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The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to American Folk Music, book review

Updated on March 27, 2015

NPR Guide

Scanned from book cover
Scanned from book cover

A very informative book

The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to American Folk Music

By Kip Lornell

Dec. 2004

232 pages

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


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I think you will find it an interesting guide.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Sounds interesting; I will have to look into this. Thanks for bring this to my attention.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Blue dog

      Thanks for reading.If you are interested in the subject matter, I think it is an excellent reference

    • blue dog profile image

      blue dog 8 years ago from texas hill country

      sounds like material worth checking out. thanks for the info.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm not familiar with them but I'll look them up. Thanks for reading.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      The Folksmen are my favorite of this genre.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy W

      It is definitely for folks like myself, who find something special in traditional and roots music. I think I got interested at the age when everyone was starting to listen to pop music and I didn't want to follow the crowd, then lateer the crowd caught up and passed me by.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Sounds very interesting as a resource book for those who might be interested. We do like listening to NPR...generally while in the car traveling. :)