Wow, what an impressive book! This huge, heavy, hardcover "coffee table" volume is well worth having around the house if only for reference, although it's a crisp, concise, and educating read straight through. Packed to the gills with photos, commentary from country music celebrities of all times and styles, timelines and biographies and everything you ever wanted to know about country music right at your fingertips, this book is invaluable to every music fan.
With a list of writing contributors a block long, amazing photos, endless details, thorough research, facts, figures, historical data, trivia, and basically everything that can be put into the pages of a book, this is one amazing publication. Every page has something new and interesting on it, and a fan could flip through it for days and still find new things. Looking for the date when Marty Robbins recorded "A White Sport Coat (and A Pink Carnation)"? Go to page 225/226. Need to know when Patsy Montana was born? Page 120. Looking for details about the career of Riders in the Sky? Page 122. Interested in Earl Scruggs' style of banjo playing? Head for page 191. Want to know the history of country music during World War II? It's here. The early days, pre-war? The first sounds on radio, the first barn dances, the folk heroes from the Dust Bowl and Woody Guthrie? Right on through all the way up through Desert Storm and to the current fracas, including Dubya vs. the Dixie Chicks. It's all here. Rosanne Cash's poignant words on the music business. How Pro Tools works. Garth's proposal to Trisha. And right up to Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman," this is country music's history.
Written by some of the finest country music historians & scholars, including Chet Flippo, Elek Horvath, Jack Hurst, Robert Oermann, Jay Orr, Dave Samuelson, Tamara Saviano, Charlie Seeman, & the late Charles K. Wolfe, amongst many others, & including a foreword by Willie Nelson, there is endless value in this book. In addition to everything interesting that can be found, there's also some exquisite, impressive writing. I was particularly impressed with the even-handedness of the coverage, although the slice of Americana was regrettably thin, and lacked tremendously in the way of information on modern Texas musicians, where there was a terrific & in-depth chapter on cowboy musicians, only a brief mention is made of a very few of today's western artists. A single page in the final chapter discusses Americana and makes mention of a number of Americana stars, but largely those who "crossed over" from the country charts (in other words, became too country for country, like Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn). There is a brief section on Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, & Rodney Crowell as the "roots of Progressive Country," but little more is made of it, & an entire cross-section of country music artists was ignored completely in this history.
And the main reason that bothers me is not only because I'm generally focused on Americana artists, but because those guys fight so hard to get just a little recognition, and they are contributing hugely to the history of country music as it stands in America right now. They are more than just Lucinda Williams and Rodney Crowell. At the very least John Prine appears in the single picture; but there are so many others on the Americana charts, which has been in existance since 1999. It's about time they got more than a nod and a wink from the "historians and scholars" of country music, who have enough savvy to realize that country music came from folk and blues, and rockabilly is a part of it, just as bluegrass is. So is Americana. In a lot of ways, Americana is more about country than the mainstream "country" is, so it belongs in the history, with its own chapter and a focus on Texas artists, Canadian artists, Arizona artists, California artists, and, yeah, even New York artists. At the very least the final chapter deals several hard, accurate blows to such things as Pro Tools "fixing" of marginal singers, corporate- owned radio blandness, where "country" is going, where it's been, and who thinks what about it.