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101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die

Review

101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die

Reviewer's Note: This book is more of a diary --- a window into the soul of Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo --- than a traditional graphic novel. I can not pretend to be able to review such a book as I would a more traditional work. Instead, I can only try to tell you why you need to read such an inventive and wonderful book.

Right from the very first few pages, Cavolo makes sure to explain just what this book is all about, and it isn’t what you were prepared for. Of course, it is a collection of his artwork --- a unique, earthy style of paintings --- but it also chronicles his journey through life, accompanied by a soundtrack of the various music he discovered along the way. In that respect, he can’t be “right” or “wrong” in his choices, as he is only giving us true north in regards to the music that shaped him --- a veritable map of his upbringing. Thankfully, the always stellar Nobrow Press produced this book with their usual class and style, and that only heightens the experience you get as a reader.

“One of the strengths of this book is that Cavolo doesn’t discriminate, or deviate in any way from his personal journey through music” 

What is music anyway? Some say that it is the most universal and oldest language on the planet, and might even transcend space and time altogether. That seems to makes sense when you read Cavolo’s musical diary, because he does a fine job explaining just what each band or genre did to him as he navigated his way to adulthood. I must preface the rest of this by saying that both Cavolo and I are cut from the same generational cloth, and much of the music he speaks of speaks to me in the same ways. But some of it doesn’t at all, and that is the inherent beauty of such a book. He says in his introduction that there are infinite musical paths to take in life, and this diary of his reflects only one of many such paths that can be traveled. He urges readers to make their own decisions, to “scribble mustaches on the ones you don’t like, and to stick in pages between these ones, with your written thoughts on them.” This not only opens the discussion up immediately in your brain as you start down his musical path, but it also shows you a vulnerable side of this multi-layered artist.

One of the strengths of this book is that Cavolo doesn’t discriminate, or deviate in any way from his personal journey through music. There are a wide variety of musicians depicted and talked about within these pages, from Bach and Mozart to Black Flag and the Beach Boys, and even Kanye West and Neutral Milk Hotel. Even if you haven’t listen to, or even heard of, many of the acts, Cavolo does his best to convey the feeling he gets listening to each artist. Some of the artists are not fully recognizable to an American audience, and vice versa, but they all hold a specific place in his heart, which is depicted beautifully upon each page. The art is so visceral and organic that the color schemes and imagery bleed into his personal anecdotes perfectly, making quite the distinct reading experience.

For fans of music of any genre, this book has a little bit of everything. Conversely, it also works as a gallery for some incredible artwork by one of Spain’s most internationally renowned illustrators. You can get quite the musical education thanks to Cavolo’s attention to detail in his musical journey through his life --- but you can also create your own journey, as he encourages in the prologue, and I intend to do just that. This book is full of so much personal baggage that Ricardo Cavolo leaves on the page, it inevitably evokes in the reader similar personal connections to what he depicts. For myself, I plan to add some bands and artists I feel strongly about, in between the pages he has laid out already, and pass this book along to some of my friends. I hope anyone who reads this book might do the same --- and that thanks to Cavolo’s foresight, we might all contribute to a global consciousness of musicians you need to listen to before you die.

Reviewed by Jeff Ayers on September 15, 2015

101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die
by Ricardo Cavolo

  • Publication Date: September 15, 2015
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Nobrow
  • ISBN-10: 1910620009
  • ISBN-13: 9781910620007