New music books to read this summer

“Last Chance Texaco,” named after one of the memorable songs from that debut album, also features tales of his problematic romances with Tom Waits, Lowell George and Dr. John. The musicians are a problem, but it is the music (starting with childhood obsessions with “West Side Story” and Laura Nyro) that gives him stability. She made a breakthrough by writing the superb ballad “Company” – “a visceral and tortuous process… they were pure feelings as airy and ungrounded as a color or a tingle.”

There is a detailed description of a really weird and fantastic meeting with Van Morrison at an Irish music festival, but it mostly goes through her last decades, in which she continued to make some interesting new music, well that less celebrated, and was born simply to be “the girl with the red beret”. Yet Jones paints a striking and distinctive self-portrait.

Rickie Lee Jones and Sinead O’Connor would find themselves among Lesley Chow’s kindred spirits YOU ARE STORY: The Twelve Weirdest Women in Music (Rehearsal, 147 pp., Paper, $ 14.95). The thin and sharp book considers a range of female artists from Janet Jackson and Taylor Swift to TLC and Nicki Minaj, a group that Australian cultural critic Chow sees as “outliers, marking times when culture could have sidelined. to incorporate their influence, but somehow managed not to.

The real premise of Chow is that music writers have all the wrong priorities, analyze lyrics rather than sounds, and the pop canon “too often … revere the same old scathing monologues and obvious cynicism.” Of course, she’s right – it’s much easier to write on words than it is on music, especially if you make a living with words, not music. And she’s right that one of the effects of this tactic is to downplay the contributions and achievements of female pop singers, who are so often dismissed as minor figures alongside the Dylan / Cohen axis of “poets” in the world. rock ‘n’ roll.

Chow argues some of her subjects more convincingly than others, and a few of the women – Kate Bush, Shakespears Sister – resonate much more in the UK than in the US. (The caption is also an unnecessary distraction.) But she consistently delivers observations that are in a vivid and original way: that Taylor Swift is “as fashion lover as Fitzgerald was,” as “Rihanna does sing. not so much sound ”, that the best music of Janet Jackson is defined by a“ fascinating tension between rigor and relaxation ”.

“You’re History” shows the importance of these details, but they serve a bigger point, which is to try to capture the mysterious and unknowable essence of music. “The best pop songs are not ‘universal’, but inexplicably precise in their details,” she writes, noting elsewhere that to understand a song “is to try to digest the emotional significance of the sounds – what the criticism is about. has always been reluctant to do so. Chow often writes mute elements of the vocals, thinking at the beginning of the book that the pop story could be told as a story of the ‘oohs’ in songs – leading, inevitably and delightfully, to the appendix:’ The Greatest ‘Oohs’ in modern music. “


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