A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music

. October 2012. 256p. 978-0-81313-645-5. 24.95.
The rich soil of Kentucky has given rise to a formidable crop of American folk music, and the influence remains as strong today as it was a century ago. Howard (Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal) continues his work portraying the lives and labors of Kentuckians, this time focusing on the music of native sons and daughters of Kentucky and on the vast influence of the region in defining the term “Americana” in music and culture. The sense of context provided by Kentucky songwriter Harlan Howard’s famous definition of a good country song—“three chords and the truth”—is developed through conversations with performers including Naomi Judd, Dwight Yoakam, Joan Osborne, Matraca Berg, Nappy Roots, and the Watson Twins. The book manages to touch on folk, country, bluegrass, hip-hop, jazz, gospel, and blues.
VERDICT Howard ranges from anonymous mountaineers to urban pioneers in this sprawling, honest exploration of a seminal source of American music. This book’s combination of interviews and history makes for an entertaining study of the heart of American roots music.

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