A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music

Overview

In industry circles, musicians from Kentucky are known to possess an enviable pedigree — a lineage as prized as the bloodline of any bluegrass-raised Thoroughbred. With native sons and daughters like Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Loretta Lynn, the Everly Brothers, Joan Osborne, and Merle Travis, it's no wonder that the state is most often associated with folk, country, and bluegrass music.

But Kentucky's contribution to American music is much broader: It's the rich and resonant cello ...

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Overview

In industry circles, musicians from Kentucky are known to possess an enviable pedigree — a lineage as prized as the bloodline of any bluegrass-raised Thoroughbred. With native sons and daughters like Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Loretta Lynn, the Everly Brothers, Joan Osborne, and Merle Travis, it's no wonder that the state is most often associated with folk, country, and bluegrass music.

But Kentucky's contribution to American music is much broader: It's the rich and resonant cello of Ben Sollee, the velvet crooning of jazz great Helen Humes, and the famed vibraphone of Lionel Hampton. It's exemplified by hip-hop artists like the Nappy Roots and indie folk rockers like the Watson Twins. It goes beyond the hallowed mandolin of Bill Monroe and banjo of the Osborne Brothers to encompass the genres of blues, jazz, rock, gospel, and hip-hop.

A Few Honest Words explores how Kentucky's landscape, culture, and traditions have influenced notable contemporary musicians. Featuring intimate interviews with household names (Naomi Judd, Joan Osborne, and Dwight Yoakam), emerging artists, and local musicians, author Jason Howard's rich and detailed profiles reveal the importance of the state and the Appalachian region to the creation and performance of music in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The rich soil of Kentucky has given rise to a formidable crop of American folk music, and the influence remains as strong today as it was a century ago. Howard (Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal) continues his work portraying the lives and labors of Kentuckians, this time focusing on the music of native sons and daughters of Kentucky and on the vast influence of the region in defining the term "Americana" in music and culture. The sense of context provided by Kentucky songwriter Harlan Howard's famous definition of a good country song—"three chords and the truth"—is developed through conversations with performers including Naomi Judd, Dwight Yoakam, Joan Osborne, Matraca Berg, Nappy Roots, and the Watson Twins. The book manages to touch on folk, country, bluegrass, hip-hop, jazz, gospel, and blues. VERDICT Howard ranges from anonymous mountaineers to urban pioneers in this sprawling, honest exploration of a seminal source of American music. This book's combination of interviews and history makes for an entertaining study of the heart of American roots music.—Bill Baars, Lake Oswego P.L., OR
From the Publisher
"A thoughtful and important book. It's tremendously satisfying that specific areas of the South are receiving their due attention. Kentucky has given so much to the landscape of American music."—Rosanne Cash" —

"By shining a light on an inclusive array of homegrown performing artists—some well known, some destined to be, all of whom are following in the footsteps of Bill Monroe, Lionel Hampton, the Everly Brothers and Loretta Lynn—Jason Howard has crafted a loving and thoughtful homage to his beloved state of Kentucky, giving us pitch perfect journalistic prose from the heart of the country."—Rodney Crowell" —

"Jason Howard has gathered up all those sweet Kentucky sounds and brought them home to a reunion. His Few Honest Words is like a country-folk music festival in prose."—Michael Streissguth, author of Johnny Cash: The Biography" —

"Kentucky inspired Stephen Foster, America's first professional songwriter, and gave birth to Bill Monroe, Lionel Hampton, Rosemary Clooney and scores of headlining artists in every genre of music. Jason Howard's A Few Honest Words illustrates Kentucky's harvest of gifted musicians continues well into the era of hip-hop, jam bands and all your various indies and alts. Howard's knowledge and love of music brighten the narrative as these wonderful artists tell their stories."—Bob Edwards, host of The Bob Edwards Show and Bob Edwards Weekend on Sirius XM radio, and author of A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio" —

"This book would be a fresh addition to any academic or public library with a community interested in Appalachia, and/or the roots of traditional and popular musical styles." — Alison DePollo, Tennessee Libraries

"To fans of bluegrass, folk, rock, country, and hip-hop, this book will come as a pleasant surprise, as it traces disparate forms of American music to their roots in Kentucky." — Michael Cala, New York Journal of Books" —

"Jason Howard reveals the indelible impression of Kentucky's culture upon its artists and musicians and makes clear the strains that its music has played true in the realm of Ameican music." — Linda Hinchcliffe, Chevy Chaser Magazine" —

"A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, contains perhaps the broadest look at music emanating from the Commonwealth's sons and daughters to be found in print." — The Richmond Register" —

"Lightweight it may be, but it's a great quickie read." — Mattew Milton, songlines.co.uk" —

"The book offers unique insights on the musical culture of Kentucky." — Kentucky Libraries" —

"A Few Honest Words highlights Kentucky's enormous contribution to contemporary American music from the velvet crooning of jazz greats to fusion hip-hopers to funky indie folk rockers." — Utne Magazine" —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813136455
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,393,821
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jason Howard is coauthor of Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Nation, Sojourners, Paste, the Louisville Review, Equal Justice Magazine, and on NPR.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Rodney Crowell ix

Introduction 1

1 Naomi Judd: Ancestral Memory 20

2 Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore: Sword and Snow 40

3 Chris Knight: Trailer Poet 62

4 Carla Gover: Mountain Edge 74

5 Kevin Harris: Freedom Doxology 91

6 Joan Osborne: Brooklyn Meets Appalachia 104

7 Dwight Yoakam: A Hillbilly in Hollywood 118

8 Nappy Roots: The Pursuit of Nappyness 132

9 Matraca Berg: Headwaters 144

10 Cathy Rawlings: From the Wings 167

11 Dale Ann Bradley: These Prisoning Hills 179

12 Jim James: The Ghost of Jim James Past 192

13 Kate Larken: Far West 205

14 The Watson Twins: Southern Manners 218

Acknowledgments 235

Bibliography 239

Index 243

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