UNC Press 9781469618227. Foreword by Dolly Parton, CD included, 384 pp., $39.95. (UNC Press, 116 S. Boundary St., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, uncpress.unc.edu.)
This much-anticipated book has, I’m glad to say, lived up to—and surpassed—expectations, and now takes its place firmly in the must-have category of items concerning the heritage of bluegrass and old-time music. Authoritative, comprehensive, and captivating, the book is the culmination of years of work by its authors: Doug Orr, founder of the Swannanoa Gathering workshops; and Fiona Ritchie, the long-time host of NPR’s The Thistle & Shamrock.
The story concerns the journey—geographical and musical—of the Scots-Irish, those wanderers whose roots were in Scotland, then Northern Ireland, and on to Philadelphia and the great Wagon Road west. My own ancestors came that route, and this book illuminates that history well. But the authors put the Scots-Irish in the wider context of history, music, and migrations. It’s well-written and well-organized, so you can dip into it for thematic sections on instruments, musicians, and styles, or read it cover-to-cover. Readers of this magazine might be especially interested in the sections on Doc Watson and the Carter Family. And Dolly Parton has written an informative and deservedly glowing foreword. The twenty-song CD is a well-chosen overview of the music by performers such as Dougie MacLean, John Doyle, Jean Ritchie, Pete Seeger, and Dolly Parton, among others, and comes with historical notes for each track.
Lastly, it’s a gorgeously produced, large-format book that features many photos, paintings, and maps, as well as an index, discography, bibliography, timeline, and glossary. I usually recommend books to specific audiences, but this is one that will appeal to anyone interested in the confluences and convergences of a great river of music that we all know by different names. Essential.CVS