Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bert Williams: The Early Years, 1901-1909 [Archeophone, 2004]
The final installment of Archeophone's complete digitalization of Bert Williams's recordings covers his earliest, dimmest recordings, and as history alone it's a triumph. Given the limited dynamics of these expertly restored acoustic discs and cylinders, that's not to claim he still sounds as vivid as he must have then. But his perfectly delivered loser's lament, "Nobody," retains extraordinary irony and pathos, and throughout his tone and timing are a wonder. It's impressive that he ever got the subtly barbed "She's Getting More Like the White Folks" past his bosses. "I'm Tired of Eating in the Restaurants," however, proves surprisingly universal. "Never Mo'" rhymes with Edgar Allen Poe. And the big butt of "The Phrenologist Coon" may be "the Williams character," or may be phrenology itself. [Recyclables]