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Dont get above your raisin, stay down to Earth with me -- Bill Malone never quotes the song that serves as the title of his book, a history of country music in its southern context...but its spirit is ever present. Using the lives of countrys most passionate and storied performers, Malone reflects on the tradition and finds it a lovable mess -- alternatively humble and bragging, pious and rowdy. Malones deep familiarity with the tradition, and his love for it, are obvious. He doesnt simply treat readers to a barrage of chronology, but rather examines how certain aspects of the genre have evolved throughout the last two centuries, so tumultuous to the South.Country is as the name implies a tradition of music created and sustained by rural populations -- farmers first, and now people who live and play in the backwoods. Its beginnings mix traditional romantic ballads, dances, and religious music. Religious music is an especially strong influence on country, the stuff of lullabies and tent revivals that created generation after generation of musicians and singers. In religiosity, the South remains stridently Protestant, but theres no puritanism to be found in country music. Inst ed, piety and partying mix together freely -- with no better witness than Hank Williams, who penned I Saw the Light and died an early death, plagued by depression and substance abuse. The tangled, wonderful messiness of country envelops more than religion. Country songs simultaneously embrace Mamas hearth and home, while celebrating rambling men and the freedom of the open road. Politics, too, finds contradictions -- zealous law-and-order mixed with praise of rowdy outlaws who give the Man what-for. Not for nothing are truckers and cowboys, the ramblers who come home eventually, so popular -- as are repentant sinners who will invariably go chasing cigareetes, whuskey, and wild, wild women. Additionally, Malone delves into the connections between country and its daughters, bluegrass and political folk, as well as the changing country-dance scene. Theres also a good chapter on countrys connection with comedy in general, focusing on the Grand Ol Opry and Hee Haw, mentioning people like Andy Griffith and Jerry Clower.Malones piece is a labor of love, though with most others his age he despairs of the way country music headed in the 1990s, with more synthesizers and less fiddles. That trend has certainly continued, Taylor Swifts seamless transition into pop being an obvious example. There are many traditionalists in the ranks, though. Travis Tritt is quoted as sneering at Billy Ray Cyrus, who dressed in a body shirt and turning country music into an ass-wiggling contest. Considering the posterior antics of Cyrus daughter Miley, who does more than wiggling, I suppose apples still dont fall very far from trees. Still, Malone looks for the best even in then contemporary music, and concedes that every genre is in constant motion. Dont Get Above Your Raisin surprised me. I knew it would be a history of country music, but -- even as someone who grew up with country, who loves and collects the older artists -- Malone shared artists and stories Id never heard of. Who knew that square dancing was borrowed from French aristocrats? If you have any interest in country music at all, this book is worth picking up just for the discography in the back, where Malone lists all of the albums and songs hes been referencing throughout the text. Ive been able to find a lot of older artists via youtubes also reccommended feature, but this kind of shortcut is welcome!

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