The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to American Folk Music, book review
NPR listener's guide
A very informative book
The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to American Folk Music
By Kip Lornell
I’m not a big fan of National Public Radio, but I try to give credit where credit is due. I ran across this book while browsing the shelves at out local library and was pleasantly surprised at how extensive it was for volume a little over 200 pages.
For anyone interested in folk or traditional American music it is a worthwhile book to have. Used copies are selling for under a dollar plus shipping on Amazon.
The forward to the book is written by Linda Ronstadt, who I don’t believe is usually thought of as a folksinger but she has done folk rock in her starting years and did an album with Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton that has several folk songs. She also did a video “Canciones De Mi Padre” or “songs of My Father.”
Although I tend to use the term traditional music, the author generally calls it roots music. He states that in the book he uses the terms grass roots, folk, and traditional interchangeably. In his first chapter he discusses what American Folk Music is, then goes on to discuss some of the origins of the music in the second chapter. This includes music brought over by Europeans, African music brought by the slaves, and Hispanic music. Then he talks about the influence of minstrel shows, religious music, the effects of radio and recording in later years.
Varieties of Music
The varieties of American folk music are numerous and difficult to define what is American Folk music. Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers when asked what genres of music would fall under the heading of folk music said” All the music that fits between the cracks.” It’s not easy to pin down American Folk Music. I think in the 1960’s it was defined largely as protest music, but that is a small part of it. Examples are Bluegrass, blues, Gospel, Cowboy songs, and Railroad songs.
The author has a chapter about the performers and, I’ll admit, there are many I never heard of. Songs are the subject of another chapter where he discusses some significant folk songs. Following that is a chapter listing many collections available on CD,s.
Another chapter is a glossary of significant terms, then a list of resources and an index
All in all, I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about folk music. No book will cover everything there is to know, but this one is certainly a good start and also useful to anyone who just wants a reference book.
© 2009 Don A. Hoglund