September 09, 2005

BOOKS: Music Lust, Nic Harcourt (2005)

From the same publisher who brought you Nancy Pearl's two Book Lust volumes (one of which I commented on here) comes a very similar book on music, this one by Nic Harcourt, a DJ at Santa Monica's KCRW. His show Morning Becomes Eclectic has a large following, and a good word from him can go a long way in jumpstarting a band's career.

The format is the same as in Pearl's book volumes -- lots of short chapters built around geography (great bands from Liverpool, Wales, Canada), family connections (brother/sister duos, husband/wife teams, sister pairs), genre (hip-hop, blues, Latin alternative rock), or some other connection.

One of the book's major flaws is also shared by Pearl's volumes: The descriptions of each album are often so brief that they aren't much help. It's a bit less problematic here, I think, because there's a larger common vocabulary of major musicians than there is of authors. Harcourt can refer, for instance, to the Beatles or to Frank Sinatra with a reasonable expectation that most of his readers will be at least vaguely familiar with their music; there are fewer authors who Pearl can use as points of comparison with similar expectations of mass understanding.

But the biggest problem with Harcourt's book is that it's not really that eclectic. There's a smattering of jazz, less pop, even less country, virtually no classical (Steve Reich gets a mention in a list of favorite instrumental albums), and lots and lots of rock. And most of that is at least a decade old, and of the tasteful, critically approved variety. Harcourt rarely surprises us with any risky choices of new bands we might not have heard of, or older bands he thinks deserve better reputations than they have. Surely a chapter on Canadian music, for instance, could come up with more surprising choices than the Guess Who, Barenaked Ladies, Gordon Lightfoot, Shania Twain, and k.d. lang.

Like Pearl's Book Lust volumes before it, though even more limited, Harcourt's Music Lust is a mildly interesting glimpse into one mind that would benefit from a more in-depth look at fewer titles.

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