A Yale professor of African American Studies argues that acclaimed Black entertainers have also been radical intellectuals, challenging the culture industry to catch up. Informed by the overlooked contributions of women who wrote about the blues, rock and pop, Brooks explores the contribution of Black women musicians from Bessie Smith to Beyoncé.
For a critic, there’s maybe nothing so central but also confounding as the question of taste—why we like what we like, and whether it’s something we decide for ourselves, based purely on our own freedom and idiosyncracies; or if our tastes can be shaped and even scripted, influenced by earnest argument, entrenched biases or cynical manipulation ... Brooks blurs and eventually explodes this binary ... Brooks traces all kinds of lines, finding unexpected points of connection ... Brooks is so fluent in both the jargon of the academy and the vernacular of music magazines that she slips comfortably between the two ... Her book is at its most generative when it’s doing this—inviting voices to talk to one another, seeing what different perspectives can offer, opening up new ways of looking and listening by tracing lineages and calling for more space. At the same time, Brooks can sometimes get trapped in the old power struggles of the canon wars ... For the most part, Liner Notes is playing its own deep layers and putting out a call for more.
... a rich reimagining of the archive as both concept and wellspring, specifically in the creation, performance, and reception of blues music by Black women ... An ambitious work of great complexity and depth. For scholars and interested readers, particularly in Black studies, but also music, anthropology, and archival studies.
A spirited study ... the author develops an engrossing and provocative secret history of Black artists developing their own modes of history and celebration ... Brooks writes with a scholar’s comprehensiveness, only occasionally overly fussy and digressive; her record-geek’s enthusiasm is explicit, and her book is a powerful corrective. A sui generis and essential work on Black music culture destined to launch future investigations.