RESTLESS GIANT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JEAN ABERBACH & HILL AND RANGE SONGS
By Bar Biszick-Lockwood (University of Illinois Press)
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
Biographies of publishers of popular music have been scarce. Many are fuzzy at best about what exactly a music publisher does all day, or over a career. Relating those work details and how a publisher thinks are the particular strengths of this highly readable new book on the life of sophisticated (and clever) Austrian émigré Jean Aberbach, and the firm he ran with his brother Julian, Hill and Range, which became a leading publisher of country and pop music. Most famously, they published the songs recorded by Elvis Presley, but Bob Wills, Cindy Walker, Bill Monroe, Eddy Arnold, and Ernest Tubb all signed with the Aberbachs, as they developed the attractive idea of artist co-owned publishing company subsidiaries. Since this is essentially an authorized biography of Jean, we learn a lot more about him than his brother, and the shifts from that focus to broader company history are occasionally awkward. Yet the story of these self-described “gate-crashers” on the country scene is often fascinating.
SEGREGATING SOUND: INVENTING FOLK AND POP MUSIC IN THE AGE OF JIM CROW
By Karl Hagstrom Miller (Duke University Press)
[Rating: 4.5 stars]
A cultural exploration and, in part, a polemic, Segregating Sound is at once a social history, musical history, business history and an intellectual history. It examines the parallel development of the racially targeted and determined “race” and “hillbilly” fields by the commercial music industry, and the typically condescending handling of the work of Southern musicians, particularly African-American semi-professionals, deemed “primitive” by folklorists of the same segregated era. The academics, with their false notions of cultural isolation and tendency to treat both black and white rural performers as artifacts, come off worse than the audience-slicing commercializers, although how broad an impact academics actually had is open to debate. Miller is an engaging writer who regularly turns memorable phrases. Thickly researched and cogently argued, Segregating Sound makes a thought-provoking, very likely lasting contribution to how we think about and relate to American musical genres.
THE T.A.M.I. SHOW (COLLECTOR’S EDITION)
[Rating: 5 stars]
The title of the T.A.M.I. Show, broadcast to movie theaters as a one-off in late 1964, stands for “Teen Age Music International.” The show is regularly referred to as “legendary,” but it’s only been seen since in truncated and altered versions that have provided only a glimpse of the proceedings. That’s been fixed with this new restored, uncut version. The T.A.M.I. Show was where Motown first met the British Invasion, and finds the young Rolling Stones famously trying to follow the first full-tilt James Brown performance many American teenagers had ever seen. Brown, the Stones, the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, the punkish Barbarians, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Supremes and Chuck Berry are all captured in peak form, one after the other, exuberant and unselfconscious. The black-and-white footage was meant to be blown up on the theatrical screen, so it lends itself to HD-level quality when brought back down to size and restored. A must see.
THE MARTY STUART SHOW: THE BEST OF SEASON ONE
[Rating: 4 stars]
Marty Stuart’s weekly RFD-TV show takes in all of the flavors of country music the man favors, which is to say, all of them. Stuart’s take is energetic and straightforward, with an accent on the performances themselves in homage to the form of the enduring ‘60s-born, single-set series from Porter Wagoner and Flatt & Scruggs. Whether or not you regularly catch the show, this 2-disc compilation of uncut performances demands repeated play. Guests range from the inspirational Earl Scruggs to his grandson Chris (playing a hot “Cherokee Boogie” with Chuck Mead and Kenny Vaughan), to Duane Eddy and Wanda Jackson, Charlie Daniels and Del McCoury, Mel Tillis and Charley Pride. Since the regular cast includes the incomparable Connie Smith, (here singing her “Run Away Little Tears” and “Where Is My Castle?”), the charming old timey singer-banjoist Leroy Troy, and Marty’s amazing and versatile band the Fabulous Superlatives, the set would be loaded with highlights even if there were no guests. There’s also a collection of bonus on-set photos by long-time Opry photographer Les Leverett.