Monday, December 28, 2015

Hear My Sad Song by Richard Polenberg

This book is about the history of various country songs, but it just made me feel very uneducated (song-wise), when I read it. Out of all the 27 songs, I only recognised one of them - Pearl Bryan, and that's because I heard about it on the podcast Criminal.

According to the prologue, Hear My Sad Story "traces the roots of many of these [folk songs] and describes the circumstances under which each was written and first recorded." So it's like a snapshot of history for each chapter.

The way each chaptered is structured is that each 'song' is told with the lyrics intermingled among the history lesson. It works for a few songs, but since a lot of songs undergo changes, I became confused as to whether the verses shown are the current ones, the original ones, or a mix. Plus, as someone who had no knowledge of most of the songs (which admittedly does not make me the book's ideal reader), I would have preferred to be able to read the lyrics first, at the front, than read the story. But I suspect that for someone with more knowledge than I, or for someone listening to a good audiobook version, this lyrics intermingling with the text would have a pretty good effect.

Most of the stories behind the songs were fascinating, and I managed to read about another side of America that I didn't know. Personally, I would have preferred each section to be much more detailed (it felt a bit rushed at times), but again, it's a personal preference of mine.

I'm digressing here, but I just thought of something. I'd love to read a similar book for Chinese/Japanese/ASEAN songs. Any scholars in that field working on that?

Overall, this was an interesting book. Even though I'm not a folk-music fan, I enjoyed reading about the tragic songs, and how they influenced American culture. I just wish the author had the space to go into more detail for some of the more complicated songs.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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