Gaillard is after the soul of country music, not its rinky-dink, rhinestone-studded shell. Opryland is eclipsed here by the ""respectfully rebellious"" young songwriters and performers who've injected new attitudes and finesse into the traditional gritty themes of country music--John Prine, Mickey Newbury, and Kristofferson (who, Gaillard fails to mention, hasn't written anything worth a hoot in years). Still, his theme is a good one. The Vietnam War, marijuana, Watergate, longhairs, and the Pill have left their mark and a redneck just ain't a redneck any more. Nor is Nashville the mecca it once was--not with Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker making their ""progressive country"" noises in Austin, or Charlie Daniels and Marshall Tucker pounding out their gut-splitting Southern rock in Macon, Ga. Gaillard makes a case for the essential compassion and decency that country music expresses--it's always been a way of coping with loneliness and tragedy, not just an escape or an entertainment. He stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from the view of country music embodied in Robert Altman's Nashville and his empathy is catching. The lyrics of 55 of ""the best and most representative songs"" are appended.