Affectionate look at the primal music of the black South that too often reads like a college dissertation.
During the last few decades, the blues, one of only a handful of indigenous art forms in the United States, has been more appreciated in the U.K. than here at home. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who and even the Beatles lived a significant chunk of their musical lives as blues bands. So when it comes to attempting to cobble together a definitive history of Delta blues, who better than a Californian who migrated to London? Expat Hamilton (When I’m Bad, I’m Better: Mae West, Sex, and American Entertainment, 1995) certainly knows her stuff: She can wax nostalgic with authority and enthusiasm about everybody from the otherworldly Robert Johnson and effervescent Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter to jazz showman Fats Waller. But is that enough to make her sophomore effort an essential piece of blues literature? Almost. Despite the fact that Hamilton’s tome is a labor of love, her prose is a bit dry—especially frustrating considering her vibrant subject matter—and she relies too heavily on previously published sources. Since old-school blues has been dissected to death—Peter Guralnick did it first and did it better—she would have been better served injecting more of her own personality. But the author’s heart is in the right place, and her sincere love for the music shines through.
Useful bite-sized history suitable for the blues newbie.