DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE – Amanda Petrusich – Independant Book Review


Do not sell at any price by Amanda Petrusich – a book review

Do not sell at any price, available in lots of places..
Do not sell at any price, available in lots of places..

Let’s all get this straight from the start, I bought this book, I was not invited to give my opinion on it, but in the true tradition of peevishness, pugnacity and of irascibility I shall.. so nah!

I shall speak in perpetuum of the interminably un-ending indulgence of this writer’s fondant fancy froufrou, this lady’s lace work of metaphor and of the hyperbole of hype. The replacement of anything corporeal with the mere sweaty glaze of insignificancy.

There is something bothersome about the way in which this stripling (yes I’m downwardly ageist) seeks to engage with the very real world of the record collector. Seeking as she does to share in its glories and it’s potholed routes to discovery. Yawningly. In the terminating pages making reference to the fashionistas disposition for the veracity of the ancient and actual, as opposed to the fraudulent and counterfeit age of the binary digit, she I believe exposes herself for what, perhaps she is, a being lost in the porridge of ‘Bang on Trend’.

Simply Put

There is nothing to this book, it is smoke and mirrors, vapour lifts off it like the fog on page 192. There is no substance, no grit, no spunk (to coin a truly American use of  nomenclature). It’s all chit-chat between occasional highlights of actuality, of record rooms and real people. The distance the writer takes to travel between these moments of joy are as tedious to me as no doubt the miles she assures us she travelled in pursuit of the substance of this padded pillow of a book were, to her.

Takes One To Know One

As you get into the real thing, real collecting and you just are, simply, a real record collector, you see lots of odd shit. People think you’re cool, people aspire to be like you, you see middle-aged guys wearing T-Shirts with Record Deck representations on, but who don’t own an actual player, and who have placed their platters in the attic. In short you learn how to recognise others that really truly and honestly share your interest. Amanda Petrusich claims on a number of occasions within the book that she is thrilled by the acquisition of an item or two, and of missing out on some Charlie Patton tunes on Paramount and other … stuff. I’m sorry, I know it’s churlish, I know it’s bad of me, un-generous and I feel like a schmuck saying it, but I don’t buy it, it doesn’t ring true. She’s a dabbler, and a dabbler can’t have the kind of insight into record collecting that it requires to write something a record collector should read about record collecting.

It’s notable that all the endorsements on the rear of the dust jacket are by other writers, not one is visible from a collector of tunes.

Are there any redeeming features?

Not really. She writes well, it’s just that this was in essence a short article for a magazine of momentary dabblers, not a book for people who want a serious insight. It doesn’t give that, it just scrapes a bit of dust off the surface of the record (metaphor alert) and plays the first bar, before removing it from the turntable; instead of cleaning it thoroughly, playing it, inverting and then re-equalizing the RIAA curve to something akin to the original mastering, playing it through filters to remove as much top end hiss and low-end background as possible, reading on its history, digitizing it and finally cataloguing it by matrices.

It feels like a quick fix, a soundbite, and thusly a product of the present generation. No wonder they struggle to comprehend the depth of the ‘groove’. I can’t help but see with sadness the writer’s work as representative of this present generations’ struggle towards a clear vision of the ‘real’ and of the past as obscured by the ongoing Tsunami of phone Aps, social networking, online content and data management.

It was great reading about Bussard et al though.

Review – Singing From The Floor – J.P. Bean


singingfromthefloorOn and off I’ve been part of the U.K. ‘Folk Scene’. I have both performed as a dancer and played and sung in a number of local clubs and I was interested to get a deeper insight into the clubs and players and singers who frequented them in the past.

If you take a passing interest you are going to be informed by the book and it features everyone living you could possibly expect to be in it, talking about their experiences; Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, Martin Carthy, Ian Campbell, The Watersons, the list goes on.

It is a collection of their views, little more than a vox pops, or transcriptions of their memories and opinions, spoken directly. Unfortunately I think it suffers from this and becomes repetitive and rather pointless. The book in and of itself doesn’t interpret, it makes no assumptions, there is no larger discussion. No digest of the interviewees views. Page after page of text doesn’t really tell you anything new. You knew McColl was controlling, you knew that folk music was linked wholeheartedly with the C.N.D. and with left-wing politics, there is very little of revelation in it.

Possibly the closest I got to a joyful discovery was that Ian Campbell’s sons are the leading lights of UB40, a predominantly white U.K. Reggae ‘supergroup’.

It only confirms the frustration I have always felt with the Folk scene; where traditionalists were only ever sold a different version of the same old story, the same sell, the same hype. Yet pompously they then defended it as immoveable God blessed historically accurate tradition and refused to be swayed by those who wished to create a living breathing self-sustaining musical world. The book confirms one thing, it was folk music that killed off folk music and there is more music of the people and by the people in one Beatles melody than 50 verses of some snoring dirge from the Outer Hebrides.

And yet I feel I’m being overly harsh, for those that were there or those that have surfed dangerously on the edges of folkdom it can be a rather cozy and self satisfying read. As a participant you may have met and talked to those in the book. When they speak you are standing listening; to Martin Carthy, Liza, Martin Simpson, and Ralph Rinzler in my case.

