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You try to sing like Muddy Waters, and play like Lightnin' sounds. But since I blowed on my harp you're feelin' mean and confused. It's got you chained to your earphones - you're just a white boy lost in the blues - Brownie McGhee, White Boy Lost in the Blues by Michael Franks performed by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

Author Topic: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings  (Read 7132 times)

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Offline Stuart

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2007, 07:57:34 PM »
I picked this one up a while back and have been thumbing through it. I agree with Uncle Bud's assessment for the most part, but I was somewhat uncomfortable with the PG's treatment of "revivalists and contemporary country blues artists." I would have liked to have seen the authors clearly and thoroughly explain the criterion or criteria that they based themselves on when critiquing contemporary musicians. My take is that they are somewhat conditioned and predisposed by the "masters" of the past, and impressionistic in their evaluations of modern blues musicians. I don't think that they really made an effort to understand the "revivalists and contemporary country blues artists" in the proper historical, social, and musical context--or use a standard that reflects this context. But that's just MHO.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2007, 09:32:11 AM »
Stuart, I agree that they seem predisposed toward the masters of the past, but that's to be expected, I guess. One impression I get is that for the revivalists and contemporary CB artists, there is a tendency in the guide to favour those who mix things up more, making them more "modern" in a way. Therefore, you see quite positive reviews of Steve James, Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, all of whom have electric material, or band/ensemble material, or strong original material etc on many of their records. For some of those who fare less well, there is usually an acknowledgement of their musical skill but some legitimate criticism: shallow or cliche material, exaggerated performances etc. I also think that a strong vocalist wins them over, and there are several in this category who could not be called strong vocalists.

But as I said, there are numerous reviews in the guide I disagree with, including some of the revivalist stuff. I think they are too kind to a few people as well! But overall, I was actually surprised at how much thought they did give artists falling into this category, and how much material they reviewed. I expected more omissions and more dismissive comments.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #17 on: January 10, 2007, 10:29:04 AM »
Uncle Bud:

I don't want to start a thread the goes off on a tangent "critiquing the critics" or to drive this one into the ground--or for that matter begin deconstructing and critiquing our own points of view. I think that we are in general agreement here. However, I still would have liked to have seen a clear and thorough explanation of the authors' criteria on which they based their evaluations of musicians working in the "historical present" (for lack of a better term).

It is a world of individuals, and of course one cannot look into another person's soul. I think that the PG is a solid work, and as I said, for the most part I agree with your assessment. My reservation is that some of the reviews might cause potential listeners to shy away from certain modern musicians who, IMHO, make enjoyable music.

But of course, it's a matter of taste. Perhaps in some future reincarnation we can get together with our Penguin Guides and our CD collections, and go through everything point by point, establish objective criteria, carry out comprehensive analysis, and arrive at conclusive results. However, we're living in this incarnation, so we better use our time wisely, listening to and playing what we enjoy--before it's over.

As Always,

Uncle Stuie


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #18 on: January 10, 2007, 10:48:02 AM »
Well why not critique the critics?  :P They're legitimate targets insofar as they've published a guide that can be subjected to review and criticism. You make very valid points. I don't see it as driving the subject into the ground at all, and I don't see the existence of this thread as a place only to celebrate the Guide. :)

I agree about some of the reviews potentially causing listeners to shy away from certain worthwhile material. The Skip James recordings from the 1960s are presented as lacklustre overall, for example, and I think there is some really wonderful listening in those records. For years, I avoided Skip's 60s stuff, simply because I'd heard from critics that it compared so poorly to his prewar material. Turns out I missed a lot, now thankfully corrected.

Anyway, like Jeff noted, there is a certain kind of fun in disagreeing with their reviews.

Offline dj

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #19 on: January 10, 2007, 05:02:56 PM »
Quote
However, I still would have liked to have seen a clear and thorough explanation of the authors' criteria on which they based their evaluations of musicians working in the "historical present" (for lack of a better term).

Not just the criteria for evaluation but also the criteria for inclusion.  I find it mystifying that Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" is reviewed, but not Paul Butterfield's "The Ressurection Of Pigboy Crabshaw" or his two Better Days albums.

