MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksI’m not sure where to place the uneven new memoir from this outstanding guitarist and solid songwriter, though. The story of his early years moves along more or less chronologically yet lacks much in the way of insight or analysis. I gather Thompson has grown emotionally since this period in his life. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, he mostly remembers it through the lens of that less introspective, more taciturn young dude ... Thompson’s memoir concludes rather abruptly, with a somewhat flaccid epilogue in which the author sounds relieved the book is over ... frustratingly thin gruel ... Thompson is somewhat more interesting when he discusses the rise and fall of Fairport Convention and his own embrace of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. These passages, unlike so many others, brim with energy. I’m speculating here, but I think the wind may have left Thompson’s sails mid-project when his co-author, Scott Timberg, died ... I’ve seen Richard Thompson in concert a number of times. He’s a talented performer, funny and a bit of a raconteur onstage. Rather than pining for a second volume of his memoir, I think I’ll look forward instead to seeing him live the next time he plays anywhere near me.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksThere’s a uniquely American thread winding through the pages of Ronald Brownstein’s excellent new social history ... Brownstein’s at his best in the film and music sections of the book. This might be because he speaks to performers like Ronstadt and Browne extensively throughout the music chapters, while in the TV section, he spends most of his time with writers and directors. Each gives their own interesting insights, but personally, I’d have liked to hear more from the actors. But this is a minor quibble because the TV sections are, in fact, very interesting ... Brownstein does a nice job reminding us how influential the Left Coast has been on American politics and social beliefs ... Rock Me on the Water makes me wish I could hop in a Tardis and travel back in time just to hang around all those groovy people doing all those groovy things.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksBrod gives readers a bird’s-eye view of life in a rock bubble and reminds us that, while being a rock star at 16 might have seemed like the coolest of the cool, the dwindling audiences, drugs, and other destructive distractions faced by these bands prove that reality didn’t always equal the fantasy.
Lenny Kravitz, with David Ritz
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books... Kravitz does a nice job addressing the grey areas of the human psyche ... Kravitz’s intelligence, introspection, and dedication to emotional truth will serve him well in the next volume chronicling an amazing life. Clearly, he has some highs and lows to reveal in part two. Luckily for him and us, he possesses the talent and perspective to examine and share that story with a hard-won grace and maturity.
Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... fascinating and revealing ... Parton’s voice shines, along with her indomitable spirit, throughout the book ... She also documents some of the fun and productive encounters she’s enjoyed with many of the greats: Tammy Wynette, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, and a wide net of others, including Andy Warhol.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... interesting and eclectic ... At his best, Brown has pulled together a wide swath of telling observations regarding the Fab Four. Particularly satisfying are his sections on how the lads from Liverpool arrived just when America needed them most: a few months after the tragic and shocking November 22, 1963, killing of John F. Kennedy ... On one’s Beatles bookshelf, Brown’s work belongs among the high-brow, personality-driven tomes and less at the songwriting and musical analysis end of the pile ... There are a few \'glimpses\' that don’t seem to fit with the rest of the book at alSuch departures are fine as idle speculation, of course — and are the stuff Beatle nerds have feasted upon at bars and cafés around the world for decades — but Brown’s occasional use of them is more jarring than illuminating ... [Brown] aims high, and when the book works, the result is fun reading for fans of all levels ... However, less is sometimes more, even when it comes to the Beatles. We might have had a stronger effort here if it were, say, 120 Glimpses of the Beatles. Still, if I were a judge on Juke Box Jury, I’d give Craig Brown’s book three-and-a-half stars out of five. It’s got a pretty good beat, and you can dance to it.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books\"If this memoir had an index, it would boast a who’s who of the New York arts scene, starting in the late 1970s with Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, John Waters, Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Ramones, Joan Jett, and the Talking Heads, among others. Those hoping for a Hollywood Babylon tale of unbridled sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll might be disappointed by Harry’s mostly serious, introspective tone, however. There are a few wild and crazy stories, but Harry is more participant and observer than lurid storyteller in these pages ... The book appears to have sprung out of a series of interviews with rock journalist Sylvie Simmons, and the limits of oral discourse show from time to time. As a reader, at several points, I wished I could stop Harry in mid-conversation with a question or clarification. And the book would benefit from a few well-chosen footnotes, too.
