PERFORMING ARTS

Country Music: An Illustrated History

Knopf. Sept. 2019. 560p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780525520542. $55; ebk. ISBN 9780525520559. MUSIC
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This companion volume to the similarly titled Burns documentary is worth a look, chiefly for interweaving the origins and development of country music with profiles of its biggest and most influential personalities. Cowritten by Burns and filmmaker and author Duncan (Out West), the book is lavishly illustrated and studded with detail, emphasizing the influence of such massive historical events as the Great Depression and World War II on the rise of one of America’s major musical genres. The authors stress that country has been inextricably intertwined with blues, folk, rock and roll, and even jazz, making the brouhaha over Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” seem even sillier than it already was. It turns out that the denigration and isolation of country from other forms of American music—it’s the “I like everything except” for a lot of people—are arbitrary distinctions that Burns’s documentary, and this work, should help correct. A discography would have been useful, but on the other hand you could drop the name of any artist profiled here into Spotify and end up with a solid accompanying playlist for your reading.
VERDICT A pleasing, thorough, but not unwieldy survey. For country music fans and neophytes alike.

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