Academic journal article Current Musicology

Fabian Holt. 2007. Genre in Popular Music

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Fabian Holt. 2007. Genre in Popular Music

Article excerpt

Fabian Holt. 2007. Genre in Popular Music. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

The concept of genre has often presented difficulties for popular music studies. Although discussions of genres and their boundaries frequently emerge from the ethnographic study of popular music, these studies often fail to theorize the category of genre itself, instead focusing on elements of style that demarcate a localized version of a particular genre. In contrast, studies focusing on genre itself often take a top-down, Adorno-inspired, culture-industry perspective, locating the concept within the marketing machinations of the major-label music industry. Both approaches have their limits, leaving open numerous questions about how genres form and change over time; how people employ the concept of genre in their musical practices--whether listening, purchasing, or performing; and how culture shapes our construction of genre categories. In Genre in Popular Music, Fabian Holt deftly integrates his theoretical model of genre into a series of ethnographic and historical case studies from both the center and the boundaries of popular music in the United States. These individual case studies, from reactions to Elvis Presley in Nashville to a portrait of the lesser-known Chicago jazz and rock musician Jeff Parker, enable Holt to develop a multifaceted theory of genre that takes into consideration how discourse and practice, local experience and translocal circulation, and industry and individuals all shape popular music genres in the United States. This book is a much needed addition to studies of genre, as well as a welcome invitation to explore more fully the possibilities for doing ethnography in American popular music studies.

Holt outlines his flexible framework for studying genre in the first chapter, after which he embarks on a series of musical tours of the American past and present that demonstrate the construction and maintenance of, interventions into, and divergences from genre conventions. Each chapter blends history and ethnography and offers a different application of Holt's theory of genre. Chapter 2, "Roots and Refigurations," uses ethnographic material to explore the reception of the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) as a part of a roots-music revival. Chapters 3 and 4 form a "Double Session" and examine reactions to rock 'n' roll. Holt introduces these two chapters with a concise "Model of Genre Transformation," which uses the emergence of Elvis Presley and rock 'n' roll as an example for understanding how genres change in response to one another. Chapter 3, "Country Music and the Nashville Sound," and chapter 4, "Jazz and Jazz-Rock Fusion," each supports its historical perspective with present-day interviews, tracing the transformations that took place in country and jazz in response to rock 'n' roll. After these historically focused chapters, Holt considers genre in present-day, local contexts in "Double Session II: Urban Boundaries," which contains chapters 5, "Jeff Parker and the Chicago Jazz Scene," and chapter 6, "A Closer Look at Jeff Parker and His Music." These two chapters provide complementary views of a musician who straddles the canyon between rock and jazz, and demonstrate the importance of local identity for the articulation of genre. The final chapter, "Music at the American Borders," looks at three musical examples whose genre blending leaves them outside what is perceived as "American popular music," despite having been produced in the United States. In general, the book's layout works well, as the portraits of genre formation and boundary crossing flow nicely into each other to give a sense of past and present experience.

In developing his framework for reconsidering genre, Holt draws on the contributions of Simon Frith (1996) and Keith Negus (1999), among others, to reassert the importance of genre studies in the face of increasing scholarly concern with hybridity. …

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