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Rolling Stones GearRolling Stones Gear
Andy Babiuk & Greg Prevost (Backbeat)

Generally gear books are only ever going to appeal to instrument-spotters and musicians (I mean how many pictures of guitars can you look at without thinking, ‘ooh look another, slightly different, guitar!), so if you are after anecdotes and historical facts you’re not gonna start here right? Wrong, as this is a gear book with a difference. Yes there are reams and reams of beautifully shot pictures but whereas many a gear book begins and ends there Rolling Stones Gear is also a history lesson as told through the instruments used during their recording sessions and tour dates – covering every tour and studio session from 1962 to very recently and every song recorded by the band (including demos and outtakes). Exhaustively researched RSG is a whopping (and whopping is not an exaggeration this bugger is heavy), great tome that will appeal to everyone from real hardcore fans to the people who only own a few ‘best of…’ collections – and of course gear heads who will get all of a dither about the Harmony Amplifiers, Reslo Microphones, StratoTone guitars etc. Apparently some ten years in the making (and it shows) this really would be a hugely worthy addition to any Rolling Stones library.
The Oracle

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The Fifth BeatleThe Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson & Kyle Baker (Dark Horse)

Nowadays of course there are any number of graphic novels about rock musicians out there (mostly fawning hagiographies or poorly rendered PR biog rehashes), less so about the back room boys, and even less so genuine attempts to use the medium to retell a well known story in a thought provoking and entertaining way, and yes there have been complaints of inaccuracies but what is the point of retelling a story unless you have some new insights to offer up? There is some artistic licence taken but this is nonetheless the story of Brian Epstein, the man who ensured that The Beatles made it beyond the club scene in Liverpool but then struggled to parlay the huge success he helped create into a happy, fulfilled life for himself ultimately dying alone, depressed and idiotically young (just thirty-two). Vivek J. Tiwary’s storyline, beautifully rendered by Andrew C Robinson, parallels the rise of the band alongside the fall of Epstein, struggling to overcome family expectations, anti-Semitism and being homosexual at a time when you could wind up in jail for simply fancying someone – all things he began to use prescription drugs to try and overcome – and is a genuinely worthy addition to the best moments in the huge pile of Beatle literature already in existence.
Ray Harper

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UFOHigh Stakes & Dangerous Men - The UFO Story
Neil Daniels (Soundcheck Books)

Just why is it, this book asks (more than once), that UFO failed to scale the heights of some of their ‘70s rock peers? In short that would be due to main-man Phil Mogg who, when he is not being obnoxious, falling out with band mates, taking eons to write lyrics that wouldn’t really trouble most sixth form adolescent boys, or falling off-stage bladdered and breaking limbs, is really not up to the job of 'main man'. In fact it becomes pretty apparent very early on that if Mogg is the band leader he is leading the band badly astray (although to be fair Michael Schenker seems to be just as unreliable, and loveable sidekick Pete Way is generally too monged off his face to pick up the reins). The rock world is full of fuck-ups but the Who would never have survived if it had been up to Keith Moon and sadly UFO was pretty much all Keith Moons (later notable exceptions try and fail to steer Mogg). Occasionally Daniel’s prose is somewhat clunky (and a good proof reader would have wheedled out the repetitions and contradictions), but on the whole this is a readable book about a car crash of a band who made a few great albums and a whole lot of average ones.
The Oracle

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Status QuoStatus Quo: Still Doin' It: The Official Updated Edition
(Omnibus Press)

Used as a companion piece to the 2012 Hello Quo documentary this whopping great coffee table tome contains pretty much everything you will ever need to know about Status Quo. It is exhaustive and loaded with info and pictures (many from the bands personal archives) taken between 1966 and 2013, plus hundreds of photos of rare memorabilia all compiled by road manager and long term associate Bob Young and edited by Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt. Fans tend to fall into two camps, those that think nothing much worthwhile has happened in camp Quo since before 1980 and those that have happily stayed the course through Coronation Street appearances, MOR songs and an abysmal feature film (Bula Quo), but regardless of your position any fan of the band will find plenty to enjoy herein. Originally released five or six years ago it has now been updated to include the classic line-ups’ recent reformation – lovingly referred to as the Frantic Four by the faithful (that would be Rossi, Parfitt, John Coghlan and Alan Lancaster) – despite Rossi’s absolute insistence that it would never happen, and what has transpired more recently, including some genuinely good new ‘proper rock’ songs on 2011 album Quid Pro Quo.
The Oracle

