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I was in two minds about this one until it went into extra time. Apologies for the football analogy but the 2014 World Cup is on at the moment (and is a major distraction from music, Twitter, Amazon, etc). Extra time in football is often characterised by ultra-defensive play as both tiring sets of players try their hardest not to concede a goal. However on rare occasions it can be highly entertaining end-to-end stuff with both teams taking an "attack is the best form of defence" approach. I'd characterise the bulk of Richie's "extra time" i.e. that chunk that sits after the main body of the book (and there's a lot of it), as being in the latter category. More later.

Sticking with my analogy, the first and second halves were respectively, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "Eight Miles High" which were originally published in 2002 and 2003. The former kicks off with a detailed (and excellent) description of Dylan's electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. It then drops back in time to talk about American folk music in general, early Dylan and the New York scene, and the early folk popularisers like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. Another chapter covers the 1963/64 introduction of the Beatles et al to the US pop scene, or, in short, the British Invasion. This leads us to the Byrds and inevitably "Mr Tambourine Man". Along the way Richie introduces and discusses the key performers - Collins, Baez, Farina, Hardin etc. - and the record labels - Elektra, Vanguard etc., not forgetting producers, arrangers, support musicians and others who played roles in early folk rock.

Richie's original second volume runs roughly from 1966 with the birth of psychedelic music, through to the Woodstock Festival in 1969, finishing broadly at the end of the decade. While folk rock didn't disappear after 1970 - indeed it's still with us in a variety of shapes and forms - many of the major artists associated with the genre had made their debuts by then. I'm thinking of Joni Mitchell, CSN & Y, James Taylor, Tim Buckley, Tom Paxton and more. Within this volume Richie also devotes attention to the British folk rock scene and also to country rock, or at least its birth pangs because this is another stream of music with multiple and complex tributaries which has continued to flourish.

Much of Richie's story is told by people who were actually there - artists, producers, record label honchos, etc. - and it's all the better for that. For this updated version of the two volumes he has extensively increased his list of interviewees so that multiple views of sometimes ambiguous or contentious chunks of musical history are explored as comprehensively as possible. My understanding is that he made considerable usage of email Q and A's thus allowing interviewees ample time to compose answers. Among the more to-the-point and entertaining of his interviewees are Pete Frame of Rock Family Trees fame, and Joe Boyd, the American producer who seemed to be involved in almost everything of note in the UK (musically) in the late sixties.

Richie's research is thorough and he gets a heck of a lot right. For example:

* The connection between Carolyn Hester with Buddy Holly (and Norman Petty) on one side, and Bob Dylan (and New York) on the other.
* The presence of Tim Hardin and the relatively obscure, Dino Valenti (sometimes Valente) in the early days of the NYC folk scene well before either came anywhere near the general public's attention.
* The high proportion of San Francisco psych musicians whose origins were in folk.
* The musical excellence of the first three albums from Fairport Convention, given that a goodly number of fans & critics tend to ignore anything before "Liege & Lief".
* The significance of Donovan in the growth of both folk rock and psych in the UK. There's a tendency to look back on Don as being a tad on the lightweight side - and he doesn't help himself by some OTT self-publicising in here and elsewhere - but several of his records were both good and influential.
* In general Richie isn't afraid of speaking up for artists who are not always taken too seriously by critics. Gordon Lightfoot and Melanie are a couple of others who come to mind.

There's a lot more. Those are just a few that stuck in my brain.

So why was I in two minds about all this impeccably researched and documented stuff? In essence it's because Richie seems to have some blind spots. I don't have a problem with that in principle. I have quite a few myself but I think I'd either bend over backwards not to make these visible in a book of this nature or declare them. Top of the list of individuals who Richie doesn't seem to rate that highly are Gram Parsons and Gene Clark, who are generally regarded as the two most significant figures in the sixties country rock scene. Richie pretty well ignores anything from Parsons post Burrito Brothers and is near-as-dammit dismissive of Clark's work post-Byrds. He uses the term "modest charms" when referring to the first Dillard & Clark album - a set that AllMusic give five stars to, using the phrase "Gene Clark was the greatest underrated singer/songwriter to emerge from the '60s rock explosion". Given that Unterberger has been a regular contributor to AllMusic it's slightly surprising to see him so far adrift of the opinions of some of his peers.

Clark and Parsons are not the only artists to suffer in this way. Mickey Newbury, a major singer / songwriter in many people's books was starting his career in the late sixties even if his main Elektra records didn't appear until the very early seventies. From the country side, Waylon Jennings was making records that could be termed country rock (including Dylan and Beatles covers) in the sixties even if his outlaw heyday didn't come until the mid seventies. Sixto Rodriguez whose career has grown from cult dimensions and whose records appeared in the very early seventies warrants only a throwaway mention. Randy Newman and David Ackles are also given very little attention. I appreciate the fact that some of these artists (particularly the last pair) don't fit the image of the finger-picked guitar man (or woman) standing or sitting on a stool centre stage, with an open necked shirt and an earnest look. But let's not get into definitions!

Should I mention Johnny Cash who was making folk/country rock way back in the fifties? How else would you describe records like "Five feet high and rising", "Big River", "Guess things happen that way", and more. They weren't Nashville country and they weren't Memphis rockabilly even if some came close.


Having got this far through the book(s) - and that's about 75% bearing in mind the Kindle format - the five star rating that was in my mind after the first couple or so chapters had tumbled to something like three as the realisation dawned that the omissions and/or neglect had seriously impacted the comprehensivity of the document.

The main text of the book(s) is followed by the sort of things you would expect: a perfectly acceptable bibliography, acknowledgements, list of interviewees and a list of CD's (and DVD's) consistent with the preceding text. AND, and this is the good bit, "Liner Notes to the Ultimate Folk Rock Box Set". Yup, Richie has succumbed to the Nick Hornby like, temptation of putting together his own C90, or rather something like C480 because he covers 8 CD's worth, of recommended / favourite sixties folk rock tracks. When I came to this section I almost shouted out loud with pleasure. At last Richie had thrown his objectivity out of the window and we get to know what he really likes. And the enthusiasm really comes through. Far more so indeed than in the main body of text. And I'm really looking forward to digging into all this lot on YT when the World Cup (and writing Amazon reviews) permits! The fact that some of my favourites aren't there doesn't matter. I own most of them anyway.

Four and a half stars so I guess I'll have to round down. And apologies to Richie if you get round to reading this. Your relish in the creation and documenting of the "C90" very nearly made me forget the omissions!
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on 15 May 2014
A re-issue of two previous books with added new content, this overview of the folk and folk-rock music is one of the best I have ever read...
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