Ensminger’s “Mavericks of Sound” succeeds in spite of its author

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.
book cover - mavericks of sound
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.
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“Geek Rock” doesn’t exactly cover its titular subject

book cover - geek rockGeek Rock: An Exploration of Music and Subculture, the new essay collection edited by Alex DiBlasi and Victoria Willis, succeeds on only one half of its title. It explores the geeky aspects of music, but as far as being a collection of essay about a rock subculture, it fails abjectly.

The blurb on the book’s back cover explains geek rock as “forms of popular music that celebrate all things campy, kitschy, and quirky,” but the editors then present a procession of essays wherein the musical approach is geeky or the lyrical obsession is geeky — it seems that the essay authors, despite the desire to make geek rock a thing and name-checking in the introduction artists like Weezer, Jonathan Coulton, and Frank Black, chose instead to reframe the discussion in a way that reflects their particular interests.
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