Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Real Bahamas, Volumes I & II [Nonesuch, 1998]
Recorded by two young amateurs in 1965, initially released in 1966 and 1978, then re-released minus two tracks on one CD, these part-sung, finger-picked gospel songs constitute one of the great treasures of folkiedom's collecting adventure. Here is the individual untutored genius in the person of the literally nonpareil guitarist Joseph Spence. But here also for once is communal creativity in action, as leaders rhyme their couplets while so-called background singers dab, smear, and pixilate the music we're there for, and I dare you to decide who's who for the entirety of "God Locked the Lion's Jaw." Although full-fledged tunes rise up only intermittently from the quirkily articulated babble, many of these have been anointed classics--"I Bid You Good Night," "Out on the Rolling Sea," "Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend." The Bahamas became a haven for escaped U.S. slaves after slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834. Friendly but also mischievous and not all that easy to know, these folks sound as if they know the limits of friendship to be one of God's great truths. A