We all have our obsessions that can lead to our downfalls. Our Moby Dicks. Our black pearls. For Nick Tosches, that obsession over the past quarter-century has been Emmett Miller, a now-obscure minstrel singer from Georgia who recorded for OkeH and Victor in the '20s and '30s. When Tosches first wrote about Miller in the mid-'70s (in his book "Country"), little was known of Miller. No photographs of the man were known to have survived, little biographical information existed, and his music was difficult to find in print. Over the course of the next 26 years, Tosches and a few associates tracked down leads and rumors about Miller's origins, until a somewhat better picture of the man started to emerge during the '90s. A few photographs turned up eventually. His grave was found in a bad section of Macon, Georgia. And one by one a scant few people who had known Miller or had worked with him turned up with hazy, somewhat unreliable tales of his career. Which raises the question of why Tosches would spend so much time and energy chasing after the ghost of an obscure singer who had died - alcoholic and penniless - in 1962? Part of the answer is that Miller was a truly gifted vocalist whose unique style influenced the likes of Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan, Leon Redbone, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and others. Part of the answer is also that Miller's music is nearly uncategorizable; his unusual vocal style made a strong impression on country singers in years to come, but his music wasn't country by any stretch. In fact, with backing on his records by the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, guitarist Eddie Lang, and drummer Gene Krupa, Miller was rubbing shoulders with some of the best jazz musicians of the era. Finally, Miller's career took place during the final years of minstrelsy (the history of which Tosches devotes musch space here), and Miller represented a last flickering spark in the embers of blackface musical comedy before dying completely during the Great Depression. Ultimately, Tosches' quest was only partially successful at best. We get a picture of the major events of Miller's life; his birth, the essentials of his career, his marriage (late in life), and his death. But of the man himself only dim hints; brief glances at the contents of a room in the split second after a light bulb flashes, then burns out. Gaps of knowledge still exist, as Tosches freely admits, but he's followed the trail as far as he thinks he can and leaves it now to younger scholars. A consistently fine work, in the now-well-established Tosches style. If one complaint can be made, it's that photographs of Miller and the book's other subjects might have been included. But perhaps it's for the best that none are present. Pictures of Miller aren't all that hard to find at this point - they're out there if you know where to look - and if anything the lack of photographs lends to the ghost-like portait of Miller that Tosches paints.