The Country Music documentary by Ken Burns returns this evening, and although it only covers a span of five years, there is so much to talk about.
More so than any episode so far, the connection between country artists and their fans is showcased, particularly through a moving segment focusing on Bill Anderson. Designer Manuel makes an appearance, as does Bob Dylan, who surfaces during one of multiple segments on Johnny Cash. Roger Miller finds himself surprised by his own stardom, having fully expected his album to bomb.
Buck Owens makes it big in Bakersfield, and Loretta Lynn finds her voice as a songwriter.Session musicians get some time in the spotlight, which allows for some records to be featured by artists that don’t get their own segments. The Nashville aristocracy gives in and puts up signs proclaiming it being the home of the Grand Ole Opry, with a little help from an aristocrat with the stage name Minnie Pearl. The story that her friend recounts involving a sightseeing tour bus is a winner.
The episode’s most powerful section puts the spotlight on Charley Pride, made all the more effective because he is the one telling the story. Similarly powerful is Merle Haggard’s retelling of his early days, although many highlights of his story spill over to the next episode. Connie Smith also gets a nice spotlight toward the end of the episode, and again, her telling the story makes it more impactful. The Jeannie C. Riley miniskirt story is recounted via voice over, but it doesn’t have the same potency as it did on the 1993 Women of Country special, when Riley told it herself.
Also making her first appearance, but not her last, is Dolly Parton. She only just broke through at the tail end of this time period, but Burns lays the groundwork for her greater presence in the next two episodes. The episode ends with Cash singing at Folsom Prison and getting married to June Carter, continuing the trend throughout the whole series of him being the most frequently featured artist.
One of the biggest complaints a lot of people have had about this series is how much focus was paid to the Man In Black, Mr. Cash. Maybe he got more face time than what might be considered healthy, but the guy is one of only a handful of country music performers, past or present, whose popularity is absolutely universal, spanning all backgrounds, be they ethnic, religious, political, or social. It’d be kind of hard to ignore him, even on the worst day, when it comes to the history of country music…or just plain American music in general (IMHO)
Erik says that the Man in Black’s “popularity is ABSOLUTELY universal.” Not absolutely. I never cared for Johnny Cash. (I do like Rosanne Cash.)
Yeah, there was way too much Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but at least they were superstars. I didn’t quite get all the attention to Marty Stuart, Roseanne Cash, and Dwight Yoakum all while barely mentioning the likes of Kenny Rogers, George Strait, and Alan Jackson. I realize you can’t feature everyone, but those three deserved a huge recognition IMO. But you’re never going to please everyone.
First I want to say that overall it was great! That being said the following got much more attention than they should have. That would be J. Cash, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles. All are important, but when then see they have little to no time for B. Mandrell, Kenny Rogers, etc. it’s not hard to figure out that Ken Burns may have relied just a bit too much on what country CRITICS had to say as opposed to being completely not biased. Don’t get me wrong, I still thought it was great for country music.