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It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music

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Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?--Donovon Hohn, A Romance of Rust Part travelogue, part cultural criticism, part music appreciation, It Still Moves does for today's avant folk scene what Greil Marcus did for Dylan and The Basement Tapes, Amanda Petrusich outlines Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?--Donovon Hohn, A Romance of Rust Part travelogue, part cultural criticism, part music appreciation, It Still Moves does for today's avant folk scene what Greil Marcus did for Dylan and The Basement Tapes, Amanda Petrusich outlines the sounds of the new, weird America--honoring the rich tradition of gospel, bluegrass, country, folk, and rock that feeds it, while simultaneously exploring the American character as personified in all of these genres historically. Through interviews, road stories, geographical and sociological interpretations, and detailed music criticism, Petrusich traces the rise of Americana music from its gospel origins through its new and compelling incarnations (as evidenced in bands and artists from Elvis to Iron and Wine, the Carter Family to Animal Collective, Johnny Cash to Will Oldham) and explores how the genre is adapting to the twenty-first century. Ultimately the book is an examination of all things American: guitars, cars, kids, motion, passion, enterprise, and change, in a fervent attempt to reconcile the American past with the American present, using only dusty records and highway maps as guides.


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Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?--Donovon Hohn, A Romance of Rust Part travelogue, part cultural criticism, part music appreciation, It Still Moves does for today's avant folk scene what Greil Marcus did for Dylan and The Basement Tapes, Amanda Petrusich outlines Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?--Donovon Hohn, A Romance of Rust Part travelogue, part cultural criticism, part music appreciation, It Still Moves does for today's avant folk scene what Greil Marcus did for Dylan and The Basement Tapes, Amanda Petrusich outlines the sounds of the new, weird America--honoring the rich tradition of gospel, bluegrass, country, folk, and rock that feeds it, while simultaneously exploring the American character as personified in all of these genres historically. Through interviews, road stories, geographical and sociological interpretations, and detailed music criticism, Petrusich traces the rise of Americana music from its gospel origins through its new and compelling incarnations (as evidenced in bands and artists from Elvis to Iron and Wine, the Carter Family to Animal Collective, Johnny Cash to Will Oldham) and explores how the genre is adapting to the twenty-first century. Ultimately the book is an examination of all things American: guitars, cars, kids, motion, passion, enterprise, and change, in a fervent attempt to reconcile the American past with the American present, using only dusty records and highway maps as guides.

30 review for It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    3.5 stars -- some interesting chapters, but fairly uneven overall.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    I'm only on page 81, but so far, so good. Amanda Petrusich gives the reader a condensed, yet unnarrow, view of the heartland of American music. From Mississippi to Memphis and from New York to Nashville Amanda explores where the origins of blues, folk, and country stemmed from and why we should never forget them. Throughout the first few chapters this reader has detected a slight bitterness toward the indie culture and the people associated with it. She makes unambiguous notations written between I'm only on page 81, but so far, so good. Amanda Petrusich gives the reader a condensed, yet unnarrow, view of the heartland of American music. From Mississippi to Memphis and from New York to Nashville Amanda explores where the origins of blues, folk, and country stemmed from and why we should never forget them. Throughout the first few chapters this reader has detected a slight bitterness toward the indie culture and the people associated with it. She makes unambiguous notations written between the lines that would suggest that the modern music listener tends to take the classics with a grain of salt and therefore neglects them. I couldn't agree more as I am also just as guilty of this specific wrong-doing. With people like Robert Johnson, Sam Phillips, and obviously Elvis, bands like The White Stripes would've never existed. I wish more people from my age group would tell me about the classics and origins rather than the new and reinvented. The roots will always be remembered by a select few, but for the most part it is a dying field of study. Thankfully, there is one person's free-roaming journey across the States that has made me a bit more aware of what I have yet to discover. There is always something new out there, but we must also realize that there is also something old hidden in the juke joints and shacks where Americana was born. It's an adventure I would eventually like to embark upon at least once before I die. I will write more as I read more.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Miu