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A Wizard, A True StarBastard Bunny: Things Ain’t What They Used To Be
Dave Anderson & David Lopez Retamero (Cool Floor)

If, like several old lags here, you remember the early ‘90s (and don’t get me started on the old duffers who remember the early ‘70s), then you will doubtless be acquainted with ‘the coolest, club-going, psychotic rabbit in the world’. Yup, we’re talking Bastard Bunny who not only featured in both the NME (cries of ‘he was no Lone Groover' from the duffers), and the sadly defunct Deadline (alongside the mighty Tank Girl no less) but could often be found at Sabresonic hanging out with Andy Weatherall and necking e’s. For the uninitiated BB was basically your run of the mill violent, alcoholic, misogynist drug-hoover and if you didn’t like him you were too old. Fast forward fifteen years and sadly for BB he is also now too old (he’s even got a blog ferchrisakes), he’s also put on a few pounds, and whilst he’s still a 'ne’r do wel'l of the first water, he’s no longer a happy bunny having morphed into a sort of Sylvilagus Bastardos version of Alf Garnett, happily for us he’s no less funny and this collection will delight old BB fans. If you’re new to the Bun we suggest you also track down Don't You Know Who I am?! Oh Yus!
The Oracle

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The Vicar Chronicles The Vicar Chronicles
Punk Sanderson (TheVicar Ltd)

Visitors to Robert Fripp’s (DGM) website will already be aware of the coruscating wit of their resident ego-pricking bon viveur, the mysterious and enigmatic Vicar (and if you are scratching your head pop along to www.thevicar.com and enlighten yourself). But were you aware that the man had turned his talents to authorship? Well in truth it’s his studio sidekick Punk Sanderson who has put pen to paper (a bit like Dr. Watson) regaling the reader with the first two Vicar chronicles ‘The Mysterious Case of Billy's G String’ and ‘The Absurd Nonsense of the Orange Eyebrow’ a brace of comic adventures set in the murky world of the music business. Obviously, like the Gorillaz, this is all so much flim flam and the Vicar is a construct but only a churl would bother revealing the constructer as, like the Gorillaz, this is very nicely done and is a genuinely amusing book - and for those of you that can’t really get on with all those long words without some colourful pictures to break up the boredom 'The Mysterious Case of Billy's G String' is also available as a new fangled graphic novel. Oh and incidentally completing a positive blitzkrieg of Vicar related products there is also an album entitled Songbook No. 1 (more here).
The Oracle

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Hendrix/Kiss FAQJimi Hendrix/Kiss FAQ Gary J. Jucha/Dale Sherman (Backbeat)

If you’re reading this then it’s a pretty fair bet that you can A; read, and B; love music which makes you exactly the sort of person who will find this series of books great additions to your music library. Best kept for dipping into (I found them good for bite sized toilet reading), of course whether you will want both will depend very much on your feelings about the artists in question. As you might imagine the Kiss book, alongside the usual album and gig lists, addresses itself – much like the band themselves – to the dafter and more over the top end of the market and is therefore probably only for fans (and no, Gene Simmons did not have his tongue replaced with a cows tongue, surely even huge Kiss fan Peter Griffin didn’t ever believe that one?) The Hendrix book however is far more likely to appeal to the average rock fan as it reads more like a bullet point biography with enough ‘well I didn’t know that...’ moments to keep most hardcore fans happy. You can also find FAQ’s on Black Sabbath, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, U2, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin and more .
The Oracle

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Reaching Out With No HandsReaching Out With No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono
Lisa Carver (Backbeat)

It’s worth introducing you to the writer of this small but highly readable tome as Lisa Crystal Carver has had her own career as a performance artist and as part of confrontational underground outfit Suckdog (with noise merchant Jean-Louis Costes). She is also the writer who helped introduce the world to the questionable joys of Vaginal Davis, Nick Zedd and GG Allin, so something of a mixed blessing there then, the point being that Lisa is clearly an open minded sort which is exactly what makes this book so readable. The author makes no attempt to make this anything other than a highly personal look at Ono’s work from her days with the Fluxus group, pop art happenings like having her clothes cut off, experimental films, books chock full of gnomic utterances, later conceptual art pieces and of course her recording career which has drawn praise from many other artists and, largely, ridicule from the general public who persist in holding her responsible for buggering up the Beatles. What the book expertly lays bare is that Ono has had, and still gets, a particularly tough ride from the general public, and whilst she still occasionally does shoot herself in the foot it’s really about time that the world cut her some slack.
The Oracle

