Robert Christgau was drunk and joking when he dubbed himself the Dean of American Rock Critics, but he meant it, and it stuck. You’d never hear David Menconi make so grand a claim. It would be contrary to his accessible, informed, but almost folksy writing, and unbefitting of someone who, in the prologue of his new book, locates the soul of North Carolina music in its people’s humble pragmatism. 

But he has a better claim to the state title than anyone else. Menconi is a reliable, populist rock-centric journalist and critic with an abiding interest in country, folk, and blues. His tenure chronicling local music for The News & Observer spanned three decades, beginning in the Camelot of early-nineties indie rock and ending in a wave of buyouts just last year. All of this richly funds Step It Up & Go (UNC Press), his engaging new history of a century’s worth of North Carolina’s popular music. 

With chapters focusing on figures as larger-than-life as North Carolina will allow—from proto-bluegrass rocker Charlie Poole and Piedmont blues exemplar Blind Boy Fuller to golden age hip-hop revivalists Little Brother and the empyrean heights of American Idol, with stops in R&B, beach music, indie rock, and points outlying—Menconi’s loving testament to our state’s musical heritage is brisk and fun but will also be cited as a reference for years to come.

I recently called up the Dean of North Carolina Rock Critics to blab