Book Reviews

The Country Music Reader (Oxford University Press)

country music reader

The Country Music Reader
Travis Stimeling
Oxford University Press

“What is (insert genre label here)?”

Every artistic movement and style inevitably has to answer that question. What constitutes (insert genre label here)? Who defines it? Who are the innovators? Who are the imitators? What role does success have to do with it? These are timeless issues that are raised whenever one starts to examine what makes up said genre. If there’s one American musical form that can get heated over the question of authenticity, it’s Country Music.

Travis Stimeling’s latest text, The Country Music Reader, tackles that question without actually addressing it. Less a history than a primer, this work compiles fifty-one articles, clips, and excerpts written exclusively about Country music over the past one hundred years. It’s an amazing journey, reading everything from scene reports from concerts a hundred years ago, to interviews with legends such as Jimmie Rodgers and Earl Scruggs and Mother Maybelle Carter, as well as debates about people who are nominally country, such as Kenny Rogers and Taylor Swift. One also finds plenty of humorous anecdotes about such things as the late sixties hippie era, which gave birth to the Outlaw movement, then onto the Urban Cowboy scene. Not to be missed, though, is Tom T. Hall’s humorous recollections about being a songwriter and publisher in Nashville. It’s a funny tale of stubbornness, rotten luck, and just plain ol’ good-lo-boy cronyism.

No, The Country Music Reader won’t answer the question about what Country music is; it doesn’t even try to address the subject. Instead, it is a well thought-out compelling collection of stories and ideas and thoughts inspired by Country music’s century-long legacy by offering you glimpses into a scene you probably wouldn’t have been able to find on your own. A must-own for fans of the genre (whatever that is).

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