David Ensminger,
Mavericks of Sound:
Conversations with Artists Who Shaped Indie & Roots Music

(Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)

When David Ensminger was editing and publishing Left of the Dial, a magazine that featured an all-interview format, he talked with damn near everybody in alternative music. This book collects about 30 of those interviews, divided seemingly arbitrarily into five categories: singer-songwriters, rockabilly and honky-tonkers, indie rockers, British people, and short interviews with various people.

He aimed at a volume that is "open-ended and diverse, and inclusive." He achieves an inclusivity of form, speaking with, among others, Tom Russell, Robert Earl Keen, David Thomas, Richard Thompson, David Kilgour, Merle Haggard and Wayne Kramer, artists who are stylistically all over the map. As that list of names suggests, though, his interviewees are overwhelmingly male -- only a few women make the cut. To my mind, that's a weakness because many women are making fabulous alternative music, and a book that aims to be inclusive should include them.

How are the interviews? Well, they're just as interesting as the people the author is speaking to. In his preface, Ensminger writes, "These are interviews without fillers, adornment or anything that might keep you at arm's length from the words of the wise-blooded -- the "Rogue's Gallery" found herein...." That's an accurate description of the contents here. No fillers, no adornment and, sometimes, no direction; just a Q&A that meanders through an artist's career; occasionally brilliant, occasionally mundane.

I recommend a reading because there's a lot of meat on these various bones and most of it is tasty, but I found it best to go at it like a series of lunches, spaced out a few bites per day.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

11 April 2015

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