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Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

Will Hermes

(Faber & Faber)


Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
Will Hermes


While much has been written about the frenetic and revolutionary New York City music scene in the 1970s, Hermes’ book encapsulates its enormous scope better than most. From the final stages of the Greenwich Village folkie haunts to the early notes of hip-hop to the conglomeration and fusion of funk and Latin beats to the art rock and punk squall of the CBGB scene, Hermes captures it all. It helps that he was witness to many of the events chronicled, but instead of veering into personal history or nostalgia, the book serves as a historical guide and trustworthy document of a particularly happening time and place. With pages devoted to the politics, culture, and ethos of the locale and era, it teaches you about more than just the music. Most importantly, it’s a good read as you can feel the energy coming out of each page. Before too long you’ll find yourself seeking out the music from iTunes, YouTube, or should your tastes be refined, your old record collection. Jeff Strowe


 

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Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music

Alvin Lucier

(Wesleyan)


Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music
Alvin Lucier


Alvin Lucier has given us a remarkable gift with this volume, a work that, Robert Ashley writes in the foreword, “is a thorough, modern history of a particular group of composers and their work,” adding that the book “will solve many teachers’ problems about what ideas, what composers, and what compositions are important to understand from that history.” The volume begins in the ‘50s and closes somewhere around the ‘80s, Ashley notes. The great Harry Partch’s time had already passed but there were many other minds to be discovered and some that still beg to be discovered by a wider audience. The body of work he details is large enough to fire the reader’s imagination and soul for some long time to come. If the authorial voice is at times so simplistic that it seems to lull, that’s part of the book’s gentle charm. Lucier persuades you quietly with his point rather than bludgeoning you with the sturm und drangtechniques of a lesser writer and a lesser mind. Jedd Beaudoin


 

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My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords From 70 Legendary Musicians

Julia Crowe

(ECW)


My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords From 70 Legendary Musicians
Julia Crowe


Whether nestled in one’s arms like a baby, caressed like a lover, or wielded like a gun, a guitar is handy. First guitars, especially, carry an intimate, initiatory force. In My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords, classical guitarist/music journalist Julia Crowe interviews guitarists from different genres—blues, rock, flamenco, classical, jazz, punk—yet rather than the standard Q&A format, the book consists of seventy-plus extensive answers to one essential question: What was your first guitar? The book offers multiple tributaries, as each artist (Les Paul, Gary Lucas, Jimmy Page, plus many, many more) elaborates his or her answer into a sort of mini-biography or guitar-essay, resulting in a rich surplus of practical, emotional, even spiritual information along with the expected musical inspiration. There is even a glossary of redolent guitar terms like dampit, scordatura and purfling. As many first guitars are lost, broken and often stolen, the lesson to first-time owners is clear: Love your babies. Guy Crucianelli


 

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The One: The Life and Music of James Brown

RJ Smith

(Gotham)


The One: The Life and Music of James Brown
RJ Smith


RJ Smith’s The One is the first major biography of James Brown to cover his entire life, from his hardscrabble youth in ‘30s South Carolina to his death on Christmas Day 2006. Smith’s numerous interviews, prodigious research, close study of Brown’s music and performance, and pitch-perfect writing tone resulted in a work that is exhaustive, illuminating, and as fun a read as such tomes can be. “The one”, in James Brown lore, is the source of that which makes funk funky, and everybody knows by now that Brown more or less made funk a world onto itself. Specifically it’s the first beat in a measure, but “the one” is not so much a musicological place as it is a spiritual place, as the navigation of that beat is invested with age-old rhythms and nuances that end up propelling the rest of everything else—the tune, the band, the audience and Brown himself—into a strutting, rump-shaking beatitude. Smith illustrates how Brown’s background—a street-dancing kid whose artistic role models included a boxer and a charismatic preacher—led him to the essence of the one. Mark Reynolds


 

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Reinventing Bach

Paul Elie

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Reinventing Bach
Paul Elie


With Bach’s music in his pocket (presumably on an iPod), Paul Elie went straight from the train station in Berlin to a musical instruments museum that featured a Bach harpsichord. As a Bach lover, he was intrigued until he realized that while others admiring Pink Floyd’s synthesizer had really heard music on that instrument, no one knows what Bach’s playing actually sounded like. Thus begins a most unconventional Bach biography, interspersed with tales about a cadre of great performers, principally Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski and Glenn Gould, who reintroduced Bach’s work in the 20th century, from the start of the age of recording right up to the present. Elie’s performance is a tour de force, an elegantly written book of theme and variations carried out to the nth degree. For even for the casual classical music listener, Reinventing Bach is a dazzling read. Grace Lichtenstein


 

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Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown

David Menconi

(University of Texas Press)


Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown
David Menconi


Ryan Adams is now a bonafide rock star. He lives in L.A., is married to a movie star, and can sell out concert halls and performance spaces around the world. Back in the early to mid-‘90s though, he was a young, brash upstart from small town North Carolina who set out for the capital city of Raleigh with few possessions or connections, but many ideas and visions yearning to be heard and seen. Menconi, the long-time music critic for Raleigh’s News & Observer had a front row seat for Adams’ burgeoning career and recounts in vividly entertaining detail the long and winding road that propelled Adams to where he is today. While touching on Adams’ initial punk recordings and offering critique and analysis of his more recent solo work, the emphasis of the book is placed on Whiskeytown, the legendary alt-country outfit that Adams helmed throughout his tempestuous North Carolina years. During this time, Menconi was Adams’ sometime confidant, unofficial hype-man, and occasional sparring partner, which gives him ample credibility to tell the story of one of the era’s best bands. However, rather than relying chiefly on his own involvement, Menconi also did his journalistic duty for this book, drawing on interviews with countless participants of Adams’ then inner circle. Because of this approach, the resulting story is less a “fly on the wall” insider account and more a holistic account of the times. Additionally, Menconi also puts on his critical hat and offers a nearly song-by-song dissection of Whiskeytown’s work, making this book part biography, part appreciation, and part scholarly analysis. In any event, it’s a wildly entertaining read and a comprehensive rendering of one of Adams’ most fruitful periods. Jeff Strowe

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