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Rave Ups: It Still Moves by Amanda Petrusich

Published by Faber & Faber in 2008, It Still Moves is one part road trip dairy, one part cultural study, and one part musicological thesis.  The author Amanda Petrusich a contributing writer for Pitchfork.com and tons of other music publications.  She has also written one other book:  Pink Moon (about the classic Nick Drake album of the same name) as a part of the 33 1/3 series by Continuum Books.  I found her writing to be well thought out, organized, and meticulously researched.  She uses a well planned road trip to a string of important musical destinations as a vehicle to parcel the more historical/factual info in as a story.   The travel portion of the book does come off as a little forced at times, as she very obviously tried to make the best of a few of the less than inspirational experiences at a few of the featured locations.  Overall the book does a wonderful job at delivering a full/wide view of American Music, hitting all the cornerstones of what “Americana” is thought of, including The Blues, Country, Folk, and the more recent interpretations and combinations of the those styles.

The book is composed of 17 parts including an introduction and epilogue.

Here is a rough guide to what they cover:

  • Intro – Just that, acts to identify what the book is going to try to accomplish which is mainly to discover just what “Americana” is.
  • Chapter 1 – Examination of the American Highway, and how that relates to American music.
  • Chapter 2 – Focuses on the history of the Blues kicked off with a visit to Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee.
  • Chapter 3 – Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and the birth of Rock N Roll also in Memphis.
  • Chapter 4 – Elvis Presley and his impact on popular music with a visit to Graceland.
  • Chapter 5 – Further examination of the Blues through travels to Clarksdale Mississippi.
  • Chapter 6 – Country music by way of Nashville Tennessee.
  • Chapter 7 – Alternative Country
  • Chapter 8 – Continued travels through Virginia and Kentucky.
  • Chapter 9 – Minstrel shows and early radio.
  • Chapter 10 – Appalachian folk music, The Carter Family, and early Country music.
  • Chapter 11 – Americana by way of Cracker Barrel.
  • Chapter 12 – John Lomax, Leadbelly, Moses Asch, and Folkways Records.
  • Chapter 13 – Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and Smithsonian Folkways.
  • Chapter 14 – Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and the Folk revival of the 1960s.
  • Chapter 15 – Independent Folk.
  • Epilogue – Continued ruminations on the definition of Americana.

The driving question here is “What is Americana?”, which I think is an important one to ask.   Although I’m not sure the book fully answers it, then again I’m not sure any book can or should try.  Americana, at least when it relates to music, is just one of those terms that is too complicated to define.  Whenever you are trying to precisely define a label that is used as a shortcut to describe an art form you inevitably will get your self into trouble.  It is a journal full of pitfalls, contradictions,  and personal opinion.  Although I personally often fall back on the genre/sub-genre/style labels in my writing, I try not to be restrictive with my labels when setting something in stone.  Take Neil Young for instance, can you really say he is strictly a “country-rock” artist?  If you do, you are completely omitting all of his work that does not exactly fit into that label.  I prefer to keep it simple and classify things in general terms like Pop/Rock.

Just for fun here is a link to the Webster Dictionary definition of Americana.

I would also like to offer a playlist of music that is directly mentioned in the book or inspired by the books subject.

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