    Maybe if you're interested in the history of American popular music you'd enjoy this. But I honestly didn't enjoy it. The writing is fine, a bit pretentious sounding, but fine. I noticed the author used "ostensibly" and "twentysomething" a lot which I found funny. I guess this book was supposed to be a kind of creative non-fiction book but the road trip parts were a bit too simple and the history parts a bit too bland. The author also talks about tourists as if she isn't also one which I found a Maybe if you're interested in the history of American popular music you'd enjoy this. But I honestly didn't enjoy it. The writing is fine, a bit pretentious sounding, but fine. I noticed the author used "ostensibly" and "twentysomething" a lot which I found funny. I guess this book was supposed to be a kind of creative non-fiction book but the road trip parts were a bit too simple and the history parts a bit too bland. The author also talks about tourists as if she isn't also one which I found a bit odd. No hate to Amanda Petrusich though. Maybe history just isn't for me!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kasey Lawson

    “There is too much useless vocabulary available for defining the already cliched idea of what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century. As the author Hampton Sides writes in his essay collection ‘Americana’, “The United States is such a glorious mess of contradiction, such a crazy quilt of competing themes, such a fecund mishmash of people and ideas, that defining us is pretty much pointless.” Appropriately, Americana music is as perplexing and mottled and gripping as the people cr “There is too much useless vocabulary available for defining the already cliched idea of what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century. As the author Hampton Sides writes in his essay collection ‘Americana’, “The United States is such a glorious mess of contradiction, such a crazy quilt of competing themes, such a fecund mishmash of people and ideas, that defining us is pretty much pointless.” Appropriately, Americana music is as perplexing and mottled and gripping as the people cranking it out.”

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jordanbl

    It was a wonderful book. Part travelogue and part history of Americana music. It covered a wide range of artists: Elvis, Muddy Waters, and Woody Guthrie. It was a good journey to take. One who likes music and travel will find it full of valuable information.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Awesomeness. Loved this book, love Amanda Petrusich's writing. Highly recommended. Awesomeness. Loved this book, love Amanda Petrusich's writing. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jonny Brick

    A fun ramble through America by a brilliant music critic who wears her knowledge with pride. Tries to explain the term Americana and mostly succeeds.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I'm sorry but she just runs on,instead of getting to the point. Might have been an interesting journey but I didn't get past the first chapter. I'm sorry but she just runs on,instead of getting to the point. Might have been an interesting journey but I didn't get past the first chapter.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    A bit more enjoyable than Amanda Petrusich's previous book (an entertaining but too-brief 33 1/3 entry regarding Nick Drake's seminal Pink Moon), It Still Moves was a surprisingly straightforward retelling of the history of American roots music, referred to throughout as Americana. Also a travelogue of sorts, she hits the expected spots like Memphis, Nashville, Graceland and Clinch Mountain, physically exploring the areas where this music was birthed, but also examining the philosophical points A bit more enjoyable than Amanda Petrusich's previous book (an entertaining but too-brief 33 1/3 entry regarding Nick Drake's seminal Pink Moon), It Still Moves was a surprisingly straightforward retelling of the history of American roots music, referred to throughout as Americana. Also a travelogue of sorts, she hits the expected spots like Memphis, Nashville, Graceland and Clinch Mountain, physically exploring the areas where this music was birthed, but also examining the philosophical points that might bug a lover of Americana. The questions she asks are relevant and interesting: what makes one singer authentic and another ersatz, how much does racism play into white appropriation of black music, where does the genre go from here. She's a writer I admire, and of all the music journalists I currently read, one whose tastes appear to overlap my own the most. She's also the only one whose blog I've bothered to pay any attention to. I cringe with jealousy when she describes the Goodbye Babylon box set at the book's opening (it comes with real raw cotton!), or the ludicrously overpriced and exhaustive Bear Family Records set on the Carter Family. Her voice is light and assured and she has a knack for memorably describing the areas she visits. She seems like someone who would be great to spend an evening with, bullshitting about why Fleet Foxes matter. If you're already a lover of Americana, however, there's not a wealth of illuminating information to be found here. There are, of course, big exceptions. I learned that Dylan's famous, "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken" is perhaps a veiled reference to the Sun Records logo. I was also unaware of the turmoil in the Carter Family, and the terse relationship that A.P. and Sara maintained throughout their touring. She also does a fine job of contextualizing Harry Smith, Moses Asch and the Lomaxes, a group of record geeks I tend to overlap in my mind. But the book spends a lot of time describing the already-familiar stories of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and others. The information is important and essential, but a little obvious at times. Petrusich is at her best when exploring topics that are a bit fresher. Her section on the Cracker Barrel definition of Americana was particularly entertaining, and her thoughts on our plastic McDonalds-lined highway towns were both unpretentious and astute. Her return to Williamsburg in New York City at the book's conclusion is scathingly described, an area she's apparently familiar enough with to tear apart perfectly. I had read this chapter when it appeared on the insufferable pages of Pitchforkmedia.com and had expected the book to mostly follow the same format, paying attention to where the future of this music lies. That wasn't necessarily the case, but the book works well anyway, doing the proper homework before gushing about Iron and Wine.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Desiree Koh

