Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1974-00-00


Art Ensemble of Chicago: Bap-Tizum (Atlantic, 1973) I don't know much about art, but I know what I like. C-

Gato Barbieri: Bolivia (Flying Dutchman, 1973) I like this better than the well-reviewed Latin America: Chapter 1 (on Impulse) because I prefer Lonnie Liston Smith and Barbieri's other Afro-American sidemen to his less disciplined all-South American band. But not by much. Both are recommended introductions to the only jazzman this side of Miles Davis to translate avant-garde into semi-popular without sounding venal. A-

George Carlin: Toledo Window Box (Little David, 1974) Despite healthy bits of the affectionate wordplay--a somewhat sentimentalized legacy from Lenny--that is Carlin's major comedic strength, the main thing this proves is that making up too many dope jokes is almost as bad for you judgment as smoking too much dope. C+

John Coltrane: Africa Brass, Vol. II (Impulse, 1974) Those who've listened to them all assure me that this is indeed the first Coltrane LP since his death that isn't tainted with rip-off. I gave up listening to them, but I listen to this one all the time. A

The Credibility Gap: A Great Gift Idea (Reprise, 1973) The best writing on any comedy record since Don't Crush That Dwarf, sometimes flattened by inadequate acting. But the 15-minute Johnny Carson spoof is perfect, the ultimate expose of a subject you thought didn't need it. A-

Blossom Dearie: Blossom Dearie Sings (Daffodil, 1973) Whitney Balliett's notes compare her to Bobby Short, high praise from him but anathema if, like me, you think Short's show of class epitomizes what contemporary singing ought to avoid. Fortunately, Dearie has the grace to understate her high technique; she sounds like an emotionally substantial Astrud Gilberto. I can't think of a rock singer who could tiptoe so sure-footedly through these melodies, much less make them up, and if lyrical ploys about "velvet wine" are uncomfortably reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra, well, that's what happens when you sing for your supper club. B+

John Denver: Back Home Again (RCA Victor, 1974) Singer-songwriter folk fault Denver for his simple-minded escapism, implying a preference for subtle escapism in the manner of James & Carly. But if escapism is the context maybe Denver's transparency is a (small) virtue. Good wholesome product, no falser (or true) than the run of the competition, tuneful and chaste with flatness for that common touch. Maybe the folk are offended because he sold four million albums in six months. C+

Cass Elliott: Don't Call Me Mama Anymore (RCA Victor, 1973) How about Fatso? D

Firesign Theatre: Everything You Know Is Wrong (Columbia, 1974) Firesign's sci-fi schtick doesn't seem as revelatory in 1974 as it did in 1970, but this relatively lightweight piece about the end of the world is not only clever but honestly conceived--as coherent as there is any reason to expect, with enough laughs, verbal and aural, to justify its classification as comedy. A-

Becky Hobbs: Becky Hobbs (MCA, 1974) White slavery lives. The voices of Diana Ross and Brenda Lee contained in the soul of Bonnie Bramlett all held in thrall by an overbooked producer and a lead guitarist (old man?) who writes songs. Unfortunately, Becky writes songs herself. The voice of Bonnie Bramlett in the soul of Brenda Lee? C-

The Dave Holland Quartet: Conference of the Birds (ECM, 1972) This is what I believed Ornette Coleman meant by free jazz when I memorized Change of the Century 15 years ago--free as loose, loose as pliant and relaxed rather than sloppy and untethered. I even enjoy "Q&A" which sounds like it should go with an arty cartoon, and the title cut is so exquisite it makes my diaphragm tingle. A

Keith Jarrett: Fort Yawuh (Impulse, 1973) The first acoustic jazz record I've made an effort to like in years, and it was worth it. Side two is easy--Paul Motian draws you into "De Drums," and Jarrett's "Still Life, Still Life" is instantly pretty and gets better. But side one sounds like the usual new jumble for at least ten plays until suddenly Dewey Redman establishes himself as heir to Ornette, just like the highbrows say he is. Redman's Ear of the Behearer is my next project. A-

