cover image Country Music: An Illustrated History

Country Music: An Illustrated History

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. Knopf, $55 (560p) ISBN 978-0-525-52054-2

This voluminous and hugely entertaining introduction to country music coincides with the release of the eponymous PBS series, by producer and writer Duncan (Out West) and producer and filmmaker Burns (The Civil War). The authors take readers through the history of country music, including Jimmie Rodgers’s performance on Asheville’s first radio station in 1927, the gospel-infused strains of the Carter Family in the 1930s and ’40s, the country and western stylings of Ernest Tubb in the 1950s, the strings-drenched Nashville Sound of the 1960s, later, the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson and the California country of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard; and the 1980s and ’90s pop country sound of Garth Brooks, the Judd sisters, and Reba McEntire. The narrative—supported by concert photos and images of album jackets and various memorabilia—moves at a quick clip as the authors highlight the lives and music of such influential musicians as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Hank Williams. They also celebrate the venues that have become like holy temples, especially Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium—home of the Grand Ole Opry—and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, across the alley from the Ryman. Interspersed throughout are interviews with such country music stars as Rosanne Cash, Guy Clark, Marty Stuart, and Emmylou Harris (“The simplicity of country music is one of the most important things about it,” Harris says). Duncan’s and Burns’s lavishly illustrated and cinematic narrative will stand as the definitive history of the genre. (Sept.)