Musical journey through America is part travelogue part musical biography
4/5 Serpent’s Tail These ‘journeys through American music’ see Cartwright embarking on a budget-constrained trail of discovery: does the music he loves – folk, blues, country and soul – still exist? Or have these forms been remoulded beyond recognition by the demands of the 21st century marketplace?
Travelling by Greyhound bus and dodgy hire car down myth-sealed roads such as Route 66 and Highway 61, Cartwright vividly documents the people and places that have been shaped by music. He moves from the St John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco through the Burning Man Festival (if you’ve ever considered visiting, his account should put you off), Navajo reservations, Tex-Mex honkytonks and Memphis soul shrines, on to his journey’s end in the run-down blues bars of Chicago’s West Side, meeting countless undersung legends along the way and observing an increasingly fragmented (dis)United States.
The author’s writing is by turns entertainingly subjective and factually direct. Here are musings not only on American roots music, but also on the socio-economic forces that have helped to shape it, expressed in both close-up detail and panoramic sweep. The suggested listening list at the book’s end is a terrific touch, but one quibble – anyone who dismisses Steve Albini’s music as ‘rock bleached of all but its narcissism’ and Tortoise as ‘post-rock dullards’ is clearly making a judgement from well outside their sonic comfort zone. Sharon O’Connell