Sarah Kernochan: House of Pain (RCA Victor, 1973) The lyrics looked so great--like good words, not bad poetry--that I put the record on instantly, only to recoil seconds later. Admittedly, I got used to this mannered (ill-mannered?) music eventually; but I recommend a year of live audiences before her next studio date. C

Richie Lecea: Magic (Wooden Nickel, 1974) Country schlock-rock rides again beating itself about the head with violins. Inspirational Verse: "Got a feelin' what I think is real/I been wantin' to tell you 'bout the way I feel/Cause every moment you're here with me/Your smilin' and laughin' makes me feel so free." D

O.B. McClinton: If You Loved Her That Way (Enterprise, 1974) Inspirational Verse: "She found a way to raise her child and make a livin'/But no man wanted Dixie for a wife/Some folks said she was a wanton woman/But all she wanted was a better way of life." C-

Roger Miller: Dear Folks Sorry I Haven't Written Lately (Columbia, 1973) I mourned Miller's writing block actively; now I wish it would come back. He's turned into one more Nashville sentimentalist. Example: This album transforms "My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died" into "My Mother Used to Love Me But She Died" and adds superfluous soulettes. D-

Martin Mull: Normal (Capricorn, 1974) Not funny. D+

Elvis Presley: Good Times (RCA Victor, 1974) It seems somehow fitting that EP's best collection of new material in years looks like a sorry Camden reissue. B-

Richard Pryor: That Nigger's Crazy (Partee, 1974) Whether a white Voice writer has the right to enjoy a black comic mocking the desperate inadequacies of black junkies, chickenshits, and comedy fans ("You can't land here, nigger--this is Mr. Kramer's property") is a troublesome question. Meanwhile, I bust my gut. There hasn't been a stand up comedian funnier since you-know-who, and Pryor is funnier, if less solid. A

Burt Reynolds: Ask Me What I Am (Mercury, 1973) The plus is because the title lets everyone make up his or her own joke. E+

Ross: Ross (RSO, 1974) As soon as I heard that Robert Stigwood, who happens to control Ross's career thought the group worthy of opening for his prize property, Eric Clapton, I just had to hear the album. C-

Devadip Carlos Santana/Turiya Alice Coltrane: Illuminations (Columbia, 1974) Sri Chinmoy kicks this off with an om, which gives me the right to note that his om has nowhere near the punch and resonance of Allen Ginsberg's om. (If by "punch and resonance" I really mean "ego" I can only add "yay".) Then Carlos attempts once again to reproduce his own alpha waves on guitar and Mrs. Coltrane contributes background music barely worthy of "Kung Fu". C-

Chip Taylor: Last Chance (Warner Bros., 1973) Guess whose brother he is. Wrong. Jon Voight's. C

Wendy Waldman: Gypsy Symphony (Warner Bros., 1974) Waldman, one of the tougher female singer-songwriters provides a cautionary paradox for her sisters and herself, to wit: "Don't let your love get in the way/My good lover said." C+

Duke Williams and the Extremes: Fantastic Fedora (Capricorn, 1974) Sub-average white band. C-

Al Wilson: Show and Tell (Bell, 1973) So many of the LPs that spin off soul singles are vacuous that it may be a plus that this one is positively offensive, but its offenses are so vacuous that I doubt it. Look what he's done to "Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma"--copped it--and ask your schoolteacher friends whether show-and-tell isn't considered a white cultural imposition in ghetto schools. What can it all mean? D

This Is Reggae Music (Island, 1974) Unlike The Harder They Come, which collected the best songs of artists whose music was either unavailable or not rich enough to fill an LP, this sampler serves no function. The two cuts from the Wailers are not their top work, and a Maytals album that includes both should be available here soon. Some of the rest (Heptones, Joe Higgs) is pretty good; some of it (Lorna Bennett, Zap Pow) is pretty discouraging. C+

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