December 2008

Face the music

By Jonathan Kellerman
By Marty Stuart
By Richard Carlin
By Charles R. Cross
By Paul Simon
By Oscar Hammerstein
Review by
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At the top of the holiday wish list for many music lovers is With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars by Jonathan Kellerman. Yes, it’s that Jonathan Kellerman, the best – selling suspense novelist, who also happens to be a foremost guitar collector. Gorgeous multi – view color photos of each of the 120 – plus guitars in Kellerman’s personal collection are the big draw here, but the author also provides marvelous rundowns of how he came to acquire each instrument and what is so special about its design and musical properties. There are acoustics and electrics of various shapes and sizes, brand names like Gibson, Martin, Fender and Rickenbacker, plus particularly rare instruments crafted by independent artisans, including a double – necked 17 – stringer. A foreword by former Police guitarist Andy Summers testifies to the jaw – dropping experience of viewing the Kellerman collection in person.

Roots music

Country star and longtime Grand Ole Opry member Marty Stuart has been hanging with legends since he was a teenager. During that time, Stuart has amassed a considerable collection of music – biz memorabilia, including his own on – the – road photographs and informal portraits, all of which are gathered in Country Music: The Masters. Stuart’s coverage of the greats and near – greats is comprehensive and often very candid, and even his blurred, snapped – on – the run photos have historic value. There are also pictures of elaborate costumes, tour buses, concert posters, song lyrics, instruments, album covers, etc. Perhaps best of all is Stuart’s gallery of gifted but generally little – known country music sidemen, whose talents have infused thousands of important recordings. The book’s cover shot of

Richard Carlin’s Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways tells of Folkways Records, which from 1948 to 1986 was the foremost source of seminal U.S. jazz, blues and folk recordings. Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and children’s entertainer Ella Jenkins were the label’s leading artists, but founder Moses Asch and his team of traveling producers also searched the world over to record African, Asian and island music; animals; the sounds of cities and rural areas; poetry and political events. Asch ran things on a shoestring from his Manhattan office, but he provided opportunity and freedom to writers, singers and instrumentalists and developed a treasured catalog, all of which was purchased by the Smithsonian in 1987. This remarkable volume features noteworthy black – and – white and color photos of the artists plus fascinating album – cover reproductions and catalog lists. It also includes a CD sampler of representative Folkways cuts.

A lifetime playlist

With a virtually impossible task before him, music writer Tom Moon set out to select 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener’s Life List. This all – styles wander through the greatest recorded music of all time finds Moon doing an honest job of trying to isolate the important artists and their work. His alphabetically arranged text is by artist, by composer (in the case of classical recordings), or by individual album title or song. In order to extend the coverage, Moon offers references to related important artists who don’t get a main entry. Hence, Burl Ives and Charles Ives sit side by side having made the grade, yet Moon can’t muster even a passing reference to the pop group The Four Seasons, whose incredible string of classic ’60s recordings certainly might earn a mention above the work of the Beau Brummels or sultry jazz/pop songstress Julie London. Meanwhile, the Smashing Pumpkins are only a footnote, which just seems wrong given the other contemporary groups who earned main entries. There’s probably too much Bart

Icons remembered

Already the author of a biography of Kurt Cobain – Heavier Than Heaven (2001) – Charles R. Cross now offers the late grunge rocker’s many fans Cobain Unseen, described as “a secret visual history of the things [Cobain] created and collected.” Cross’ text tends mostly to explore the youthful pain, obsessions, emotional difficulties and addictions that plagued Cobain but were also key motivators in the emergence of his powerful rebellious image and musical anthems. The book features many previously unseen Cobain family photographs plus reproductions of personal memorabilia including Cobain’s offbeat artwork, his informal writings and letters, song lyrics, early concert posters and samplings of the eccentric things he deemed collectible. The book includes an audio CD on which Cobain recites spoken-word material along with an interview with Cross about his research experience.

The Elvis Encyclopedia, by Adam Victor, is a valuable one – stop source of all things informational about The King. The A-to-Z reference covers seemingly every person, place and thing that touched Elvis’ eventful life, and it’s nothing if not exhaustive. There’s also a bevy of photos, many printed full-page, of Elvis onstage, in front of the movie camera or hobnobbing with family, friends and fans. Occasional typos creep into the text, yet Victor has certainly cast his net widely in search of rarely seen pictures, and on that nostalgic note alone his is a regal book – fit for a king.

The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey & Passions is yet another paean of praise to a huge musical figure. This colorful, well – illustrated hagiography is generally chronological, from Jones’ early life in Chicago and Seattle, through his growing career as a horn player for ensembles led by Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie, to his stint as producer of pop hits like Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” plus award-winning albums by Sinatra, Streisand and, of course, Michael Jackson (Thriller). The text also covers Jones’ work as a composer of TV and movie scores, plus his role as the mastermind behind “We Are the World.” Jones’ private life – three marriages, two notable affairs, seven children – is rarely discussed, but there is frank coverage of his life – threatening 1974 brain aneurysm and discussion of his humanitarian work. Big names provide the prefatory essays – Maya Angelou, Clint Eastwood and Bono – and Sidney Poitier’s afterword closes the book.

Hear my words

Paul Simon is one of America’s great popular songwriters of the past half century, and Lyrics 1964 – 2008 pays tribute by comprehensively collecting his songs, from the early days of Simon & Garfunkel (“The Sound of Silence”) through his solo period (“Kodachrome”) and on to his later ethnic experimentations (“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”). It’s a treasure trove for Simon’s legion of fans.

Grander still is The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, a stoutly elegant compilation of 850 of the theatrical master’s song lyrics, arranged chronologically from early efforts and revue contributions through his incredible collaborative output with composers such as Jerome Kern (Show Boat, etc.) and Richard Rodgers (Oklahoma!, etc.). The text offers cast lists for Hammerstein’s many Broadway musicals, along with revealing tidbits about show history, song origins and lyrics that were cut from opening night or went unused altogether. Of equal note are the wonderfully printed production stills from stage and movie versions of the Hammerstein oeuvre, sheet music covers and photos of Hammerstein himself, hanging with family members and his composer buddies.

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