PositiveThe Wall Street JournalBill Janovitz gets right down to business ... To say Bill Janovitz is ideally equipped to write this book is an understatement ... If there’s any fault in his method here, it’s that he paraphrases too little. This biography benefits from many interviews with those in Russell’s circles, though some were clearly better at making music than at dishing out crisp sound bites; more than one first-hand account goes on too long without saying a lot.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAt one point, I wondered if Let’s Do It shouldn’t have been more like Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume The Story of Civilization with a stand-alone book on the Jazz Age, one on country music (which is treated in less than nine pages here) and so on. But Mr. Stanley chooses to show us the forest instead of the trees. The result is a study as crowded, hyper and engaging as many pop songs, the best of which evoke both youth and age, innocence and wisdom.
PositiveThe Washington PostBerry liked to compose with other musicians, throwing words and riffs out and moving slowly till a critical mass that had been long in the making seemed to arrive out of nowhere. Smith writes in much the same manner, taking a song like \'Nadine\' from a sketchy beginning to its masterful completion ... Smith regularly steers the reader back to Berry’s never-ending harassment by authorities.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal[Marcus] dives in here, comes out there, and always brings with him the unexpected: ancient treasure in the form of a billboard, an ad in a regional newspaper, a song by a band you never heard of. Even better, he connects it all in a way that makes our world seem often odder, occasionally more sinister, and always more delightful than it did before ... Court cases, books and movies aside, Mr. Marcus returns always to music, especially the songs of rock ’n’ roll’s golden age as well as their offspring. His goal here is not only to remind us how good that music is but also how completely it permeates our culture. Much of what he notices seems intended to bring a wry smile to the reader’s face ... Reflections like this one make More Real Life Rock a one-of-a-kind guide to rock music’s resonance in every aspect of our lives ... I’ve long thought of Mr. Marcus as a writer who explores the other side of the moon that is America, not the sunlit half but the one where bats fly and owls hoot in the trees. He’s at his best when he pulls back the veil on what we thought we knew ... Mr. Marcus’s greater gift is his ability to make the kind of connection that puts us at the center of history’s web ... Together, Real Life Rock and More Real Life Rock present a mosaic of our world, one in which the tiles aren’t fixed. They pulse, they move, they disappear and return. It’s enough to make you crazy, and if you’ve seen the news recently, you know that America’s gaudy, thrilling, violent culture has had exactly that effect on people who can’t handle it. Sometimes I think only Greil Marcus can.
Paul McCartney, Ed. by Paul Muldoon
RaveThe Washington Post... richly illustrated ... there’s nothing like listening to Macca (as McCartney was known in his Liverpool days) talk about the rise of a band composed largely of working-class teens who changed the world forever ... Almost 60 years later, it’s still an amazing story ... Muldoon interviewed him for hours and coaxed out these charming commentaries.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"Mr. Sanneh, a staff writer for the New Yorker, gets high marks both for his encyclopedic knowledge and his breadth of taste. He also writes like an angel, making Major Labels one of the best books of its kind in decades ... Mr. Sanneh is rightly skeptical of art that operates within a deliberately \'cramped range\' that limits its ability to be \'rowdy and messy.\' This sentiment is as close as this remarkably judgment-free writer comes to an overall aesthetic principle: that the only thing music has to do is be exciting ... His book succeeds for many reasons, one of which is that each encyclopedic chapter is divided into 10 or a dozen sections, each with its own subtitle: Bite-size chunks, as it were, are the only workable format for this feast. Mr. Sanneh also has a gift for zingers.
PositiveThe Washington PostIf anyone is entitled to write this exhaustive biography, it’s the man who was described by Rolling Stone in 2016 as \'perhaps the world’s authority on all things Dylan.\' And if he is as jaw-droppingly good at his job as his subject is at music, Heylin can also be just as prickly. He takes delicious pleasure in throwing darts at Dylan’s other chroniclers, calling one a \'minor writer,\' another a \'largely unloved scribe\' ... In other words, this first installment of The Double Life is a twofer: Not just one but two big, colorful egos are on display.
