26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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Trade-size,271 pages of definitions. There is an author's note and an introduction. Also included is an annotated bibliography of dictionary sources,and a general bibliography. There is a list of people who the author consulted or interviewed-several (Gary Davis,Skip James,Son House,for example) before their death,and a list of abbreviations and symbols used in the text,which is very useful. True to it's title,the words and explanations are laid out like a dictionary,in alphabetical order. The acid-free paper is a very nice cream color,which makes reading (or looking up) the definitions easy on the eyes.
This book was originally begun in the 1960's,then put aside because of lack of publisher interest in the 1970's. In 2005,thanks to another scholar,Calt forged ahead,up-dated his manuscript,and finally had it published. And for everyone who listens to blues music,especially earlier styles from various regions (country blues from Texas for example),this book is a valuable key in unlocking words and phrases (both local and more widely known) which have alluded listeners for years. Included are more than 1200 definitions from the era of "race records" (as blues was then called) that have long ago lost their meaning for listeners in the present. Included are slang terms and place names that have been neglected until now. The meanings,explained in modern terms,are also shown in context in snippets of song lyrics from the era,which adds valuable insight to the word usage.
A number of these terms ("afterwhile","creeper",or "pallet" for example) can be figured out in the context of the surrounding words in the song. But to have a definitive meaning leaves no room for speculation. Other terms ("backbite","gauge","shim-sham-shimmy","dead cat on the line",as examples) need clarification. This is where this book comes into it's own. There are so many definitions of words and phrases that,in the modern world,are no longer relevant,or have simply been forgotten,that this wonderful book could be read almost as a history lesson in itself.
For anyone who listens to blues music and has wondered what a particular word/phrase means,this is something you need. As someone who has listened to blues music for over 40 years,I find this book opens up many doors,and gives much insight and understanding into songs I've listened to,and not been able to catch the full meaning of the lyrics. When Blind Willie McTell sings about putting his pistol "in so' ",now I know what he's really saying. What does "Blind" Lemon Jefferson mean by "jump a rattler"? Or when Robert Johnson sings about taking something out of someone's " 'nation sack",I now know what he's doing. Or when the MEMPHIS JUG BAND sings about a woman looking as good as a "Georgia ham",I now know what they're referring to. What does Lucille Bogan mean when she sings about someone being a "pot hound"? And just what does "graveyard love" really mean? This great book opens up the world of blues music/lyrics like no other. Either spot-reading or reading from cover to cover,this book is both entertaining and invaluable to blues lovers. If blues listeners want to know what they are really listening to-get this book.