The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Blues

Kyle Simpler BY

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The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to the Blues
David Evans
Perigee Books

In his introduction to David Evans' recently published book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to the Blues, Taj Mahal says just listen to "any rock group of the last fifty years—including The Beatles and particularly The Rolling Stones—and you'll be able to find your way to the blues. There's no denying the fact that almost everybody likes the blues, at least in some fashion. And considering that practically every genre of contemporary music incorporates certain elements of the blues, it's not surprising that it would have such a broad appeal. Now, with this book, Evans offers an exceptional overview of this important musical style.

Evans, a professor at University of Memphis combines the knowledge of an academician with the enthusiasm of a fan, bringing a unique quality to the work. His work is equally as entertaining as it is informative. Author of numerous books, articles, and liner notes covering the blues, Evans brings a wealth of information and experience to the text. Along with this, he writes with an accessible style that keeps the material from ever getting dull. All of this helps bring readers closer to the blues. While The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to the Blues is primarily targeted for new blues listeners, it also provides a great deal of information to longtime fans as well.

Along with the excellent introduction by Taj Mahal, Evans provides a concise overview of blues music, its history, and stylistic elements that define the blues sound. After this the focus shifts to legendary performers, signature songs, and selected recordings, all of which blues enthusiasts should be familiar with. Evans, however, is not suggesting his own blues canon here; this material only serves as a starting point for further discovery. As he describes in his chapter on performers, "a brief chapter such as this fails to include a number of artists of equal, if not greater, stature than the sixty who are profiled here."

The selections included go beyond the "usual suspects" type of listing. Obviously he highlights legendary artists such as B.B. King and Robert Johnson, but he also has entries on artists who generally don't receive as much attention, like Gus Cannon and Big Maybelle. The songs he discusses also offer an equally interesting blend. Again, rather than concentrating solely on the obvious, Evans frequently considers other influential although slightly less popular material. With T-Bone Walker, for example, Evans discusses T-Bone Shuffle instead of the more popular Call it Stormy Monday.

To compliment the historical section, Evans features small, inset sections offering interesting related information. Here he covers topics such as The Diddley Bow, a primitive one-stringed instrument that originated in Africa. Others include such topics as Blues Record Collecting, Spirituals to Swing, and Blues Nicknames. By providing such information, Evans enhances the main material covered in the text.

With his background, Evans could definitely go into lengthy detail on each particular area he covers here. Obviously this isn't possible considering the broad scope of material he has to address within a limited number of pages. With artists ranging in scope from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Stevie Ray Vaughan, you have to draw the line on the amount of coverage to include. The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to the Blues does, however, give readers an outstanding introduction.

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