Stories of Kentucky’s Roots Music

Posted on
Linda Hinchcliffe

In “A Few Honest Words,” author Jason Howard discloses the unique nature of Kentucky’s popular roots music – a term that refers to the compilation of a number of genres, including folk, country and bluegrass. Through stories of the artists and musicians that have contributed to the vast array of songs and tunes, Howard reveals the incredible richness of the Kentucky culture as its native artists have interrupted it.

He writes, “Kentucky has historically been fertile ground for roots music. In music industry circles, musicians from Kentucky have long been acknowledged to possess an enviable pedigree – a lineage as prized as the bloodlines of the state’s famous Thoroughbreds. Indeed, according to noted country music historian Charles Wolfe, ‘No other state had as much national attention lavished on its folk music.’”

It is in large part through the efforts of musical historians and scholars and ballad collectors that many of the oldest songs have not been lost. One of the original collections – a volume of 274 songs and 968 tunes that brought national, as well as international, attention on the richness of Kentucky music – was printed in 1932. And through Jason Howard’s collection of stories we find the roots of many of the more recent ballads.

Lexington musician Ben Solle, whose song “A Few Honest Words” titles Howard’s book, has been making good impressions here at home and across the country. Designated as one of the “Top 10 Great Unknown Artists of the Year” by NPR, his cello resonates with soul rattling notes that reflect the intensity of emotions brought by the issues of strip mining, among others. His story, describing the evolution of his music ends in his realization, “‘I ended up with this music that was basically a portrait of who I was and where I came from.’”

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