“Criticism of unprecedented fullness…”—Kirkus Reviews

Katherine Rye Jewell, Live From the Underground

College Radio Dropouts

Katherine Rye Jewell digs up old issues of the College Music Journal

Live from the Underground: A History of College Radio,
by Katherine Rye Jewell
(University of North Carolina Press, 2024)

When I spoke with Jewell about her lucid and engaging history of college radio, my Covid case had grown pronounced enough that it bled straight onto the tape. She makes a smooth narrator, though, so the few places I do croak through you can hear just how ill I felt. I started by asking her what kind of history she teaches at Fitchburg State outside Boston…

Lies of Stone, and Pollini’s Intellectual Passion

On Cowboy Carter, and Pollini’s legacy

Beyoncé’s moment cries out for larger, and largely omitted, context. Country music has a tradition as a halfway house, or protected zone, for miscreants and lowbrows. After leaving the UK in shame in 1958 for marrying his first cousin once-removed, 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis retreated to C&W, the only genre that would have him, but more importantly: where whites went to wash off sin. The music itself wasn’t racist, but most of its audience certainly leaned that way, and the industry’s broadcast pipelines were as proudly segregated as a Birmingham public school…

Grandiosity Incorporated

Eric Wolfson Goes Long on Rock’s Thematic Beasts

Fifty Years of the Concept Album in Popular Music from the Beatles to Beyoncé,
by Eric Wolfson (Bloomsbury, 2024)

Academic presses now fixing holes and taking risks where giants stutter, and the rest of us await the Big Leap Forward in long-form digital narrative…

Eric Wolfson: I started this book over half my life ago when I was in college working under a professor who I really admire. He did a rock and roll class. He still teaches. I was in the very first class. His name is Scott Sandage from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh….

Bernstein’s Rock Star Podium:

On Bradley Cooper’s Maestro

…In real life, Bernstein’s mainstream popularity allowed him to record most of the core symphonic repertoire with the New York Philharmonic, but the critics, especially Harold Schonberg of The New York Times, threw down thunderbolts of invective, accusing him of self-indulgence, distracting flamboyance, and a lack of intellectual rigor. To counter this, Bernstein delivered Harvard’s Norton Lectures with a gripping comparison of Noam Chomsky’s theory of innate grammar to music’s 20th-century tonal dilemma, using Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question as a premise and Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony as a dazzling example of musical poetics. Later broadcast on PBS and published in book form, these ideas inspired a generation of musicians to think hard about music history and explore new forms with interpretive dandy…

Solo Beatles Deluxe Karma Ballast:

Answering Rob Sheffield’s Rolling Stone List

…Neither Harrison nor Lennon ever appeared on a McCartney solo album or vice-versa, whereas Ringo played for all three…. McCartney contributed material and played and sang on Ringo albums (most notably on 1973’s Ringo, with a standout track, “Six O’Clock”), but never on a Lennon or Harrison solo record… (from the riley rock report, March 22, 2024)

Riley on Riley

The Music Journalism Insider interview

What was the best track / video or film / book you’ve consumed in the past 12 months?

Oh that Dan Charnas book, Dilla Time, such a bomber. That made me hear rap in a completely new way and I still barely grasp the nuances of Dilla’s achievement. But last year had many terrific entries: I wrote about Chuck Berry: An American Life, by RJ Smith, and Lightning Striking, by Lenny Kaye, but there’s also Rap Capital, by Joe Coscarelli.

What would you like to see more of in music journalism right now?

More diversity, obviously. What we need is 600 years of Margo Jefferson and Danyel Smith and Hanif Abdurraqib and Nelson George and Jeff Chang to “balance” the scales. Us white guys have screwed things up royal…

Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (1988)

Riley offers a new, deeper understanding of the Beatles by closely considering each song and album they recorded in an exploration as rigorous as it is soulful.

"In Tell Me Why, a labor of loving obsession, Tim Riley minutely examines the music of the Beatles... Song by song, he notes the subtleties of craft and inspiration that keep the Beatles' recordings contemporary, illuminating music so familiar it's often taken for granted."

Jon Pareles, The New York Times