HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA — Looking for guidance on that next big personal music investment? Wondering if your Alvin and The Chipmunks collection is complete? Trying to settle a debate about whether Sgt. Pepper came before Magical Mystery Tour or whether Stairway to Heaven is available in a Bluegrass version? Well, if the All Music Guide can't help you, you probably can't be helped.
With more than half a million albums and close to four million individual track listings, the All Music Guide is the largest database of recorded music on the Web imagine an Internet Movie Database for music. (In fact, the Music Guide has a sister site of its own covering movies, and two others reviewing classical music and electronic games all under the umbrella of the All Media Guide.) But while the amount of information here can seem overwhelming, and it's definitely easy to engage in some very non specific browsing, it's also possible to move quickly to precise information.
The home page presents several options for navigating deeper into the site. Thumbnail album covers spotlight a handful of new releases (ranging, on my last visit, from a Deana Carter Christmas album to "Ludacris: Word of Mouf"). A series of 'genre buttons' take visitors to homepages for various musical styles (Country, Rock, Jazz, etc).
To the left, a short index column includes links to a much more extensive set of hundreds of Music Styles, (each leading to a homepage and beyond for that genre) as well as articles, books, a glossary, and Music Maps which present the 'roots and branches' of various forms of music. Complementing all these broad navigation methods is a keyword search, which will take you directly where you want to go applying visitor queries to such categories as artists, albums and recording labels.
To get a specific demonstration of the depth of AMG's material, I dropped the name of Jimmy Buffett into the keyword search. (A purely personal choice Buffett's tropical sounds are especially welcome during the long, cold, bleak, wet, dark and dreary Canadian winter I expect to be avoiding for the next few months.) The resulting Jimmy Buffett 'homepage' opened with some vital statistics, (birth date, record labels, career span) a short biography (in your choice of five languages) and a collection of Related Artists. (This list of collaborators, influences, and "Similar Artists" can be especially useful to anyone that may want to expand their roster of performers, but still stay close to a style they know they like.)
Further down the page, AMG displays a complete discography, (with compilations, box sets, singles and bootlegs all listed separately) plus a listing of other artist's records that Buffet and/or his songs have appeared on. And all this is only at 'level one.' Click on the title of an album, and you'll be taken to a new page with stats on that particular release, as well as a track list, credits, a list of "Similar/Related Albums," and a review (in your choice of five languages). Click on a song from the album, and the All Music Guide will provide a list of every other album in the database with that title in its track list. (Just in case you'd like to see if someone else has a better version of a favorite tune.)
The extent of material here truly is impressive, and if you're a music fan, you can easily go in with a fairly simple question, then find yourself spending hours following related link after related link. If you're not a fan, but are buying music for someone who is, this is still a valuable site, and you'll probably get more helpful information here than in most music stores.
The All Music Guide can be found at http://allmusic.com/.