It's a little bit like religion: country music inspires a fervor in its fans that gives their attachment to it a nearly divine dimension. As music lovers go, a more zealous lot cannot be found. Devotees who believe in a hillbilly heaven know that Hank Williams occupies a special spot in paradise. Authors Kira Florita and Colin Escott pay tribute to the man in the snow white suit with Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway, a photo-filled tour of the singer's brilliant, brief career. From his impoverished Alabama childhood, to his success in the 1940s with hits like "Honky Tonkin'" and "Lovesick Blues," to his tragic death in 1953 at the age of 29, Snapshots offers a compelling portrait of a man who revealed much of himself through song but remained strangely elusive.

Telling the stories behind tunes like "Kaw-Liga" inspired by Alabama's Kowaliga Bay Snapshots is generously illustrated with never-before-seen pictures, private correspondence and pages of roughly scrawled song drafts. "He spelled things the way they sounded . . . and punctuated them with sorrow, love and regret," Rick Bragg writes in the book's foreword. Hank's volatile private life the blondes, the brawls, the alcohol also gets treated here, with commentary by his two wives that is, to put it politely, colorful. A montage of voices that includes Little Jimmy Dickens, George D. Hay and Hank's daughter Jett, comprises the text of the book, which has an introduction by Marty Stuart. For Williams' many disciples, Snapshots will read like a revelation. If you require conversion to the country sound, then American Roots Music should sway your spirit. A majestic, memorabilia-filled volume based on the PBS television series that aired in the fall, this wide-ranging book brings history and geography to bear upon the evolution of America's traditional musical genres. Authoritative chapters on country music's early years, the history of the blues and the '60s folk explosion are graced by the faces of greats like banjo maestro Uncle Dave Macon, bedrock bluesman Memphis Slim and America's premier seer, Bob Dylan. Testifying to the diversity of American musical expression, the book includes sections on the Tex-Mex, Native American and gospel genres. Each chapter opens with a timeline chronicling significant events from the death of Bessie Smith to Dylan's decision to go electric in the life of a particular musical category. The book's unforgettable visuals close-ups of cracked 45s and yellowed songbooks, stark shots of chain gangs and cotton fields and unfurling Southern highways hint at the cultural landscape that produced our country's distinctive sounds. Editors Robert Santelli, Holly George-Warren and Jim Brown, working with the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, have produced a monumental volume that is the ultimate tribute to our musical heritage.

Blues fans can stop wailin' and moanin': Bass great Bill Wyman has written a slick, comprehensive history of the music that's filled with classic quotes, rare photographs and one-of-a-kind artifacts. From Memphis to Rosedale, Chicago to St. Louis, Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music's Heart and Soul logs the miles required to tell the fascinating story of this venerated genre. How did Wyman, a white Brit, get the blues? The answer lies in his working class roots. Like countless other listeners, Wyman says, in the bruised but defiant sound of the blues, in songs about hardship and heartache, he heard his own experience articulated. Otherwise known as a Rolling Stone, he left that band in 1992 and now plays bass in a blues group called The Rhythm Kings. For Odyssey, Wyman dipped into his personal collection of photographs to create a book full of visual treasures, amply illustrated with classic cartoons, old postcards and playbills, and sidebars on musical subgenres and important blues figures. At once intimate and historical, personal and universal, Odyssey traces the music from its African origins to its American flowering, and explores blues hybridizations like Western swing and rock n' roll. All the blues greats get their due here, from Ma Rainey to Stevie Ray Vaughan. For collectors, the book also lists Wyman's listening picks, an inventory of great albums that draws on prewar, country and white rock blues categories. As musical journeys go, Odyssey is one hip trip.

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