Various Artists

Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns [Original Soundtrack]

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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming

The story of country music in America is big and broad enough, with so many stylistic detours and creative offshoots that, when charting its history, it's difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. This is the challenge faced by the people who compiled the five-disc box set Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns, tied into the documentary series Burns produced and directed for PBS. Do you lean toward the music that was most historically important? The artists that gained the most critical acclaim? The records that moved the most units and charted the highest? Or visionary outliers who made a difference without gaining public recognition? In the case of Country Music, the curators have chosen to go with the first two criteria, putting the spotlight on music and musicians generally acknowledged as part of country's essential canon and highly regarded by historians and critical listeners. As a result, Country Music is a tastefully compiled and packaged set that doesn't offer a great deal in the way of surprises for anyone seriously devoted to country and roots music. There's little in the way of obscurities, and especially as the set moves into the '70s and '80s, there are plenty of very popular artists who are missing in favor of acts more eagerly embraced by the cognoscenti (which means no Kenny Rogers, Alan Jackson, or Garth Brooks, while Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Jeannie Seely make the cut). For these reasons, one can quibble at length about this set as a history lesson. As listening, however, it's a rich and pleasurable experience that's rewarding from first track to last. The first three discs are full of songs that are as vitally important as they are entertaining, and if the final 20-percent takes a somewhat highbrow view of country in the '80s and '90s, what's there represents the genre in a manner that's smart, impassioned, and satisfying. And the unreleased take of Rosanne Cash singing "I Still Miss Someone" at a memorial to her father is beautiful and powerful. At its best, country is a genre that deals with the realities of adult life in a way most pop music does not, speaking of both blessings and tragedies in a manner that's unpretentious and deeply relatable. This is the sort of music that dominates Country Music, and while it can only scratch the surface of the full chronology of the genre, it's a glowing testament to why this stuff matters. For people who think they don't like country music and insist it's nothing more than caterwauling about dogs and trucks, this set is just the sort of music that could change their mind. [Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns was also released in an edited two-disc version that does an admirable job of following the arc of the box set in condensed form and may be a better pick for beginners not wanting so deep a dive.]

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 The Carter Family 03:09 Amazon
2 Jimmie Rodgers 02:59 Amazon
3 Bradley Kincaid 02:33 Amazon
4 James Carson / Martha Carson 02:25 Amazon
5 Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers 03:10 Amazon
6 DeFord Bailey 01:10 Amazon
7 Jimmie Rodgers 02:39 Amazon
8 The Carter Family 03:11 Amazon
9 Jimmie Rodgers 03:19 Amazon
10 Uncle Dave Macon / Sam McGee 03:09 Amazon
11 Coon Creek Girls 02:49 Amazon
12 Jimmie Rodgers 03:00 Amazon
13 Grandpa Jones & His Grandchildren 02:44 Amazon
Gene Autry 02:39 Amazon
15 Patsy Montana & the Prairie Ramblers 03:08 Amazon
16 The Sons of the Pioneers 03:13 Amazon
17 The Carter Family 02:08 Amazon
18 Roy Acuff 02:41 Amazon
19 Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys 02:35 Amazon
20 Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys 02:38 Amazon
21 Roy Acuff 02:36 Amazon
22 Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys 02:57 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Hank Williams & the Drifting Cowboys 02:44 Amazon
2 Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys 02:53 Amazon
3 The Maddox Brothers & Rose 03:08 Amazon
4 Eddy Arnold 02:42 Amazon
5 Foggy Mountain Boys / Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs & The Foggy Mountain Boys / Flatt & Scruggs 02:40 Amazon
6 The Stanley Brothers 02:34 Amazon
7 Hank Williams & the Drifting Cowboys / Hank Williams, Jr. 02:44 Amazon
8 Hank Williams, Jr. / Hank Williams 02:14 Amazon
9 Hank Williams, Jr. / Hank Williams 03:21 Amazon
10 Kitty Wells 02:31 Amazon
11 Hank Williams & the Drifting Cowboys 02:47 Amazon
12 Brenda Lee 02:08 Amazon
13 The Maddox Brothers & Rose 02:26 Amazon
14 Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two 02:45 Amazon
15 Ray Price 02:32 Amazon
16 The Everly Brothers 02:19 Amazon
17 Lefty Frizzell 03:10 Amazon
18 Marty Robbins 04:40 Amazon
19 Ray Price 04:45 Amazon
20 Faron Young 02:25 Amazon
21 Patsy Cline 02:49 Amazon
22 Johnny Cash 02:37 Amazon
23 Patsy Cline 02:43 Amazon
24 Ray Charles 04:13 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Roger Miller 01:50 Amazon
2 Buck Owens 02:12 Amazon
3 Loretta Lynn 02:08 Amazon
4 Loretta Lynn 02:59 Amazon
5 Charley Pride 02:03 Amazon
6 Merle Haggard & the Strangers 03:26 Amazon
7 Merle Haggard & the Strangers 02:12 Amazon
8 Jeannie C. Riley 03:13 Amazon
9 Jeannie Seely 03:13 Amazon
10 Johnny Cash 02:45 Amazon
11 Tammy Wynette 02:39 Amazon
12 George Jones 02:35 Amazon
13 The Byrds 02:34 Amazon
14 Kris Kristofferson 04:21 Amazon
15 Sammi Smith 02:33 Amazon
16 Kris Kristofferson 04:36 Amazon
17 Haggard Cat / Merle Haggard 02:43 Amazon
18 Johnny Cash 02:52 Amazon
19 Johnny Cash / Bob Dylan 03:42 Amazon
20 The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 03:12 Amazon
21 The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 04:48 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 4

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Waylon Jennings 02:56 Amazon
2 Dolly Parton 03:09 Amazon
3 Dolly Parton 02:42 Amazon
4 Dolly Parton 02:56 Amazon
5 George Jones / Tammy Wynette 02:58 Amazon
6 Guy Clark 03:28 Amazon
7 Townes Van Zandt 03:45 Amazon
8 Johnny Rodriguez 02:57 Amazon
9 Waylon Jennings 02:41 Amazon
10 Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels 04:47 Amazon
11 Emmylou Harris 03:35 Amazon
12 Emmylou Harris 03:20 Amazon
13 Willie Nelson 03:37 Amazon
14 Asleep at the Wheel 03:04 Amazon
15 Willie Nelson 02:20 Amazon
16 Waylon Jennings / Willie Nelson 02:59 Amazon
17 Hank Williams, Jr. 04:00 Amazon
18 Rosanne Cash 03:16 Amazon
19 Haggard Cat / Merle Haggard / Willie Nelson 04:47 Amazon
20 George Jones 03:15 Amazon
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