Author Topic: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series  (Read 355 times)

NoSleep

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Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« on: November 24, 2019, 09:55:40 PM »
Anyone else watching this?

Just finished the first part and it was really good. Started by tracing the roots of the music in earlier centuries, through to the pioneer recording and radio acts and finishing on the discovery of the the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers up to the latter's untimely death in 1933. You can actually hear the TB killing him as he's recording those final sessions, resting between takes.

DukeDeMondo

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Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2019, 11:45:37 PM »
I thought some episodes of this were brilliant, but the last one was absolute rubbish and the whole enterprise is hobbled by interpreting "the history of country music" to mean, basically, a history of what was being pushed by country radio at any given time. Which is fine, for a while, but then it falls into a sort of "then this was a big hit / "Yeah, that was a big hit for us" / "Such and Such sold x many records" groove and it gets a bit boring for a while to be honest.

And it's full of inaccuracies and wrong-headed decision making. It features Loretta Lynn a fair bit, for example, but it doesn't say much about her, and a good bit of what it does say is wrong. Given all the paradigm-shifting songs Loretta Lynn wrote and recorded that you could talk about, it makes little sense that when it does start talking about her in a bit more depth it opts to go on about "The Pill." I mean, "The Pill" was a hugely significant song, and Burns is right to cover it, but Loretta Lynn didn't write it and the documentary claims she did.

There is a nice bit with Jack White talking about working with her on the brilliant Van Lear Rose album, mind, which took me back to that record again, so that's always something. Fuck it's good, that album. Portland Oregon is one of the best things she ever put out. 

I should say that I was watching it whilst listening to the absolutely brilliant podcast series Cocaine And Rhinestones, which covers country music history in a far more satisfying way (I wasn't watching and listening at exactly the same time, obviously). Also it has an episode about "The Pill" that's far meatier and far more accurate than the related segment of the Burns documentary.

There were other inaccuracies too but I can't remember them offhand.

But yeah, I mean, I enjoyed it. Was good a fair bit of the time. First three episodes are absolutely fantastic, but for me there was a definite, steep drop in quality after that. Episode 7, which locks one eye at least on what Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt were up to is good fun too, I think it's the same episode that talks about the evolution of Willie Nelson's incredible Red Headed Stranger album, and about the emergence of Emmylous Harris. But there's absolutely no mention of Alt Country, which you would assume the last episode would cover. No Uncle Tupelo or Lambchop or Whiskeytown. Ryan Adams may have been namechecked, I can't remember. No mention of Lucinda Williams. Nothing on Dolly Parton's re-emergence with that trio of stunning bluegrass albums in the late 90s, early 2000s, yet it finds plenty of time to talk about 9 to 5. Nothing of any of that. A load of surface level shit about Reba Mcentyre and Garth Brooks instead. I mean, the ascendancy of Garth Brooks was significant and worth covering to some extent, but this has nothing of interest to say about it whatsoever. 

So a brilliant trio of opening episodes, then a load of intermittently enjoyable but utterly superficial "this was a hit, then this, then this too, then this was a hit," then another good episode, then two hours of pish at the end.

For an eight hour documentary on Country Music by Ken Burns, for fuck sake, four good hours is a bit lame, really.

EDIT: Wait, sorry, it's not eight hours. It's eight episodes. So it's sixteen hours. Of which eight are good.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 12:06:47 AM by DukeDeMondo »

NoSleep

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Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2019, 07:01:25 AM »
I suspected that it would descend from the heights of the first episode at some point. There's probably a lot of mythologising in those early episodes, too, but maybe there's not much you can do to get around that given the time passed.

If you're a fan of a genre it's very easy to detect the viewpoint of the people telling the the story. This was very true of the "____-Britannia" series where one clique or faction got to tell the story, sidelining other genuine strands and originators of the genre.


Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2019, 10:04:24 AM »
Perhaps I wasn't paying attention, but the first episode began in about 1920, there was very little about the earlier Irish or Scots influences.

Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2019, 10:32:51 AM »
...the absolutely brilliant podcast series Cocaine And Rhinestones, which covers country music history in a far more satisfying way (I wasn't watching and listening at exactly the same time, obviously). Also it has an episode about "The Pill" that's far meatier and far more accurate than the related segment of the Burns documentary.

+1 on this podcast by the way. Not a fan of country as such, but I can appreciate the interesting stories and social impact of the music.

I'm hoping it would be a C&W version of 'Jazz' - again, not a fan, but learned a fair bit (although it might also play fast & loose with the truth in places).

Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2019, 10:36:59 AM »
What's this on? Certainly interested in watching the Carter Family bits.


Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #7 on: November 25, 2019, 12:53:52 PM »
If you want more Carter Family history, the American Epic documentary that they showed on the Arena stream was good.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0536yf9

I'm sure it's available elsewhere.

NoSleep

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Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2019, 06:34:00 PM »
Perhaps I wasn't paying attention, but the first episode began in about 1920, there was very little about the earlier Irish or Scots influences.

There was talk of how the music grew from its various folk roots, but of course it's about the emergence of a commercial "industry" (specifically mentioned).

Interesting how many acts in the earliest days were playing on the radio for free, just for the exposure; and the radio stations were fronts for specific businesses wanting to promote their own wares (actually paralleled in the first episode to the travelling snake oil merchants that preceded the radio era).

NoSleep

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Re: Ken Burns' (history of) Country Music - new documentary series
« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2019, 06:50:21 PM »
Also noteworthy was how the early founders of country music were hunting out old tunes from the past, obviously to exploit, but in doing so they were also acting as curators of the original folk traditions.