A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music
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In industry circles, musicians from Kentucky are known to possess an enviable pedigree—a lineage as prized as the bloodline of any bluegrass-raised Thoroughbred. With native sons and daughters like Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Loretta Lynn, the Everly Brothers, Joan Osborne, and Merle Travis, it’s no wonder that the state is most often associated with folk, country, and bluegrass music.
But Kentucky’s contribution to American music is much broader: It’s the rich and resonant cello of Ben Sollee, the velvet crooning of jazz great Helen Humes, and the famed vibraphone of Lionel Hampton. It’s exemplified by hip-hop artists like the Nappy Roots and indie folk rockers like the Watson Twins. It goes beyond the hallowed mandolin of Bill Monroe and banjo of the Osborne Brothers to encompass the genres of blues, jazz, rock, gospel, and hip-hop.
A Few Honest Words explores how Kentucky’s landscape, culture, and traditions have influenced notable contemporary musicians. Featuring intimate interviews with household names (Naomi Judd, Joan Osborne, and Dwight Yoakam), emerging artists, and local musicians, author Jason Howard’s rich and detailed profiles reveal the importance of the state and the Appalachian region to the creation and performance of music in America.
Jason Howard is coauthor of Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Nation, Sojourners, Paste, the Louisville Review, Equal Justice Magazine, and on NPR.
An important contribution to the wider conversation about what qualifies as contemporary American roots music and what it means for music to communicate a sense of place in our profoundly uprooted time. -- Jewly Hight, author of Right by Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs
A thoughtful and important book. It's tremendously satisfying that specific areas of the South are receiving their due attention. Kentucky has given so much to the landscape of American music. -- Rosanne Cash
By shining a light on an inclusive array of homegrown performing artists--some well known, some destined to be, all of whom are following in the footsteps of Bill Monroe, Lionel Hampton, the Everly Brothers and Loretta Lynn--Jason Howard has crafted a loving and thoughtful homage to his beloved state of Kentucky, giving us pitch perfect journalistic prose from the heart of the country. -- Rodney Crowell
Jason Howard has gathered up all those sweet Kentucky sounds and brought them home to a reunion. His Few Honest Words is like a country-folk music festival in prose. -- Michael Streissguth, author of Johnny Cash: The Biography
Kentucky inspired Stephen Foster, America’s first professional songwriter, and gave birth to Bill Monroe, Lionel Hampton, Rosemary Clooney and scores of headlining artists in every genre of music. Jason Howard’s A Few Honest Words illustrates Kentucky’s harvest of gifted musicians continues well into the era of hip-hop, jam bands and all your various indies and alts. Howard’s knowledge and love of music brighten the narrative as these wonderful artists tell their stories. -- Bob Edwards, host of The Bob Edwards Show and Bob Edwards Weekend on Sirius XM radio, and author of A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio
This book would be a fresh addition to any academic or public library with a community interested in Appalachia, and/or the roots of traditional and popular musical styles. -- Alison DePollo -- Tennessee Libraries
To fans of bluegrass, folk, rock, country, and hip-hop, this book will come as a pleasant surprise, as it traces disparate forms of American music to their roots in Kentucky. -- Michael Cala -- New York Journal of Books
Jason Howard reveals the indelible impression of Kentucky's culture upon its artists and musicians and makes clear the strains that its music has played true in the realm of American music. -- Chevy Chaser
A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, contains perhaps the broadest look at music emanating from the Commonwealth's sons and daughters to be found in print. -- Richmond Register
"A great quickie read." -- Songlines
The book offers unique insights on the musical culture of Kentucky. -- Kentucky Libraries
A Few Honest Words highlights Kentucky's enormous contribution to contemporary American music from the velvet crooning of jazz greats to fusion hip-hopers to funky indie folk rockers. -- Utne
"His research and personal interviews with Kentucky's famous as well as up-and-coming sing/songwriter musicians show roots music as a connecting thread of influence with the idols of his youth as well as contemporary artists. While honoring icons of the state--the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Lionel Hampton, and the Everly Brothers--Howard illuminates a similar love of Kentucky in Current performers of many genres from bluegrass to rap. ...Howard skillfully documents a new era of Kentucky roots music. His book deserves a place in the history of American song." -- Mary Popham -- The Courier-Journal
"The rich soil of Kentucky has given rise to a formidable crop of American folk music, and the influence remains as strong today as it was a century ago. Howard continues his work portraying the lives and labors of Kentuckians, this time focusing on the music of native sons and daughters of Kentucky and on the vast influence the region in defining the term 'Americana' in music and culture. Howard ranges from anonymous mountaineers to urban pioneers in this sprawling, honest exploration of a seminal source of American music. This book's combination of interviews and history makes for an entertaining study of the heart of American roots music." -- Library Journal
Jason Howard updates Alan Lomax's 1930's-60's research that enriched our experiences with folk musicians of the South. -- Rita Kohn -- Nuvo