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Great Year for Fans of Roots Music - 2001-12-30

American roots music can be found any day of the week in the clubs of urban centers; at the more than 100 concerts Bob Dylan performed in 2001, and at hundreds of bluegrass festivals in towns large and small. But rarely does roots music emerge at the top of the sales charts, as it did with the hit soundtrack to the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

As VOA's Katherine Cole reports, 2001 was a great year for fans of roots music.

What is roots music? It's the mix of blues, country, gospel, folk, bluegrass, zydeco and other homegrown forms that set the stage for rock and pop and soul. A revitalized Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" is a good example of the current roots revival.

"Love and Theft" isn't just one of the year's best roots releases: Critics are calling it one of Bob Dylan's best ever. 2001 also saw the return of Rodney Crowell. Freed from major label restraints, the veteran country singer-songwriter responded with "The Houston Kid."

"The Houston Kid" is a mostly autobiographical work, based on Rodney Crowell's memories of growing up poor in Houston, Texas, with a dysfunctional, but loving, family. The Del McCoury Band's latest release is another reason to believe this group will likely be remembered as one of the greatest bluegrass lineups ever. The band is known for giving a bluegrass twist to songs originally written in another style. On "Del And The Boys", the unusual material begins with a version of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

The resurgence of roots music doesn't stop with the men. In the past year, female performers, including Patti Loveless, Gillian Welch and Dolly Parton released new CDs, and received some of their best reviews ever. On "Little Sparrow", Dolly's follow-up to 2000's bluegrass Grammy nominee, "The Grass is Blue", she features a more diverse assortment of material, including a string band arrangement of Collective Soul's rock hit "Shine."

Close to year's end, the Rounder Records label released a four-CD boxed set called "Roots Music: An American Journey." If you'd like to learn more about this genre, this collection is a great place to begin. It does a good job of showcasing the Rounder artists who play the various strands and strains of blues, folk, country, gospel, bluegrass, Cajun and jazz styles that make up today's American roots music.

Preacher Jack's unstoppable boogie-woogie piano combines a wild left hand, with a love of rock, gospel and country music. "The Preacher" is still playing for fans around Boston. During a show, you'll hear him belting out tunes made famous by 1950s heroes Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Hank Williams, and also swinging through classic boogie-woogie piano songs like "Yancey's Bugle Call."

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001