PositiveThe Washington PostThe push-pull between commercial hip-hop, with its frequent emphasis on empty materialism, and Kweli’s message-driven, occasionally preachy and invariably less popular conscious rap is one of the main preoccupations at the heart of the swift, sturdy Vibrate Higher ... The first half of Vibrate Higher is a plain-spoken striver’s tale that affectingly charts Kweli’s rise to the middle. It flags only slightly in its discography-centric second half, a blur of albums and tours, recording sessions and label troubles ... The book’s uneven last pages detail Kweli’s work with the then-nascent Black Lives Matter movement. A passage about his participation in the protests in Ferguson, Mo., where he was tear-gassed, is among the most moving. A lengthy section on the Trump administration seems less essential.
Marcus J. Moore
MixedThe Washington PostThe Butterfly Effect can feel a little padded ... More conversational than scholarly, it’s at its most effective when charting Lamar’s cultural awakening, prompted in part by a life-changing pilgrimage to South Africa and the death of Trayvon Martin, and the almost parallel rise of Black Lives Matter. It tries to be a lot of things—an artistic biography, a fan letter, an abbreviated history of West Coast hip-hop, an examination of Black art as a vehicle for resistance—and does most of them well. But it necessarily suffers from the frustrating opacity of its subject, and the unfortunate timing of its release. It concludes in early 2020, too soon to document the protests that arose this summer.
Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann
RaveThe Washington Post... excellent ... divided into three equally invaluable and roughly chronological sections ... There’s a gold mine of little-seen photos of Parton’s little-seen husband of 54 years.
PositiveThe Washington Post...fearsome and brutal ... Sing Backwards is a masterpiece of self-loathing and score-settling, a nothing-but-warts memoir that has more in common with books by Charles Bukowski and Jim Carroll than those by fellow musicians-on-smack Keith Richards and Motley Crue, which seem lighthearted by comparison ... at its best when examining the ruthless mechanics of a junkie musician’s daily life: where to hide syringes...on a tour bus during border searches; the terrifying prospect of going through withdrawals during a snowstorm or transatlantic flight; how the citrus needed to break down European heroin can be found by scavenging lemon slices from abandoned hotel room service trays; and the various black, noxious fluids excreted by junkies in withdrawal, described in enough detail to chill even the most devoted gastroenterologist ... devolves from a brutally candid tell-all to a numbing catalogue of miseries once Lanegan discovers crack ... In rehab, Lanegan — previously the kind of guy who rolled joints using pages ripped out of a Bible — experienced a religious epiphany, not mentioned again.
PositiveThe Washington Post[Crawford\'s] plain-spoken, affectionate new memoir...confirms most of what tabloids had alleged and fans had already guessed ... In Crawford’s telling, which consistently rings true, she is a devoted friend and emotional bulwark for Houston, who found it difficult to stick up for herself ... Crawford’s book is a minor masterpiece of genteel score-settling, and it’s not only Houston’s relatives who come out badly ... Brown is a malign presence throughout the book, a skulking, constantly aggrieved figure ... Crawford worries that the scandal and tragedy of Houston’s last years can make it easy to forget the greatness of her life. \'Yes, in the end it was tragic, but the dream and the rise were beautiful,\' Crawford writes. \'I owe it to my friend to share her story, my story. Our story. And I hope that in doing so, I can set us both free.\'
Michael Eric Dyson
PositiveThe Washington PostDyson writes with the affection of a fan but the rigor of an academic ... is never better than when dismantling what Dyson refers to as \'the politics of black masculinity\' ... offers the most professorial explanation of the early-2000s war between Jay-Z and Nas that has ever been committed to print.
RaveThe Washington Post... unearthed pieces, including Prince’s handwritten song lyrics, photos captioned by the singer, personal mementos and an early treatment of the Purple Rain script, serve as the book’s heavy, heartbreaking center of gravity ... a curious, fantastically moving hybrid of scrapbook and fragmented memoir ... That it exists at all is remarkable. Prince’s carefully tended air of mystery had served as a force field, repelling any serious attempts at biography during his lifetime ... appealing and frank explorations of his childhood and high school romances and his parents’ troubled marriage and divorce ... Piepenbring finds Prince in the margins ... does not offer a clear-eyed view of who Prince really was — he would have hated that, but it illuminates more than it conceals.
Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
PositiveThe Washington PostSongs of America is a history primer that emphasizes music’s role as both a reflection of social change and its instrument ... Meacham and McGraw move as gingerly through the spirituals of the Civil War years as two white men might be expected to ... In one of the book’s strongest passages, McGraw, who contributes sidebars while Meacham handles the bulk of the narrative, grapples with the role of \'Dixie\' in his own Southern upbringing ... Songs of America otherwise moves briskly through history ... McGraw is at his best when unraveling the technical aspects of a song—how difficult it is to sing, how its arrangement contributes to its emotional force. Songs of America does its best work when uncovering lesser-known figures ... Meacham is an unshowy and empathetic writer who hails from the Doris Kearns Goodwin school of vaguely comforting, it’ll-be-okay-we’ve-been-here-before historical scholarship. To him, our American songbook, in all its sprawling messiness, unites more than it divides.
PositiveThe Washington PostOnce an artist plays their first sold-out show, or signs their first record deal, or spends their first holiday in Biarritz with Mick and Bianca, they are no longer relatable human beings ... It’s an unbridgeable gap, one that Ben Folds, a singer, pianist and musical Everyman whose relatability seems to have been factory-issued, does his best to navigate in his engaging and solid new memoir ... It’s about as pure an extension of Folds’s naturalistic musical voice as it’s possible to get ... It’s a predictable, celebrity-memoir-narrative arc — obscurity, unfulfilling celebrity, downward spiral, self-help — that even an iconoclast like Folds ultimately can’t resist.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Goldberg drops no bombshells, but Serving the Servant, which features recollections from Courtney Love, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and others in Cobain’s orbit, enlisted mostly to fill in gaps in the author’s memory, is empathetic and absorbing, illuminating but not gossipy ... For die-hard Nirvana fans, Cobain’s life is already a dog-eared book, but Goldberg provides a fresh, eyewitness account of otherwise familiar tales ... Serving the Servant, in its own understated, overprotective way, effectively conveys the frustration, the to-the-bone grief, that comes from losing a loved one who was fundamentally unknowable in the first place. It’s the closest thing we have to a survivor’s account, at least until Love finally releases her memoir, currently six years overdue.\
PositiveThe Washington PostIn Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever, Washington Post staff writer Geoff Edgers makes a convincing case for the track as a line of pop cultural demarcation: Before Run-DMC and Aerosmith joined forces, rock radio and MTV, the twin engines that powered any hit song, were off-limits to rap artists ... It’s an exhaustively sourced, briskly entertaining read, both a ground-level recounting of that 1986 recording session, and a just-enough-information primer on the histories of Run-DMC and Aerosmith, and the early days of rap and MTV.