Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mary McCaslin

  • Way Out West [Philo, 1974] A-
  • Prairie in the Sky [Philo, 1976] B+
  • Old Friends [Philo, 1977] B+
  • Sunny California [Mercury, 1979] B-
  • A Life and Time [Flying Fish, 1981] B-
  • Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin [Philo, 1992] **

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Way Out West [Philo, 1974]
Without self-dramatization--she favors plain melodies and commonplace imagery and her singing is gamely unhistrionic--this woman explores Joni Mitchell's territory with equal intelligence, more charm, and no drums. Her album is a rough song cycle in which she responds to the footloose incorrigibility of the musicians she loves by getting in a car with a guitar herself--without romanticizing the process. A-

Prairie in the Sky [Philo, 1976]
I consider it just that the most convincing cowboy-based music in years should come from a woman who starts off with this request: "Pass me by if you're only passing through." The voice is high and lonesome, not given to gush; the instrumentation is built around an acoustic guitar, but accommodates a single French horn, a drumset, or both, when appropriate; the songs--both borrowed and original--are a lesson to L.A. cowboys everywhere from an L.A. cowgirl who makes her records in Vermont. B+

Old Friends [Philo, 1977]
Side two begins brilliantly, seguing from "My World Is Empty Without You" to "The Wayward Wind," two unjustly forgotten chestnuts from disparate traditions that are freshened immeasurably by McCaslin's eccentric, exacting mountain style. But "Blackbird," which leads to a charming "Don't Fence Me In," has been overrecorded, and the finale--the title cut and sole original--is flat. Side one's three highlights are nice enough, but "Oklahoma Hills" doesn't live up to Arlo's, much less Woody's, and "Pinball Wizard" is a weird, brave mistake. In short, the interpreter's dilemma--attagirl, but no cigar. B+

Sunny California [Mercury, 1979]
I could warn ya that Linda and Nicolette's prior claim on all early-'60s revivals is established conclusively on the lacklustre arrangements on "Cupid" and "Save the Last Dance for Me." But would Linda or Nicolette risk putting five of their own songs on a major-label debut? They don't even have five of their own songs. B-

A Life and Time [Flying Fish, 1981]
When I fail for a fourth time to listen to a title song all the way through, I stop blaming myself and start blaming the singer-songwriter. Whose best original here, a passionately reserved exploration of the limits of gotta-move-on-babe, was written in 1969, and whose best cover, a passionately tender lesson in the limits of I-can't-trust-babe, copies an arrangement by the Dirt Band. Side-openers both, which is why I bothered with the title song. B-

Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin [Philo, 1992]
progressive schoolmarm as spirit of the West ("The Bramble and the Rose," "Last Cannonball") **