Review: Roots of the Revival by Ronald D Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson

Title: Roots of the Revival – American and British Folk Music in the 1950s

Author: Ronald D Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson

Pages: 216 Pages

Publisher: University of Illinois Press

The Blurb

In Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s, Ronald D. Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson present a transatlantic history of folk’s midcentury resurgence that juxtaposes the related but distinct revivals that took place in the United States and Great Britain.

After setting the stage with the work of music collectors in the nineteenth century, the authors explore the so-called recovery of folk music practices and performers by Alan Lomax and others, including journeys to and within the British Isles that allowed artists and folk music advocates to absorb native forms and facilitate the music’s transatlantic exchange. Cohen and Donaldson place the musical and cultural connections of the twin revivals within the decade’s social and musical milieu and grapple with the performers’ leftist political agendas and artistic challenges, including the fierce debates over “authenticity” in practice and repertoire that erupted when artists like Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio carried folk into the popular music mainstream.

From work songs to skiffle, from the Weavers in Greenwich Village to Burl Ives on the BBC, Roots of the Revival offers a frank and wide-ranging consideration of a time, a movement, and a transformative period in American and British pop culture.

The Review

As a fan of music history I was eager to read this book. Ok it had been on my shelf for a long time but I was waiting for the right time to dip into it. I kind of wish I hadn’t now. It is not that the writers don’t know their stuff – they clearly do but Roots of the Revival which should have been a fascinating read about the history of folk music was just plain boring. I will tell you why – there seemed to be an over-emphasis on getting everything right. It felt like the writers were determined to make sure that every person who was at every event or moment in folk history was named. I felt like I was cycling through hummus trying to get through the tiresome lists that seemed to appear every chapter. A lot of these could have been added as footnotes. It made the reading experience boring.

Roots of the Revival by Rachel Donaldson and Ronald Cohen is available now.

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