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The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad Hardcover – November 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 406 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059540
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 7.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,462,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Arguing that the American ballad is "a major form—musically, perhaps, the major form—through which Americans told each other about themselves and the country they inhabited," Wilentz, a Princeton history professor, and Marcus (Lipstick Traces) offer this impressive, innovative tribute to it. The contributors—critics (Stanley Crouch), novelists (Joyce Carol Oates), poets (Paul Muldoon), songwriters (Anna Domino) and other writers, performers and artists—were asked to "help create some new works of art" about a ballad of their choosing. Sarah Vowell traces the evolution of the ballad "John Brown's Body" into the hit song of 1862, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." John Rockwell meditates on the gentility of Burl Ives's "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" ("this performance helped define vocal beauty, shaping my taste forever"). R. Crumb contributes a hilarious cartoon version of "When You Go A Courtin' " that succinctly exposes the ballad's dark humor. And Eric Weisbard's wide-ranging "Love, Lore, Celebrity and Dead Babies: 'Down from Dover' by Dolly Parton" might be the best essay yet on the work done by this misunderstood country-pop diva.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Defining ballad loosely as a song with narrative content or reference, coeditors Wilentz and Marcus, a historian and a rock critic, respectively, asked 22 nonacademic writers to each pick an American ballad and expatiate on it. Their responses are wonderfully varied, from John Rockwell on the performance style of Burl Ives' recording of "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" to poet Paul Muldoon's brand-new variant, "Blackwatertown," of "The Unfortunate Rake" and its cognate, "The Streets of Laredo"; from Anna Domino's historical research on the real murder behind "Omie Wise" to Ed Ward's knockout new-journalism-style excavation of an obscure 1960s soul song. Novelists Sharon McCrumb and Joyce Carol Oates respond with fiction, artists R. Crumb and Jon Langford with cartoons. Paul Berman's "Mariachi Reverie," inspired by Vicente Fernandez's "Volver, Volver," which opens up a new world of Mexican pop music for most Anglo readers, is as good, and rants by Rennie Sparks (intemperate, p.c.) and Pere Ubu's David Thomas (over-the-top, incoherent) are as bad as the collection gets. The accompanying CD of 20 of the chosen songs often suggests that a good writer is hung up on trash (there are better Bob Dylan ballads than Wendy Lesser's choice).Generally, the newer the song, the paltrier it is. But even the least of the essays makes good, if irritating, reading. The best are terrific. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Emmett Miller on April 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are some really amazing essays here, notably, Greil Marcus's envoi. Dave Marsh on "Barbara Allen" lifts a lot of ancient stuff out of the shadows and sets it in a clean, well lighted place. Sarah Vowell on "John Brown's Body" tells us a lot more about the ballad than we might have imagined. Cecil Brown on "Frankie and Albert" is a delight. Frankie's life is worthy of several ballads. R. Crumb's graphics make this a classic. His letter to the editor slaps a few of the other essayists out of the fetid air like horse flies. The graphics are fine, so I don't know what a previous reviewer was complaining about. Maybe he got a bad a copy.

There are some real clunkers here, however. Wendy Lesser's piece is lost at sea. This is such a dissappointment when there is so much to say about Dylan, and she is such a fine writer, and Greil Marcus has written such great stuff on Dylan. Stanley Crouch's essay is fine, but it has nothing to do with ballads. David Thomas is a high-fallootin intellectualizer. "An imperative that derives from a gestalt of geography, sound, and culture fixes and vitalizes and drives certain musics." Wouldn't you love to see this guy have a conversation with Bob Dylan? Would he know a ballad if he stepped on one barefoot?
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Crystal Mckinney on December 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
So, I'm reading this amazing book, The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad and it's smart and it's emotional and it makes *me* feel smart and also, emotional. It takes all these well-known ballads and makes you really think about how these songs have stood the test of time. What makes them resonate after all these years? I'm awed and utterly fascinated.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Buck Leonard on December 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book, and the accompanying CD, have been needed for a long time. But I was disappointed by the fact that not all of the essays accompanying songs are about the songs as much as the interpretations of the individual writers about what the songs mean to them. Frankly, I wasn't interested in that, just as I'm not interested in how these songs remind people of how much they hate George W. Bush or the political right. The irony is that these songs are, in effect, red state songs, if you want to look it from a completely superficial standpoint. But these songs speak to everybody, and always have. Tying political points to them drags down the appreciation one feels. I especially enjoyed it when the essays went into the particular events behind the songs, or in the case of "El Paso," how the song was written and recorded. Perhaps what I wanted was another version of "Stagolee Shot Billy," a wonderful study of the Stagger Lee mythos. I would recommend this book to anyone, even with those reservations.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kate Dollar on June 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. The explorations of various folk songs (and what comprises a "folk" song) range from intriguing academic insights to fictional interpretations of the histories and even biographies of various songs: wonderful and inventive and satisfying. It was given to me by a friend and I am buying it for at least three more. Incredible
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Always Reading on October 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I could hardly wait to read this book when I learned about it since so little has been written about the long history of loving these songs. While the authors do a good job of talking about how they feel about the songs, they don't delve very deep. Most disappointing, though, is the production quality. Jon Langford's and R. Crumb's visual interpretations of their chosen ballads look as if they are very interesting but the reproductions of their drawings are so blurry that they are nearly indecipherable.
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