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The Best Jobs in the Music IndustryThe Best Jobs in the Music Industry
Michael Redman (Hal Leonard)

OK, so you fancy a job in the music industry but whenever you pick up a guitar or prod away at a keyboard it sounds like you’re wearing boxing gloves. You also have less rhythm than a drunk falling down stairs and have been banned from every karaoke bar in your local area, in short you have no musical ability whatsoever (and you can’t even dance like Bez). Then you could do far worse than pick up a copy of Michael Redman’s Best Jobs in the Music Industry which is basically a career guide for those who wish to explore other areas of the music industry. Each section offers up a short helpful summary so you can decide whether this might be something you want to explore further before the book gets down to talking with people who actually do the job for a living including Lee Sklar (sessions and touring), Damon Tedesco (scoring mixer), Brian Felsen (CEO CD Baby), Louis Clark (MTV/VH1 Music Supervisor), David Newman (composer), Conrad Pope (orchestrator), Todd Rundgren (musician), Gary Calamar (music supervisor), Mark Bright (producer) and Scott Mathews (producer). Occasionally a little US centric this book nonetheless offers some genuine insights into securing a career in the music industry.
The Oracle

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The Complete Illustrated LyricsQueen
The Complete Illustrated Lyrics (Backbeat Books)

Chances are, having seen the title of this book, you already have a vague idea of what you will find nestled inside the covers, yup, that’s right, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Queen - 170 million album sales worldwide, 18 number one hits, 700 concerts, need I go on? Unlike most world straddling behemoths however all four members wrote, not only wrote in fact, wrote chart toppers like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Freddie Mercury), ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ (John Deacon), ‘A Kind of Magic’ (Roger Taylor), and ‘We Will Rock You’ (Brian May). The numerous images that accompany the lyrics range from handwritten lyrics sheets, and rare photographs to live shots and video stills. There is also a complete discography tracing each song to the album from which it was lifted and forewords by both Brian May and Roger Taylor. Designed by the band's creative director Richard Gray, this delightful coffee table worrying brick of a book, is exactly the sort of tome any long term Queen fan would be delighted to own and, like the recent Iron Maiden book (see below), is exactly why the Kindle, as fine an invention as it is, will never entirely take over from the printed page.
The Oracle

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The True Adventures of the Rolling StonesThe True Adventures of the Rolling Stones
Stanley Booth (Canongate)

Considered by many to be one of the finest pieces of writing about rock ‘n’ roll ever Stanley Booth, through a mixture of good luck and smart judgement, found himself in the eye of the storm that was the Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. tour which, as we all now know, ended with the murder of Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel security, an action (and concert), cited by many a writer as the end of the peace and love generation of the ‘60s. The Altamont concert itself is handled very well, the sense of tension and violence palpable, but it is the lead up to the show, in particular Booth’s constant thrust and parry with others in the Stones ramshackle entourage to secure the rights to write and publish his book, that really make this story come to life, the Stones themselves coming across variously as Friendly (Watts and Richards), distant (Wyman), out of their depth (Mick Taylor) by turns charming and scheming (Jagger) and a genuine music obsessive and fatally flawed human being (Brian Jones – taken from Booth’s initial meetings with the Stones several years earlier during their drug related court appearances in the UK). So is this as good as we have been led to believe? Yes, yes it is.
The Oracle

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Fear Of MusicFear Of Music
Jonathan Lethem (Continuum)