But if a memoir’s goal is to give you a true sense of the subject, Face It is a success. Harry’s contradictory and fascinating personality come through clearly ... Luckily for Harry, she grew up in a world that, while obviously flawed when it comes to equal treatment for women, at least offered a few avenues to opportunity and respect. Debbie Harry was tough enough, talented enough, and smart enough to drive them with relish. And now she’s written a pretty good memoir, too.\
PanWashington Independent Review of Books\"If [Daltry] actually wrote it, kudos to him. Unfortunately, his final product might suffice as a moderately interesting narrative laced over a documentary. On its own, it’s more side dish than entrée ... [The book] lacks the raw truth, too, of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, nor is it anywhere near as ambitiously uneven and weird as X-Ray by Kinks frontman Ray Davies ... Some 240 pages later, it’s a safe bet Roger Daltrey is a good guy to hang out with. Unfortunately, his memoir isn’t a particularly interesting companion.\
MixedWashington Independent Review of Books\"Part historian, part cheerleader, Womack’s herculean work is a more than worthy addition to any self-respecting Beatles fan’s already crowded bookshelf ... Womack does find ways to look at the Beatles story from a fresh perspective. While he touches on Martin’s divorce and remarriage, his complex relationship with his parents, his personal integrity, and his caring heart, it’s the Martin at the studio console who’s the primary focus. Given that Womack’s subject is an innovative music producer, it’s probably inevitable to get bogged down occasionally in wonky recording-tech talk. In some cases, it’s an important and interesting part of the story. However, it can also drag the narrative down a bit...It’s a minor quibble; learning about how some of the band’s groundbreaking sounds were crafted is often quite interesting.
Debra Jo Immergut
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books[The Captivesmoves along briskly and skillfully straddles the line between literature and thriller. The best elements of both are woven throughout the book. The writing is insightful and crisp, the supporting characters ... Immergut has built a world, no matter how harsh and tragic, where a visitor wants to stick around to learn how it all comes out.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books\"This musical elegy will have you shredding on air guitar in no time ... But just as the book begins to feel like riding on an oppressive cruise ship with performances by the remaining members of Def Leppard, Hyden makes clear he’s no ostrich buried in 1980s sand. He celebrates, for example, the excellence of Courtney Barnett, a fresh singer/songwriter from Australia. He astutely points out she’s in some ways a throwback with her left-handed Jimi Hendrix-style guitar look and Keith Richards hair, but brings her own modern sensibilities to her work ... Hyden teeters on the edge of over-mythologizing arena rock but pulls back just in time when he acknowledges its many downsides ... We’ll remind her to play it loud. Then she’ll smile indulgently, awkwardly plop the needle on the turntable, and then gently ask us if we’d like butterscotch pudding again for lunch.\
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksBiographer and esteemed music critic Anthony DeCurtis knew Reed moderately well, yet does an admirable job maintaining objectivity, especially when confronting some of Reed’s episodes of cruelty, violence, and pettiness, while balancing those with positive qualities of quiet tenderness and mentorship he often showed, especially toward the end of his life. DeCurtis does get a bit carried away when praising Reed’s body of work, however ... The rock journalist is also guilty of what we might call 'insider trading' when praising a song whose backstory he has special knowledge of ... On balance, though, DeCurtis gives us a compelling bird’s-eye view of an amazing life.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksClara Bingham’s excellent oral history, Witness to the Revolution, brings us to what at times feels like a somber high-school reunion. Student organizers, FBI agents, Nixon officials, and others treat the interviews as confessionals. Many express regret, anger, and oftentimes an unshakeable feeling that most of what they did was wrong. Student organizers still agonize over bombs they set off, killing innocent civilians; FBI officials admit to being uncomfortable with over-the-top surveillance tactics ... She’s done a masterful job of guiding her subjects and no doubt winnowing down what must have been long, emotional interviews into readable, understandable reports from the front lines of a chaotic America difficult to imagine today ... It’s no newsflash that we’re all a contradictory mix of reflexes — well-meaning, but often misguided. In Witness to the Revolution, we’re reminded, sometimes wistfully, sometimes viscerally, that each of us flawed human beings so often simultaneously plays the part of both problem and solution.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksHepworth does make a sound and engaging case for his year. Like a savvy attorney, he knows how to present his strongest evidence with understated confidence ... The man knows his stuff. He intersperses, sometimes illuminatingly and sometimes a bit clumsily, relevant themes in music and pop culture and generally keeps the narrative humming along like a good tune.