Industrial Strength Bluegrass: Southwestern Ohio’s Musical Legacy

Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Jan. 2021. 272p. ed. by ed. by Fred Bartenstein & Curtis W. Ellison. ISBN 9780252043642. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252085604. $29.95. MUSIC
Bartenstein (music, Univ. of Dayton; editor, Bluegrass Bluesman) and Ellison (emeritus, history & American studies, Miami Univ.; Country Music Culture) unfurl the history of southwestern Ohio’s bluegrass scene from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s. Contributors, including those who were part of the scene, offer a bird’s-eye view of the large-scale migration out of Appalachia to cities such as Cincinnati and Dayton; an exploration of the roles of radio and recording in the music’s regional development; and analysis of bluegrass’s key contribution to southwestern Ohio’s creative, religious, and civic culture. Particularly strong are musician Ben Krakauer’s examination of southwestern Ohio bluegrass’s musical distinctiveness, and music historian and musician Larry Nager’s rough-and-tumble history of early music venues where listeners often needed to dodge flying glass while appreciating the musical heirs apparent to Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. Personal reflections from musicians Bobby Osborne and Lily Isaacs round out the narrative. An appendix listing key recordings is especially welcome.
VERDICT An appealing and accessible musical history that showcases the importance of homegrown regional musical culture. For bluegrass fans and historians of the genre.
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