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Thursday, July 24,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

Music, Music, Music

by Neil Rajala

THURSDAY, July 24 — One thing I love about summer is the musical soundtrack. The concerts around town, driving around with my windows down listening to my favorite new CD. And with the right book, music can be just as satisfying to read about as it is to listen to. Here's what we're reading:



LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL

Rebecca Rotert

The title of this emotional and fascinating novel refers to the last evening of Naomi Hill's job. She had been the star attraction at the titular 1960's Chicago nightclub for almost a decade, always just on the brink of stardom. She and her daughter, Sophia, had carved out an unconventional life for themselves while waiting for the big break that never came. The story's told half through the wise-beyond-her-years Sophia, and half recounting Naomi's turbulent path to the nightclub. When we meet them, Naomi's star is fading, even at the Blue Angel, and she's giving her final performance before the owner replaces her. But life still has some surprises in store for her and Sophia. The book will put you through the wringer, but it's full of so many wonderful characters to care about and cheer for, you'll be glad you took the ride. kobo eBook



COWBOYS AND INDIES

Gareth Murphy

The music industry is in a serious state of flux these days, as anyone who's gone to a local retailer to do a little CD shopping knows. The stores aren't stocking much any more, because music devotees aren't buying much. As Mr. Murphy's fascinating history of the record industry explains, this most certainly isn't the first time the death knell has been sounded for the sale of recorded music. The industry has always had tremendous highs and lows, ever since the days of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. The record business has nearly been wiped out by ownership squabbles, copyright laws, wartime material shortages, peacetime technology advances, payola and corporate control of radio broadcasting. On the other hand, it has boomed to unforeseen heights due to the arrival of the vinyl LP, cassette tapes, indie record labels, baby boomers and, most recently, the invention of the CD. It's a long and completely absorbing roller coaster of a story, ending with some very interesting thoughts on where things may go from here. kobo eBook



DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE

Amanda Petrusich

I had no idea. Not only is there a rabid batch of collectors out there who focus exclusively on the old shellac 78s once played by Victrolas and Gramophones, but they're a passionate and remarkably high-minded group who see themselves as the protectors and curators of a very important part of American history. After reading Ms. Petrusich's book, I'd find it very hard to argue with them.

There was a time when music wasn't made for public consumption beyond the small number of folks in rural locales who happened to be either making it or listening to it (or more likely dancing to it). It was a regional and private art form. A handful of very small recording studios and a few traveling musicologists captured some of this original American folk music on fragile, often low-fidelity, brittle discs - most of which didn't survive or never made it to market in the first place. The most serious and scholarly of the collectors, the ones the author spends time with, don't do what they do for the money; they have an urgent sense of not letting this part of our history be lost. They collect, but they also share freely by making recordings and compilations, lending their 78s to record companies and schools, and taking any opportunity to introduce the raw, emotional sounds to whatever willing pair of ears may come their way. Ms. Petrusich becomes so enthralled by their world she risks her life on ice-covered roads in thick fog and learns how to use scuba gear. But I'll let her tell you those stories. kobo eBook

Let's ask a question that steers away from books this week. What music is making up the soundtrack to your summer of 2014?

Until next week,

Neil

NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.

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