Kirkus Star


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Despite the fact that Oliver in an Englishman and claims never to have visited those areas of the United States where the ""blues"" originated, he has done a uniquely satisfying book. A teacher and collector for many years, he approaches the blues not as an esoteric art form unrelated to the particular milieu, but has approached the subject, successfully, through examining the verses and themes in their historical and social context. The result is a documentary of Negro life in America, of how the ""slum-shocked urban"" or illiterate rural Negroes, subject to many forms of social pressure, came to develop the folk-art form known as the blues. Oliver does more than present the results of oppression of the as subjective factual phenomena; he relates this in detailed discussion of the references in blues lyrics of references to crime, sexual symbolism, voodoo and other cults that provide the ""mystique that affords the sensation of protection for the socially insecure"". Oliver goes on to say. In referring to the libidinousness that kept blues recording from widespread commercial distribution that ""The blues singer does not sing needlessly and his song is the medium by which he expresses what he intends to say"". Although this may often be a means of unburdening the heart... ""the blues singer seldom seeks the sympathy of his listeners and his songs are usually vigorous statements of fact rather than complaints as to his condition"". It is unlikely that an American with the background knowledge could have done a better book. This is as moving and powerful as the material it examines. Illustrated with historically interesting reproductions or advertisements for blues recordings, it contains an elaborate discography and an extensive bibliography.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1961
Publisher: Horizon