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Listen to the Music

New books on jazz and blues, classic and punk rock

Aug. 16, 2016
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A Cole Porter Companion (University of Illinois Press), ed. by Don M. Randel, Matthew Shaftel and Susan Forscher Weiss

Cole Porter’s best songs achieved a perfect marriage of words and music, combining lyrical wit and sympathy with sophisticated harmonies, melodies and rhythms. The essays collected in A Cole Porter Companion get beyond the songwriter’s admittedly fascinating biography and engage directly with the music. Perhaps the most intriguing essay, by musicologist Joshua S. Walden, explores how Porter the world traveler absorbed influences along the way, including Caribbean rhythms in “Begin the Beguine,” Islamic chant in “Night and Day” and flamenco in “The Gypsy in Me,” melding them into the context of American popular song.

Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters (Chicago Review Press), ed. by Sean Egan

Musically, Fleetwood Mac’s most interesting albums were recorded before they became platinum sellers, but aside from a pair of 1967-1968 interviews with original guitarist Peter Green, editor Sean Egan begins his compilation of articles in 1976 as the band began to reach for superstardom. It’s an unfortunate gap, yet fans of the band’s Stevie Nicks-Lindsey Buckingham incarnation will find revealing contemporary accounts from the U.S. and U.K. press. The bulk of the book, however is devoted to interview articles post-Tusk, a period of continued steady sales but little artistic accomplishment. How about a Volume 2, thoroughly covering 1967-1974?

Led Zeppelin Day by Day (Backbeat), by Marc Roberty

Many silly things have been written about Led Zeppelin over the years and Marc Roberty aims to set the record straight. With Led Zeppelin Day by Day, the British rock writer recapitulates the band’s historical overview while adding copious detail, chronicling them day-by-day when possible and including excerpts of concert and other reviews. Critics, notably from Rolling Stone, were often unfavorable in the early years. For his part, Roberty shows an astute ear, describing, for example, how John Paul Jones’ purchase of a new bass in 1977 altered the band’s sound—for the worse. The coffee table-size book includes many photographs and concert poster reproductions. Among them: one from 1969 at the Fillmore West with Led Zeppelin sandwiched between Taj Mahal and headliner Country Joe and the Fish.

Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues (University of Minnesota Press), ed. by Paul Devlin

Novelist, essayist and raconteur, Albert Murray was an intellectual force in New York from the 1950s through his death in 2013. He wrote and talked of many things, but the African American experience was his focus, especially as manifested in jazz and blues, and was among those who sought to elevate jazz to classical music status without losing its ties to the rhythm of black life. Murray Talks Music collects transcribed interviews and discussions that range across music into the definition and purposes of art. Included are conversations between Murray and Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis. The best moments remain fascinating for their glimpses into an especially lucid mind.

Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press), ed. by John Doe and Tom DeSavia

Although Los Angeles was home to one of America’s greatest punk rock bands, X, and such roots-rock stalwarts as The Blasters and Los Lobos, some contributors to Under the Big Black Sun grouse that L.A.’s late-’70s scene hasn’t gotten its due. Under the Big Black Sun is a collection of short memoirs of scenesters such as Henry Rollins, X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka, The Blasters’ Dave Alvin, The Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin and others. Rollins, who came to the scene late (1981) after years of familiarity with records by L.A. bands, takes the long view. He arrived with the idea that this music was “the soundtrack for a scene that was going to tragically self-extinguish.” Crime was pervasive and everyone knew somebody who OD’d, yet the palpable danger inspired some of the best and the worst of the city’s bands.

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