Rodriguez somehow never made his listing. Any book of this type is likely to suffer such errors.

At a list of $95, this book is awfully pricey. Price aside, though, since it's been several years since a dictionary has been released, and this readable volume is most welcome.