But lest anyone be turned away from the book by this (relative) quibbling, I have to say that The Penguin Guide To The Blues is well worth owning.  For one thing, even though there is a tremendous number of disks reviewed, it seems that the reviewers have actually listened to and thought about every disk reviewed.  The only other source for as many quality reviews that I can think of is Roots & Rhythm.  Secondly, the capsule artist biographies are invaluable.  The bios and thoughtful reviews, when coupled together, make the Penguin Guide as much a good blues encyclopedia as a collection of disk reviews.   
 
« Last Edit: January 10, 2007, 07:22:38 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #20 on: January 10, 2007, 05:48:19 PM »
Well why not critique the critics?

Fine by me as long as it is done in a positive spirit of "critical evaluation." I think that overall the PG is work of high quality and a very significant contribution, so I am somewhat hesitant to nitpick its shortcomings. Nothing is perfect. Nobody knows everything and nobody is right all of the time. I think the keyword is in the title--"guide." We look to such works for guidance. What should the authors have done--just listed the musicians, their CDs, and said, "listen for yourselves and you be the judge?" That's not what I look for in a "guide."

A lot of hard work, time, and effort went into it and we should thank the authors, as well as remember the old addage, "S/he who tries to please everybody labors in vain."

I highly recommend it.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2007, 12:05:37 PM »
. . . but have to second Uncle Bud's surprise at the low praise lauded on Skip James' 60s recordings.

After going back and re-reading the entry, I'll "third" Uncle Bud's surprise. I've owned the Vanguard LPs since the early 70s and they are among my favorites. I can understand the authors' use of SJ's ("in his prime") recordings as one benchmark, but IMHO I don't think that the Vanguard releases got a fair shake.

Offline Slack

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #22 on: January 12, 2007, 12:12:47 PM »
Quote
Obviously I can't wait then to hear how 'mediocre' the rest of his rediscovery material is . . .

And I'lll forth it - I do admit I like Vanguard's "Skip James Today" better than 'Devil got My Woman'... so you are in for a treat CP, but it is all wonderful stuff I think.  These were the CDs that turned my eldest son on to Country Blues... it is much more approachable than the early recordings due to sound quality --- much of the early stuff is so whupped (or was at the time of the vanguard releases - things have changed somewhat!).   

Offline dj

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2007, 12:30:24 PM »
I'll fifth the Skip James post-rediscovery recordings and add an amen to Skip James Today.  One of the first country blues LPs I bought, way back when.

The Penguin Guide authors are also fairly hard on Chicago artists from the late 30s.  If you went by their recommendations, you'd never buy a CD by Jimmie Gordon or Ollie Shepard - two singers that I've really come to appreciate over the last year.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #24 on: June 25, 2009, 05:26:51 AM »
The Penguin Guide is now $5.99 at Barnes and Noble, available online. If you don't own it, now's a good time to order, obviously.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #25 on: June 25, 2009, 06:04:13 AM »
That's certainly a drop from 29.25. I guess that following a sales period of two and a half years it's now being remaindered. I wonder what percentage of the recommended CDs are still in catalogue?

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #26 on: June 25, 2009, 07:10:44 AM »
Yes, I imagine a chunk have become unavailable, though not the majority. I still consult it when pondering a CD purchase.

But as dj pointed out back when this thread was first active, just for the biographies and information contained in the reviews, this makes for a pretty great, concise blues encyclopedia.

And it's 6 bucks.  :P

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #27 on: June 25, 2009, 07:46:35 AM »
But as dj pointed out back when this thread was first active, just for the biographies and information contained in the reviews, this makes for a pretty great, concise blues encyclopedia.
Indeed, indeed, I have to own up this is the sole use I put it to these days.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #28 on: June 25, 2009, 09:57:17 AM »
The Penguin Guide is now $5.99 at Barnes and Noble, available online. If you don't own it, now's a good time to order, obviously.

And even if you already own a copy, now is the time to pick up several extra copies--one for each bathroom, one for the car so you can read it while stuck in traffic, one for the office, one for...

(My apologies to the PWBG list members :P)

Offline oddenda

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Re: Penguin Guide To Blues Recordings
« Reply #29 on: June 25, 2009, 08:46:11 PM »
You mean you don't have a copy?

Peter B.