Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound and Its Legacy

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound and Its Legacy

Article excerpt

Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound and Its Legacy. By Tim Newby. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2015. Pp. viii, 235. Paper, $35.00, ISBN 978-0-7864-9439-2.)

Among cultural perceptions of North American music and geography, few are as strongly linked as country music and the southern United States. However, important recent studies are complicating this idea, examining the country music legacy of places and regions away from the core of the American South. Examples include the work of Keith Cady, Henry Glassie, Craig Maki, Clifford R. Murphy, and Douglas Dowling Peach. Baltimore, located on the fringes of the South, has similarly avoided scholarly scrutiny regarding its significance to this music. With Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin Sound and Its Legacy, Tim Newby aims to help rectify this shortcoming by examining the city's bluegrass music scene, revealing Baltimore's "permanent ... footprint on the history and development of bluegrass" (p. 7).

Beginning with an introduction, the book proceeds mostly chronologically. Chapters 1-5 tell the stories of key musicians--Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Russ Hooper, Mike Seeger, Earl Taylor--and their roles in the nascent Baltimore bluegrass scene of the 1950s and 1960s. The next three chapters each focus on an influential musician with strong ties to the area: contemporary bluegrass icon Del McCoury, old-time music luminary Ola Belle Reed, and the oft-overlooked banjo innovator Walt Hensley. In the last two chapters Newby traces the evolution of bluegrass in Baltimore from the 1970s to 2014, including profiles of Cris Jacobs and Patrick McAvinue, young mainstays of the current scene.

Overall, Newby's book delivers solid contributions to the historiography of bluegrass music, offering a fresh investigation of urban bluegrass in a working-class city. …

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