Reviewed by Damean
I recently had the great pleasure of reading Lord of the Mountain, by Ronald Kidd. This Tri-Cities based tale takes place during and after the famous Bristol Sessions, the two-week recording event in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927 that launched country music to the nation. Ralph Peer came to the Twin Cities with the dream of finding the music that had long been passed down among mountain families - and what he found changed the face of recorded music.
Kidd's book deals with a young boy who lives on the outskirts of Bristol, a city divided right down the middle by the Tennessee/Virginia state line, and his fascination with science and music, despite his father's preaching, which includes a violent opposition to music. Nate, the narrator of our tale, finds himself in the middle of inner turmoil as he struggles to find his place in the world. He is facing a life in either his father’s world, where music is the devil and the voice of God can be heard in every whisper, or a world where he is free to pursue music and science and live in whatever way he pleases. Nate finds himself attending the Bristol Sessions, and helping the soon to be world famous Carter Family as they sing the songs of the mountains for Ralph Peer's recording machines. He later even finds himself traveling with A.P. Carter and gathering songs from other mountain folks for a time.
I found this book to be absolutely enthralling, from the very first line to the very last period. I yearned to learn more about Nate and his struggle. Kidd is able to capture the feel of Appalachia in a way that some authors have not. Living less than 20 miles from the place all this happened, I loved his use of local landmarks (and it didn't hurt that he used Bristol Public Library as a hub for some of his research) to help tell his story.
Nate's struggle and internal displacement run rampant throughout this book, leading him to often compare himself to State Street, "torn right down the middle." Nate, a 13 year-old living in a time when the world was a very different place, often broke my heart with these statements. Kidd gave Nate a huge heart, and a huge interest in the music that basically put this area on the map, and I loved every word. I've long been interested in the history of the region and its culture, although I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with country music. Appalachian life is a fascination and a lifestyle that I am very proud to uphold, and this book does a fantastic job of celebrating that.
I found myself write down pages and pages of quotes from the book, as I do, and I think Kidd's writing style is amazing as well. As he travels farther away from the tent his father preaches in and deeper into the mountain songs that call to him, Nate finally sees clearly what he wants. This quote, to me, speaks volumes of his struggle and his purpose.
"I had a new life now, or a glimpse of one. It sparkled in the distance, like the silver microphone."
Kidd, a resident of Nashville, Tn., brought forth a tale of heartache, soul-searching, heritage, and culture that I think anyone with a familiarity with the Bristol region will love, and anyone who isn't familiar with the area can still definitely enjoy. Nate's story is one that we can all relate to, having sought our own place in the world both in relation to and away from our families and those things familiar to us.
I highly recommend this book and plan to read it again and again. It's really that good.
NOTE: Tune in Radio Bristol on March 26 at 11 am EST to hear the Radio Bristol Book Club discuss this book. You can listen on the radio (100.1 FM) or online A recording of the discussion will be archived at Radio Bristol Book Club for two months following the broadcast.