And once again we return to the 33 1/3 series (a series of which we are very fond) wherein a writer, in this case Jonathan Lethem, delivers a pocket sized 30,000 to 40,000 word summation of a classic album. And let me just say up front I did enjoy this look at the Talking Heads Fear Of Music (albeit a contentious choice for the best Talking Heads album), but be warned, this is not an easy read. Here’s an example of what you will find herein. ‘A Fan’s romance with the notion of a band as a gestalt creative entity weirdly both extends and reverses the Romantic-Modernist ideal of the individual creator as possessor of a Promethean imperative.’ Phew, and indeed blimey! It is also at least one chapter too long (specifically the chapter entitled Is Fear Of Music A Science Fiction Record?), but I reiterate I did enjoy this book as it made me think again what it was I actually liked about the album which is surely exactly what it is supposed to do. Definitely one for the Talking Heads fan who doesn’t mind occasionally having their head slammed between a rock and a thesaurus.
The Oracle

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Entertain UsEntertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana
Gillian G. Gaar (Jawbone Books)

One thing you won’t find a lack of on the virtual shelves in Amazon (or actual shelves if you still visit bookshops, in which case 'good on yer'), are tomes on Nirvana. Fat, thin, well researched, chucked off, very good and just plain bad Kurt and Co. have no shortage of chroniclers. So what, if anything does Ms Gaar bring to the whole unholy shebang that would persuade you to part with your hard earned? Well for a kick off she is well aware that Nirvana existed long before the release of Nevermind, indeed without what went before, what came later is pretty much redundant, so first album Bleach is pored over in fine detail, as are the revolving cast of drummers and many, if not most, of the key players are quizzed as Gaar burrows around, digging out every choice nugget of information, every tiny little clue into what would make a ramshackle punk outfit into world conquering rock gods and then lead to the subsequent swan-dive into oblivion Cobain would finally choose over fame and fortune. Occasionally the detail is a little too fine, but to complain of too much information is churlish, and overall this is a very fine read, and highly recommended.
Ruby Palmer

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The Ultimate Unauthorized History Of The BeastIron Maiden
The Ultimate Unauthorized History Of The Beast - Neil Daniels (Jawbone Press)

There’s been much talk of late about whether or not Kindle (the proprietary Amazon e-reader) and it’s brothers and sisters at the forefront of the digital reading revolution - Pandigital, Hanvon and Sony Readers etc. – will ensure that books and magazines go the way of CD’s, to which the only sane response is try reading this new Iron Maiden tome on a kindle. I’m sure it’s possible but there’s no way you’re going to get the same sort of tactile pleasure you get from hoisting this whacking great big lump onto the table and just flicking idly through the reams and reams of pics and info on offer. Will Kindle offer you a die-cut faux metal studded cover created by Derek Riggs, the man behind Iron Maiden's iconic mascot, Eddie? It will not. Will it do justice to the cherry picked double-page spread live shots? Nope. Will you pore happily over pages of live date info, T shirt designs, badges and laminate back stage passes? Of course not (although probably only a real fan will be doing that anyway). The only way to read this book is to get the hulking great physical copy and if you love Iron Maiden then you really, really do need Neil Daniels’ exhaustively researched and frankly rather beautifully presented book.
The Oracle

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The Beatles: Yellow SubmarineThe Beatles: Yellow Submarine
(Walker Publishing)

Released to coincide with the re-release of the animated movie Yellow Submarine this cracking little item will appeal to both children who like a good colourful story and adults who still remember seeing the film the first time around, in fact what better way to introduce your kids to the Beatles than with a bedtime story about John, Paul, George, Ringo and Captain Fred (not forgetting Jeremy Hilary Boob PhD of course the Blue Meanies), and then play ‘em the soundtrack. It’s often the case that this sort of merchandising is thrown together with a fast buck in mind and little else but Yellow Submarine the book remains true to both the storyline and the animation of the original film, Fiona Andreanelli’s design based around Heinz Edelmann’s artwork is beautifully realised and Charlie Gardners adaption of the screenplay just perfect for fans both old and young, in fact it’s just plain delightful – and caused something of a contretemps in the office as to who got to take it home. So, are you tucked in? Ok, here we go. ‘Far Away, 80,000 leagues below the sea, lies a colourful land of song and laughter… Pepperland’. Go on you know you want to...
Ray Harper

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100100
Bill Drummond
(Penkiln Burn)

