It is an indulgence we probably all share: the sweet delight of an hour or two spent with a knowledgeable pal, swapping musical anecdotes and opinions. Such is precisely the feeling engendered by Wilfrid Sheed’s wise and witty treatise on the tunesmiths who shaped the Great American Songbook. Though the esteemed novelist, critic and biographer adopts a bashful “Gosh, gee whiz, I ain’t no expert, just a mighty big fan” stance in his introduction, it quickly becomes evident that Sheed’s theories and opinions are as insightful as they are intriguing. His style is breezily conversational, with a tale about, say, Harold Arlen igniting a comment or two about Yip Harburg that then meanders in the direction of Johnny Mercer before winding back to Arlen; and he respects his readers enough to assume they already have appropriate knowledge of, and appreciation for, the tunes and craftsmen he’s discussing.
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