Notes 60.2 (2003) 443-446
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Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary. By Richard Carlin. New York: Routledge, 2003. [xvii, 496 p. ISBN 0-415-93802-3. $125.] Select bibliography, appendices, index.
Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music. By Guthrie T. Meade Jr., with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade. Chapel Hill: Southern Folklife Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, in association with the John Edwards Memorial Forum, 2002. [xxii, 1002 p. ISBN 0-8078-2723-1. $90.] Bibliography, indexes.
Historians, folklorists, and English professors were the first to venture into the somewhat eccentric area of country music scholarship—a study that only slowly won its place within the conservative purview of musicology. The precariousness of country music's respectability within that world makes the potential impact of new works all the more powerful. Country music scholarship, along with that of other vernacular musics, raises another related issue in that audiences outside academia find it interesting. Richard Carlin's Biographical Dictionary and the Biblio-Discography by Meade, Spottswood, and Meade take directly opposite aim in relation to these two audiences: the former toward a popular audience and the latter toward scholars, collectors, and other serious researchers. As concerns their relative appeal to readers, the two works seem almost entirely mutually exclusive.
The Dictionary includes major stars as well as side musicians, comedians, producers, and songwriters. Carlin's aim is not to provide new information on important figures or trends, but to condense information found elsewhere into "essential thumbnail portraits" (p. xv). Biographical entries follow a set format: birthplace, birth date, and if appropriate, death date; a one- or two-sentence description; an overview of childhood, musical development, and commercial success; a summary that includes any combination of career denouement, postmortem reflection, and look toward future possibilities. A select discography follows most entries and emphasizes current, accessible compact discs; some listings include annotation, either informative ("Ten of his Capitol hits from the mid-1960s," Del Reeves entry) or more colorfully opinionated ("1999 album of instrumentals shows [Jerry] Reed still knows how to boogie," pp. 335-37).
Opinion drives the reference, as the author makes clear when he informs readers that the "book suffers from a high degree of subjectivity" (p. xv). This subjectivity creates some pleasant surprises as well as some curious omissions. There is, for example, an entry for Bob Dunn but not for Don Rich, one for Steve Sholes but not Jerry Kennedy. One stumbles upon more idiosyncratic entries (again, with some odd omissions) hidden among the biographical sketches: song categories (weepers, for instance, but not ballads), instruments (pedal steel guitar but not harmonica), locales (Branson, Missouri but not Bristol, Tennessee), subgenres ("countrypolitan" but not country blues or new traditionalists). Carlin occasionally includes essays on broader aspects of the country music landscape (singer/songwriter, record labels, social commentary, and politics). Readers seeking an orientation to the genre will find these useful.
Other aspects of the book will enhance its appeal to audiences being introduced to country music history. Cross-referencing allows readers to unravel threads of related entries. Two appendices organize performers and other notables according to country subgenres and instruments (pp. 451-58 and 459-60). The bibliography provides good basic coverage of popular and scholarly secondary sources. The book's "Name Index" includes proper names that appear inside individual entries. As a result, David Byrne appears in the index because the [End Page 443] entry for singer/songwriter Terry Allen (p. 6) mentions their collaboration in the 1986 movie True Stories. The index lists Martha Trachtenberg because she was guitarist/ vocalist in the 1974-79 bluegrass revival group the Buffalo Gals (p. 46). This kind of information is more difficult to access in a nonindexed reference work of this type.
The book's major shortcoming is its permeating looseness. For example, the index neglects useful names such as companies or radio stations. Okeh Records or WSM do not appear there; Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride do appear, but only with...