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Recommended books on
Roots and Traditional Music

in association with Amazon.com Books
I'm a huge fan of roots and traditional music. It's the kind of stuff I play on my radio show "Gumbo", and it's what I'm listening to fairly constantly. Whether it's strictly music from the oral tradition of the world's myriad cultures, or more contemporary music influenced by these traditional sounds, it's all great stuff that you should seek out, listen to ... and read about!

I'm starting to accumulate the book list slowly, based on books in my own collection that I love. There'll always be more added, so check back frequently!

We've made it easy, safe and secure to purchase any of these books online through links to Amazon.com Books, "Earth's largest bookstore", with over 1 million titles on hand. Click any highlighted book title to order it through Amazon.com. If a title I recommend is not available through Amazon.com, I'll try to include mail-order information.

[American Traditional Music] [Cajun, Zydeco, Creole and Swamp Pop Music] [Country and Bluegrass]
[Irish Music] [New Orleans Music] ["World" Music]

Don't forget to browse through the music sections of the Cajun and New Orleans bookshop pages as well.

American Traditional Music

Blood, Peter, with Annie Patterson, Kore Loy McWhirter. Rise Up Singing: The Group-Singing Song Book.
Essential, if you like to sing. This books contains hundreds of songs, from traditional American and other cultures' folk songs and ballads, to Broadway to the Beatles to the Good Ol' Grateful Dead. Songs are organized into categories, and there's something for everyone in here. Contains complete lyrics, chords and discographies.

Linscott, Eloise Hubbard. Folk Songs of Old New England.

Lomax, John A. and Alan Lomax. American Ballads and Folk Songs .
The Lomaxes crisscrossed the country from the 1930s on, collecting and recording a wide variety of folk and traditional music styles, at first on their "portable" aluminum disk recorded (which weighed about 300 pounds). This is but one collection of some of the wealth of material they've brought to us from across the nation.

Ritchie, Jean with Alan Lomax and Ron Pen. Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians (paperback).
Jean Ritchie is one of the most respected folksingers in North America, and has done a great deal of work to preserve the folk and ballad singing tradition in this country, from her home region of Perry County, Kentucky as well as the rest of Appalachia and the U.S. This newly printed edition contains four new songs as well. For less than ten bucks more, you can order the hardback edition.

Seeger, Pete. American Favorite Ballads.
Pete Seeger has been at the forefront of American folk music for decades. Here is one of his excellent collections of traditional songs.

Seeger, Pete and Bob Reiser. Carry It On!: The Story of America's Working People in Song and Picture.
Another excellent collection from Pete -- songs and stories of work, labor and struggle.

Warner, Anne. Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne and Frank Warner Collection.
An astonishing work of scholarship, and a treasure trove of songs.

Anne and Frank Warner spent years travelling through Appalachia, the Carolinas, and other parts of the country collecting traditional unaccompanied songs and ballads, and this is one of the results of their life's work. They weren't just dry academics, though; they befriended the people who were the sources of their material, became a part of their lives, and Frank became quite an amazing traditional singer himself.

These songs are not museum pieces nor flies in amber, partially thanks to the work of the Warners -- they're living, breathing pieces of our culture, and are kept alive by traditional singers countrywide now. For example, the marvelous traditional band Cordelia's Dad has mined several of their finest songs from this book. Highly recommended.

Wolfe, Charles. The Devil's Box: Masters of Southern Fiddling
The key players and favorite tunes in the commercial emergence of Southern fiddling in the first half of the twentieth century are the focus of this lucid and engaging study. Drawing on such seldom-tapped resources as small regional newspapers, personal correspondence, and rare interviews with the fiddlers themselves as well as their families, Charles Wolfe conjures up vivid portraits of the individuals who fashioned this distinctly American music.

Wolfe, Charles. (Editor) Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee: The George Boswell Collection.
Wolfe edits a collection of 106 songs. from the collection of some 1,200 songs Boswell collected in person or through his students between 1950 and 1989. Included are British and home-grown American ballads, local and topical songs, Civil War songs, sentimental old popular, comedy, novelty, religious, and gospel songs.

