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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Back to main page

Mountains Come Out of the SkyMountains Come Out of the Sky: The Complete Illustrated History of Prog Rock
Will Romano (Backbeat)

A pretty exhaustive investigation into all things progressive from the early days of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Co. right up to the current crop of epic noodlers. There are the odd bum notes scattered around, several of the picture captions are wrong and the sub editor must have been watching Jeremy Kyle when proof reading some of the pages but on the whole this is a nice, easy to read prog primer. Of course given the partisan nature of prog everyone will have a complaint about too much/too little space allocated to certain acts, for example how can you allocate so much room to ELP, a band who basically made a career out of nicking classical music, and then only mention genuine innovators like Henry Cow or Van der Graaf Generator in passing, or give numerous pages to Dream Theatre then more or less ignore The Mars Volta, and whilst the chapters on Euro prog, especially the Italian and German sections, are almost worth the price of admission alone where the hell are French prog geniuses Magma? But this is partisan nit picking and the top 297 (!) albums Romano offers up as the most important ever is a very useful starting point for newbies.
Ray Harper

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Listening to Van MorrisonListening to Van Morrison
Greil Marcus (Faber and Faber)

In Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces and Invisible Republic, Greil Marcus – think the US equivalent of Paul Morley, but with an even wider circle of reference – wrote three of the seminal, undying works of popular music writing. The more recent book-length dissection of a single song – Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone – was also compelling, but something has gone decidedly awry with this surprisingly lightweight effort about Van Morrison. Although clearly in no way intended to be a definitive tome on the famously cheerful Belfast-born singer/songwriter, the book’s scattershot approach to discussing key songs and performances often fails to convey much more than the fact that, like most major artists, Morrison has both good and bad days. Granted, the sections on ‘Madame George’, The Last Waltz version of ‘Caravan’ and the title track of 1997’s underrated The Healing Game are revealing, but to encapsulate Van’s work from 1980 to 1996 in 11 (rather dismissive) pages is almost laughably reductive. At less than 200 pages for your Ł12.99 of hard-earned, it also doesn’t rate too highly on the old value-o-meter. So definitely not one out of Marcus’s top drawer, and those new to his work would be advised to purchase the delightful, illuminating Mystery Train instead.
David Davies

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One Step BeyondOne Step Beyond
Terry Edwards
(Continuum)

The latest in the 33 1/3 series of books (No. 66 to be precise), and what a thoroughly cracking yarn it is too. Several of the books in the series have taken a somewhat oblique approach to their subject (like John Niven’s drug driven factional novella built around Music From Big Pink or Kate Schatz collection of stories which begin and end with the first and last line of each song from PJ Harvey's Rid of Me) whilst many others have concentrated on the nuts and bolts of the albums construction (see John Perry’s expert deconstruction of Electric Ladyland) , but what we have here is an insider’s view from Terry Edwards a successful musician in his own right who has been a regular collaborator with the nutty boys over the years and in consequence is about as well placed to talk to all the relevant people as anyone alive. And he does so with such enthusiasm it sends you scuttling back to dig out the album (and if you haven’t got a copy you can pick up the re-release on Salvo Records which includes many of the singles and sessions mentioned in the book but not on the original release). In short a thoroughly recommended read.
The Oracle

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MuseMuse: Inside The Muscle Museum
Ben Myers (Independent Music Press)

If there has been a more preposterously overwrought band than Muse since the heady days of Queen then this reviewer has failed to hear their yodelled clarion call. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of time for squalling bombast with prog-rock tendencies which sounds like it was written by Mozart’s great, great, great grandson, Muse do this bug eyed nonsense magnificently, and if, like the Sterophonic’s Kelly Jones, you fail to see the worth in wildly camp, conspiracy obsessed oper-rackits it’s your loss (it’s a damn sight more entertaining than Jones and pals leaden retro plodding). Whether or not their story is sufficiently advanced to warrant a books worth of blarney is open to question but Ben Myers does a perfectly fine job of crossing all the relevant t’s and dotting all the important i’s and he doesn’t fight shy of salacious reportage, or pointing out just how cynical the bands marketing has been on occasion, or indeed how disposable anyone outside of the core trio has proved to be, but getting a little grubby is a by product of paddling in the murky waters of the music business and Myers clearly has a fondness for his subject matter which comes across nicely.
Drew Bass

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****************************************************************** Darker Than the Deepest Sea MC5: Sonically Speaking
Brett Callwood (Independent Music Press)

Right, first things first, the MC5 did not, as Brett Callwood would have us believe, make three classic rock albums – a minor gripe in what is in all other aspects a well researched book. Hell they didn’t even manage one that was all killer and no filler. What they were was an incendiary live outfit who singularly failed to capture that passion and vitality on record, including their best effort (the live recording) Kick Out The Jams. Also in hindsight much of their political posturing was just that, and nowadays looks a bit daft (‘manager’ John Sinclair’s White Panther Party's manifesto included aims such as ‘total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock n' roll, dope and fucking in the streets’ and ‘free all prisoners everywhere, they are our brothers’, which presumably includes rapists and murderers but not female prisoners who are obviously just for fucking). It all ended badly with the deaths of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and Rob Tyner and the imprisonment of Sinclair, guitarist Wayne Kramer and bassist Michael Davis for drug offences. In truth the MC5’s main significance is in their influence – on numerous, far superior, acts from Motorhead and the Ramones to the Bad Brains and The White Stripes, but their story is a fascinating one, and well told here.
Ruby Palmer