Peter Ames Carlin
RaveThe Wall Street JournalA captivating book by Peter Ames Carlin, veteran rock journalist and author of biographies of Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. No one would have said so back in the 1970s, but the second word of the company’s title suggests correctly that more than one bro worked there ... What makes Sonic Boom so appealing is that it is actually three books in one. It’s a book about how music is made, but it’s also a book about how companies are run and then go off track. It’s also a biography of sorts of Mo Ostin, the canny and almost impossibly nice record executive who was chosen by Frank Sinatra to head the singer’s Reprise label.
RaveFull StopTaken as a whole, Balzac’s works mirror his time, and what Brooks shows us here is the making of that mirror. Following a brief introduction, he devotes each chapter to a principal character in nine of what he considers Balzac’s most illustrative works...in effect looking over the novelist’s shoulder as he creates his fictional beings. The result is a more nuanced and intimate portrait than can be found in a conventional biography ... clear, insightful, jargon-free, and overall a genuine pleasure to read.
MixedWashington Post... reading Gruen’s memoir, I got the impression that it takes a certain type to rise to the top in that profession ... [But] on the page, at least, Gruen comes across as amply, abundantly, massively, unfathomably and titanically bland ... In the end, though, it’s Gruen’s innocuous character that gives his career a charge and this book its charm ... This is really a coffee-table book pretending not to be one. The writing is tepid, the pictures priceless.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe short life and spellbinding music of Jimi Hendrix have been well covered by other writers, and, with the exception of some new and dreary information about his death, there are not a lot of surprises in Wild Thing ... the real value of his book lies in the almost casual comments he offers about Jimi’s one-of-a-kind brand of rock ’n’ roll ... Music is notoriously difficult to translate into words, but Mr. Norman comes close again and again ... This is a sad book, but Jimi Hendrix’s music is too original to be anything like sad. There’s something not quite of this world about it.
Sandra B. Tooze
RaveThe Wall Street JournalTooze brings a man and a musical era to life ... Ms. Tooze, a drummer herself, interviewed Helm in 1996 for her Muddy Waters biography. She draws on that material as well as on rigorous research and numerous other interviews with key figures to depict Levon Helm both as a consummate musician and somebody it’d be a lot of fun to have a beer or three with. Helm co-wrote (with Stephen Davis) his own memoir, This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band (1993). It, too, is a top read, but Ms. Tooze relates two things the drummer wouldn’t, or couldn’t, easily convey: the cradle-to-grave sweetness of his personality (with the occasional flare of red-hot anger, to be sure) and the subtle, understated nature of a technique that influences drummers to this day.
RaveFull Stop... a Canterbury Tales for our time, meaning that the people in it move the way we do ... balky, meandering, engaging ... That’s not to say that The Last Taxi Driver is a field guide to folksy fun. A lot of Lou’s fares are scarier and more desperate than Earl, and there’s one scene involving a possum killing that you might not want to read before dinner. If Taxi Driver the movie is about loneliness, as more than one expert has said, The Last Taxi Driver the novel is about exhaustion ... if Lou is a kind of Everycabbie who represents more than himself, so too is his story much bigger than it first seems. With all the whack jobs crawling in and out of the back seat of Lou’s Town Car, it’s hard not to think of Flannery O’Connor.
PositiveThe Washington Post... an intimidating marvel of scholarship, though editors Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh weave his correspondence into a mostly tidy account by adding diary excerpts, newspaper clippings and plentiful commentary of their own. There are Cole Porter biographies already (as well as two biopics, nearly 60 years apart, with Cary Grant and then Kevin Kline playing the composer), and another seems unnecessary. Considering all the connective tissue, The Letters of Cole Porter amounts to the last word, a work as disjointed and delightful as any of Porter’s unforgettable songs.
