The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience since the 1960s

Duke Univ. Aug. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781478009597. pap. $25.95. MUSIC
Ask any devotee of American popular music to define the genre soul, and chances are you’ll get an evasive answer masquerading as profound wisdom. In this scholarly look at classic soul, Lordi (English, Vanderbilt Univ.; Black Resonance) painstakingly tries to pin down the slippery genre, first by reminding readers what—contrary to popular belief—classic soul isn’t defined by: It’s not necessarily directly tied to the civil rights or Black Power movements, nor does it have to be overtly political. Plus, Lordi adds, it’s not all about guys strutting their stuff in matching outfits. Instead, the author asserts that women actually took the lead in shaping what she calls “the logic of soul,” the spirit of Black overcoming and resilience demonstrated through classic soul recordings and performances, many of which Lordi deconstructs in detail. Hallmarks of soul, she writes, include falsetto vocals, false endings, ad libs, and inventive cover versions that often “subsume” versions by other artists. She analyzes the work of classic soul artists such as Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Marvin Gaye and ends by comparing and contrasting postsoul artist including Beyoncé, Prince, and Flying Lotus.
VERDICT A strong choice for libraries supporting African American studies or popular American music programs.

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