I don’t think the book would attract a newcomer, but it would comfort a past participant and perhaps it did. Maybe I’m just a little too close to the reality of enduring Tina’s performance of her ode to marine mammals ‘seal seal, how does it feel to be a seal‘ to ever fully recover an open mind when it comes to ‘folk music’. I have great difficulty even using the term. To me it’s redolent of homespun sheep’s wool pullovers, real ale, nice people being nice to one another, dishonest suppressions of performers egos, quiet one upmanship, corn dollys and cold nights of tented sleeping next to human repositories of beery methane.

I was kind of hoping that the book might persuade me that I’ve always been a bit wrong, a bit ugly and a bit cynical about the world of Folk, but in the end..

It’s just one of those books you read to the end because you think you should rather than because you really wanted to.

Review – The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll – Preston Lauterbach


chitlin circReview – The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll – Preston Lauterbach

I’m always on the lookout for a new book to help indulge my musical interests and a friend recently recommended this to me. I’ve been in love with Black Rhythm and Blues for a number of years and that genre had its dancing feet firmly stuck in the backwoods mud of the Chitlin’ Circuit; the mildly derogatory term for the network of Black music venues littered about the (mainly) Southern states of the U.S.A.

This book seeks to tell the tale of these venues creation, a response to a virtually new phenomenon, the disposable income of a self determined Black population. It sets out to tell tall tales of the musicians and gig goers, the ingenuity of the venues creators, the shadowy background of their financing, stories of the back handers given to a white controlling force of politicking and policing. The book is littered with tales, lacework links, and histories of all those names you’ve come to know and love such as Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, Jimmy Lunceford, Amos Milburn, Dave Bartholomew, and Roy Brown.

These places, the timber frame buildings of Chicken Shack Boogie fame are where Rock n’ Roll was birthed. Louis Jordan once said that Rock N’ Roll was only a poor imitation by Whites of Black Rhythm and Blues and the more I listen and the more I learn, the more I’m agreeing with that statement. Lauterbach’s book just confirms it … yet again.

I haven’t got more than a third of the way into this, and I’m here telling you all about it, because it’s that good. It’s oozily wet, not dry,  teeming with tales and hearty history. It beats with the sort of knowledge only an insider can ever get the low-down on, and luckily for us, the reader, it has been passed on with ’nuff style. Preston Lauterbach (I don’t know nothing more about him) is obviously a fan, and has a fine twist and turn of phrase. It feels like he won’t let stuffy academic research get in the way of a good story and the telling of it. I haven’t got a problem with that, let’s slightly suspend our sceptically critical natures and just wallow in the world that was the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Recommended!

Review of Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso: Traditions in the Making


Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso: Traditions in the Making – John Cowley – 1999

carinalcanboulayI’m a big fan of Calypso and have wanted to know more about the background and development of this genre of Caribbean music for a while now. Cowley’s book goes someway to explaining the historical background to its development.

Being a study of Trinidad and it’s tradition of Carnival, Canboulay and of Calypso, it’s not entirely taken over with music but seeks to explain how Carnival came about, its roots and development from the earliest records right through to the era of sound recording. Whence it’s music became the predominant force by which it was known worldwide. In general it succeeds.

It reads like a well written and engaging thesis, a historical study, unfortunately suffering from structural repetition as the author uses mainly newspaper reports of Carnival to trace development over time. Wonderful that it begins in the days of Trinidad’s enslaved Africans and discusses the influence of that islands’ many diverse ethnic groups on Carnival and Carnival’s culture (music included), but it is a little dry and lacking in personal testimony. We are treated over and over again to reports of each year’s Carnival and of the subsequent court cases involving wayward participants, and this becomes mildly soporific.

However within these confines it is also revealing and revelatory.

Did you for example know about the tradition of stick fighting in Trinidad? Or the many riots that occurred during Carnival and the way in which Carnival became a canvas for the dispossessed to paint their complaints and to cock a Snook at the gentry and at the White and sometimes Creole classes? The book reveals the influence of North American black-face minstrelsy and of Jubilee singers on Trinidadians and on Carnival, and the influence of touring Circus on the island. It tells of the influence of the Spanish and the French and particularly of Venezuelan culture. Finally it discusses the rise of the calypsonians in the early part of the 20th century.

In short you’ve got to be a motivated reader to engage fully with this book, but if you are, then it’s a great read.

Not for the feint hearted or general reader.

Blind Owl Blues – The Mysterious Life and Death of Alan Wilson by Rebecca Davis – A review


alanwilson

Blind Owl Blues ~ a review

Just finished reading this. If you’ve ever wondered who that quiet guy in Canned Heat was, the one standing at the back looking sheepish, playing a blinding bit of bottleneck, or singing that high falsetto vocal on ‘On The Road Again’, then read this book.

An illuminating entre into the late 60s psychedelic band scene on the West Coast and for those uninitiated into Blues music past and present.

