Intriguing, slightly impersonal catalog of a soulful mastermind’s accomplishments.




An exploration of a musical polyglot.

Former Chicago Sun-Times music columnist and No Depression senior editor Sachs (American Country: Bluegrass, Honky-Tonk, and Crossover Sounds, 2012) views his subject as a low-profile yet indispensable innovator within a vital American idiom. As he writes, “the title ‘record producer’ can contain [Burnett] no more than ‘film director’ could contain Orson Welles.” The privacy-minded Burnett, while friendly with the author, declined to participate in a project that Sachs describes as a “critical appreciation of his extensive body of work as an artist and producer,” so he relies on research, earlier discussions, and interviews with collaborators. Burnett was born in 1948 in Fort Worth, Texas, raised by “happy-go-lucky types” who encouraged his passions. Upon graduating high school, he purchased a crude recording studio and helped make a “lost classic” LP of underground rock, confirming his “ambition and restless creativity.” After moving to Los Angeles, he was soon drafted into Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue; though he disliked the spotlight, the touring experience “instilled deep community values in Burnett.” He also became devoted to countercultural Christianity, explored in three 1970s albums with the Alpha Band, which won acclaim but not sales. Simultaneously, Burnett developed a reputation among aspiring musicians as a bold, exacting producer, which led to success in the 1980s for artists like Los Lobos, Peter Case, and the BoDeans. Burnett pursued collaborative relationships with iconoclasts like Sam Shepard and Elvis Costello, but periodic solo efforts underperformed. As he told Sachs about one acclaimed effort, “I was writing about self-deception and deceiving myself while I was doing it.” Burnett then transformed the popularity of film soundtracks through his work with the Coen Brothers, adding depth (and profitability) to their “surrealistic vision.” Sachs writes clearly and confidently about music production and the industry, and he ably captures the personalities and sometimes-contentious viewpoints of Burnett and his circle. However, the focus on Burnett’s role as a top-shelf producer makes the perspective feel slightly narrow.

Intriguing, slightly impersonal catalog of a soulful mastermind’s accomplishments.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4773-0377-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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