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Regional Music Guide Shines

Blue Ridge Music Trails: Finding a Place in the Circle
Fred C. Fussell
UNC Press

Whether or not the more hipster-leaning denizens of North Carolina want to admit it, we are living in one of the world's hotspots for acoustic roots music. Even before Bill and Charlie Monroe laid down the seeds of bluegrass in the since-razed Hotel Charlotte, Piedmont and Western North Carolina -- and, in particular, the Blue Ridge Mountains -- have been home to hundreds of places folks can gather to hear, play, or dance to music. Problem was, there was no good way to learn just what the area had to offer, as many of the best events are advertised via word of mouth and nestled in towns little bigger than a city block.

Fred Fussell to the rescue. Fussell has fashioned his book much in the style of the popular "Rough Guide" travel series, with historical nuggets, profiles, and common sense information for the music traveler mixed in with little insider nuggets to get you started.

Over 150 different venues and events are discussed, all from a first-hand perspective. Fussell doesn't limit himself to bluegrass, either, also highlighting gospel music, clogging, fiddling contests, and even sharp-note singing.

Where Fussell shines best, however, is in the descriptions of the folks behind the music. These aren't people weaned on VH1 or MTV -- in fact, most of these people were brought up in traditional music-playing families, for whom pickin' and grinnin' is often a major social activity. Fussell is objective enough to see through all the ridiculous Snuffy Smith/O Brother stereotypes and see these people as they are, but is also unafraid to mention that a given establishment is a bit of a tourist trap. -- Timothy C. Davis

Best Music Writing, 2003
Matt Groening, guest Editor
Da Capo Press

Choosing the creator of Homer Simpson, Jeff & Akbar, and Binky the Rabbit -- i.e., cartoonist Matt Groening -- to pick out a collection of 2003's best music writing is to encourage a certain satirical slant.

There's The Onion's all-too-accurate "37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead in Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster," and a parallel universe story ("Best Band in the Land" -- from the Exiled On Main Street web-site) where Van Halen is an obscure indie bar band and critical darling -- and the Ramones go multi-platinum. And the bizarre Spin story about the Moz's most devoted fans: macho male Latinos in east L.A.("Viva Morrisey").

It's not all fun and games, as the collection also includes brilliant profiles on Tom Waits ("Play It Like Your Hair's On Fire" -- GQ magazine), James Brown ("Mr. Brown: On the Road with His Bad Self" -- The New Yorker), the late Texas troubadour Doug Sahm ("A Lone Star State of Mind" -- Magnet) and that weird fella Beck ("The Master of Everything (and Nothing at All)" -- Esquire).

With 21 entries all told, it's a strong collection that will amuse and educate -- something Lisa Simpson could surely get behind. -- John Schacht

December 2003 issue

Finally, we urge anyone who hasn't simply given up already to pick up a copy of the latest Harper's, which features a lengthy, anecdote- and fact-filled expose on the kindly folks over at Clear Channel and their continuing putsch to get us all under one big happy conservative music/talk radio tent. Fascinating -- and chilling -- reading that makes Orwell's 1984 look like a company prospectus. Particularly harrowing is the opening anecdote about a young Philadelphia promoter (DJR500) whose popular straightedge shows were harassed out of one venue after another by the freedom-of-expression-minded company. They've been very generous to Charlotte, offering us pre-programmed crap on five of the six largest stations in town: Kat 96.9, Fox 99.7, Magic 96.1, Lite 102.9, and 106.5, The End. Thanks, Clear Channel. It's so much easier when you do the thinking for us... -- John Schacht

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