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Thanks to releases like Harry Smith's Anthology of Country Music, Old Hat's heroic CDs of the music of North Carolina, Yazoo's monster box of Kentucky mountain music, Columbia's Charlie Poole box set and to JSP's extensive coverage of the genre, there has been a massive revitalisation of old time country music and there's never been a better time to investigate it.

Most thanks though, should go to Tony Russell. Over the years, no-one has worked harder at researching the music and spreading the word. His in-depth writings have appeared in countless specialist magazines, record reviews and sleeve notes and every word has been gratefully devoured by collectors including me. I've been reading his stuff since his first review in Blues Unlimited and I still treasure every copy of his Old Time Music magazine from the seventies and eighties and virtually know by heart his sleeve notes to the 1970 CBS "Blacks Whites & Blues" anthology!  Russell's previous book, the huge 1175 page "Country Music Records Discography 1921-1952", is a vital monumental work of dedication to the cause. Dick Spottswood describes Tony as today's pre-eminent country music historian -"his exhaustive research and congenially articulate writings have bequeathed much of what we know about the music and those who made it".

This book is made up of concise and compact notes on the lives and musical histories of 110 country music icons who recorded in the 20s, 30s and 40s. One look at the contents page will make you drool. Clarence Ashley, Chris Bouchillion, Hoyt Ming, Red Lowery and Charlie Poole lie in wait alongside The Carter Family, Dock Boggs, Clayten McMichen, Sam McGhee and Kelly Harrell. Jimmie Rodgers, Uncle Dave Macon, Sam McGee and other highballers are listed as well as real obscurities like John I White, Fiddlin' Bob Larkan and Raymond Render.

My perfect book has to be full of new facts, enthusiasm and have the power to send me scurrying to the racks to dig out and listen to the musician I've just read about. This book covers all three criteria seamlessly. It's the kind of book you'll want to read all the way through without stopping. You won't be able to put it down. When you've read about one subject, the following one will beckon...but then, after it's finished, you'll still spend the following months dipping to check out musicians you might have forgotten about or only just heard.

Russell describes the musicians with a mixture of affection and humour and, as the reviewer at Publisher's Weekly points out, "he's produced a thorough reference book that is as pleasing to read as the best of narrative non-fiction". He's obviously noticed the delightful homespun-style story telling Russell infuses into the pieces on musicians like Powder River Jack Lee, Charlie Poole and John Dilleshaw. And not only do you get perfect writing, you also get individual play lists complete with details of the CDs on which the tracks appear.

"Country Music Originals" is a nice old fashioned book. This isn't a big glossy job that's all show and no content, but a beautifully presented work with 200 photographs and illustrations, many of which I've never seen before. For example, there are shots of Patsy Montana, The Home Town Boys, Emry Arthur and Clarence Ashley - and where did Tony unearth the shot of Gene Autry and Cliff Carlisle near the Statue of Liberty?

Apart from this being essential reading for anyone with an interest in this great music, I'm thinking that it could well be the best book on music I've read since Bob Dylan's Chronicles. You know you want it. Beg your loved ones to treat you to this now!

Buy this for only £9.95 plus £2.50 UK p&p



Review Date: November 2008

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