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NONFICTION : THE COUNTRY MUSIC BOOK, edited by Michael Mason (Scribner's: $24.95, hardcover; $14.95, paperback, illustrated).

September 15, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN

Country music is a marvelously colorful American pop genre whose borders extend from the joyful bluegrass exercises of Bill Monroe to the insightful workingman's blues of Merle Haggard. Mason, a writer and musician, enlists experts in business and creative aspects of country music in an ambitious attempt to cram into one book everything you ever wanted to know about the field. Chapters range from thumbnail sketches of the most successful performers (past and present) to helpful hints for would-be songwriters to recommendations of books for further study. Unfortunately, the latter list is probably the most useful feature because it points to collections that are far more valuable than this one. The most interesting section here is the straightforward, but helpful, outline of the do's and don'ts of Nashville publishing and recording contracts. The weakest portion involves the flat, annoyingly gushy evaluations of country artists. It'd be OK if "nicest," "superb," "brilliantly" and "breathtakingly beautiful" were spread through an entire chapter on the Sons of the Pioneers, but when they are squeezed into three sentences, it's like being hit in the face by a tumbling tumbleweed.

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