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A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music Hardcover – September 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Howard skillfully documents a new era of Kentucky roots music. His book deserves a place in the history of American song."--Courier-Journal

"Jason Howard...traces Kentucky's role as a crossroads of roots music. Howard shows how Kentucky's unique culture and even its landscape have influenced music artists and writers across musical genres." --CMT (Country Music Television)

"Jason Howard could write about the merits of various breakfast cereals and hold my interest."--BookTrib

"Howard...broadens the definition of Kentucky music. These musicians may be unfamiliar to many of us, but Howard sheds light on their talent and influence, thereby giving them their just due." --Bowling Green Daily News

"Howard...[has] taken his...local pride to the next level with "A Few Honest Words." [He] is proud to merge the old with the new, treating Judd and Yoakam as reverentially as lesser-known talents." --LEO Weekly 

"A Few Honest Words entertaining study of the heart of American roots music."--Library Journal

"An important contribution to the wider conversation about what qualifies as contemporary American roots music and what it means for music to communicate a sense of place in our profoundly uprooted time."―Jewly Hight, author of Right by Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs

"A thoughtful and important book. It's tremendously satisfying that specific areas of the South are receiving their due attention. Kentucky has given so much to the landscape of American music."―Rosanne Cash

"By shining a light on an inclusive array of homegrown performing artists―some well known, some destined to be, all of whom are following in the footsteps of Bill Monroe, Lionel Hampton, the Everly Brothers and Loretta Lynn―Jason Howard has crafted a loving and thoughtful homage to his beloved state of Kentucky, giving us pitch perfect journalistic prose from the heart of the country."―Rodney Crowell

"Jason Howard has gathered up all those sweet Kentucky sounds and brought them home to a reunion. His Few Honest Words is like a country-folk music festival in prose."―Michael Streissguth, author of Johnny Cash: The Biography

"Kentucky inspired Stephen Foster, America's first professional songwriter, and gave birth to Bill Monroe, Lionel Hampton, Rosemary Clooney and scores of headlining artists in every genre of music. Jason Howard's A Few Honest Words illustrates Kentucky's harvest of gifted musicians continues well into the era of hip-hop, jam bands and all your various indies and alts. Howard's knowledge and love of music brighten the narrative as these wonderful artists tell their stories."―Bob Edwards, host of The Bob Edwards Show and Bob Edwards Weekend on Sirius XM radio, and author of A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio

"Jason Howard updates Alan Lomax's 1930's-60's research that enriched our experiences with folk musicians of the South."―Nuvo

"This book would be a fresh addition to any academic or public library with a community interested in Appalachia, and/or the roots of traditional and popular musical styles."―Tennessee Libraries

"To fans of bluegrass, folk, rock, country, and hip-hop, this book will come as a pleasant surprise, as it traces disparate forms of American music to their roots in Kentucky."―Michael Cala, New York Journal of Books

"Jason Howard reveals the indelible impression of Kentucky's culture upon its artists and musicians and makes clear the strains that its music has played true in the realm of American music."―Chevy Chaser

"A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, contains perhaps the broadest look at music emanating from the Commonwealth's sons and daughters to be found in print."―Richmond Register

"The book offers unique insights on the musical culture of Kentucky."―Kentucky Libraries

"A Few Honest Words highlights Kentucky's enormous contribution to contemporary American music from the velvet crooning of jazz greats to fusion hip-hopers to funky indie folk rockers."―Utne

""His research and personal interviews with Kentucky's famous as well as up-and-coming sing/songwriter musicians show roots music as a connecting thread of influence with the idols of his youth as well as contemporary artists. While honoring icons of the state―the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Lionel Hampton, and the Everly Brothers―Howard illuminates a similar love of Kentucky in Current performers of many genres from bluegrass to rap. ...Howard skillfully documents a new era of Kentucky roots music. His book deserves a place in the history of American song.""―Mary Popham, The Courier-Journal

""The rich soil of Kentucky has given rise to a formidable crop of American folk music, and the influence remains as strong today as it was a century ago. Howard continues his work portraying the lives and labors of Kentuckians, this time focusing on the music of native sons and daughters of Kentucky and on the vast influence the region in defining the term 'Americana' in music and culture. Howard ranges from anonymous mountaineers to urban pioneers in this sprawling, honest exploration of a seminal source of American music. This book's combination of interviews and history makes for an entertaining study of the heart of American roots music.""―Library Journal

About the Author

Jason Howard is coauthor of Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the NationSojourners, Paste, the Louisville ReviewEqual Justice Magazine, and on NPR.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813136458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813136455
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,000,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jason Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music and coauthor of Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal, which was hailed by the late historian Studs Terkel as "a revelatory work." His features, essays and reviews have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, the Nation, Sojourners, Paste, No Depression and The Louisville Review, and on NPR. Howard is a former senior editor of Equal Justice Magazine, where he wrote investigative articles on miners' efforts to receive black lung benefits, assisted adoption cases in Manhattan and eminent domain cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In recognition of artistic excellence, he received the 2013 Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council. From 2010-2012, he served as James Still Fellow at the University of Kentucky. A finalist for the 2011 Roosevelt-Ashe Society Outstanding Journalist in Conservation Award, he was chosen as one of five "up and coming" writers by Kentucky Monthly in 2010. Visit his website at

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Glass on November 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A FEW HONEST WORDS is a wonderful book! I am a huge fan on roots and Americana music. I am from Kentucky, but this is a book that people from outside the state who enjoy music will like also. I anticipated my favorite chapters to be the ones featuring the musicians I know and love, but I found each chapter interesting; my favorite section was the one on Dwight Yoakam, whose music I was unfamiliar with, so you'll find great surprises in the book also.

I felt like I was in the room with Jason Howard and each musician, but something about the Dwight Yoakum chapter resonated in me. I look forward to listening to his music paying more attention to him; I hadn't before since I'm typically more of an alt-folk listener, but I have a deep appreciation for "real" country music and look forward to checking his music--and that of the other artists I was unfamiliar with who are featured in the book.

The way that Howard takes the reader right into the houses, coffee shops, offices and such with the musicians is wonderful. I liked that insider's view of the artist--the tea with Naomi Judd, the coffee with Joan Osborne, the shared food with Dwight Yoakum; doing this let the reader be part of the scene and enjoy the experience along with the author. I felt like I had met the musicians and not just that I had read about them.

Howard also clearly knows and loves music and that is obvious throughout the book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes good music, peeks into others' lives, discovering artists one is unfamiliar with, or likes roots music. I generally read fiction, but this book pulled me right through, and I enjoyed every page. Howard's writing is seamless. It's a great read! Don't miss it!
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