Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music

Duke Univ. May 2021. 568p. ISBN 9781478011941. $124.95;. MUSIC
It has been said that “where words fail, music speaks.” Yet critic Weisbard (American studies, Univ. of Alabama; Top 40 Democracy) makes a strong case that where music speaks, words fortify. This critical guide to the literature about American popular music (a broad category the author defines in his introduction) spans four centuries, from William Billings’s 1770 New-England-Psalm-Singer to Jay-Z’s 2010 memoir Decoded. The volume is a researched, albeit somewhat personalized historiography, where Weisbard expounds on the narratives of American music writing over time. His task, distilling the American music experience into under 600 pages, is ambitious, and his efforts to incorporate a broad range of titles are noteworthy and commendable. The author is thorough, yet one wonders if the historiography would have been further strengthened with additional contributors. Nevertheless, Weisbard’s expertise, passion, and knowledge are undeniable. This scholarly title will resonate less with casual readers than with music enthusiasts and academics. One hopes the text will inspire new generations of writers to contribute their own voices to the American music writing historiography—which would surely be something to sing about.
VERDICT For readers interested in music media or cultural scholarship.
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