Bluegrass Blasphemy?

Alison Krauss  -  Photo Credit: Randee St. NicholasNot long ago I came across a new blog site called Culture 11. The site’s authors say their goal with the site is to provide some perspective on life in America as culturally conservative Americans find themselves facing changing times and uncertainty.

Much of the site’s content speaks to the intersection of religion and culture.

One week ago, one of the authors, Noah Berlatsky, posted a blog entitled Bluegrass Apocalypse. In the article he states that

Bluegrass has been transformed from a mostly played-out festival circuit relic into a viable commercial force. But at what cost?

He then attempts to explain this transformation as the result of efforts to

Polish bluegrass up, recruit a female singer, and capture a bigger audience

You know of whom he speaks, Alison Krauss. Berlatsky describes Krauss’ music as “vaguely spiritualized prettiness” and then goes on to make this incredible statement.

As this suggests, I loathe Alison Krauss’s music in all its obsessive, over-produced perfection. To me, it sounds like every note on her albums has been focus-grouped, voted on by committee, and then carefully performed by a soulless government functionary. The vestige of rural authenticity — the tunes, the fiddles ‚Äî are there almost for purposes of ritual emasculation.

Joe Carter, another author on the site, responded with his own piece from which I took the title of this post, Bluegrass Blasphemy. Carter takes Berlatsky to task for being an “urban, over-educated atheist,” and defends Alison’s honor as the primary instructor who gives “singing lessons to the seraphim” in her spare time.

Berlatsky then responded on his personal blog by saying that Carter, indeed anyone who claims “country authenticity,” is simply a poseur. His reasoning?

…country has gotten to this place where credibility has everything to do with liking this or that product, and very little to do with any actual values or morals. Rural identity is just another affectation, bolstered through arbitrary product purchases.

Krauss’ music is the result of sheer giftedness combined with countless hours of rigorous devotion to a craft. Berlatsky seems to have equated inauthenticity with this exceeding excellence.

As someone who grew up in a rural community and currently lives another, I rejoice to see the virtuosity of the practitioners of the bluegrass arts. In no way do I find them inauthentic, or think them to be poseurs.