Bill Drummond’s love of a numbered book title continues apace with his latest magnificent octopus (© Baldrick: Black Adder), 100 – he has also penned 45, The 17 and $20,000. Described as ‘an experiment in making the interview process part of the art’, 100 is simplicity itself and finds Drummond being interviewed by 25 people, all of whom ask him four questions, the only criteria being they must be questions he has never been asked before. Now for people who believe Drummond to be a Malcolm McLaren style prankster, and certainly burning a million quid, dumping a dead sheep at the Brits and getting Tammy Wynette to sing about ice cream vans lend credence to this theory, then the response will doubtless be meh! However seasoned Bill watchers who thoroughly enjoy his arty antics (including chopping up existing artwork and selling on the bits, baking cakes and making soup and then giving them to unsuspecting strangers specified by lines or circles on a map or knocking up wooden beds in fields) will find this yet another highly worthwhile, thought provoking and occasionally very funny read. Rather like the late great Ivor Cutler Bill Drummond is a very singular chap, and frankly we need more like him.
The Oracle

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The Man With The Golden EarDon Kirshner: The Man With The Golden Ear
Rich Podolsky (Hal Leonard)

The first thing to say about Don Kirshner: The Man With The Golden Ear is that even if you only have a passing interest in pop music you will want to read this, ostensibly dealing with the short period between 1958 and 1964 when Kirshner, and Al Nevin’s, Aldon Music was responsible for publishing some of the most brilliant pop songs ever written – ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’’, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ being just three. The second thing to say is that the subtitle ‘How He (Kirshner), Changed The Face Of Rock And Roll’ sets out author Rich Podolsky’s stall, wherein we are encouraged to believe that Kirshner was a far more important character than he actually was, his initial youthful enthusiasm for young songwriters like Neil Sedaka, Carol King and Barry Mann gradually being overtaken by a rampant ego that ensured his genuinely groundbreaking years were actually very few and when Podolsky complains that few of his early discoveries where there for him at the end he does so whilst glossing over the rather shabby way Kirshner finally treated most of his writers as well as his high handed handling of the Monkees which ultimately got him fired. So, take the latter half of the book with a pinch of salt but the first two thirds are flat out fascinating.
The Oracle

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You're Living All Over MeDinosaur Jr.'s You're Living All Over Me
Nick Attfield (Continuum)

As regular readers will already be aware we are very fond of these little 30,000 to 40,000 word summations of a classic album and you’ve got to admire Nick Attfield’s commitment to his subject matter here as most people in his position with no access to song lyrics would probably write the idea off as a non-starter and move onto something else – not that he didn’t try and get some background on the lyrics you understand, it’s just notoriously lugubrious slacker and Dinosaur JR’s frontman and chief wordsmith J Mascis simply ain’t saying, that’s even if he actually remembers himself. In consequence the albums lyrical analysis can best be described as, erm, inspired guesswork the rest however comes from a great deal of determined digging and offers a fascinating glimpse into the dysfunctional world of Dinosaur Jr. where nobody talks to anyone else, resentment grows to alarming proportions and some avowedly non-post-punk/hardcore guitar solos and ‘couldn’t give a toss’ vocals are draped all over what can best be described as under-produced sludge-metal and which, despite sounding like a dogs dinner of lunatic ideas, still succeeds in being a genuinely tremendous album. Definitely one to add to the essential 33 1/3 publications to date.
The Oracle

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Won't Get Fooled AgainWon't Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse To Quadrophenia
Richie Unterberger (Jawbone Books)

Although this is flagged as a book about the Who in reality the vast majority of this is about Pete Townshend and his total inability to keep his gob shut, announcing new projects left right and centre before spectacularly failing to deliver the promised results. Often cited as visionary Pete Townshend is in fact a workaholic who often has trouble choosing between classic (and he has penned some classic songs) and crap material and insists on loading everything into overarching and tenuously linked ‘themes’ which closer examination reveal to be utterly spurious – I mean have you ever actually studied the back-story toTommy? If not, don’t, it’s drivel, as indeed was the lost multi-media project Lifehouse and even the vaguely coherent Quadrophenia only ever made any sense when film director Franc Roddam took huge liberties in an effort to make it filmable. But fear not Who fans Richie Unterberger certainly doesn’t subscribe to the above opinion, he does however offer a balanced and well researched look at this highly volatile period in the Who’s career as Townshend struggled with his muse, Daltry belted people, Moon went off the rails and Entwhistle plodded on regardless.
The Oracle

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The Ten Rules of Rock and RollThe Ten Rules of Rock and Roll: Collected Music Writings 2005-11
Robert Forster (Jawbone)

