The new collection of David Ensminger‘s interviews, entitled Mavericks of Sound: Conversations with the Artists Who Shaped Indie and Roots Music (out now from Rowman & Littlefield), is a mixed blessing. The insight one gets from the artists with whom he speaks is deep and interesting. It’s rare that artists such as Jason Ringenberg of Jason & the Scorchers, the Reverend Horton Heat, or the Nerves and Plimsouls’ Peter Case get the sort of deeply-introspective and serious discussion presented here.
To see Ensminger go beyond the superficial interviews most of these artists receive — if they’re ever spoken with at all — is heartening. Mavericks of Sound is best when it allows these rarely-heard musicians to go beyond discussing their latest album, and dig deep into the influences which shaped them, and the particulars of their journey to now.
That said: Ensminger can go on. When he does something like laying out a lengthy Woody Guthrie quote in his interview with Robert Earl Keen, you’re not quite certain as to whether that’s meant to elicit a certain response from his subject, or if it’s simply meant to show the depth of Ensminger’s own personal knowledge. Rarely does it seem that the author achieves much connection with the artist he’s interviewing. Reading the short pieces toward the end of Mavericks of Sound reveals a certain terseness of response from some of his subjects.
The final impression I had regarding David Ensminger’s Mavericks of Sound is that the author is quote knowledgable, does impeccable research, and has excellent taste in music. That said, his interview style is such that he succeeds in achieving excellent results not so much because of his knowledge and research, but because he’s such impeccable taste in subjects. These are people who could tell a good story to a dog on a porch.