What matters most about McTell is his music, and Gray’s solid book will lead readers there.

HAND ME MY TRAVELIN’ SHOES

IN SEARCH OF BLIND WILLIE MCTELL

Investigation of the great Georgia bluesman.

Since the British journalist and music researcher has mainly been known as a Bob Dylan authority (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, 2006, etc.), it’s natural that Gray would have more curiosity than many about Blind Willie McTell, whose artistry inspired the Dylan song of the same name. Though McTell never enjoyed a popular hit during his brief but rich life, his “Statesboro Blues” posthumously became a signature tune for fellow Georgians the Allman Brothers Band. Less a conventional biography than a mixture of history, travelogue and detective story, Gray paints an evocative portrait of an artist who defied blues stereotypes. He was an educated man whose musical training ranged from church to glee club. He found it so easy to get around that he would help direct other blind people, and he benefited from white patrons and audiences—though the author by no means minimizes the racism of the society in which McTell lived. It’s curious that Gray intends the book less for the blues fan than for “those who have never heard of him, and have no particular interest in that particular kind of old music,” since it’s hard to imagine casual readers wading through all the minutiae, half truths and dead-ends that the author encounters as he attempts to render the details of McTell’s life. Yet his recounting of his last years—when the diabetic artist, bereft after the death of his second wife, suffered a stroke that led to his hospitalization in a mental institution, where he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1959—has a poignancy that rewards all the research. After the book’s initial publication in the United Kingdom in 2007, Gray has continued to update.

What matters most about McTell is his music, and Gray’s solid book will lead readers there.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-55652-975-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

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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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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