Univ. Of Texas Press 9781477315347. Hardcover, 768 pp., 63 b&w photos, $45. (Univ. of Texas Press, 3001 Lake Austin Blvd., 2.200, Stop E4800, Austin, TX 78703, www.utexaspress.com.)
This tome has long been held as thereference on country music. It has been used as a textbook, and it started out as Malone’s doctoral dissertation. The latest edition, the fourth, is also the 50th Anniversary edition. Included are updates to prefaces by both authors and a new forward by Henry Sapoznik. A new chapter, “A New Century,” by Laird focuses on issues of the ten years since the last edition. Ken Burns is using this book as a basis for a new series on country music for PBS.
The emphasis of the latest chapter delves into the melding of country music with other genres and the blending of artists and repertory across musical stylistic boundaries. The author seems to think that it is significant that Beyonce’s appearance on the CMA Awards Show caused people who probably would not have watched to tune in to that show. While this kind of event may have some importance to some fans, it may not be that earth-shaking of an event. Cultural changes are part of the greater paradigm shift taking place in the world. Of more importance is the discussion of the emergence of country artists who are no longer or never were part of the mainstream country production factories due to the whole musical industry fracturing as artists become more DIY and less enamored of advantages that the big companies can provide for them.
Laird reaches back to find precedence for the arguments presented here and makes some good arguments for the state of modern country music. A point to ponder for the bluegrass fan is how is modern country music influencing modern bluegrass? Will our music continue to reach back for the best of what it once was? Or have our lives changed so much that the idyllic notions of halcyon days of the past have been lost to a world that is increasingly technological and divorced from the rural lifestyles that once defined our music?RCB