Country and Bluegrass

Cantwell, Robert. Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound.

Irish Music

Breathnach, Brendan. Folk Music and Dances of Ireland.
Breathnach studied and collected Irish music for many years, and has published many compilations of tunes (hard to find in the U.S., unfortunately). This excellent little book is an overview of of this history and development of Irish traditional music (which is dance music, after all), and the folk dancing tradition in Ireland.

Carson, Ciaran. Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time With Irish Music.
Belfast-born poet and flute player Carson has written a delightful new book of essays, based on his impressions gathered while playing flute in pub sessions across Ireland. "First and foremost, he tells the reader about traditional Irish music. Yet his book is also a meditation on several interlinked themes--memory, drinking, mortality, language, food, and the uncanny way in which music seems to expand and contract the very passage of time." Highly recommended.

Curtis, P. J. Notes from the Heart: A Celebration of Traditional Irish Music.
Curtis has been a highly regarded record producer in Ireland for many years, and in this excellent book delves into a brief but wide-ranging history of how Irish music got to where it is today, after being in danger of dying out completely. In the second part of the book, he profiles some of the brightest starts on the Irish traditional music scene today, and gives lots of album recommendations to get you started on a collection. Recommended.

Glatt, John. The Chieftains: The Authorized Biography.
This brand-new book is the definitive biography of the world-famous ambassadors of Irish traditional music, probably the best-known Irish band in the world. Contains in-depth interviews with all the members of the band, family and friends, as well as many of the myriad musicians around the world who've played with them.

Healy, James N. Ballads from the Pubs of Ireland.

O'Connor, Nuala. Bringing It All Back Home: The Influence of Irish Music.
This is the companion volume to the excellent 5-hour RTÉ/BBC Northern Ireland television series tracing Irish music and its influence on music around the world due to the Irish diaspora. Highly recommended, and try to find the 1-hour video sampler from the TV series if you can. Highly recommended.

O'Connor, Sharon. Irish Isle: New Irish Cuisine, Traditional Irish Music.
Irish food is not the boiled dinner it once was. Many young Irish chefs are being trained in Europe and are exploring Ireland's bounty of excellent fresh produce, seafood, beef and dairy products in new and exciting ways. Here are creative menus and delicious recipes from Ireland's most romantic country house hotels, adapted especially for American kitchens. A 50 minute CD of Irish music is included to help set the mood.

O'Neill, Francis. O'Neill's 1001: Irish Music.
Francis O'Neill was a Captain in the Chicago Police Department in the latter part of the 19th Century. He hired innumerable Irish immigrants who had come to America after fleeing the Great Famine, and with those immigrants came their music. O'Neill was the first person ever to transcribe many of these melodies, many of which might have been lost to the oral tradition in that great wave of emigration. This book is a testament to O'Neill's monumental achievement for Irish music, containing over 1,000 tunes.

"World" Music

Barlow, Sean, with Banning Eyre and Jack Vartoogian. Afropop: An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music.
Barlow is the producer of National Public Radio'a excellent program "Afropop Worldwide" (hosted by the mellifluous Georges Collinet). This is an essential guide for anyone interested in the wide variety of music from Africa, from Algerian rai to Nigerian highlife to Zaïrean soukous to South African mbaqanga and more -- you get history, stories of the musicians, and a huge discography.

McGowan, Chris and Ricardo Pessanha. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil
Essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in Brazilian music. Chris really knows his stuff; I once had the pleasure to share a microphone with him during a Carnival special on KCRW, in conjunction with CC Smith, Solomon Solo and Ade James of "The African Beat" and the Louisiana music program I hosted then, "Gumbo Ya-Ya". Alan Rich of The Beat magazine (which CC edits) says, "This book, the first of its kind, is much more than a pioneering work. The Brazilian Sound is both an enthusiastic introduction for the newcomer and a thoughtful analysis for the confirmed fan." Yeah you rite.

Spencer, Peter. World Beat: A Listener's Guide to Contemporary World Music on CD

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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)