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The Shape of Things To Come
Greil Marcus (Faber)

Marcus’s last book, Like A Rolling Stone, managed to say something worthwhile and illuminating about Dylan’s peak period in the wake of the great man’s own invigorating memoir. Now, in a book that has been in development for many years, the celebrated rock scribe offers a series of extended essays addressing American identity and how the popular culture it shapes is inextricably interwoven with a sense of portent and doom – no matter how dominant the nation might be in the wider world at any one time. It’s a vast and occasionally dumbfounding topic, consideration of which prompts Marcus to drift between disciplines, touching on the work of David Lynch and Pere Ubu, among others, although it’s the opening meditation on novelist Philip Roth’s remarkable late-period trilogy (beginning with American Pastoral) and its complex socio-historical narratives that is most compelling. Marcus’s characteristically elaborate prose is even more forbiddingly thicket-like in places here, and the section on Lynch’s Twin Peaks may exasperate those who couldn’t make it through the show’s second series. Hardly a book for the casual reader, it is nonetheless alive with ideas that seem particularly relevant in the wake of 9/11 and the US’s own international ‘re-engagement’.
David Davies

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The Book of Exodus
Vivien Goldman
(Aurum Press)

The Bob Marley library is hardly one of the music world’s more understocked resources – indeed, over the last decade or so, there have been more biographies and coffee table tomes than TMOnline can even begin to calculate. Fortunately, Vivien Goldman’s latest book offers a genuinely fresh and invigorating perspective on the great man’s work, specifically the period surrounding the making of his fifth official studio album, Exodus. Until fairly recently, it tended to be early landmarks like Catch A Fire or Burnin’ that attracted the ‘greatest Marley long-player’ plaudits, but the emphasis seems to have shifted recently to Exodus, an album rich in musings on Rastafarianism and Marley’s then-deepening global political engagement. This account from Goldman – who interviewed Marley on countless occasions – is timely, then, and while some readers may find the passages on the roots of Marley’s belief structure a little hard-going in places, they generally provide an intriguing new context in which to understand his uniquely humane music. Factor in evocative snapshots of the studio sessions that produced Exodus and you have a highly readable account of a period in which Marley was steadily passing from the status of respected singer/songwriter to global musical – and political – icon.
David Davies

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Inside Out
Nick Mason
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Originally drafted back in the mid-'90s but postponed after objections from David Gilmour, Inside Out is Nick Mason's personal take on Pink Floyd's idiosyncratic and frankly conflict-prone 35-year history. Pleasingly unburdened by ego, Mason is a droll but perceptive writer, proving more than capable of chronicling the internal crises that punctuated every stage of the Floyd's development. He is particularly good on the disintegration of Syd Barrett, guiding light and songwriter in the original line-up, acknowledging that he and his bandmates didn't do nearly enough to help as Barrett slipped into acid-soaked mental trauma. Justly proud of the post-Barrett Floyd's determination to continue and subsequent globe-girdling success, Mason claims that the disaffection only set in after The Dark Side of the Moon, Roger Waters's increasing dominance always likely to sit uneasily with Gilmour. Of course, it eventually got very messy indeed, with Waters's departure in the mid-'80s followed by a full-scale battle for the rights to use the band's name - once again, Mason is admirably honest about both this and the aftermath (including an unexpected rapprochement with Waters). Beautifully illustrated throughout, Inside Out will be an essential buy for Floydophiles, although Nicholas Schaffner's Saucerful of Secrets (Helter Skelter) remains the definitive account.
David Davies

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talking guitarsTalking Guitars
David Mead
(Sanctuary)

This collection of interviews with guitarists from all walks of musical life is subtitled ‘A Masterclass With the World’s Greats’, which is possibly stretching things a little bit. You would have to be extremely picky to dispute the prodigious gifts of Frank Zappa, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy, Robert Fripp and Peter Green; there are likely to be rather more readers, however, who will bristle at the inclusion of Joe Satriani and one or two other terminally self-indulgent fretmanglers. Once you have accepted the similarly questionable presence of one Francis Rossi, there is actually much to recommend this broad sweep of Q&As, divided by musical genre. Frank Zappa, in one of the final interviews before his death, is particularly revaling, breaking a virtual lifetime’s habit and managing to get through an interview without royally taking the piss out of the journalist in question. While the aforementioned Fripp proves predictably adept at analysing his complex craft, it tends to be the jazz guitarists (Martin Taylor, John Scofield) who dissect the development of their styles with the most insight. At 350 pages of straightahead Q&As, this could arguably have done with some pruning – but as an occasional ‘dip-in’ volume, it’s pretty damn good.
David Davies

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