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Right by Her Roots

Americana Women and Their Songs

By Jewly Hight

Publication Year: 2011

In this day of digital delivery, more and more popular music arrives to its listeners in downloadable bits, giving away very little about where the songs come from or who is behind them. At the same time contemporary popular culture, with its ancestry-excavating Web sites and television shows, reveals that people are craving answers to those very same questions about themselves.

Right by Her Roots is a book for this moment, a thorough and thoughtful exploration of the bodies of work of eight groundbreaking artists who acknowledge, in their songs and in their lives, their relationships to their roots—both musical and personal. Jewly Hight, a highly regarded and spiritually-savvy music writer, delves into the journeys and styles of eight of the most distinctive voices in Americana music: Lucinda Williams, Julie Miller, Victoria Williams, Michelle Shocked, Mary Gauthier, Ruthie Foster, Elizabeth Cook, and Abigail Washburn.

Hight proves there is much to be gained from digging into the oeuvres of singers and songwriters who put something of themselves and their pursuits of meaning into their music. What she unearths, through vivid original interviews and perceptive analysis of their spirits, sounds, and styles—not just their lyrics—is rich insight into what animates their work and how they view and experience the world. Giving music-making women the serious attention they deserve but rarely receive, Right by Her Roots is an especially important and engaging account.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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p. 1-1

Review, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

I once worked in a bookstore. To a few of my colleagues there, I mentioned that I wanted to write a book someday. They thought that seemed well within the realm of possibility. And for the early vote of confidence I am grateful....

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Introduction: The Art of Digging

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pp. 1-8

It is May 2005. Twenty-five-year-old Abigail Washburn is flying on a plane to somewhere, quite possibly China, turning over in her mind the debut album she has just recorded—Song of the Traveling Daughter. She realizes there is still one more thing...

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1. Lucinda Williams: Life-and-Death Matters

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pp. 9-32

It is difficult to imagine a discussion of important Americana songwriting that does not consider the body of work of Lucinda Williams. Not only because she showed up early and stuck around, though she did and has—long enough to...

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2. Julie Miller: Heart to Heart

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pp. 33-55

This possessor of a petite, inconsolable voice ventures the offer of her heart tentatively, sighing in small downward arcs above delicately finger-picked acoustic guitar chords. Her offer is really more of a plea: that her heart be received, handled...

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3. Victoria Williams: Seriously Free

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pp. 57-79

In 1993 Victoria Williams’ songs met with a fate that is rare for a recording artist so early in her career and lacking any radio hits to speak of. Big names in the then-ubiquitous genre of alternative rock, and its roots and grunge tributaries, recorded...

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4. Michelle Shocked: True to Conscience

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pp. 81-107

If there are any other contemporary musicians on the planet besides Michelle Shocked who have twice recorded commercial albums without knowing it, surely nobody else’s unplanned albums bookend a greater period of change than hers do. Her...

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5. Mary Gauthier: Outsider Art

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pp. 109-130

In a way, Mary Gauthier seems very alone onstage as she shushes the people conversing over by the bar. Though there is a fiddler with her, contributing sparse, shadowy bow strokes, she stands with her acoustic guitar at the microphone as a soul...

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6. Ruthie Foster: Don't Be Shy about What You've Got

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pp. 131-151

Professional singers will often tell the stories of their musical origins a particular way: they have, they aver, always wanted to sing, dreamed of singing, and believed to their souls that they could make their dreams a reality. Their assuredness is meant to...

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7. Elizabeth Cook: Staying Downhome, Getting Somewhere

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pp. 153-175

A good twenty miles south of Nashville sits a boxy community center with a scuffed wood floor. Inside, a contemporary pop-country song blares from a lone speaker and a middle-aged woman stands at the back wall, facing a dozen or so children and...

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8. Abigail Washburn: The Joy of Joining In

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pp. 177-200

For a singing, songwriting, solo independent recording artist who enjoys all the creative freedom in the world, Abigail Washburn has a surprising take on her approach to music. Over lunch in an East Nashville cafe, she agrees wholeheartedly with...

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Conclusion: The Art of Changing

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pp. 201-204

It is 1990. Lucinda Williams is two years beyond the release of her self-titled third album—an album that strongly suggested she was, and would be, a songwriter to be reckoned with. Folkways, the historic folk label that had been acquired by...

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pp. 205-208

Ramblin’. Smithsonian Folkways, SF 40042, CD. 1979. Reissued by Lucinda Williams. Rough Trade, 47, CD. 1988. Reissued by Koch, Blessed. Lost Highway, CD. 2011. (At the time of this writing, not “Emily’s Eyes.” On Emily’s Eyes/Cry of the Heart. Broken, 84418-Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams. Thirsty Ear/Chaos/...


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pp. 209-216


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pp. 217-222

General Index

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pp. 223-231

Index of Songs

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pp. 232-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781481300490
E-ISBN-10: 1481300490
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602580602
Print-ISBN-10: 160258060X

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2011