Roots Music: An American Journey
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Dec. 7, 2001
Roots Music: An American Journey(Rounder) Thinking that the recent PBS documentary series American Roots Music, which focused on the pioneers of American folk music, would have the same effect as Ken Burns' Jazz did on the CD-buying public, Rounder Records has released its own version of Roots Music. While that series didn't have the impact Jazz did, few would argue that Rounder is the premier label for this genre. In the 30 years that the Massachusetts-based indie label has been in business, it's been an outlet for an incredible range of folk music, and is more than qualified to give insight into what could rightfully be called "roots music," this during the latter part of the 20th century. This 4-CD sampler sets out to do just that, while also serving as a fine introduction to the wide range of artists that record for the label. That means one can find bluegrass, acoustic blues, Mardi Gras Indian chants, cowboy songs, zydeco, Mexican sones jarochos, Irish-American fiddle tunes, gospel, Tex-Mex conjunto, singer-songwriters, blues/funk, Cajun music, and more in this box, some of it as fine as any of its kind as has ever been recorded. Some of the artists, like Alison Krauss & Union Station, Bela Fleck, and Sweet Honey In the Rock, are well known; others, like Austin's Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Tarbox Ramblers, and D.L. Menard, are regional favorites. Then there's Mississippi Fred McDowell, Beau Jocque, and Etta Baker, who are legendary in their particular styles. Within its four discs, the first two are tradition-based, while the second two are contemporary interpretations of those traditions. It doesn't contain any old, scratchy recordings, but Roots Music: An American Journey is a bright, spirited look at where the music has been and where it stands right now. It's also broad enough to appeal to those who think they know the music, as well as those who are discovering it for the first time, an impressive achievement in itself.