Well, this traveling American "roots" music caravan that I have been running via the Internet, in this and other "hot" cyberspace spots, has been all over this country. I have been down in the Delta with the country blues artists like Robert Johnson, Skip James and Son House. I have been in those dust-blown Oklahoma hills with Woody Guthrie. I have been out West with the cowboy balladeers. I have been down in the swamps of Louisiana with the Cajun boys and girls, black and white. I've have been up in those Kentucky mountains with Roscoe Holcomb. Hell, I have even spent time, an inordinate amount of time, discussing roots music as it filtered through the 1960s folk revival in those rural meccas of New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts. You will agree I have been around. On this stop we go to the hills again this time to the Ozarks to "discover"....hillbillies and their musical traditions.
Now I know that it is hardly news that the term "hillbilly" has, over the last few decades, carried some pretty negative connotations. Hard-nosed 'wild men' truckers and car aficionados , honky tonks and honky-tonk women, "know-nothing" politics, in short, good old boys and girls fully enjoying the benefits of the 19th century in the outback. The truth or falsehood of those characterizations is not at issue here though. What concerns me is the addition of this "hillbilly" flavor to the "roots' music bandwagon. This is done here, by following the doings, comings, goings and whatnot of three modern "hillbilly" (or at least hillbilly-descended families) musical families out in Ozark country.
Some of this music, the motels, honky-tonks and barns where it is played, and the instruments used to play it are very familiar from other regions like those Kentucky hills mentioned before. This, moreover, makes sense because there are some common Scotch-Irish Child Ballad-like traditions that unite these various strands as the forebears drove relentlessly westward. This region, isolated back in the older times, did develop its own variations but I sense that, good old boys and girls or not, we are on some very familiar ground. And here is the kicker for this reviewer, personally, when it comes to knowledge of this music. Oh sure, as I have mentioned in other reviews, it was in the background in our house from my Kentucky-born father back in my youth. It's in the genes. But let me tell where I really started to get a better sense of this mountain music. Many years ago I used to listen to a Saturday morning local radio show from the wilds of Cambridge. The name of the show-"Hillbilly At Harvard". What do you think about that, my friends?