Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Tom T. Hall: I Witness Life [Mercury, 1970]
I'm a fan of this Nashville original's most famous song, "Harper Valley P.T.A.," because like all his best work it combines pithy narrative with pithy ethics. Its flaw is that its truth is metaphorical--it sounds made up. The two greatest songs here--"Salute to a Switchblade" and "The Ballad of Bill Crump," one an autobiographical tale of barroom violence (and discretion) abroad, the other a biographical tale about the death of a carpenter--are documentaries in rhyme. The method isn't original, foolproof, or the only one in his kit. But boy, is he good at it. B+