David Goodman; Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide & Directory (Nashville: Dowling Press, 1999) 439 pp., $22
Review by Art Menius
Original publication in Bluegrass Unlimited
Pennsylvania writer David Goodman earns the honor of the first comprehensive encyclopedia of alt.country music with Modern Twang. To my knowledge, the only previous book about the subject is No Depression, a collection of essays which originally appeared in that magazine. On balance Goodman has done a bang up job, producing a volume that will be valuable for a long time. That the book speaks with one voice rather than many provides a particular delight. The bulk of the tome consists of around 700 artist entries, each including a biographical essay and a discography, usually up to date through the beginning of 1999.
Goodman’s strongest contribution comes from staking wide the territory and assembling so much information. In so doing, he demonstrates the connections of bluegrass to other forms. For him alternative country encompasses not just the post-Uncle Tupelo scene of the last six years, but three prior waves as well – beginning in the late 1960s with the Clarence White/Gram Parsons Byrds, the Dillards, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He leans toward similar breadth as far as musical style with plenty of old-time revival and bluegrass acts represented.
Modern Twang, like all volumes of this sort, suffers from certain glaring errors, but fewer than most. The real weakness in a generally strong book come from the idiosyncrasies of inclusion. As a class the progressive bluegrass revival, such as Acoustic Syndicate and Larry Keel Experience, turns up missing save for Leftover Salmon. When you examine individuals, if gets really confusing: Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, the Dillards, Seldom Scene, and Country Gentlemen are in the book; Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Ralph Stanley, and Nashville Bluegrass Band are not. Yet and still, Modern Twang proves welcome, important, and entertaining.