With the soundtrack to his music-centered documentary, Country Music, Ken Burns has set himself up for an impossible task with its soundtrack. Granted, five CDs is a whole lot of music. However, he’s surveying the history of not just an artist, but a full genre. With that said, though, it’s tough to fault the choices he made.
It begins, appropriately with The Carter Family (whom many believe are the earliest pioneers of the style) doing “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (Bye and Bye),” and finishes with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band doing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” That song, no matter how you title it, can be likened to the country music national anthem. In between, Burns’ soundtrack covers a lot of ground, and – no pun intended – there’s a whole country to cover.
In addition to The Carter Family, disc one includes singing cowboys (Gene Autry), a singing brakeman (Jimmie Rodgers) and one swinging cat (Bob wills& His Texas Playboys). Disc two goes to the honky tonk (Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys), wades through Bill Monroe’s bluegrass and even touches upon the early rock & roll of The Everly Brothers. Kudos, too, for featuring Ray Charles early on with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Disc three will capture rock music fans’ interest right away, as The Byrds help invent country-rock with “You Ain’t Going Nowhere. This CD also includes George Jones, Merle Haggard Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. The set’s fourth disc brings in outlaws, including Waylon & Willie and Hank Williams, Jr. Two fine Texas singer/songwriters, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, are also represented. The fifth CD includes some of what’s good about modern country (Reba McEntire and George Strait), but no bro-country. Also, no Lil Nas X.
Nobody will ever by 100% satisfied with a five-disc overview of country music. Few, if any, will find reason to exclude even one song included herein, though.