American Roots Music
How strange that a year dominated by the sudden rise of American roots music should climax with a tragedy that brought nationalism to the fore. A reexamination of ”Americana” in its myriad forms had been brewing for the better part of the ’90s, but the unexpected success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack fully unleashed the genre’s commercial potential. These four CDs, which accompany the PBS series of the same name, is a stripped-to-the bone primer to some of the most vital music of the 20th century. If a mere track apiece from such major blues, folk, country, and gospel artists as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, the Staple Singers, B. B. King, Hank Williams, and Mahalia Jackson — as well as regional performers including Dewey Balfa and Robert Mirabal — leaves you wanting more, then this set has done its job well.