Review: Craig Harris – Bluegrass, Newgrass, Old-Time, and Americana Music

 

Since Neil V. Rosenberg’s book Bluegrass: A History, we have seen relatively few attempts to bring a fresh and up-to-date reading about the musical genre. The approach with Craig Harris’ new book, based on a wide range of personal interviews, is also to link the bluegrass genre to our contemporary setting. Let’s be clear: most so-called “bluegrass” festivals these days don’t look like Bean Blossom, circa 1971. This book effectively reflects and documents many changes in the larger realm of acoustic music that includes the genre terms used in the book’s title.

These are changes that I’ve witnessed in my own musical lifetime. That is to say– the folks interviewed have a lot more to do with the music that has happened from 1970- present than music that happened between 1920- 1970. I’m not saying that there isn’t considerable attention to research and writing about the development of bluegrass music or old-time country music. Through the many interviews, however, Harris is illuminating a large and diverse group of people that define the music today, both culturally and commercially.

There will be those who will read this book and wonder, “Why wasn’t so-and-so mentioned, or what’s so important about this band?” I suppose that kind of question is inevitable in all levels of social research, journalism, oral histories, etc. With a project of this kind, the author is also revealing something about their own relationship to the music. In this case, I don’t get the sense of the author being a dyed-in-the-wool bluegrasser or an annual camper at Clifftop. I could be wrong. What I do think is that, through the course of many interviews, he followed his nose, listened to what others told him and went about his business of getting more interviews. I think he’s worked hard, and the result is a rich body of interviews that are informative and refreshing. From over a hundred interviews, you will hear from Tim O’Brien to Alison Brown, from Jody Stecher and Del McCoury to Rhiannon Giddens and Sierra Hull. Hopefully, it should help us to reflect on our musical, cultural and historical past and give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.


Publisher: Pelican

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