Book Review: The White Label Promo Preservation Society Vol. 2

When the first volume of The White Label Promo Preservation Society was published in 2021, the world gained a valuable resource: a passel of knowledgeable and engaging writers shared their insights on a tall stack of albums that escaped widespread success. Making their cases in eloquent fashion, the roster of music journos (and journo-adjacent types) effectively created untold numbers of must-have lists for music listeners hungry for something – if not new than – new-to-them.

Not surprisingly, that thick title didn’t exhaust the supply of coverage on overlooked records. Instead, it clearly inspired not only many readers, but a round-the-block line of worthy writers wishing to get in on the action.

So comes a second volume, again edited by Sal Maida and Mitchell Cohen. This new volume – again from HoZac Books – picks right up where its predecessor left off. Anyone looking for a road map of sort of you-shouldn’t-have-missed-this titles will find a bumper crop in this book.

There are few comparatively obvious artists represented here. Listeners with relatively wide-ranging tastes already know the value of music by Françoise Hardy, David Johansen, Mitch Ryder and the like. But they (you) might not necessarily know which titles represent a good place to begin further investigation. This book provides that: commendably, many of the writers contextualize their discussions by offering capsule commentary on the artists’ other releases.

Hardcore fans of specific subgenres – take sixties psych and proto-progressive, for example – might already know about Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera. But Mike Stax’s coverage of their sole release provides a fuller picture of that record, and certainly sent me back to re-listen to my copy. And Manfred Mann’s overlooked period (post “Mighty Quinn,” pre “Blinded by the Light”) is rich with gems for the (again) musically adventurous sort;

Some obvious pairings of writer and subject are highlights. Of course you’d have Richard Barone write about Tiny Tim. And Pat Thomas is the right man to tell us about an artist such as Davey Graham. Same for Steve Wynn writing about The Gun Club. It’s no surprise that some of the most engaging writing here is done by writers whose day job (so to speak) is making their own music. Wynn, Barone, Dennis Diken, Edward Rogers, Jason Victor and others all turn in excellent essays.

But writers who are known as writers also do a fine job here, as chapters by Jeff Tamarkin, Warren Kurtz and many others demonstrate. Their choices are fascinating, and often surprising in the best possible way.

By its very nature, a book such as this displays a range of tones and styles. But in general, there’s a rhapsodic, sometimes breathless character to the writing. A few missteps are included; I won’t mention them by name, but will simply observe that if an essay is too personal – too much me-me-me about the writer and not enough about the subject – then it fails to land with me. And one particular annoying essay seems to have been written while its author was coked up, or on something, at least. I found myself thinking, “Enough, already; I get it.” And a (very) few essays seem half-baked, as if they were dashed off hours before (or maybe even after) deadline.

But those few are outliers. For every dud essay, there are literally dozens that will enlighten, inspire and motivate the reader. That’s what good writing does, and that, ultimately, is what The White Label Promo Preservation Society Vol. 2 does.