Barry Willis, America's Music: Bluegrass (Pine Valley Music, 1998)

Bluegrass has justifiably been called America's most original musical form. It is uniquely American in a way that no other is. Andit's a young musical genre: the first generation of bluegrassmusicians are just now passing on. The subtitle of this very largevolume (six hundred and forty pages!) is "...A history of bluegrass music in the words of its pioneers...." And yes, it truly is in thewords of those who deeply know and love all that bluegrass music is. This is grassroots musical ethnography at its very finest: lively, personal, and full of juicy details about both the music and the musicians that have shaped it.

With a level of detail that gives new meaning to the word obsession. Barry Willis interviewed hundreds of musicians, industry people, fans, and even a few academics. Is this the definitive history of bluegrass music? Of course not how could any book possibly be definitive? But it's bleedin'damn close to being essntial for any love of Bluegrass to have (And no, I won't try to discuss in this review what the true origins of bluegrass music are. I'll leave that for another time. When I''ve had a lot more to drink... )

For your fifty bucks -the cost of just three CDs -- you get a) a reference guide to the best of bluegrass music, b) a fine collection of photos of just about everybody who counts at all in genre, and c) a comprehensive history. If you buy it, get the hardcover as it's certainly a book that any serious fan of bluegrass music use for decades to come. (We have a copy in Green Man archives that Liath, our Archivist, uses for reference. ANd no, you can't take it out it on loan!) ) And any music reviewer interested in a better appreciation of North American roots music should purchase a copy too!

[Jack Merry]

Email Pine Valley Music at for the full details on how to get this fine book.