“Right By Her Roots” focuses overly on criticism, rather than interviews
The book is front-loaded with the major interview subjects, leaving the back half of the book to founder. While none of the artists featured are household names by any stretch, putting Victoria Williams, Lucinda Williams, and Michelle Shocked as three of your first four chapters doesn’t leave a lot of meat in the back end.
Here’s the way it works with interviews or profiles – when you know someone’s work, you’re more likely to be able to get in to what’s being written right away. Unfortunately, the way Right By Her Roots works is that Hight treats every artist equally. She assumes that you’re equally familiar with all the musicians featured within the book, and by doing so, presents in-depth analyses of extremely niche artists’ catalogs, overwhelming the reader. We’re talking about dozens of songs per woman, with a whirlwind of titles, descriptions, and connections that even a well-versed fan would be hard-pressed to follow.
The stories of these women work well, but as a book, it’s rather repetitive. A better option would have been to release the stories as a series of articles, allowing them to breathe and live on their own. Presented back-to-back-to-back, the formula used by Hight becomes readily apparent: introduction of artist, brief overview of artist’s career, then ad-nauseum analysis of the artist’s catalog, with interview segments sprinkled throughout. Repeat eight times.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the interviews were used more liberally. I always find the back catalog analysis to be the weakest part of any book about music, because it’s where the author has to shift journalistic gears from reporter to critic. Rarely does this work out well. When Hight works in straight interview/feature style, Right By Her Roots is an engaging read. Unfortunately, rarely is that the case.