From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this brilliant collection, music critic Ross (The Rest Is Noise) utilizes a wide musical scale--classical music in China; opera as popular art; sketches of Schubert, Bjork, Kiki and Herb--as a way of understanding the world. Featuring mostly revised essays published in the span of his 12-year career at the New Yorker, Ross offers timeless portraits that probe the ways that the powerful personalities of composers and musicians stamp an inherently abstract medium so that certain notes, songs, or choruses become instantly recognizable as the work of a certain artist. The virtuoso performance comes in the one previously unpublished essay, Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues, where Ross isolates three different bass lines as they wind through music history from the 16th-century chacona, a dance that promised the upending of the social order, through the laments of Bach, opera, and finally the blues. Ross nimbly finds the common ground on which 16th-century Spanish musicians, Bach, players from Ellington' s 1940 band and Led Zeppelin' s bassist John Paul Jones can stand, at least momentarily.
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Full of surprises and sharp observations, this “absorbing, illuminating, exciting collection” (San Francisco Chronicle
) gives equal billing to pop stars and classical composers, crossing musical margins with remarkable fluidity. Though they bear the New Yorker
’s signature style, most critics upheld Ross’s writing as eloquent and thoughtful, in language accessible to both laypersons and connoisseurs (although aficionados may have an easier time with the details). The Washington Post
complained that the essays lacked excitement and literary “zing,” but others praised Ross for the sense of adventure that imbues each piece. Readers may find it difficult to resist Ross’s enthusiasm, and Listen To This
will no doubt take an honored place on many a bookshelf.