Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nona Hendryx [extended]

  • Nona [RCA Victor, 1983] B+
  • The Art of Defense [RCA Victor, 1984] C+
  • Mutatis Mutandis [Righteous Babe, 2012] ***
  • The World of Captain Beefheart [KFW, 2017] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Nona [RCA Victor, 1983]
Charged with curbing Nona's insatiable desire to make rock records, Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn were abstemious enough not to make a Material record instead--just a slightly cerebral who-is-that-singing? funk record, with the cerebration mostly Nona's. As you might deduce, it could be smarter, but you can dance to it without losing your mind. B+

The Art of Defense [RCA Victor, 1984]
Nona earns her loyal insider support. She's honest; she cares about the right music and the right issues in the right way. But she just isn't as talented as you wish she was, and on this follow-up her undifferentiated melodies come back to haunt her. Her singing is surprisingly careful. Material's groove surprisingly careful, Material's groove surprisingly straight-ahead, and I can guess why--everybody involved knew how thin the ice was. C+

Mutatis Mutandis [Righteous Babe, 2012]
After a lifetime of well-regarded overstatement, her straight protest album embraces r&b subtleties no one who starts with "Strange Fruit" will believe are there ("When Love Goes to War," "Strange Fruit") ***

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart [KFW, 2017]
Although avant-guitarist Lucas accompanied and eventually managed Don Van Vliet during his mercurial 1978-1982 second coming, to reimagine him with post-soul artiste Hendryx he leans on Beefheart's blues-besotted youth. Ten of these dozen selections are from 1972 or before, and the two from 1967's Safe as Milk you may not believe are Beefheart at all--the Delta-as-desert "Sure 'Nuff Yes I Do" and "I'm Glad," a doowop torch song the captain wasn't tender enough to nail himself. Gentle ain't exactly Hendryx's default mode either, but she knows how to fake it, then switches smoothly into the jagged "Smithsonian Institute Blues." On the whole, the album cants sensuous, Latinizing Beefheart's jagged groove--before climaxing with the nutso "Tropical Hot Dog Night," which remains as much fun as two flamingos in a fruit fight. A-