FOLK MUSIC IN OVERDRIVE: A PRIMER ON TRADITIONAL COUNTRY AND BLUEGRASS ARTISTS—BY IVAN M. TRIBE—Univ. of Tenn. Press 9781621903970. Charles K. Wolfe Music Series, 392 pp., $29.95. (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 110 Conference Center, 600 Henley St., Knoxville, TN 37996, www.utpress.org.)
The phrase “essential reading” might be overused these days, but this book deserves that description. Comprising 39 articles (32 from Bluegrass Unlimited) written by Ivan M. Tribe—a prolific and respected scholar and author—this addition to the Charles K. Wolfe Music Series by the University of Tennessee Press fills a need for a nuanced telling of the early days of bluegrass and country music.
I might not have chosen the word “primer” in the title. That implies a kind of comprehensive, but cursory approach. The sum effect of these profiles is, rather, a clarification and broadening of the usual story. You won’t find an article on Bill Monroe, but you will find engaging ones on Charlie Monroe and Clyde Moody. It’s also a fun read, one you can dip into at random, to savor the stories and enjoy Ivan’s deft way of connecting and contrasting the personalities and eras. The author revised and updated all the articles for this book, a task one can only marvel at.
I particularly enjoyed his introductions to the five major sections, a listing of which will give you an idea of the book’s scope: “Leaders, Solo Singers, and Composers”; “Sidemen”; “Husband-Wife Duets”; “Brother Duets”; and “Families and Groups.” The production is of the highest quality with photos, a suggested reading section, index of names, and a listing of selected recordings at the end of each article.
The book’s title comes from Alan Lomax’s definition in 1959 of bluegrass music as “folk music in overdrive.” I suppose today Lomax might have described it as “fast and furious.” Tribe’s approach to defining the music is, thankfully, broader and deeper. He shows how bluegrass and country music danced together and apart over decades. It’s a fascinating story, and he tells it well. Essential reading.CVS