Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Folkways: A Vision Shared -- A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly [Columbia, 1988]
Half a century after the fact, Popular Front song achieves the industrial credibility of Popular Front flick. It isn't just Uncle Pete and Li'l Arlo and Taj Mahal and Sweet Honey in the Rock pitching in on these Woody and Huddie covers, proceeds earmarked to help purchase the leftwing Folkways catalogue for the august Smithsonian Institution. It's magnates like Bruce and Mellencamp and U2, legends like Little Richard and Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan, even Willie and Emmylou defying country's rightwing line. And wherever they come from they put out. Dylan hasn't sung this fresh or Taj this tough in years, Arlo picks a lethal obscurity from his father's vast book, Mellencamp's folky pretensions seem natural, Springsteen escapes momentarily from his slough of significance, and Sweet Honey earn their leadoff spot. Every example I've cited threatens to surpass its model. Elsewhere, the material holds up. A-