Ken Burns’ “Country Music”

Prairie and I just finished the Ken Burns Country Music documentary, and really enjoyed it.

While country definitely isn’t my primary genre, I’ve grown up with a fairly healthy appreciation for the roots of American music, and there are some songs that have long been part of my musical consciousness (“Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, which features prominently in this documentary, has long ranked as one of my all-time favorite songs, and particularly the recording that plays over the ending moments of the final chapter of the film). This film — all sixteen hours of it — is a fascinating look at where country music came from, how it was influenced by and influenced other genres in turn, and generally how it’s been a strong part of the American musical landscape.

I was somewhat amused that in some ways, due to the film’s chronological structure, the final chapter was the least musically interesting for me, as it concentrates on roughly 1986-1996. That was the era of country music that I grew up in, and it’s also the era I find least interesting, and part of why I don’t tend to consider myself a country fan, however much I enjoy country music from earlier eras. Except for the modern, post-9/11 ultra-nationalistic era — which Ken Burns doesn’t get into, stopping his history just before the turn of the millennium — it’s the era of country I find least interesting.

Most interesting to me was the Carter family and Johnny Cash. Both were artists I knew to some extent, but their stories were fascinating, and were some of my favorite parts of the film. Their influence is such that it could even be argued that this was a shorter documentary about the Carter/Cash dynasty, with a lot of extended detours into the rest of the country music ecosystem that had them at the center.

Neat stuff. And if you have any interest in American culture and music, even if this isn’t a style you generally pay much attention to, the film is well worth the time it takes to watch.

Published by Michael Hanscom

Enthusiastic ambivert. Geeky, liberal, friendly, curious, feminist ally; trying to be a good person. (he/him)