Musical Musings | Performing Arts Reviews, Feb. 2019

For Christgau fans and anyone seeking thought-provoking musings on books and music;  anyone who lived through the 1970s—or cares to discover some of the best music of the decade—will find much to enjoy here

Christgau, Robert. Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading. Duke Univ. Pr. Apr. 2019. 416p. index. ISBN 9781478000112. $104.95; pap. ISBN 9781478000303. $28.95. MUSIC
Christgau (Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism) shares more than 90 in-depth book reviews and essays from his decades-long career as a music critic. Divided into themes covering music history, biography, fiction, culture, and politics, this collection examines the common threads the author finds running through each grouping. The section "From Blackface Minstrelsy to Track-and-Hook" offers a snapshot of music history through the lenses of books on wide-ranging topics: the roots of American popular music, Cuban musicians, Romani instrumentalists, and even earworms. "Fictions" includes a fascinating review of George Orwell’s 1984, originally published in the Village Voice in 1983. Finally, "Culture Meets Capital" explores politics and finance, which may seem odd coming from a rock critic, but Christgau points out that music has "tangled ties to capitalism" and that songs are influenced by the cultural landscapes in which they are created.
VERDICT For Christgau fans and anyone seeking thought-provoking musings on books and music.—Melissa Engleman, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin

Corbett, John. Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music. Univ. of Chicago. Mar. 2019. 400p. index. ISBN 9780226604732. $30. MUSIC
This work by Corbett (Vinyl Freak) starts slowly, and, as with the music he reviews, readers initially won’t be sure what exactly he’s got here. Memoir, musicological history, song reviews, social analysis? Actually, it’s all of these things and more, and just as a rich gumbo benefits from the perfect combination of diverse ingredients, so does Corbett’s analysis and so do the 1970s songs and performances he examines. The author places all of this firmly in the context of his own experience, and there’s a little more autobiography than might be strictly necessary, but he deftly balances youthful discovery and development with several decades of hindsight. Occasionally, he indulges in speculation and fan theory but effectively walks the line between fact and opinion, and it’s a tribute to his ability that one is always willing to hear him out. VERDICT Corbett is in the upper echelon of music criticism, and anyone who lived through this period—or cares to discover some of the best music of the decade—will find much to enjoy here.—Bill Baars, ­formerly of Lake Oswego P.L., OR

 


These reviews were originally published in Library Journal's February 2019 issue

LJ Reviews

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