    If you're into the history of American music, as I am, and learning about their provenance in the roots of folk, blues, bluegrass and country, this is a pretty easy going 101 into how it all came about. How Elvis stepped up to the Sun Studios mic, how Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil on Highway 61, how Ledbelly busted out of jail and how Johnny Cash stomped across a Folsom Prison stage. The premise is cool, and made me want to jump into my truck and go back to Memphis and Nashville to e If you're into the history of American music, as I am, and learning about their provenance in the roots of folk, blues, bluegrass and country, this is a pretty easy going 101 into how it all came about. How Elvis stepped up to the Sun Studios mic, how Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil on Highway 61, how Ledbelly busted out of jail and how Johnny Cash stomped across a Folsom Prison stage. The premise is cool, and made me want to jump into my truck and go back to Memphis and Nashville to experience it all again - Petrusich road-tripped and re-traced the steps of Americana's greatest musicians and told their story. What I didn't was that she told her story, too - that isn't a bad thing. What's annoying is that her story is framed through female melodrama and the perspective of what I only aptly call "vagina music." You know, those chicks with long hair they barely chew at the ends of sipping lattes in coffee shops and being all edgy and poetry-reading. That equation didn't work for me. The roots of American music emerged from devastating situations, resulting in a toughness that blew its way into a cornucopia of musical styles and flew into place like dervishes on the rack. I didn't appreciate it being broken down into coffee shop theory or mournful puppy dog pondering. All that personal grievance aside, I learned a lot from Petrusich's tireless investigations and research - she is a good reporter. However, one gets the feeling she didn't quite get the access she needed - many quotes featured come from books and essays, rather than from the experts directly, so in many ways, the book comes across as a dissertation. Which is fine... if you want to relate. Not so if you're looking for education.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

    I'm going to be slightly unfair with this review, as I think in reality this book is much better than a "two star" book. That rating means "It was okay," and for what I was looking for, that's precisely what it was. It isn't fair to the author, who is probably reading this and developing a slow-boiling rage (or, more likely, not reading this at all), but this wasn't the book I thought it was going to be. I wanted a book that focused primarily on contemporary Americana music, and this book is muc I'm going to be slightly unfair with this review, as I think in reality this book is much better than a "two star" book. That rating means "It was okay," and for what I was looking for, that's precisely what it was. It isn't fair to the author, who is probably reading this and developing a slow-boiling rage (or, more likely, not reading this at all), but this wasn't the book I thought it was going to be. I wanted a book that focused primarily on contemporary Americana music, and this book is much more of a history. That's not the fault of the book, it's entirely mine. As a history, it's successful, although I've read other books that cover similar territory and do it a bit more extensively. What those books lack is Petrusich. Her authorial voice is very appealing in this book, as she travels America, from Tennessee to Mississippi to Kentucky to Vermont to Brooklyn, searching out archivists, musicians, and historians in search of the roots of Americana, as she calls it. Along the way she drives, listens to music (duh), and eats. I loved her descriptions of meals and eating, and I think she's got a second career as a food writer should she want it. The last chapter of the book, which deals with the contemporary Freak Folk movement, was more what I was looking for, and, not coincidentally, I liked it best. I think this book would be perfect for someone who hasn't read a lot about country music or the blues. It's a fun read, and Petrusich does a nice job of connecting the dots (some of which resist connection) that lead to where American music is today. Forgive me for under-starring your book, Ms. Petrusich. I'll definitely read your next one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tom Choi

