This companion volume to an upcoming PBS series on the southern roots of American music, drafted by a writer for the show (Wald) and its director (Junkerman), is a particularly varied and moving example of its genre. This probably has to do with the subject: it's hard to be dull when you're describing the lives, memories, and music (country, blues, rock 'n' roll, gospel, and zydeco, among others) of several hundred performers, and even harder when you rely, as the book does, largely on the frank and salty words of those performers. Following the Mississippi downstream turns out to be a particularly useful conceit: because the river touches so much of the American heartland, almost every kind of popular music is being performed along its length. Many unique musical forms, of course, including jazz and the blues, have a history intimately entwined with the river. Ranging from profiles of little-known but durable musicians to those with a regional or national profile (John Hartford, Fontella Bass, Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Irma Thomas), the book offers both an engaging overview of modern American music as it is being created and performed in small Southern towns and cities, and a fascinating glimpse of the ways in which American music continues to reflect and to shape American life.