SATANIC folk music; singing policemen; country music from other countries. If none of these enticing musical sub-genres mean anything to you, how about religious ventriloquism or Brazilian psychedelia? Incredibly Strange Music Vol II (RE-Search pounds 15.99, via Airlift, 26-28 Eden Grove, London N7 8EF) is the second instalment in an invaluable introduction to a magical netherworld of bargain-bin insanity.
If you are never likely actually to own a copy of The Braillettes' Our Hearts Keep Singing or The Goldwaters' Some Folk Songs To Bug The Liberals, it is some consolation to look at pictures of their covers. And the informative interviews compiled by editors V Vale and Andrea Juno maintain a judicious balance between collectors like US punk godfather Jello Biafra and practitioners like synthesiser pioneer Robert A Moog. For those in desperate need of the lowdown on the bizarre easy-listening cult of Juan Garcia Esquivel: the waiting is over.
The Lou Reed who stares stone-facedly from the front of Victor Bockris's Lou Reed: The Biography (Hutchinson pounds 17.99) is a real child-frightener, but next to the man inside the covers, he's a pussy-cat. Bokris's unsparingly grotesque vision of Reed - as a vicious and pathetically insecure control freak who even lies about his height - does not add much to our understanding of his music. This book, perhaps surprisingly given its author's Warholian pedigree, is most interesting on Reed's pre-fame years: his hair-care problems, his free jazz college radio show, the electric shock treatments designed to "cure" him of homosexuality.
There are some revealing encounters, for example Reed listening respectfully to and even acting on advice from Bono: "If you sang `Sha la la' more the audience would sing along with it." The book ends with Reed having just broken up The Velvet Under-ground for the second time, alone in his penthouse, "playing his guitar with an array of machines he controlled with his foot".
Barney Hoskyns' Across The Great Divide (Viking pounds 7.99) is a much more sympathetic piece of work. It's an authoritative, not to say weighty, study of that American legend, The Band. Given that The Band's own Rick Danko has remarked that one of their most magical qualities was that they "left something to the imagination", a detailed investigation of their history was a pretty perilous undertaking. Hoskyns pulls it off, though, and without undermining the resonance of his subject: "a blue-collar bar band, steeped in blood, sweat and beer" who created (arguably!) "the most soulful, haunting music ever made about America".
The raciest reads come from the horse's mouth, and if it's blood and sweat (but not beer) you want, Henry Rollins's Get in The Van (2.13.61, pounds 20) has them by the bathful. …