Friday, March 23, 2012

Mixed Media

Once people find I'm a librarian and they use up their Dewey Decimal jokes, they tend ask me about books. Here's some of the stuff I've been reading/recommending lately. Not too interesting, I know, but I'm sure I'll have more awkward tales next week or so. Trust me, that well ain't running dry anytime soon.

"What It Is" – It’s always a treat to find a new George Pelecanos book, and this one sort of snuck in. I didn’t see any reviews, the library didn’t get a copy, and hell, his last book came out about six months ago so I didn’t really expect another new book for a while. “What it Is” brings back private investigator Derek Strange, I believe for the first time since “Hard Revolution,” the excellent book focused on the 1968 DC riots.  This time the year is 1972 (well, actually it’s 2012 and Strange is recounting a story in a bar) and DC ex-con Red Fury is determined to go out in a blaze of glory, hoping his exploits live on after him. Characters from previous books pop in now and then, muscle cars and funk music are discussed, and the final chapter, where Strange wraps up his story in a rainy bar to a skeptical friend, is one of the best examples of male friendship put on the page.

"The Cover Art of Studio One Records" - If you like books but wish there weren’t all those pesky words cluttering up the pages, this is for you. Another amazing book by Souljazz Records focusing on Studio One Records, the major recording studio in Jamaica. Covering all the way back from Calypso, and focusing on the dozens of great Jamaican pop music mutations, from ska, rocksteady, dub and roots reggae (along with a surprisingly large gospel section), this is a gorgeously reproduced sampling of album art. Some of the covers look hand drawn and colored, some were repurposed later (sort of like dub) and some had awesome photos, like this one:

Or this one:

I’m partial to the earlier ones, with guys wearing cool suits as opposed to track suits, but for record nerds or people who appreciate awesomeness, this will be flipped through constantly, just like their previous book “Freedom, Rhythm and Sound” which focused on free jazz, and featured more graphics with black fists, Egyptian symbols and skulls.

"Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers"
One of the best music books I’ve ever read. Brothers Charlie and Ira Louvin performed breathtaking harmonies as the Louvin Brothers. Offstage there wasn’t as much harmony. Co-writer Benjamin Whitmer wisely takes a backseat to Charlie Louvin, who tells stories about whiskey, fighting, mandolin smashing, country music, music in general, sex, Elvis, hard times, touring stories, Hank Williams, anger, brotherhood, and love. The book is basically chronological, with short chapters each based on a certain topic. If you grew up in the South, this will be like having an old relative sit you down and tell you stories. 

As for DVDs, lately I enjoyed "Thunder Soul," a great documentary on the Kashmere Stage Band, a Texas high school stage band whose bandleader/teacher Prof Johnson encouraged to play funk and soul, rather than the big-band influenced songs the other high school bands were playing. Soon they were winning national competitions, flying to Europe and inspiring a sense of pride in their school and themselves. The kids were amazing musicians – the stuff they were playing could easily stand up against the giants of ‘70s funk, and the records they put out would become highly prized among DJs and beatdiggers years later. Special points go to the documentary for not taking the easy way out – it would have been easy for them to show the other band’s performances as hopelessly square, but the filmmakers take the high road – there are clips for comparison, but the other kids were talented as well. They just weren’t as funky. The second part of the film focuses on a reunion show by the band for Prof around his 92nd birthday. I have a soft spot for old people, the concept of touching people without even knowing it (as anyone who’s been around me watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” over Christmas can tell you), and the idea that there are thousands of inspirational people around us every day, toiling in middle and working class jobs. If these happen to be your weaknesses, the final 20 minutes or so will have you sniffing like a little kid in a pollen storm. But not me, I took that stuff like a trooper.

 Music-wise, I'm old, so lots of reissues, including that Bitch Magnet 3 CD set. Got another one of the Thin Lizzy reissues, "Black Rose," which has some good slowed down versions on the extra disc. Waiting til payday to pick up the Feedtime boxset. A friend recommended Terry Malts "Killing Time" which he compared to Jesus and Mary Chain and the Ramones. Yep, sounds like that to me. Other than that I've been listening to Funkadelic over and over again. It keeps me happy.

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