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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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