PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe imposing title is perhaps tongue-in-cheek, for the book doesn’t offer—as Bobcats worth their salt might have predicted—anything close to what its title promises. What it does offer is perhaps even more valuable: It’s a generous book—as forthright as anything Dylan has ever laid before his audience—that manages to stick its landing somewhere between the perfect bathroom read (short sections, handsomely illustrated, coincidentally just in time for Christmas) and The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton’s epic, eccentric and encyclopedic compendium of 1621 ... The lyrical \'riffs are most Dylanesque, particularly because of the second-person narration, intended to cast a noirish shadow, with the occasional consequence of making the reader feel like the addressee of Like a Rolling Stone. The purely lyrical paraphrases are only intermittently successful. Though Dylan knows that \'people ask songwriters what a song means, not realizing if they had more words to explain it they would’ve used them in the song,\' here he is quite happy to use more words, to sometimes comic effect ... represents a window into Dylan’s thoughts about how songs and lyrics operate, how they might be received. So though Dylan’s interpretation might not be why Detroit City works, it is why this book works—it doesn’t matter if he’s right or wrong ... demonstrates a level of scrutiny that Dylan might find slightly ludicrous leveled at his own work ... Despite his front-and-center opinions, autobiography is almost entirely absent: He doesn’t mention, for example, those three songs he recorded, nor his connections to any of the various performers or writers here, some of which dot-joining may have made the book feel a little more organic. Many of the choices predate his career, and very few of the tracks that postdate the ’60s seem directly influenced by his work. It’s as if he has written himself out, not only personally, but from musical history: Perhaps that is his private fantasy ... Over and over in his admiration of others, he tells us about himself ... a late-life gift from the greatest living songwriter. These 66 songs may make a great Spotify playlist, but in the end the philosophy is not theirs but Dylan’s, and this book tangible evidence of the creative inspiration they provide him on a daily basis.
RaveWall Street JournalIt is Marley—with whom Mr. Blackwell felt a great personal affinity—who is at the emotional center of The Islander. Due to the book’s occasionally unchronological structure, the singer’s death from cancer in 1981 keeps coming up, as though it haunts Mr. Blackwell daily ... The Islander, among its many pleasures, doubles as a firsthand history of the development of Jamaican music ... The Islander offers a vivid series of John Aubrey-esque \'Brief Lives\' of Mr. Blackwell’s most notable artists. Far more has been said at far greater length elsewhere about Marley or, say, Martyn, but Mr. Blackwell’s sympathy for his subjects reveals unspoken truths we feel we might easily have intuited if only we’d listened to the music hard enough ... One is always sent scurrying back to the music: Grace Jones’s Warm Leatherette, a great-sounding record by any stretch, never sounded as magnificent as it did after reading Mr. Blackwell’s dissection of its production ... The Islander is more a professional biography than an intimate memoir. There are no children mentioned by name, and his wives’ designations are purely temporal.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe balancing act of major and minor, strung together by his witty, self-deprecating banter, is the crux of Mr. Thompson’s shows, and that same equipoise between dirge and ditty is the hallmark of Beeswing: It’s everything you’d hope a Richard Thompson autobiography would be, and nothing you’d fear. He is honest and opinionated, forthcoming about both his technique and creative process, but discreet ... Yet he can be bracing with regard to himself ... There are some memorable anecdotes and some quality jokes ... both major and minor, dirge and ditty, light on its feet but packing a punch: like the very best Richard Thompson show.
Phil Ochs, ed. by David Cohen
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt is [...] one of the chief joys of Mr. Cohen’s I’m Gonna Say It Now that we can concentrate instead on Ochs’s live-wire mind, his crackling satire and his off-the-cuff flights of fancy ... Some of Ochs’s essays deal with abstruse contemporary political subjects, and though it is the fate of all topical songs to become untopical, a few thoughtful annotations might have helped them jump a little more readily from the page in Mr. Cohen’s collection: Mr. Schumacher’s assiduously researched biography makes a handy companion volume. Mr. Cohen is frank enough to admit in his introduction that some of the essays are blunted \'due to limitations on the use of song lyrics\' and this is unfortunate ... All liner notes and many unpublished poems are included, and though later articles are less pressing [...] they all deserve their place ... It would be easy to say that we need a Phil Ochs now, but there are plenty of people flying the protest flag, many of whom haven’t found themselves troubled by Ochs’s own misgivings. Yet, watching events unfold in the late autumn of 2020, it was impossible not to be struck by how firmly Ochs grasped events he did not live to see...
