Ken Burns’ Country Music Documentary Coming to PBS in 2018

Ken Burns

I’ve been hearing about Ken Burns’ new project focusing on Country Music for over a ear. Now PBS has made it a realty b announcing that the anticipated documentary, succinctly called called “Country Music,” will air in 2018.

That will be about 5 years worth of work on the one series. Sure that’s a long time
but it helpes to keep in mind that it’s a year less than he spent on his ten-episode miniseries detailing jazz. And given Burn’s attention to detail ranging from The Civil War and the history of baseball it’s satisfying to see that there is care being applied ot a genre we all love.

The origins and fundamentals of roots, folk and country music are vast . deep at least as deep and vast as many of the topics Burns has tackled before. I have faith that this is going to be a fascinating (and lengthy) series.

From the release “The country series explores the question, “what is country music.” It will track the careers of the Carter family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and others.”

“For over a century, country music has been a pivotal force in American culture, expressing the hopes, joys, fears and hardships of everyday people in songs lyrical, poignant and honest,” said PBS President Paula A. Kerger. “It is fitting that we have two of America’s master storytellers, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, tell the story on film of an art form that for generations has told America’s story in song.”

The documentary will follow the rise of bluegrass music with Bill Monroe and note how one of country music’s offspring – rockabilly – mutated into rock and roll in Memphis. It will show how Nashville slowly became not just the mecca of country music, but “Music City USA.” All the while, it will highlight the constant tug of war between the desire to make country music as mainstream as possible and the periodic reflexes to take it back to its roots.

That;s the part that will be interesting to me, how Burns handles the splinter threads of the genre. The aforementioned Bluegrass The Outlaws, Bakersfield and, as Steve Earle helped shepherd and deemed, “Great Credibility Scare of the Mid-1980s.”

Americana – What It Is?

Americana joins around 100 other words whose use is now widely recognized as new entries in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. According to the dictionary’s editors Americana music is defined as: “a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music” Now after many a heated battles for going on 13 to 15-years (No Depression magazine was first published in 1995 ans the Americana Music Association was founded in 1998) concerning the fine distinctions of Americana music this seems to be simultaneously as clear and murky a definition as you’ll find.

It’s my view that when producer Ralph Peer set up his record studio Bristol, Tennessee in 1927 the distinction between “county” and “folk” was nonexistent. The elements of both genres laid fused in the sounds of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and the art form was cleaved apart for marketing and political reasons some 30 years later.

I applaud the recognition Merriam-Webster has bestowed on the Americana genre but saying that it has “roots in early folk and country music” overlooks what much of the music that performers like Gillian Welch and William Elliott Whitmore do to define their sound. They reach to a time before the genres were distinct entities and the styles of both were found in the hollers, plains and porches of our European ancestors. They reach back to the original source to remind us all how great the music is and while giving it their own personal slant.

Emmylou Harris Prepares Box Set / New Release

From – Emmylou Harris is preparing a 80-song boxed set due Sept. 18 via Rhino, which features two discs of obscure studio work and two additional CDs of rarities, many of them previously unreleased.

“For the most part, none of these songs have ever been on a compilation before,” Harris tells “They’re kind of favorites — I call them my orphans, songs that maybe I didn’t even perform that much but I loved enough to record in the studio. They didn’t quite fit either the Hot Band or whatever I was doing. Things like ‘Coat of Many Colors,’ which was one of my favorite songs of all time, or ‘Ballad of a Runaway Horse’ and ‘1917.’”

Also included are several unreleased recordings with her Trio, which also featured Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. “There’s an outtake from the aborted Trio album that we did in 1978, a Carter Family song called ‘Palms of Victory’ that’s just live off the floor,” Harris says. “There’s not even a solo on it — it’s just the band and the three women singing and I sound like I’m channeling Sara Carter. I wish — in my dreams!”

The second two discs boast numerous tracks Harris has recorded for tribute albums to such acts as Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zandt, as well as the original demo for “All I Left Behind” with Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

Harris put her next studio effort on hold to finish the boxed set, but is making progress on a new Nonesuch album with assistance from the McGarrigle sisters and Seldom Scene lead singer John Starling. Harris duets with the latter on “Old Five and Dimers” (“I finally decided that I was old enough to cut that song, reaching the grand ole age of 60,” she laughs).

“It’s kind of a combination of some of my own songs, some songs that I’ve wanted to record for a long time and some new things that I came across,” she offers of the effort. “You’ll get obth Emmylou the interpreter and Emmylou the songwriter.”

Harris, who will also tour heavily into the fall, has recently recorded guest spots for Parton’s next studio album, an Anne Murray duets album and old friend Danny Flowers’ “Tools for the Soul.”

Emmylou Harris – Making Believe

MySpace Showcase – Baskery

I love discovering roots/country music from across the world. Baskery does their thing in Stockholm, Sweden with such passion and fire that you could be forgiven for mistaking them for Tennesseans or Texans reared on equal parts Carter Family and Tanya Tucker.

Think a Swedish version of the Dixie Chicks…wait…what was I saying? Oh yeah…great arrangements and sweet harmonies make Baskery shine. Check ’em out.