The Great British Recording Studios by Howard Massey (Hal-Leonard, $34.99, 357 pages)
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the audiophile in your life who loves British rock music of the 60s and 70s, this is it. Howard Massey’s coffee table-sized book examines 46 major recording studios of the period (permanent and mobile), looking at their personnel, their equipment, the individual recording rooms, and the original recording techniques. It’s all here, as verified by Sir George Martin in the Foreward.
Massey supplies the answers to some great trivia questions, including “Where did the Beatles record, other than at Abbey Road?” and “Which great, highly successful record producer began his studio work as a ‘tea boy’ (a lowly paid, quasi-intern who brewed tea for anyone who wanted it)?” He also explains how the brilliant Glyn (Glynis) Johns recorded drums using just three microphones, and looks at the bizarre career of the paranoid recording producer Joe Meek. Meek was to record “Telstar” by the Tornadoes and “Have I the Right?” by The Honeycombs in his rented flat in London before he killed himself and his ever complaining landlady.
Massey supplies the background story on several prominent recordings – such as those by The Who, The Kinks, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Queen, Procol Harum and Blind Faith. As per the latter, he provides an explanation of a how an extremely unique sound was produced that enlivened Blind Faith’s somewhat dull track, “Had to Cry Today.” And, Massey details how reverb, echo, and phasing (“Pictures of Matchstick Men”,”Itchycoo Park”) tricks were used. A fascinating ultra-morsel for music lovers!
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter, Illustrated by Priscilla Barrett (Bloomsbury, $40.00, 240 pages)
Wild Cats of the World is a coffee table sized book that at first glance looks like it would be the perfect gift for any feline lover. The book examines 38 species of small and big cats, augmented with beautiful photos and sketches. It also imparts interesting information, like the fact that female cats are actually more efficient hunters than males – since they don’t stalk things they can’t kill, and that wildcats can live a full 19 years in captivity. It’s also repeatedly stated that wildcats can and do interbreed with domestic cats.
Unfortunately, this book has several weaknesses. Hunter is far too concerned with what each type of cat kills and eats; there are too many photos of cats with their prey – which deems it unsuitable to be kept around children; and the book over-emphasizes the issue of extinction of species. What could have been a joyful celebration of the world’s most successful mammal – one that exists in both large and small forms – becomes a depressing, dragged-out, textbook-like read.
There’s not enough attention paid to the 43 breeds of domestic cats, which are far from extinct with 500 million of them serving as beloved pets, and an additional 500 million living as feral creatures. (500 million feral versions of Felis catus/Felis silvestris definitely equals a very successful type of wild cat!) And the high-priced book is poorly edited (“[a] survey must… continue for a long enough to sample…”).
Overall, a miss instead of a hit.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 13, 2015.
Note: There’s another book titled Wild Cats of the World, authored by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist (Chicago University Press).
A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings by Dan Cruikshank (Firefly Books, $39.95, 352 pages)
Architecture is an all-embracing adventure without end. It is a story that can never be completed as long as mankind continues to build, to invent, to discover; it is the story told by this book.
The modest dimensions of 100 Buildings place this book somewhere between two genres – popular survey and coffee table. What sets it apart from both is the serious, understated way author Dan Cruickshank sets forth his take on the place of architecture in the world. Specifically, he goes into just the right amount of narrative to bring the icons, pioneers of constructions and breathtakingly beautiful creations here on earth alive for the reader.
The illustrations and descriptions are superb but not overly fatuous. After all, we’re using the perspective taken by a writer in 2015. Students of architecture have no doubt studied many of the 100 buildings. There are a few contemporary additions to the mix, which serve to keep Cruickshank’s history fresh and relatable.
Sadly, there have been a few casualties of late in the Middle East. The power of architecture may well be lost on those who are lashing out. And, on a positive note, some nearly destroyed exemplary structures have been reconstructed. Most of the featured examples herein will be steadfastly holding their places in history long after we are merely dust.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on September 24, 2015.
Old Faithful: Dogs of a Certain Age by Pete Thorne (Harper Design, $19.99, 144 pages)
Missy isn’t good with math and has no idea of what “senior” means, so she still often behaves like a puppy, running and playing, which makes us and her, happy, and even though playtime isn’t as long as it once was, she’s still up for it every day.
The picture that accompanies this text shows a sweet fifteen and a half-year-old miniature poodle with large bright eyes and a gray muzzle. What’s not to love? Puppies are cute and wiggly but if you want a real buddy, go for one with wisdom and character written across its face. Missy loves everyone, even cats.
Pete Thorne, a professional photographer, became fascinated with older doggies. His online post featuring one at his grandma’s birthday party touched many folks. Seventy-five of the many biographies sent to Thorne have been gathered into an elegant, coffee table-style book. His full-page headshots taken while meeting with the owners and small versions placed next to the biographies fill the book.
I doubt you will leave Old Faithful sitting on a table or shelf. The furry face on the cover seems to be ready to bark. “Open the book and see what we’re all about.” Unlike many elegant books featuring photos accompanied by small blurbs of explanation, this one is filled with heartfelt joy and wonder. I dare you to resist running to the nearest shelter to adopt a dog of a certain age! (And let’s hope that Thorne proceeds to put together a similar book about cats of a certain age. Meow.)
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Fresno Growing Up – A City Comes of Age: 1945-1985 by Stephen H. Provost (Craven Street Books, $24.95, 230 pages)
Anyone who grew up in Fresno, California, or who has lived there for a period of years, should enjoy perusing and reading the coffee table book Fresno Growing Up. This is a 230 page biography of the Raisin Capital of the World accompanied by beautiful color and black and white photographs. The first two-thirds of the book is strong as it fondly examines restaurants and movie theaters that used to exist, the once prominent Fulton Mall downtown (similar to Sacramento’s K Street Mall), TV and radio personalities, and the offerings for adults and children in Roeding Park.
Fresno also provides a detailed look at the past noteworthy music scene. Stephen Provost’s argument that Fresno gave birth to “the Bakersfield Sound” in country music is not fully convincing, but worth considering.
The book flounders in its third section which focuses on sports. Readers who are not fans of bowling, baseball, college football, boxing or hockey will find that it stretches on for far too long. This space might have been better devoted to the history of dramatic arts in the area, bookstores that once flourished (like the Upstart Crow Book Store), family businesses, etc. And the growth of greater Fresno-Clovis from west to east, and south to north might have been visibly charted. Still, this work might serve as a template for future efforts looking at the modern history of Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Chico and Bakersfield.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: The finished product I received contained a large number of typos. Hopefully, these will be caught and corrected in future printings.
Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)
“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.
The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.
Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.
Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
A review of Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell.