Country music is American music. It is music that transcends generations and defies racial barriers while also garnering fans across the musical universe. That far reach and impact of the oft-maligned genre is why famed documentarian Ken Burns made the decision recently to helm his latest project, simply titled Country Music. Recently having aired on PBS stations nationwide, it was released on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 17 through PBS Distribution. The eight-disc, 16-hour documentary is a work that audiophiles and country music lovers alike will appreciate. That appreciation is due in part to the program’s rich, expansive story of Country music’s history that is presented throughout the course of the program. That breadth and depth of information builds a strong, solid foundation for the program. Strengthening that foundation is the program’s bonus content featured with its home release. The set’s packaging gives it its final touch. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Country Music’s presentation. All things considered, they make the documentary another successful presentation from PBS and from Ken Burns and company. They make it yet another of the year’s top new documentaries.
PBS Distribution and Florentine Films’ new documentary Country Music is a presentation that will appeal just as much to audiophiles in general as it will to the most devoted country music aficionados. That is due in part to the information presented through the course of the documentary’s 16-hour run time. Audiences get plenty of history, starting at country music’s roots in the 1920s and taking them up to 1996. Viewers learn about many of the most important figures that made Country music what it is today (E.g. Little Jimmie Dickens, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Earl Sruggs and Lester Flatt, Charlie Pirde, Johnny cash, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, etc.). That is just one part of the interest, too. Along with learning about those and other important figures, the documentary also points out why they were so pivotal to the evolution of country music. Audiences learn early on, the African roots of country and bluegrass through a discussion on the banjo. By connection, the discussion on Flatt & Scruggs reveals how Earl Scruggs’ banjo playing played into the evolution of banjo playing. On another note, viewers learn that Jimmie Rodgers was the first country musician to develop the so-called blue yodel, and the impact that had on early country and western music. Viewers learn of Hank Williams, his songs were written from his own personal experiences, making them so much more relatable to audiences. That is why they are timeless works to this very day. As if all of that is not enough, viewers learn about Bob Wills’ coupling of jazz and country to create what would go on to be called Texas Swing. That genre would go on over time, according to the documentary, to become a standard country music subgenre from that point on. There was also the contribution that acts, such as Kris Kristofferson and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made to the continued evolution of Country music during the 1960s. They, along with the likes of Bob Dylan helped bridge folk rock and country, continuing the evolution of Country music as an art form. Everything noted here is just a snapshot of all of the important history that is shared over the course of Country Music’s presentation. There is far more for audiences to take in throughout the documentary that will also inform, engage and educate. Audiences can learn for themselves just how much more is offered when they purchase this program for themselves. The history and education offered through the documentary’s primary content is but one part of what makes the doc in whole so appealing. The bonus content that is featured on each of the set’s eight discs adds its own appeal to the program.
The bonus content featured throughout the course of Country Music adds its own share of education and entertainment. Riannon Giddens (ex-Carolina Chocolate Drops) discusses in one of the many bonuses included in the set, overcoming stereotypes and racial biases. She also discusses the combination of various country and bluegrass styles that are prevalent in North Carolina. In another of the many interesting bonus discussions featured in the program’s presentation, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen takes to discussing music theory at one point, comparing the composition style of Johann Sebastian Bach to a distinct style of picking on the banjo. How’s that for a comparison? That in itself shows even more the legitimacy of Country music. Charlie Daniels offers his own music theory discussion as he talks about how he came up with the musical and lyrical presentation of his hit song ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia.’ That discussion proves rather enlightening in its own right. In another example of the importance of the bonus content featured in this set, Mel Tillis, yet another Country music legend, joins Kenny Rogers (yet another Country music legend) to talk about the creation of the song ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.’ Alice Randall adds her own comments to the discussion, noting its place in the bigger picture of patriotic and protest songs during the 1960s. It is just one more key discussion that is featured in the whole of Country Music. There are far more bonuses than available time and space to discuss. Keeping that in mind, that content and the content discussed here collectively shows with ease, the role that the set’s bonus content plays to its presentation. When that collective content is considered along with the breadth and depth of the set’s primary content, the whole of all of that content makes the set’s overall presentation such that, again, is a very far-reaching work and will appeal to a wide range of viewers.
The combined primary and secondary content that makes up the body of Country Music goes a long way toward making this recently released collection appealing to audiences. For all that it does to make the set so appealing, it is collectively just one part of what makes the set a positive work. The set’s packaging plays its own important part to the collection’s whole. Audiences will note that the eight discs that make up the set’s whole are spread across two separate boxes, four to a box. The discs are placed on their own spot within their respective cases, protecting the discs from marring one another and themselves. That approach also serves to save space on audiences’ DVD and BD racks. That is even despite the use of two separate cases to hold the discs.
Adding to the interest of the packaging is that the back of each case features an in-depth summary for each episode. That element, though mainly aesthetic, does a lot to add to the set’s appeal because it allows viewers to much more easily choose which disc they want to play. That means not having to put in the disc and search through each disc to find out the subject of each episode. Those responsible for the addition of this element are to be highly commended for their efforts. When this is considered along with the more “mechanical” aspect of the packaging, the whole of the packaging becomes that much more integral to the whole of Country Music’s presentation. When it is considered along with the set’s overall content, all elements considered make even more clear why this presentation is so impressive. All things considered, they make clear that Country Music is one of 2019’s top new documentaries and DVD/BD box sets. It should be noted that there is some foul language used at points, so while it is mostly family friendly, there is some not so family friendly content. To that end, the set will go to critics’ lists of the top new grown-up DVD and BD box sets. Other than that one aspect, there are no other negatives to the whole of Country Music.
Country Music, the latest documentary from Director Ken Burns and Florentine Films, is one of this year’s top new documentaries and top new box sets for grown-ups. That is due in part to the combined primary and secondary content that makes up the body of the set. The set’s packaging plays its own important part to the whole of the box. Each item noted is key in its own way to the whole of Country Music. All things considered, they make this set a presentation that will appeal widely to audiophiles in general just as much as it will to the most devoted country music aficionados. It is available now. More information on this and other titles from PBS Distribution is available at:
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