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Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass

By Stephanie P. Ledgin

University of Illinois Press, 216 pages, $19.95 paperback

Reviewed by Corinne Brown, March 2007

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Whether old enough to remember when Bill Monroe first coined the term "bluegrass" or you just stumbled upon the sound yesterday, this is the book for you. In fact, this is the book for anybody interested in the history of music - written with engaging, narrative style and packed with useful, illuminating information.

Veteran music journalist Stephanie P. Ledgin has written the definitive work on a vast subject - what bluegrass is and isn't, what it sounds like, how to listen to it. From fiddling to flat picking, from claw hammer banjo to three-finger style, she'll enthrall you with definitions and examples, plus actual interview excerpts and artist biographies that shed a whole new light on a rich, diverse subject.

The genre is so much bigger than the Appalachian roots from where it came - you'll find a lineup of talent that spans not only traditional bluegrass, but fusions like New Grass, Cow Grass and distantly related traditions that overlap like Celtic, Klezmer and other kinds of ethnic music exhibiting the gusto and improvisation that's part of bluegrass style.

The text includes music organizations, record labels, publications and the top 25 recordings to jumpstart your own bluegrass music library. As a mirror of popular culture, you'll find references to Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice and Norman Blake, plus Nickel Creek and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to name a few. Revered early pioneers Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, the Dillards, The Greenbriar Boys, Hot Rize and so many of the true innovators who created the popularity of the sound come to life in these pages.

Tracing the spread of High Lonesome from parking-lot picking fests to organized regional festivals to workshops, schools and camps, as well as college campuses, Ledgin confirms the deep attachment America has for its true indigenous sound. Bluegrass is a musical part of our culture that's forever recreating itself. This book tells you how.