Old Roots, New Routes

The Cultural Politics of Alt.Country Music

Subjects: American Studies, Music, Class Studies
Paperback : 9780472050536, 296 pages, 9 B&W photographs, 6 x 9, December 2008
Hardcover : 9780472070534, 296 pages, 9 B&W photographs, 6 x 9, December 2008
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An in-depth look at the influences, meaning, and identity of this contemporary music form

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Importance of Being Ironic---Toward a Theory and Critique of Alt.Country's Music by Barbara Ching and Pamela Fox, p.1


Sample Robbie Fulks, "F*** This Town"

Selling Out or Buying In? Alt.Country's Cultural Politics of Commercialism by Diane Pecknold, p. 28


Sample Shooter Jennings, "Put the O Back in Country"

Growing Up and Out of Alt.Country: On Gen X, Wearing Vintage, and Neko Case by Jon Smith, p. 51


Sample Neko Case, "Very Missionary"

Beyond Austin's City Limits: Justin Trevino and the Boundaries of "Alternative" Country by Aaron A. Fox, p. 83


Sample Justin Trevino, "Scene of the Crying"

Meeting in the Marketplace: A Taste for Romance in Songcatcher and O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Barbara Ching, p. 111


Sample Emmylou Harris, "Barbara Allen"

Time as "Revelator": Alt.Country Women's Performance of the Past by Pamela Fox, p. 134


Sample Gillian Welch, "Tear My Stillhouse Down"

"Regressive Country": The Voice of Gram Parsons by Olivia Carter Mather, p. 154


Sample Gram Parsons, "Hot Burrito #1"

Old Time Punk by Aaron Smithers, p. 175 


Sample Bad Livers, "S*** Creek"

"The Burden Is Passed On": Son Volt, Tradition and Authenticity by Stevie Simkin. p. 192


Sample Son Volt, "Windfall"

Conclusion: New Alternatives?---Top 40 "Outlaws" Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, and the Dixie Chicks by Pamela Fox and Barbara Ching, p. 222


Sample Dixie Chicks, "Long Time Gone"

Alt.Country Chronology by Kelly Burchfield and Barbara Ching, p. 233

Works Cited, p. 241

Contributors, p. 263

Index, p. 265


Old Roots, New Routes takes an in-depth look at the many influences, meanings, and identities of this contemporary music form. Because the definition of the term alt.country changes continually, even the genre's own mouthpiece, the Web site nodepression.com, declared its terrain to be "alternative country (whatever that is)."

Despite alt.country's murky parameters, its origins, indeed, its patron saints, are generally acknowledged to range from the Carter Family and Hank Williams---as interpreters of traditional American country---to the country-rock fusions of Gram Parsons and Steve Earle.

Just as other musical genres before it have distanced themselves from the popular and commercial center, from the start alt.country has positioned itself as a different kind of music than the slick country sounds emanating from Nashville hit machines such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. And yet alt.country's embrace of authenticity and disdain for commercialism---while simultaneously injecting into a traditional, working-class music form an often cosmopolitan flavor and "Generation X" values---has resulted in a fascinating hybrid full of contradictions.

In Old Roots, New Routes, Pamela Fox and Barbara Ching bring together a range of scholars to investigate as never before this significant contemporary music form, providing in addition new ways to approach the worlds of country and alternative music more generally. Individual essays explore the work of a variety of artists, including Neko Case, Jay Farrar, Justin Treviño, and alt.country "hero" Gram Parsons, along with promotional rhetoric, album art, advertising, and fan Web sites, to offer readers a comprehensive understanding of how alt.country functions as a distinct musical form.

Pamela Fox is Associate Professor of English and currently the Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University. She is the author of Class Fictions: Shame and Resistance in the British Working-Class Novel, 1890–1945.

Barbara Ching is Associate Professor at the University of Memphis. Her previous books include Wrong's What I Do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture and Knowing Your Place: Rural Identity and Cultural Hierarchy, coedited with Gerald Creed.

Read a review from Impose | 5.15.09