From: Patrick Douglas Crispen
Subject: TOURBUS -- 8 FEB 03 -- ALLMUSIC GUIDE
Howdy, y'all, and greetings once again from deep behind the orange curtain in beautiful Irvine, California, the place where all your socks go when you lose them in the dryer. :P
Before we start today's journey of our little bus of Internet happiness, I have two quick announcements:
1. We'll finish up the "Next 21" on Tuesday-ish. In the interim, I've made a PDF handout showing *ALL* of the Next 21, and you are more than welcome to steal it. Just point your Web browser to
and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. You have to promise me, though, that you won't look at the last six sites on the handout until Tuesday. You don't want to ruin the surprise! :P
2. Back on Thanksgiving I promised to write a post on how to deal with spam. Well, you'll be happy to hear that your fearless bus driver is currently conducting a research project on spam, investigating if the commonly accepted admonition to "never reply to spam -- you'll only get MORE spam" is actually true.
In specific, I'm taking all the emails I receive in a week (~2,500) and sorting them by hand into various categories -- legitimate emails, list error messages, porn spams, drugs and health spams, etc. At the end of the week I'm going to reply to ALL of the spams that I can and then record what happens to the volume of spams I receive at 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months out.
I should have the baseline numbers ready for inclusion in Tuesday's post, and I'll keep you up to date as the months progress.
TOURBUS is made possible by the kind support of our sponsors. Please take a moment to visit today's sponsors and thank them for keeping our little bus of Internet happiness on the road week after week.
On with the show ...
Today's post comes from my father, the Rev. Bob "Bob" Crispen, who likes to guest write for us from time to time.
Did British composer Robert Simpson (perhaps best known for his symphonies) ever write any chamber music? What other groups besides Blood, Sweat and Tears did bass trombonist Dave Bargeron play in? Is piano deity Oscar Peterson's work with Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Joe Pass any good? What albums has Bill Laswell produced? Has Don Ellis's best album _Autumn_ ever appeared on CD?
Vladimir Bogdanov and friends' Allmusic Guide at
has been out there nearly as long as there's been an Internet. You've probably read AMG reviews at CDNow and other online stores (they recently moved from CDNow to Barnes & Noble). It's one of the best known trademarks on the net, and it's equally well known in its version on dead trees.
On a net where pages of links to other pages were the norm, the AMG was and is chock full of original content: reviews of recordings in nearly every genre.
Are the reviews any good? Well, you have to keep in mind that the reviewers are human beings with their own ears and their own prejudices, and some of the reviews are positively maddening -- only two and a half stars for Stan Kenton's _Live at Redlands_ and _Standards in Silhouette_? Absurd! If you're a jazz fan, you'll quickly discover the ubiquitous Scott Yanow's preferences and foibles, and you'll be able to guess around them for gems he neglects and artists he praises who'll leave you wondering what the fuss is all about.
And to their credit, the AMG reviewers correctly picked Babes In Toyland's _Fontanelle_ as their best and _Nemesisters_ as bloody awful, and they're spot on about Gerald Wilson and Slide Hampton.
Actually the reviews are the least important thing about the AMG. There are generally excellent lists of personnel (including producers, engineers, designers, and writers of liner notes), and *everything* has a link.
Want to know why George Flynn, the bass trombone player on Maria Schneider's _Coming About_ is so good? He used to play in the Canadian Brass. Want to know who recorded John Coltrane's song "Giant Steps"? One click and you discover *everybody* did -- and that Lionel Hampton wrote a song with the same name! Want to find out how many songwriters wrote a song called "I Love You?" You'll have to count them yourself, but it's a lot (hint: Bill Evans's first record has Cole Porter's "I Love You" if you want a place to start).
When a CD is available, again one click takes you to Barnes & Noble, a reasonable choice, undoubtedly determined by the exchange of money, but not always the cheapest place to buy the CD. Nor do they have the largest catalog of CD's. It's always worth looking at some favorite online CD stores like CDNow (which was acquired not long ago by amazon.com) just in case a CD you can't get from B&N is available elsewhere. Because of their business relationship, the AMG loses some effectiveness as a reference site.
If you've been to the Allmusic Guide before, you'll be pleased to hear that dates are much improved. In the past they'd confounded the date of the original release with the date of the CD reissue, a situation that still plagues many of the online record stores' databases. But the dates in the AMG are now nearly always the date of the original issue.
AMG's stablemate, the Allclassical Guide, which as you might suppose, is concerned with classical music, has fine biographies of the composers (I often search there even when I'm not in the market, just to read the biographies), and it divides a composer's work by genre (chamber music, symphonies, songs, operas, etc.), though occasionally you have to go to the listing of all works to find a particular composition. You can find the Allclassical Guide at
In general the works are categorized very carefully, and the biographies are scholarly and solid, if a bit too appreciative. You won't find Ferde Grofe called "the Walt Disney of classical music", for instance (I'm indebted to Jack Summers of WQED-FM for that delightful phrase). But the articles, if you read between the lines, will let you know who's on the first string and who's warming the bench.
Limitations? Pretty much that the recording has to have appeared on CD at some time. You'll find a few listings for recordings that have only appeared on vinyl, but not many. And there are some albums which not only don't have reviews, they lack even information about personnel and tracks. Generally those are the more obscure recordings and the recordings that haven't made it to CD yet.
And, while the search engine does its best to point you to the composer or artist you're looking for, rather than making you wade through a long list of similar names, sometimes they outsmart themselves. "Bach", for instance, takes you to the page for American composer Jan Bach, who I'm sure is a very fine fellow, but he isn't what most folks would consider the genuine article. "Johann Bach" takes you to a list of the Johann Bachs (had you forgotten J. Christian Bach?) where with another click you can find the composer of the St. Matthew Passion and the Orgelbuchlein.
A few errors are inevitable in an enterprise of this size: I think most concertgoers would be surprised to learn that Yo-Yo Ma played the Elgar Cello Concerto on viola (as you can tell from the opening notes, he did no such thing). But I had to look at a *lot* of pages before I found that.
There's an Allgame Guide and an Allmovie Guide, run by the same folks. The latter played it safe about _Magnolia_, summarizing other critics' reviews, which was a little disappointing. And since the Allgame Guide lists "Zelda no Densetsu: Toki no Ocarina", but not "The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time" (arguably the best game that ever appeared on the Super NES, and there's no reason I know of to recommend the Japanese version over the English version), I suspect there's some work to be done before it's ready for prime time.
Answers to the quiz: (Simpson) Yes, and it's stunning; it gives you faith in the power of 20th century music. (Bargeron) Howard Johnson's band Gravity where he shines on tuba and euphonium. (Peterson) Not just good, impossibly good. (Laswell) A ton of them, but I'd pick Praxis: Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) for some good recent work from the P-Funk alumni association. And (Ellis) yes, but it disappeared almost immediately afterward, and I'd sell one of my children to get a copy.
For folks who are running Opera 6, I've got a little prize. I've made a search.ini file that includes the Allmusic Guide, the Allclassical Guide, and some other sites I like better than Opera's defaults. Exit Opera, store your original search.ini file someplace, and install the new search.ini file in the Opera directory. You can get it at
That's it for today. Have a safe and happy weekend, and we'll talk again soon.