Book Review: ALL MUSIC GUIDE TO THE BLUES: 2nd EDITION (edited by Michael Erlewine, Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Cub Coda) : AH
ALL MUSIC GUIDE TO THE BLUES: 2nd EDITION, edited by Michael Erlewine, Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Cub Coda, Miller Freeman Books, 658 pages, $22.95.
For its second edition, the All Music Guide to the Blues has been updated and expanded to “include profiles of twice as many musicians and reviews of twice as many recordings,” according to the introduction. As an avid user of the first edition, published in 1996, I was curious about an apparent transformation of the blues revival into a blues explosion–how else to explain the need for this expanded second edition after just three years?
The “guide” takes an encyclopedic, rather than chronological approach to the subject. Biographies and reviews comprise the bulk of the book. Short, alphabetically arranged essays about each artist are accompanied by extensive discographies, capsule reviews, and specific recommendations. Ratings are based on Downbeat magazine’s system of one through five stars. Vinyl and tape formats are included if an album has not been released on CD. A separate “various artists” section helps the reader select wisely from the hundreds of blues compilations available.
The remainder of the book features essays tracing the history and development of the various pre- and post-war blues styles, accompanied by “music maps”–a series of flow charts that further detail the musical roots, styles, and major innovators of each era. Essays about the history of many record labels are useful, as is a critical listing of the various reference sources–books and magazines–specifically about the blues. New to the second edition is a chapter on gospel music, with profiles of important musicians and recordings.
One drawback to the book’s approach–purists may view it as a major fault–is the amount of coverage given over to blues-rock and rock music, sometimes at the expense of influential blues artists. The Rolling Stones essay spans two of their six pages, whereas Robert Johnson, an important innovator and influence on the Stones, blues-rock, and blues music overall, receives a one-page essay. Similar disparities occur throughout the book, so readers should approach certain recommendations, especially rock recordings, with due care.
The above caution notwithstanding, most readers will find the All Music Guide to the Blues: 2nd Edition a valuable, well-researched reference source, while the newcomer seeking to explore and experience blues music first-hand will find a wealth of well presented, accurate, and useful information.
W. Douglas Shirk is the art director for American History, as well as a former sound engineer, and fanatic collector of popular music.