PositiveThe Washington Post... sober and thorough, and it amounts to the last word on a brief candle of an existence, a life whose peaks and valleys make your average mountain range look as flat as an acre of Texas farmland ... Joplin took such joy in performing that she made it look effortless, but George-Warren reminds readers how hard she worked, not only doing take after take in the studio but also doing the kind of behind-the-scenes research associated more with musicologists than whiskey-swigging blues shouters.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalGuitar King is what old-timers in the book trade call a doorstop or widowmaker, and it’s packed with enough info to make a blues nerd giddy with joy ... [a] rich, resonant, detailed account ... On page after page, [Dann] piles up minutiae as few music writers do ... Even when he’s not recounting a performance or quoting one of his hundreds of sources, Mr. Dann brings the reader into the story with little splashes of color and other sensory appeals ... this book draws you in the way a novel does, one by Dostoyevsky, say, in which the hero is part genius, part stumblebum, a flawed artist making his way half-aware through a world of joys and pitfalls—someone very much like most of us, in other words, if a lot more talented and a little more careless.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWhat you notice first about her charming book Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems is its range. Shakespeare and Dickinson and Yeats are here, but so are Li Bai and Lorine Niedecker and Juan Felipe Herrera ... Having hooked the reader with feelings and character, she now gets into the carpentry of poetry and the way the pattern of a poem can reflect the grandeur of the universe ... She also demolishes the silly distinction between formal poems and free verse ... Burt is a delightful companion who reminds us that poems go down a lot better if we read them out loud and slowly.
Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... bristles with photos, maps, deeds, census reports and graphics of every kind to back up their authoritative account of Johnson’s birth, training, travels, tragedies, triumphs and contributions to roots music. To all popular music, really ... [Johnson] succeeded not by signing a contract offered to him by a sooty stranger but, as Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow show down to the last detail, by starting from an early age to listen, steal from others and play without ceasing.
MixedThe Washington PostStops being a tell-all and becomes a DIY guide to successful branding. There’s actually not a lot about music here ... The last few chapters of My Love Story will remind you why you should never ask an older person how they’re doing ... this is the only book I have ever read in which the last page is an organ donor form. Once again, Tina leaves nothing to chance.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...an indispensable guide to American pop music and a damned fine read ... every page of Good Booty is a reminder that it takes countless heavenly bodies to make a galaxy ... Good Booty is nothing if not comprehensive. It’s all here, from gospel and swing to soul, punk, grunge and rap. On the surface, the common denominator might seem to be sex, the search for the anatomical Holy Grail of the book’s title...Really, though, this is a book about play. It’s about nonsense, about how this music 'contained all the ugly and problematic things about sex as well as its pleasures, demonstrating how yearning and sensual release could reduce a person to gibberish' ... The best thing about “Good Booty” is that it reminds us that the right song shows us how to be somebody in a way that’s not possible with any other art form.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Fletcher gives Pickett’s other big songs the same treatment, and readers of this biography would do well to listen along on YouTube as the writer takes them through each hit as it starts, swells and comes to an end that is somehow both startling and inevitable. Journalists who write about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll often find it easier to focus on the sensational aspects of the industry than on the music itself, but Mr. Fletcher, the author of books on Keith Moon, the Smiths and R.E.M., gets it right.
PositiveThe Washington Post...a compassionate yet clear-eyed study of the iconic country star ... it’s to his credit that [Ribowsky] gets as close to Williams as any writer could.
Brian Wilson with Ben Greenman
MixedThe Wall Street Journal...as plain-spoken as its title. Here the band’s presiding genius wanders over the terrain of his life as a son, father, husband and supremely gifted musician, describing what he remembers in a childlike tone ... there is in Brian Wilson’s poker-faced acceptance a reminder to take life as it comes. Part of the charm of his account is the way he drops little moments into the story with no preamble and then moves on with no follow-through.