Various Artists

The Rose & the Briar plumbs the depths of the American ballad.

For the ethnomusicologist in your life who has everything, The Rose & the Briar and its accompanying book of the same name (published by W.W. Norton) would make a dandy present. Greil Marcus and Sean Wilentz are responsible for both, and they each attempt to define the American ballad, a musical form that generally deals with tragedy, romance, death, mystery, and/or disaster, in some kind of storytelling context. Songs as disparate as Jan & Dean's "Dead Man's Curve," Randy Newman's "Sail Away," and Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" all find a home here. There are also fascinating tunes by the criminally under-recorded Anna Domino, Dolly Parton (with the stunning "Down From Dover") and the ever-lovely Burl Ives. In the book, essays are contributed by everyone from well-established scholars and theorists to novelists such as Joyce Carol Oates, art-pop stars like Pere Ubu's Dave Thomas, and artists, including the curmudgeonly R. Crumb, who offers his visual take on "When You Go A' Courtin'."

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