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Clip: Margasask's Music Book Roundup

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.chireader.com/hitsville/031114.html Post No Bills By Peter Margasak November 14, 2003 Music Book Roundup Each of the following recently released
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 14, 2003
      http://www.chireader.com/hitsville/031114.html

      Post No Bills
      By Peter Margasak
      November 14, 2003
      Music Book Roundup

      Each of the following recently released music books is informative and
      entertaining by turns, but only the first is an unqualified success.

      STOMP AND SWERVE: AMERICAN MUSIC GETS HOT, 1843-1924
      BY DAVID WONDRICH
      (A Cappella)
      In his appealingly irreverent new book David Wondrich (who writes about
      cocktails for Esquire) goes looking for the roots of the primordial
      American sound he calls hot music: music that combines a Celtic-derived
      foursquare stomp with the swerving melodic and rhythmic impulses (read:
      blue notes and syncopation) of Africa. Starting in the earliest days of the
      minstrel era (and confronting its utter racism head-on), he follows the
      intertwining of these two crucial elements in ragtime, march, and other
      idioms, and profiles pivotal figures. Most of these are white folks, from
      popular minstrels to John Philip Sousa himself, who (deliberately or
      unconsciously) stole ideas from blacks, but three African-Americans --
      vaudevillian Bert Williams, bandleader James Reese Europe, and composer and
      blues progenitor W.C. Handy -- emerge as heroes. Their hard-won crossover
      success in the white entertainment world made black contributions to
      popular music impossible to ignore, and paved the way for later black
      superstars, including Louis Armstrong.

      This sort of search for the origins of American music is hardly new, but
      Wondrich's gift is his ability to identify the incremental changes by which
      ancestral forms evolved into blues and jazz; his exuberance transforms all
      the research into a pop culture blast. The Archeophone label has also
      issued a fine companion CD.

      THE LATIN BEAT: THE RHYTHMS AND ROOTS OF LATIN MUSIC FROM BOSSA NOVA TO
      SALSA AND BEYOND
      BY ED MORALES
      (Da Capo)
      Ed Morales has written frequently and well in the Village Voice and
      elsewhere about the mainstream emergence of Latin pop performers -- Ricky
      Martin, Shakira, the Buena Vista Social Club -- but in this book he fails
      to place such developments in a coherent historical context. As he writes
      in the introduction, "Trying to define Latin music is like trying to define
      Latinos in the United States....There may be more styles and variations of
      being Latino than there are different Latin American countries."
      Unfortunately that awesome variety overwhelms Morales: his discussion of
      the advent of Afro-Caribbean music bogs down in stale, quasi-academic
      language, and he displays major gaps in his grasp of Portuguese-language
      material. His one-sentence remark on the development of Portugal's fado
      scene seems to equate the importance of newcomer Mariza (whose debut was in
      2001) with that of the late matriarch Amalia Rodrigues (who personified the
      genre for over half a century), and his chapter on Brazilian music is
      strewn with errors: he writes that Alcione, Clara Nunes, and Beth Carvalho
      were the country's most popular performers of the 50s, but none of them
      began recording before the mid-60s and all achieved their greatest fame in
      the 70s.

      The countless typos (Cypress Hill rapper B-Real's name appears as "Bread,"
      while "Thelonious" is misspelled more often than not) are distracting, but
      more problematic is the lack of continuity within each of the ten chapters.
      Though Morales is knowledgeable about his subject (Brazilian music aside),
      he makes little effort to connect the various performers within a genre,
      giving the book the feel of a laundry list.

      FINDING HER VOICE: WOMEN IN COUNTRY MUSIC, 1800-2000
      BY MARY A. BUFWACK AND ROBERT K. OERMANN
      (Vanderbilt University Press/Country Music Foundation Press)
      Originally published ten years ago but newly revised to include a chapter
      covering the 90s, this intensely researched 600-page book doesn't quite
      accomplish its goal of demonstrating how female country performers have
      reflected the experience of women in America, but it does a great job of
      creating a historical context for the music. The title is a bit misleading:
      country music didn't exist as such until after the advent of radio and the
      first "hillbilly" records of the 20s -- the first two chapters deal with
      the women who collected and preserved folk songs in the 1800s and with
      minstrel and vaudeville artists.

      The authors follow trends in the evolving country-music industry -- family
      groups, wild cowgirls, and wholesome innocents were the standard types in
      the 20s and 30s -- and uncover loads of fascinating information about
      well-known performers like the Carter Family and Patsy Montana. In the new
      chapter there's some insight into how the ascendance of Shania Twain
      affected decision making in Nashville, but for the most part the
      examination of the fractious 90s is limited to portraits of mainstream
      artists like Twain, Faith Hill, and the Dixie Chicks that don't go much
      past Behind the Music territory. The work functions best as a reference,
      collecting the stories of famous and forgotten acts in one handy book.

      THERE'S A GOD ON THE MIC: THE TRUE 50 GREATEST MCS
      BY KOOL MO DEE
      (Thunder's Mouth)
      Kool Mo (he used to spell it "Moe") Dee first emerged as a member of the
      Treacherous Three back in the early 80s, waxing some of old-school
      hip-hop's biggest hits ("Body Rock," "Feel the Heartbeat"), then reinvented
      himself as a solo act; he waged a famous multirecord battle against LL Cool
      J beginning with "How Ya Like Me Now" in 1987. By the early 90s he was more
      or less finished.

      Now Mo Dee's back to name his rap pantheon, assigning each MC numerical
      scores in 17 categories including vocabulary, versatility, flow, industry
      impact, and battle skills. He demonstrates some magnanimity, rating Cool J
      number seven, but places himself at number five. (There may be a little
      old-school bias here: Melle Mel, Rakim, and KRS-One come in at one, two,
      and three.) While Mo Dee was a fine rapper, as a writer he tends to ramble,
      and to call his descriptions repetitive is an understatement. (On the flow
      of Craig Mack: "His flow is incredible." On the flow of Lil' Kim:
      "Ridiculous. Incredible." Mystikal: "His flow is incredible." MC Lyte: "One
      of the more ridiculous flows in the game." Method Man: "Incredible." Busta
      Rhymes: "Stellar, incredible, ridiculous flows.") But there's no shortage
      here of facts, informed opinion, and good old hip-hop hubris.

      Send gripes, leads, and love letters to Peter Margasak at
      postnobills@....
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