The title, or the first part of it at least, may lead you to believe that this is a tome to file beside Bill Drummond’s The Manual: How to Have a Number One Hit the Easy Way, however although there is indeed a short ten rule list you really need to skip to the titles small print to find the major ingredients on offer here as this is a collection of Forster’s articles for Australian magazine The Monthly and, rather irritatingly for those of us that only have the single string to our bow (I for one have never had a hit record of any description), the bugger is actually rather good at it. What makes this even more readable is Forster’s extremely open minded worldview wherein Nana Mouskouri is equally as worthy of investigation as The Saints and when he reels off intelligent and well researched links between The Gun Club and White Stripes in his Bonnie Prince Billy piece you know that you are in the company of a genuine, full time, music fan. Add to this musings on his sadly deceased partner in the Go-Betweens Grant McLennan and you have a very readable collection indeed.
Ray Harper

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Paradoxical Undressing Paradoxical Undressing
Kristin Hersh (Atlantic)

If history is written by the victors, then it’s a pretty fair bet that autobiographies are written by people who want you to know their version of history, and in many a case that history is based almost entirely on memory (not the most reliable of a musicians senses). Kristin Hersh bypasses that particular problem by basing her memoirs on a year’s worth of diary entries made when her band, Throwing Muses, were on the cusp of a breakthrough. So far so straightforward, however this being Kristin Hersh Paradoxical Undressing also deals with the disturbing onset of her bipolar disorder and includes a huge and entertaining cast of artists, musos, nutters, friends, family and university study mate Betty Hutton (star of Annie Get Your Gun amongst other classic old films). This really is a cut above the usual ‘and then I did this’ guff with Hersh giving over swathes of the narrative to peripheral characters ensuring that the reader get’s a real sense of place and time. Brutally honest, funny, thought provoking and hugely entertaining, Kristin Hersh has written one of the great musician autobiographies and as if that wasn’t enough readers get access to four sets of Throwing Muses downloads.
The Oracle

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Like MeLike Me: Confessions Of A Heartland Country Singer
Chely Wright (Hal Leonard)

If there are two places in the world you really, really don’t wanna be gay it’s Jamaica and Nashville, being gay in Trenchtown could earn you a bullet in the head and can you name just one gay country and western star? Can’t do it can you? I certainly couldn’t until I discovered the divine Ms Wright. Not that I knew the first thing about her or her music until now and, although I’m willing to bet very few people in the UK will have heard of her either, do not let this put you off checking out this fascinating book about a deeply religious country and western starlet who up until now remained firmly in the closet, for obvious reasons, but has finally decided enough is enough (seems the bravest C&W stars are always women, Google the Dixie Chicks anti-war farrago). Whether or not this book will send you scurrying off to track down her albums probably depends on your musical bent (ha!) but even if you couldn’t care less about country music Like Me will leave you doing just that, now we wait and see if anyone else has the guts to stick their hands up (don't hold your breath).
The Oracle

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The Resurrection Of Johnny CashThe Resurrection Of Johnny Cash
Graeme Thompson (Jawbone Press)

It’s remarkable fact, but nonetheless true, that in 1993 Johnny Cash could be found playing at a Butlins holiday camp in Bognor Regis (a venue whose forthcoming attractions could boast such luminaries as Timmy Mallet and The Krankies), the legendary man in black playing the soul destroying, chicken-in-a-basket family entertainment cabaret circuit without a record deal to his name. Of course even the staunchest fan will admit the Cash back catalogue is liberally dotted with some dreadful clunkers, and he himself was not beyond making some hideously bad career decisions but it still seems beyond comprehension that such an iconic performer could be found in such reduced circumstances. Enter Rick Rubin, the man behind the book’s subtitle, ‘Hurt, Redemption and American Recordings’ and, within a year, we find a reinvigorated Cash rediscovering his muse, although obviously there is a good deal more to it than that as Graeme Thomson skilfully and entertainingly reveals. Whether you are a fan or not this is a rattling good read, but for those of us that count the American Recordings amongst the finest in our collections (and may well already own the odd Cash biog) it’s pretty much indispensible.
Ray Harper

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Eternal DescentEternal Descent
(IDW Publishing)

