I have always been a sucker for guides and lists and so on, so picking up the new edition of the Penguin Guide to Jazz was a natural. This year for the first time there is a Penguin Guide to Blues as well. Both are extensive reference tomes clocking in at nearly 1,000 pages each, written by British music critics. While their reviews are certainly subjective and can't be taken as the gospel, both books are fascinating to flip through to get some recommendations about musicians you may be unaware of or are curious about. It's also occasionally infuriating to see them get a little sour with records you may know and love. On the jazz side, fans of the avant-garde and European improvisation will be well served by excellent coverage, while fans of bluesy soul jazz may feel looked down upon a tad. The blues guide has thorough coverage of both pre and post war blues with some fairly tough reviewing. Both books offer "crowns" to a handful of releases they deem to be of highest honor. Some of these are a little odd (no crown for any Coleman Hawkins disc?) but they are usually dependable choices and make for excellent discussion fodder. Note however, that both guides limit themselves to albums that were in print on compact disc at the time they went to press. Records that haven't made the leap to CD or discs that have fallen out of print are not reviewed. Despite the quirks, both books are highly recommended to music collectors as they open up many new avenues of musical enjoyment.
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