Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rich Krueger

  • Overpass [Rockink EP, 2017] *
  • Life Ain't That Long [Rockink, 2018] A
  • NOWThen [Rockink, 2018] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Overpass [Rockink EP, 2017]
For completists only, an EP comprising early arrangements of four since-finalized songs, one focused by the simpler music, and a 1991 workshop lark about a folk festival ("In Between Kingfish," "Kerrville, O My Kerrville") *

Life Ain't That Long [Rockink, 2018]
Born on a Wednesday full of woe, a 58-year-old Chicago neonatologist undertakes to show the world he's also a major songwriter, complete with wavery high baritone that hurts so much it'll make ordinary mortals wince. Although most of his evidence dates from the current century, only two selections are near new. The most recent goes on about Nero--"At night in his garden, Christian torches glow / He entertained the masses with fiddle and bow"--before observing that "a lie is a lie, and not 'fake news,'" and should you wonder what a Christian torch is, the CD comes with a useful booklet that will also make you wince. So will "The Gospel According to Carl," which re-enacts the pre-suicide ruminations of a car salesman who just discovered his conscience, and "Ain't It So Nice Outside Today?," which diagnoses suffering sinners who lust for life against all odds. Two songs praise Sid Vicious, a bunch indicate in agonizing yet generous detail why the guy's love life hasn't been everything it might, and the most memorable of all can't get over that girl he ditched so stupid when he was 17. Krueger's band accommodates horns, violin, accordion, and femme chorus. He borrows afterhooks from Bonnie Tyler and Jose Feliciano. And somehow I never mentioned that he can be pretty funny. Also nice. A

NOWThen [Rockink, 2018]
On his second self-financed album of 2018, an ambitious project Dr. Krueger reports was "as expensive as owning and operating a large yacht"--trifold CD case, 20-page booklet, cameos from 11 studios nationwide--the singing neonatologist juxtaposes selections from his '85-'98 (Then) and '07-'18 (NOW) songbooks, between which he wrote nothing except an array of scientific papers we'll assume share with his songs both spectacular intelligence and irrepressible verbiage. Three of the NOW songs are superb--"Kenny's (It's Almost Christmas in This Bar)," the good-time opener every smart guy needs; "O What a Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful Day," the lowdown from the obstetrics theater; and the jaw-dropping "Don," about a contrarian youth, why Leopold loved Loeb, and the untrustworthiness of all entertainment. But that leaves out the guy with the underwater mortgage and a Wal-Mart tent and whether Robert Johnson understood a word Charley Patton said, both NOW, and also the love song that survived the marriage and the love song about the waitress hung up on Leon Trotsky, Graham Greene, and Rick Derringer, both Then. That last one does get a little Byzantine. Nonetheless, here be a literary songwriter of the first rank whose pipes benefited from his long break and who's reeled in enough fine musicians to execute his ambitious arrangements. Vanity projects seldom come prouder. A-