Print Reviews

Music Hound Blues

The Essential Album Guide

Visible Ink

I have no idea what the return on investment is on these music reference books, but there seems to be an awful lot of work put into them, for what would seem to be a niche market and not a big profit. The latest in a line of Music Hound album buying guides (there’s already a rock, country, jazz, and R+B one – Lounge is coming in the spring!) doesn’t have a lot of competition in the marketplace. Only two other blues guides share shelf space with this one, and only the All Music Guide gives comprehensive reviews to individual albums by blues artists in print.

Music Hound Blues checks in at over 500 pages (list price 24.95), and even though it boasts bios on 600 blues artists (which beats AMG’s – $17.95 list – blues guide by about 40), it still could easily be trimmed by 100 pages. The book is fattened up with full page black and white photos of blues artists, some of whom are marginal (Alvin Lee of Ten Years After?) at best. Why is there a full page shot of obscure drummer/vocalist Casey Jones, and nothing of Robert Johnson a few pages earlier? The choices of shots seem to be frustratingly random.

In addition, the last 90 pages of references to blues books, web pages, music festivals, record labels, and a strange, almost worthless index that lists which blues artists are influenced by other ones, is mostly filler. More problematic is the lack of a comprehensive index of all the names in the book and what page you can find them on. Here’s where the AMG guide truly excels. Look up Muddy Waters in AMG and find 30 pages that reference his name. No such essential index is included in the Music Hound series. Surely they could have dispensed with the “producers index” and added a full-fledged artist one instead. A quick check of Muddy’s pages shows that they didn’t even bother with a photo of one of the fathers of the genre. Although somehow fringe soul/bluesman Walter “Wolfman” Washington rates a half page shot on the preceding page.

All the Music Hound editors are seemingly pretty proud of something called “Monster Solo” and every few pages there is an odd-looking ragged napkin scrawled with an artist, song, album, and instrument of what they feel is an instrumental solo in a blues tune which is, well… monstrous. These things take up a full quarter of a page, yet there are no explanations of WHY they feel whatever solo is so wonderful, and it just seems like a big waste of space and ink. And what’s with the torn napkin anyway?

What works well in the Music Hound guide is their “bone” reviews. Each album is designated a one to five bone rating as to how it fits into the artist’s catalog. The bones are small though, and they’re pretty hard to see. A three and a half bone album can easily be mistaken for a bone up or down from that at a glance. “What to buy,” “what to avoid,” and “best of the rest” sections are clear, concise and relatively well-written summaries of where to start with an artists’ discography.

If you’ve already got the All Music Guide to blues, and are a blues fanatic (or writer), Music Hound is a solid second choice (in a very slim market). If you don’t, consider this a 2 1/2 bone book, next to AMG’s 4 1/2 bone one.

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