Wasn’t sure what to make of this when it arrived, as my graphic novel tastes tend more towards Love And Rockets or The Invisibles (although I’m not averse to a little Punisher Max and pretty much anything by Alan Moore) and this is sat squarely in X-Force territory, but in fairness this isn’t aimed at an old codger like me. Briefly the plot revolves around the battle between the demonic Loki and heavy metal fallen angel Syrian over the scantily clad sex interest Lyra all wielding guitar based weaponry and featuring cameo’s by real metal guitar types Doc Coyle, Gus G and Wayne Static. The musical links extend much further – Author Llexi Leon has also released two Eternal Descent albums and Japan’s ESP Guitars also boast three signature Eternal Descent models (more here) and the graphic novel even comes complete with a natty cover-mounted plectrum. So if your musical tastes run to the high speed grunt-core metal end of the market and the likes of Shadows Fall, Atreyu, Static X, Firewind and God Forbid – all of whom crop up here, although the emphasis is mainly on the guitarists – and you like your artwork on the gothic, sinewy muscular (or buxom) superhero side then you will probably love this.
The Oracle

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The Complete History of Guitar World/The Stratocaster Guitar BookThe Complete History of Guitar World/The Stratocaster Guitar Book (Backbeat)

One of the things that Backbeat do very well is gear-porn, not people doing horrible things with guitar necks you understand but the artfully shot picture of a well rounded instrument is something they have been doing for years. Of course there is text involved here, but in the case of The Stratocaster Guitar Book (which, unsurprisingly details the complete story of the Stratocaster and the Fender company) the copy is definitely secondary to the pics, and if you love your strats then you will be in Fender heaven here as this is chock full of everything from old classics to, erm, retro copies of old classics. The Complete History of Guitar World however does actually spend as much time on the words as the pics and, as artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton have all sat down with Guitar World magazine over the years, the full transcripts of these interviews make for some fascinating reading and, once again, the design is magnificently handled. So, not perhaps for everyone but both of these coffee table sized tomes would go down a storm with any guitar lovers in your life.
The Oracle

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 James Yorkston It’s Lovely to Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent
James Yorkston (Domino Press)

If Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx’s recently-published diaries depicted a life in the music industry led at the very highest peak of unrestrained debauchery, James Yorkston’s own collection hails from the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, where the greatest excess on show is likely to involve a vegan-friendly snack and a smidgen too much of single malt. Closely identified with Fife-based folk movement the Fence Collective, Yorkston has numerous critically-lauded solo albums to his name, but that hasn’t exactly garnered him entrance to the touring super-league. Instead, he finds himself travelling long distances across Europe to play to small-ish crowds for often paltry rewards. This could easily lead to bitterness as well as exasperation, but only the latter is in evidence in this gently humorous sortie through a musical life led on the lower rungs of success. The truth of the old adage which suggests that the many tiny nightmares of the day – travelling setbacks, checking into dodgy hotels, resolving technical glitches – are offset by the pleasure of the 90 minutes on stage is proven over and over again here by Yorkston, whose love of the act of playing live is never in any doubt.
Ray Harper

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Seasons They ChangeSeasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk
Jeanette Leech (Jawbone Press)

You might imagine, if you have recently read the really rather excellent Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music by Rob Young that not a great deal is left to be said on the subject of psychedelic folk music but oddly enough you would be wrong. Not that psychedelic folk was any sort of recognisable genre at the time, acoustic-based avant-garde music has only really been recognised as such in retrospect after the emergence of acts like Devendra Banhart, Six Organs Of Admittance and Joanna Newsom who then pointed us back to Vashti Bunyan, Pearls Before Swine and Comus, indeed anyone intending to make a career from such folky weirdness soon discovered that such would not be the case, in fact aside from the Incredible String Band this really was the scene that never was (or at least never earned much). Like Electric Eden this is an extremely well-researched tome Leech tracking down and speaking to many of the artists included, with artists as diverse as Circulus, Holderlins Traum, Stone Breath and many, many more, they're all here (although no mention of Faun Fables), and Leech's accompanying Spotify playlist is an invaluable resource which will, sadly, probably end up effecting your bank balance.
The Oracle

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Becoming ElektraBecoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman's Visionary Record Label
Mick Houghton (Jawbone Press)

