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United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties, and Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement Paperback – August 31, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
For any American who's ever thought about playing a vinyl record, making some jam, or ordering a pair of custom-made boots, this semi-encyclopedia to the new age of "essential pragmatism" and craftsmanship is a delight. Philosophy of the movement is scattered loosely through the book, along with a reasonable set of ideas as to what started us on this self-sufficient path, but the book is mostly a collection of Reighley's finds. He visits urban dwellers who keep chickens in their backyards, cooks who love to can, and folks who make their own bitters. He pokes into classic merchants (the Pendleton Company and Hatch Show Print, for example) and spends much of the book on significant American music. The writing is oddly composed according to gender (women get crafts, canning, and burlesque; men get music, custom-made clothing, and shaving), and Reighley relies on the same core group of interviewees again and again, whereas digging a little deeper for new voices would have been a treat. But, overall, the book is comprehensive, well-written, and enjoyable. It's sure to find a home next to the record player or shaving strap in many a new pioneer home. Illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“I love it! Kurt conveys the irresistable charm of the roots movement, showing that a taste for the details of the past can blend playfully with the amenities of the present. Independent circus and neo-burlesque are just a couple of the cultural movements he brings to life.” (Jo Weldon, author of The Burlesque Handbook)
“Reighley’s book is your magical wardrobe into the Narnia of Americana. If it isn’t in here, it isn’t part of the heritage. Always fun, fully informed, astutely researched, and extremely generous in scope, United States of Americana is the lexicon of a laudable way of life.” (Wesley Stace, also known as John Wesley Harding)
“Encompassing, engaging, and definitive. . . . Reighley shows us the Americana movement from the inside. . . . Perfect bedside reading for anyone seeking to inch their way toward a more enriched and rewarding lifestyle.” (John Roderick, from The Long Winters)
“United States of Americana reminds us of many things we need reminding of. . . . This book will hopefully show the reader that while our hands have perhaps softened they are not just for eating, typing, and tying our shoes.” (Chris Bray, co-founder of Billykirk)
“A fantastically thorough handbook. . . . Reighley proves that old is the new new and that fringe interests will blend into the future, making the mash-up of the now.” (Faythe Levine, author of Handmade Nation: The Rise of D.I.Y. Art, Craft & Design)
“United States of Americana is Foxfire magazine for the Hipster Handbook audience.” (Lance Ledbetter, founder of Dust-to-Digital)
“Capturing that “old weird America” with a decidedly 21st century spin, Reighley guides his audience through the intricacies of cocktails and canning parties, where to pick up a good pair of boots, and why Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music is essential listening.” (Justin Gage, of Aquarium Drunkard)
“Reighley’s tome is a font of knowledge. . . . [We have an] affection for this call to reclaim our scrappy American individualism.” (Modern Tonic)
“[Takes] us back to the place where we knew how to make things that would last, how to take care of them — and even knew the people who made them. . . . His entertaining, informed chapter on music is a micro field guide in itself.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“It’s hard to imagine a simpler, slower time—but plenty of us are trying to make a return. . . . [United States of Americana] can help you recapture a bit of America as it used to be, before the days of Internets and iPhones. (Uncrate.com)
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That said, the book reads like a very-over-extended article for an in-flight magazine. There is no depth of analysis here, and what insight it does provide is over and done by the end of the introduction. The sections connected to old companies like Filson or Carhartt read like they were lifted straight from PR pieces. I was hoping for something that looked deeper and made the larger cultural connections, or offered some critique, but this falls flat on anything beyond "look! cool!"
Again, if you are looking for a very basic field guide, this will do. Anyone expecting anything beyond the 101 will be disappointed.
Sure, that banjo band you like might sound like something your hillbilly relatives used to listen to, but unlike those guys, the new ones have a website and a Kickstart page to help fund their new CD. Ditto the new breed of butcher. Unlike the slaughterhouses of today, the slow foods movement honors the animals and plants that we eat by raising them in comfort and slaughtering them humanely.
Reighley is an amazing writer who usually specializes in music writing. Here he expands his repertoire by leaps and bounds and does so with the same well-researched care and finely honed sense of humor. I've already bought a copy of this book for the marketing company I work for--maybe that's a cynical use for Reighley's work, but marketers would do well to listen. Because fast-food, disposable culture just isn't cutting it anymore.