Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California, by Gerald W. Haslam (California, $29.95). The common assumption for years has been that what we know as "country" music comes from two places: the Appalachians and Texas. That indeed is where its oldest and deepest roots are to be found. But since the end of World War II a crucially important role in the genre's development has been played by California, particularly a tough, charmless town in Kern County called Bakersfield, from which emerged the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Workin' Man Blues (the title comes from the best of Haggard's many remarkable songs) is a lively and well-informed (if upon occasion excessively folksy) history of California Country by a retired English professor who resists any temptation he may have felt to subject Owens and Haggard, Rose Maddox and Rosie Flores to the theoretical analyses that are so popular among so many of his former colleagues. Instead he tells the tale in a straightforward fashion, with particular emphasis on the influence of the Okies on West Coast music and society, in the process unwittingly reminding us that country has always drawn on many more sources than is generally understood. After all, one of the giants of the genre's early years, Hank Snow, was from Nova Scotia. -- J.Y.
The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, by Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler (Oxford, $49.95). Leonard Feather ("most visible as the best-known writer on jazz in the world") and Ira Gitler began work on this volume nearly a decade ago. Feather died in 1994 and Gitler soldiered on, producing more than 700 pages of miniature biographies that may or may not be accurate -- what reviewer could check line by line? -- but are likely to rile more than a few readers. In part this is because they are more coldly factual than descriptive and analytical, but in larger part it is because they are erratic, sometimes inexplicably so, in length and content. Why is a full column devoted to a biography of Feather himself? This exercise in self-promotion (the words quoted above are taken from it) is as long as the biography of the great pianist John Lewis and longer than that of the similarly accomplished Sir Roland Hanna, yet Feather's musical (as opposed to journalistic) contribution to jazz was minuscule. It is astonishing that a comprehensive biography is accorded to Feather but none at all is given to such notable jazz writers as Whitney Balliett, Gary Giddins, Nat Hentoff or Hughes Panassie; adding insult to injury, Feather's biography is immediately followed by one of Feather's daughter that is almost as long as the biography of Anita O'Day! All of which brings to mind e.e. cumming's doggerel about Louis Untermeyer: "mr u will not be missed/ who as an anthologist/ sold the many on the few/ not excluding mr u." -- J.Y.
The Vibe History of Hip Hop, edited by Alan Light (Three Rivers, $27.50). "Six years ago, Vibe was launched to document the urban culture that had exploded during the previous decade," Light explains in his introduction. "I have been fortunate enough to be part of the magazine since its creation, and to watch it grow to its current status as the definitive voice of its generation. It has been a dream of mine to put together a complete history of hip hop, to trace the music from its roots to its future." The result is this compendium, which, Light claims, "brings together more than fifty of today's finest writers weighing in on the artists, scenes, and movements that comprise hip hop's epic destiny." Followers of hip-hop journalism will note the curious absence of some of Vibe's most talented commentators, most notably Joan Morgan, Scott Poulson-Bryant and Kevin Powell. Nonetheless, the Vibe history -- if not exactly complete -- does contain enough noteworthy writing to make it an ideal stocking stuffer for the hip-hop aficionado on your shopping list. Havelock Nelson's profile of hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc provides needed historical resonance. A typical Nelson observation: "Herc still feels like Little Richard -- an underappreciated visionary." The always reliable Greg Tate weighs in with the provocative "15 Arguments in Favor of the Future of Hip Hop," an appropriate coda to this collection. In his own inimitable style, he offers a thoroughly postmodern meditation on the genre that both comments on and incorporates the best qualities of the music itself. -- J.A.
Philadelphia Orchestra: A Century of Music, by John Ardoin (Temple, $75). This book celebrates 100 years of one of America's pre-eminent orchestras. Since giving its first concert as a permanent ensemble in November 1900, the Philadelphia Orchestra has offered a distinct mix of sounds and texture, a tradition pioneered by music director Leopold Stokowski and upheld by his successors. Twelve writers, each with varying associations with the orchestra as performer or listener, give a comprehensive view of Philadelphia's rich musical history and a personal look at the life of an orchestra from rehearsals and concerts to studio gigs to administrative logistics. We learn of its historic firsts and claims to fame (it was the orchestra for Disney's "Fantasia"), and meet the performers and adherents who have built a world-renowned reputation while discovering innovative ways to raise funds and play a role in the community they serve. -- C.S.
Elvis Day By Day: The Definitive Record of His Life and Music, by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen (Ballantine, $49.95). Though it is tempting to dismiss this stupendous compendium as the reductio ad absurdum of Elvis hagiography, in truth there is an undeniable fascination to its relentless accumulation of quotidian details. Like Guralnick's two-volume biography of Presley, #Elvis Day by Day tells far more about its subject than all but the most obsessed could possibly want to know, but it's amusing to poke around in search of odd (and utterly useless) facts: On the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination, Elvis watched television reports at his Los Angeles residence with Ann-Margret, but on Election Day a year later he apparently did nothing, and ditto for Richard Nixon's resignation a decade after that, and ditto, I am sorry to say, for the day I was born. Mainly he was on the road, in the recording studio, or on the movie lot, the end results of which were a good deal more interesting than what led up to them. Mark this one up not as a contribution to the historical record but as a singular curiosity. -- J.Y.