Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute [Columbia/Egyptian, 1997]
Something about the spiritual proximity of country music's TB-racked founder-hero--plus, perhaps, Bob Dylan's grizzled guidance--moved these lovefesters to sing like the lowly mortals they are. Neatniks David Ball and Mary-Chapin Carpenter must have been warming up when somebody rolled the tape; even Bono comes down off his high horse a little, although his failure to get his feet out of the stirrups compels him to sing with his head up his ass anyway. As for Jerry Garcia, he just laid down his track yesterday with his new old-timey group, Dead and in the Way. Meanwhile, the great ones--Nelson, DeMent, Earle, and, in this context, Mellencamp, with Dylan topping them all--roll around in their cracks and crannies. Set off by loose-jointed arrangements that move naturally from Dixieland horns to I-for-Indiana fiddle, they reimagine these old songs as if the man who wrote them had had a chance to get old himself. Which in a sense he now has. A