In the Country of Country Essay - Critical Essays

Nicholas Dawidoff

In the Country of Country

IN THE COUNTRY OF COUNTRY: PEOPLE AND PLACES IN AMERICAN MUSIC is not a history of country music but, as its subtitle implies, a collection of stories about some of its pioneers, from Jimmie Rodgers (“the Father of Country Music”) and Bill Monroe (“the Father of Bluegrass”), through Chet Atkins, the Carter Family, Doc Watson, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, and a dozen others. A history does emerge from these narratives, however: of people whose music reflected their experience of life as a hardscrabble struggle; of places in Tennessee, Kentucky, and bordering states where they grew up and first learned to play and sing; and of a hybrid musical form with roots in many sources, including black music.

The second half of Nicholas Dawidoff’s collection is less satisfying, for Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and the others he writes about are trying to keep country alive in competition with the “hat acts” or “ear candy” of “Hot Country” musicians like Garth Brooks, who have pushed authentic country sounds off the airwaves and off the charts. More people listen to country in the 1990’s than ever before, and fewer know its real history. IN THE COUNTRY OF COUNTRY gives readers that story in fascinating narratives of the people who influenced its development—from the legendary songwriter Harlan Howard, through Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, to Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen—and keep alive that authentic country sound: “simply worded, string-driven, melodic music concerned with subjects that are both quotidian and universal: faith, love, family, work, heartbreak, pleasure, sin, joy, and suffering.”

Sources for Further Study

Billboard. CIX, May 17, 1997, p. 28.

Booklist. XCIII, February 15, 1997, p. 990.

Chicago Tribune. April 6, 1997, XIV, p. 1.

Choice. XXXV, September, 1997, p. 137.

The Guardian. June 12, 1997, p. 10.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, January 15, 1997, p. 112.

Library Journal. CXXI, December, 1996, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 30, 1997, p. 2.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, June 29, 1997, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, December 16, 1996, p. 47.

The Times Literary Supplement. September 19, 1997, p. 19.

The Wall Street Journal. February 27, 1997, p. A15.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, March 9, 1997, p. 3.