Music Makers: Portraits And Songs From The Roots Of America
This book of photos and essays, packaged with a CD, arises from and benefits a project of undeniable worth — the Music Makers Relief Foundation and its work to nourish true-vine blues musicians.
North Carolinian Tim Duffy has spent more than a decade locating and nurturing, and, in some cases, recording and promoting, many great, underappreciated roots musicians. He’s earned the support and endorsement of B.B. King, who provides a forward here, and such big names as Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Pete Townshend and Rosanne Cash.
“I cannot encourage people enough to learn more about MMRF and to listen to the music that they document and promote,” King writes. So it would be pleasant to report that the book at hand also makes an important contribution. But somehow, purely as a book, it fails to hang together.
After King’s piece, there’s also a forward and an introduction providing a detailed history of Duffy’s evolving work with artists. Then comes what seems to be the heart of the book — individual sections on dozens of artists whose work has been spotlighted by the foundation.
However, there’s a confusing lack of focus to the way each artist is presented. There’s at least one photo of each — and the book has some really moving photographs by Duffy, Mark Austin and Axel Kustner. But there the similarities between entries end. Some artists get only a few sentences; some get a few paragraphs; some get a few pages. It’s not made clear whether the difference in treatment is based on importance or some other factor.
It’s difficult to understand why some people get so much more space and why some are here at all. Taj Mahal is great, and clearly supports this endeavor, but his career is well-known. Why would he be portrayed next to the likes of Joe Lee Cole and Cora Fluker?
Amid the many shorter items, contributors including Kustner and Peter Cooper offer strong, in-depth essays on artists such as “Snake Woman” Willa Mae Buckner, West Virginia white bluesman Carl Rutherford, and Mississippi Sheiks cohort Eugene Powell.
There’s plenty of interesting information about a group of artists Duffy and his supporters have helped bring to light. In the end, though, Music Makers becomes more a volume to leaf through than a work that offers compelling, deeply grounded context for these mostly aging musicians their lives and times.