    I've been an admirer of Amanda Petrusich's writings on music for some time but I must admit to being a bit perplexed and deeply disappointed by this book. American roots music is a messy affair with its hazy origins, kooky cast of characters, and is steeped in its metaphorical dance with the Devil, the Devil being big business, white, urban culture, and the rise of mass media. Petrusich seems to be content in recounting the general story of American roots music but otherwise seems to be averse t I've been an admirer of Amanda Petrusich's writings on music for some time but I must admit to being a bit perplexed and deeply disappointed by this book. American roots music is a messy affair with its hazy origins, kooky cast of characters, and is steeped in its metaphorical dance with the Devil, the Devil being big business, white, urban culture, and the rise of mass media. Petrusich seems to be content in recounting the general story of American roots music but otherwise seems to be averse to investigating and questioning its gritty and sordid history, and in fleshing out its implications on the ideology of our times. Petrusich seems to be unaware of the social and political streams in America that gave rise to, and provided conflict for, this thing we call American Music. Thus, It Still Moves... falls comfortably somewhere between a personal travelogue through the desiderata of old American culture and a general history of roots inflected American music of the 20th Century. In this, this book offers little more insight that a Wikipedia entry on a number of search terms: "roots music," "Americana," "country blues," etc. Tack on an unfocused excursus into more contemporary "alt-country" (and "free folk," to make this book more timely), and you get a glorified blog entry about one person's personal consumption of "art" and "culture."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brayden

    Fun travel book about visiting places where American roots music originates. The author, an East Coast urban dweller, decides to take a road trip through America's heartland to examine up-close the places that inspired blues, folk music, country, and rock n' roll. The book reads more like a travel book, describing the cheap diners where she eats and the post cards she buys along the way, than it does a history book. It's freshly-written and very personal. Reading this book made me want to do a mu Fun travel book about visiting places where American roots music originates. The author, an East Coast urban dweller, decides to take a road trip through America's heartland to examine up-close the places that inspired blues, folk music, country, and rock n' roll. The book reads more like a travel book, describing the cheap diners where she eats and the post cards she buys along the way, than it does a history book. It's freshly-written and very personal. Reading this book made me want to do a musical road trip of my own. I decided that when the kids are a little older (maybe when the youngest is six) I'm going to plop them in the car and drive south over spring break. We're going straight from Chicago to Saint Louis to check out their jazz scene, then to Memphis to see Graceland, down to New Orleans, and then back up to Nashville. We won't eat at any chain restaurants; we may even try to find a few of the cheap diners she describes in her book. A sign of a good travel book - and this is one - is that it makes you want to follow the author's path and rediscover the world through this new lens.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    [From the inside cover:] "Part travelogue. Part musical history. 'It Still Moves' outlines the sounds of the new, weird America -- honoring the rich traditions of gospel, blues, country, folk and rock that feed it while simultaneously exploring the American character as personified by its songs and landscapes. Through interviews, road stories, and rich music criticism, Petrusich traces the rise of Americana music from its early origins to its new and compelling incarnations..." Close enough anyw [From the inside cover:] "Part travelogue. Part musical history. 'It Still Moves' outlines the sounds of the new, weird America -- honoring the rich traditions of gospel, blues, country, folk and rock that feed it while simultaneously exploring the American character as personified by its songs and landscapes. Through interviews, road stories, and rich music criticism, Petrusich traces the rise of Americana music from its early origins to its new and compelling incarnations..." Close enough anyway. Although I would add that it is also Part interesting but often boring and verbose in its descriptions of nonessential details. There is certainly nothing new here but the author puts it together in a form that is mostly pleasant to read. More so that the musical history it is her personal road journey that makes this read almost worthwhile. Buy it used or in paperback, but save the $25.00 you would otherwise drop on the hardback unless you are a musicologist and need one more book on your shelf.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Diann Blakely

    Petrusich's beautifully written "audio-travelogue," as critic Simon Reynolds calls it, begins in Brooklyn, but the section titled "Trail of the Hellhounds: Clarksdale's Deep Mississippi Blues" is its most compelling. Fittingly, Petrusich's first quotation comes from Nashville's Jeff Green, the former executive director of the Americana Music Association, about the diversity of the current scene, thanks, in part, to the computer age: "Pro Tools and convenient, portable studios mean that it's a ba Petrusich's beautifully written "audio-travelogue," as critic Simon Reynolds calls it, begins in Brooklyn, but the section titled "Trail of the Hellhounds: Clarksdale's Deep Mississippi Blues" is its most compelling. Fittingly, Petrusich's first quotation comes from Nashville's Jeff Green, the former executive director of the Americana Music Association, about the diversity of the current scene, thanks, in part, to the computer age: "Pro Tools and convenient, portable studios mean that it's a ball game where almost anybody can play." Or a highway on which anyone might fare. Say amen, somebody. originally published in the NASHVILLE SCENE / Village Voice Media

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robson

    Not quite what I was expecting, but a good history of "Americana" music. I grew annoyed with details provided by the author about mixing her cup of coffee or what she decided to eat. I think she struggled to find the style with which she was most comfortable, and at times it made the reading disjointed. Not quite what I was expecting, but a good history of "Americana" music. I grew annoyed with details provided by the author about mixing her cup of coffee or what she decided to eat. I think she struggled to find the style with which she was most comfortable, and at times it made the reading disjointed.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    Great writing, a lot of old ground covered, but through younger eyes (Petrusich writes for Pitchfork). The last couple chapters on contemporary loosely-defined Americana are super, but i do wish she'd gone as deep with those chapters as she does with the road trip that takes her through the first two-thirds of the book. Great writing, a lot of old ground covered, but through younger eyes (Petrusich writes for Pitchfork). The last couple chapters on contemporary loosely-defined Americana are super, but i do wish she'd gone as deep with those chapters as she does with the road trip that takes her through the first two-thirds of the book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I would probably give it two and a half stars if I could. I really enjoyed some sections of this book, particularly the places where Petrusich synthesized others research in telling the history of important people and places in American music. But whenever she was describing her contemporary travels, I got bored and disinterested. A lot of the travel writing read like filler.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    She writes for Paste, so it's not surprising that I reacted to this much as I react to Paste every time I read it...the content is of interest to me, but the writing is just so pretentious that it gets in the way. She writes for Paste, so it's not surprising that I reacted to this much as I react to Paste every time I read it...the content is of interest to me, but the writing is just so pretentious that it gets in the way.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Benson

    I enjoyed this book because she wrote very well with nice twists of phrases, had travel parts that let me explore areas of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia that I did not know well, and helped me understand the roots of folk, blues, bluegrass and country music, all types of music that I enjoy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    An easy read that blends travelogue and music history as it relates to the nebulous idea of Americana. Despite historical fact sometimes being rendered superficially or inaccurately, a nice primer on folk, blues, roots and modern renditions thereof.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris Estey

    Whoah, really kicked my ass hard, more than I realized.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Billy

    Well, I know she has good taste in music because I normally read her reviews. Her writing is alright, but I'm not sure if it can sustain a full length book. I guess we'll see. Well, I know she has good taste in music because I normally read her reviews. Her writing is alright, but I'm not sure if it can sustain a full length book. I guess we'll see.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Sadly, not really about lost songs or lost highways, this book is a muddled, boring, hipster mess.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    More about the search than the music, but very enjoyable for what it is. I especially liked the essay on Cracker Barrel.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    More about the search than the music, but interesting and informative for what it is. I especially liked the essay on Cracker Barrel (it fits, really). I recommend it!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Viktor

    Like On the road with music-listening-suggestions instead of suggestions on how to be a wasted asshole.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joe Crawford

    Part travelogue, part history, and a pinch of criticism. Picked this up because I really enjoyed Do Not Sell at Any Price. I was not disappointed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bret

    A must read! And my wife wrote it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Some interesting bits.

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