Another excellent Jawbone publication (see reviews of the recent Arthur Lee and Jack Bruce books), Becoming Elektra being an account of Elektra Records during the all important Jac Holzman years (1950 to 1973) and charting Elektra's growth from a tiny independent label to the major league home of The Doors, Love, Queen and launch pad for awkward cusses like The MC5 and the Stooges. This is a genuinely beautiful book, chock full of pictures, album covers, letters, memos and a complete Elektra discography. Houghton must have been given free rein to rifle through pretty much anything and everything from Elektra's history and the results are terrific. More important however is Houghton’s prose which engages the reader in all elements of the musical and cultural history of the time whilst skilfully weaving in the biographies of all the main players in the story not least of which is Holzman himself who was not only equipped with a tuned in set of ears but also proved to be no mean businessman (he also founded Nonesuch Records, invented the sampler album, realised the potential of massively money spinning sound effects records and even had a hand in launching the fledgling MTV).
The Oracle

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NileismNileism: The Strange Course Of The Blue Nile
Allan Brown (Polygon)

The very definition of ‘reluctant’, The Blue Nile have famously released just four albums in 25 years. The Scottish trio’s painstakingly fastidious approach has paid many dividends – the stunning first two LPs, A Walk Across the Rooftops (1984) and Hats (1989), in particular, contain some of the most emotive electronically-oriented music ever recorded and should be part of any discerning collection – but it has carried a high price for both band members and collaborators. Sequestered with engineer Calum Malcolm in Castlesound Studios, the initially close-knit group was able to make the first two albums with a level of interference from record companies so minimal it would be unthinkable now. But with the band moving to Warners during a destabilising period of change at the label, and singer/main songwriter Paul Buchanan spending large chunks of time in the US, the previously nigh-on telepathic collaboration between the trio entered a seemingly irrevocable decline. PJ Moore ended his involvement in 2004, around the time of High, while remaining members Buchanan and Robert Bell haven’t worked together since 2008. It’s no surprise, then, that an air of remarkable potential somehow unfulfilled hangs heavily over Nileism, but Allan Brown tells the tale with flair and delicious flashes of gallows humour.
David Davies

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The Unsigned GuideThe Unsigned Guide: UK Edition 4
(mcr:music)

OK, so your band has a spare forty quid in the band kitty (well, it could happen), do you get some fags and some booze and talk about the future in your bedroom? Do you buy another pedal for your guitarist to clog up the stage with? Do you copy up a bunch of demos and try and sell them to your mates? Or do you buy a brick sized directory packed with helpful guides, pages of record company, publishing company, management company and venue contact details plus lists of distributors, equipment hire, vehicle hire, recording studios merchandise companies, radio stations, tuition, promoters, press, printers, rehearsal rooms and much, much more, in short 864 pages packed with pretty much every contact that might help make that steep slippery climb a little more straightforward? Come on it’s a no brainer, numerous contacts you can spend weeks trying to track down all in one handy place alongside reams and reams of very well researched and helpful advice, this book will genuinely help you and save time, money and headaches. In fact the only really glaring omission we could find is we aren’t in there!
Ray Harper

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Ninja Tune: 20 Years of Beats and PiecesNinja Tune: 20 Years of Beats and Pieces
Stevie Chick (Black Dog)

Yet another component in the twentieth anniversary celebrations of Ninja Tune records – the Hardback version of this being only available in the limited edition Ninja Tune XX boxset – a beautifully designed ‘coffee table’ (i.e. it’s a big bugger) type tome charting the rise and rise of Ninja Tune, established by Matt Black and Jonathan More (more of which you can find in Class Act), initially at least, as an outlet for Coldcut material but going on to become a safe and supportive haven for acts as diverse as The Cinematic Orchestra; Roots Manuva; Mr Scruff; Amon Tobin; Kid Koala; The Herbaliser; The Heavy; Spank Rock and offshoot labels, Ntone, Hip-Hop imprint Big Dada and Counter Records. Featuring an illustrated visual discography and reams of exclusive interviews with the label's major artists, and the like-minded folks who helped shape the roster. Needless to say, given the importance design has played in the labels history, this is a properly lovely book to just browse, indeed it repays repeat dipping rather than one in depth hammer through and will certainly appeal to both fans of the label and anyone with even a passing interest in art and design.
The Oracle

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