The book suffers from the ‘relatively’ recent rash of online self publishing; it desperately needs an editor’s hand and a true story-teller at the helm, but we get the information we came for and it’s that which counts. Wilson, underrated and overlooked has his story told and we are assured throughout that the facts as they are presented are well researched and balanced.

You’ll be introduced to some of the characters in the story, Bob Hite the frontman and singer, Henry Vestine the talented but drug addled lead guitarist and Larry Taylor the driving and truly talented bass player.

Wilson and his compatriots were there right at the birth of the Blues revival and he and some of his friends rediscovered a number of the artists who would go on to lead that revival, at the same time as giving honour to the past, they blew the cobwebs off of their old  78s, re-worked the old tunes and re-dedicated their blues to the power of amplification.

Wilson wrote both of their biggest hits, ‘On the road again’ and ‘Going up the country’, they played the Monterey and Woodstock festivals and their output soundtracks the 60s as well as anything by anyone else. Many Blues revivalists consider Wilson to be THE under-rated figure of that age and the book tries to re-balance history, place him centrally as an important figure and to chart his compulsive obsessive love of Blues music as it transformed into and equally obsessive love of nature, particularly Sequoia trees. Intrigued?

Rub A Dub Style – the Roots of Modern Dancehall – by Beth Lesser


This book is a must own for anyone interested in the history of Jamaican music, particularly the wonderfully vibrant era of Dancehall in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s.

Full of first person testimony and coverage of many artistes who rarely got recorded, let alone talked about after the event in any country other than Jamaica, or by the most dedicated of fans overseas.

Artists like Brigadier Jerry, Johnny Ringo, Early B, Charlie Chaplin, General Echo, Welton Irie, Lone Ranger, Sugar Minott all get an airing, and it’s great to really get a feel for the energy of Jamaican music during this era.

Anyone interested in ‘Reggae’ cannot deny that this was a time when Jamaican music was made for Jamaicans by Jamaicans and was undiluted by corporate strivations to make it appeal to bed sit hippies and bearded spliff heads with a degree in economics from Loughborough University.

For example, having never been interested in exploring the sub genre of slackness in 80s Jamaican music I now find myself ordering Welton Irie and Johnny Ringo Lps.

Beth was there, knew the artistes and loves the music and that shows.

The book as I have said is an absolute must own, in that it is so cork up with information and first person tale, that this alone makes it’s appeal.

Unfortunately the book suffers from the almost total lack of narrative voice and the narrative through line becomes little more than a fragmented exploration of the many aspects of ‘Dancehall’ and the Sound Systems that tell the tale. It’s a little boring how lack of authorial talent means that many people who have the opportunity to do something really amazing pass it by. Also the unfortunate frequency of typographical screw up, misspelling and grammatical error detract from the book and at times make it a frustrating read. There IS a reason why self publishing isn’t always the right or best option whatever the aim. However, it is just SO FULL of stuff you need to know, the sheer excitement of learning more makes it a page turner and a book I for one will return to again and again.

You can get it as an electronic download or online at lulu.com. I’ve got the paper version, and as I write it’s sitting by my bed awaiting another read, I think I might go to bed early tonight and ignore the wife’s appeals to my energetic side 😉

Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound – A review


Folkways Records: Moses Asch and Tony Olmsted’s yawningly un-brilliant book

It’s hard being honest, risky, troubling and you can’t help but be disappointed with yourself for being such a negative old bitch, but there you have it, there’s nothing quite like the ‘truth’ subjective though it will I hope be.

If you are interested in Folk music, then Folkways records is a name you will know and be interested to know more of. With its distinctive unforgiving Lps, bound beautifully, with odd yet engaging cover art, illustrating the musical brilliance of everything and everyone from Native American Indians to New York Jews and Woody Guthrie to Bahamian Gospel groups. All the brainchild of Moses Asch; a name as much part of the American Folk revival as Lomax or Dylan.

It follows that if you are interested in Folkways then you will be interested in an account of the man who created the label and the label itself. It follows that you might buy this book in that case. Unfortunately it doesn’t follow that you will get enjoyment, knowledge, or anything remotely at all worthwhile from this missed opportunity of a book.

Frankly it reads like a poorly proof read thesis by a second-rate musicology student.

Tony Olmsted with access to the Smithsonian’s archive on Asch has done little more than present the end of year accounts of Folkways, there are few stories to enjoy, little of interest to anyone but a bank manager. Someone wishing to go back in time having learnt from Asch’s business mistakes might use the information contained to start a Folk label in 40s and 50s New York; but seriously this book would be of more use to an accountant than someone interested in music.

Olmsted hasn’t got a clue how to write, how to engage or how to tell a story. I expect that 10 or so years after writing this book he’s changed professions and is now a health and safety officer with ‘special understanding of the risk of paper cuts in the workplace’ and has published an in-depth study of this risk and it’s ‘relationship to the stationary cupboard of mid-west America’.

Missed Opportunity

There are 8 typographical errors before the 40th page, and that will no doubt be as many as I find in this book, because it’s going to be where I stop reading it.

Yawn . . . .

Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound