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by Richard Gehr, January/February 2010 issue
On Sept. 1, the online store Amazon.com and The Internet Movie Database, IMDb.com, debuted their new music site, SoundUnwound, which they hope will combine IMDb's comprehensive accumulation of facts with Wikipedia's collaborative, reader-written character—along with easy, on-site shopping, of course. At present, the site isn't much use for anything outside rock and pop (if you've got some time on your hands, Ludwig van Beethoven and Lefty Frizell still await profiles), but it could evolve into a vast source of free information in years to come.
Until then, here are some music sites that do an outstanding job in their respective fields:
A terrific site for jazz news, reviews, columns, and interviews, All About Jazz strives to illuminate the music for beginners and seasoned snobs. A robust forum addresses topics ranging from "Yet another jazz newbie looking for recommendations" to "Wild Fusion Jazz" and everything in-between. The site’s Jazz News Center posts up-to-the-minute tidings, and both professional and amateur enthusiasts contribute CD reviews of both familiar and exceedingly obscure artists. In its kitchen-sink approach, All About Jazz embodies the ideal of what a genre-oriented site should be. Runner-up: Jazz.com.
Glossier and more corporate than most music sites, but no less useful, The CMT (Country Music Today) cable channel's site focuses on country music's present while respecting its glorious past. For this we could probably thank its editor, Chet Flippo, who applies decades' of historical perspective to his weekly "Nashville Skyline" column. You'll also find plenty of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Reba McEntire videos, and entire TV shows, too, as befits a site attached to a TV station. Runner-up: The 9513.
Classical music attracts intriguing individual sensibilities. My favorite read is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog, which is written by a novelist who also covers classical music for the British newspaper "The Independent." Duchen is foremost a fan, albeit a particularly knowledgeable one. Her latest posts include an article on conductors eschewing formal wear onstage, a rave review of a new production of "Carmen," and observations on the London Symphony Orchestra/South Ossetia connection. Runner-up: Classical Net.
Among countless pop and rock sites, Sonic Boomers (disclosure: for whom I've written) concentrates on rock, soul, blues, jazz, country, and roots music that older audiences, in their greater wisdom, might appreciate. The current edition includes reviews of new Frank Sinatra, Southside Johnny, and Little Feat recordings; vintage features on Todd Rundgren, Elvis, and the Band; and Bucks Burnett's colorful memories of writing ad copy for Warner Bros. back in the day. Runner-up: Rolling Stone.
Shades of Blue provides decent entry into the blues world, but tends to drop the ball when it comes to contemporary artists. For African music on a global scale, however, nothing comes close to Afropop Worldwide, which complements a lovingly produced weekly syndicated radio show devoted to African and world music. The site takes its international mandate seriously, and is just as likely to focus on the music of Cuba, Jamaica, and Black Peru as on Africa's inestimable musical riches. Runner-up: The Voice of America's African Music Treasures.
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