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe cutthroat mentality of a band on the make is tactfully told. Mr. Hillman, a longtime Christian who understands that it’s all about motes and beams, is as discreet about other people’s bad choices as he is about his own, and Time Between gives him a chance to reflect, make amends and give thanks. Those wanting gorier details of Mr. Crosby’s shenanigans, Mr. Stills’s control-freakery or Parsons’s drug abuse should look elsewhere ... The final chapters—award ceremonies, tribute events—read a little like fleshed-out, chronological Wikipedia entries ... but elsewhere his straightforwardness serves him well. Who doesn’t trust a man who refers to his own contributions to a Byrds reunion album as \'lower-echelon mediocrity\'? And what could be better than being dropped from a record company because one’s \'pugilistic tendencies and general attitude are no longer welcome\'? Perhaps Mr. Hillman took Capitol Records’ accusation to heart; this charming memoir displays neither.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The short form is Brown’s strong suit so these post-biographies (or postcard biographies: chapters are divided into even smaller fragments) are mosaics, like a portrait made up of many photos ... The benefits of the approach are manifold: the short attention span is rewarded and much of the boring stuff may be omitted ... If Ma’am Darling was a royal biography for those who didn’t want to read one, then this intermittently brilliant commonplace book will certainly succeed on that same level for people exhibiting only the mildest symptoms of Beatlemania.
PanThe Wall Street JournalIn an electrifying scene, Mr. Frantz describes how his future lead singer read his first verse—\'I can’t seem to face up to the facts\'—and remarked that he wanted the bridge in another language to emphasize the psychotic mindset. Ms. Weymouth, a francophone, gets on that, as Mr. Frantz writes the other verses: boom! \'Psycho Killer\' First go! The reader settles back for more descriptions of such alchemy, but the book will not deliver ... In Remain in Love, Mr. Frantz’s tone is resolutely unpoetic, but an editor has let him down ... Remain in Love is possibly the most uxorious rock ’n’ roll memoir ever written ... I look forward to Ms. Weymouth’s book ... That’s the book we might want to read in 2020.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...excellent... [Doyle\'s] book is a welcome piece of historically informed criticism that situates the Kinks in their proper milieu—postwar, working-class North London—and their cultural moment: the British music explosion of the 1960s ... For a book that doesn’t once mention Brexit, The Kinks: Songs of the Semi-Detached demonstrates precisely how Britain arrived at the referendum of June 2016.
PanThe Wall Street JournalThough Mr. Bego claims to be a rock and roll \'purist\' his book has songs attached to the wrong album, songs attributed to the wrong songwriter and lyricists misidentified as songwriters...horrible typos...swaths of reviews quoted as if to fill a word count. Language seems alien to Mr. Bego...and his English is tortured ... It made me long for the sober detail of Philip Norman’s Sir Elton (2000).
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalGiven that we know everything that’s going to happen in Mr. John’s excellent memoir, Me, simply by virtue of having been alive, it’s a testament to almost completely unmentioned ghostwriter Alexis Petridis...that it remains so readable ... it doesn’t disappoint, mining a rich seam of salacious and self-deprecating anecdote, heady scandal, personal struggle and ultimate redemption, all delivered with a total lack of self-consciousness (he’s quite happy to tell us about surreptitiously relieving himself into an adult diaper onstage in 2017).
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[Coleman] has the knack of summing up a singer with an epigram that makes the listener thrill in agreement ... the fact that the book offers no overarching theory of anything besides Mr. Coleman’s taste and obsessions comes as a relief ... The comparison of asynchronous voices with similar intent of delivery and tonal quality proves to be a genuinely exciting approach. It transcends the moment and aims at the essential: This kind of glimpse is the Holy Greil (Marcus) of rock writing ... But Voices spends too much time clearing its throat, and much of the author’s connective material—whether it’s a monologue on his middle-class British accent or a lengthy Eddie Izzard-ish digression on how post-nuclear-holocaust ants might approach the playing of rock ’n’ roll records (seven pages on that)—feels like the workshopping of comedy routines ... But Mr. Coleman is right about so much ... every reader and listener is rewarded.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalSiren Song functions simultaneously as a memoir and a canny history of the music business from the frontier days to rock’s triumph as Big Business and its corporate subjugation to Big Brother. There are no surprises as to when Mr. Stein felt more at home (\'when music came before business\'), but there are heroes and villains throughout ... The worst thing about Siren Song—except that everyone from Manchester to Newcastle will be annoyed to learn that Sheffield is \'about as far north as you get before England becomes Scotland\'—may be the title’s pun. Mr. Stein always had a weakness for them, though.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalRobust, wry, gritty and wise to the vicissitudes of a career in rock ’n’ roll, it is just what the reader wants, marred only occasionally by stiff dialogue ... add to the mix a steel-trap memory and a muddled childhood—featuring two fathers, numerous gangsters, alcoholism and some diamond smuggling—and you have the makings of a Dickensian bildungsroman ... Here is by far the fullest first-person account of the early electric tours of [Bob] Dylan ... Occasionally one has the impression that Mr. Robertson is tiptoeing around awkward issues, always to the detriment of the book ... Generosity suits him, and whatever the truth, Testimony is a graceful epitaph.?
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe editorial decision to quote as few lyrics as possible results in some awkward paraphrase; a month-by-month structure requires lurching segues; and underpinning it all are the lists, the endless ratings ... Occasionally, though, illuminating wormholes do open, offering a glimpse of another dimension and a different sort of book ... I wish that, instead of approaching his task as presenting evidence for a questionable case, Mr. Hepworth had more fully explored his theme of nostalgia.