Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1975-00-00


Joan Baez: Diamonds and Rust (A&M, 1975) Recently, one of her lilting legions accused us non-lilters of being emotionally deaf. The other possibility is that she's emotionally dumb. C

Anthony Braxton: New York, Fall 1974 (Arista, 1975) Braxton's music is classified as jazz because Braxton is a black saxophonist who often plays with jazzmen, but that hardly covers it. The feeling is closer to eccentricity than it is to spontaneity, and just as I was starting to dig the cerebral exercises on side two--one cut features new-music synthesizer minimalist Richard Teitelbaum--I noticed that even the wildest of the new-jazz james on side one was sounding cerebral. Don't get me wrong--my cerebrum really got a buzz on. But this is often a little stiff. B+

Teresa Brewer: Unliberated Woman (Signature, 1975) If your jazz-entrepreneur husband bought you Nashville's finest for your 44th birthday, you might think unliberation paid yourself. C-

Albert Brooks: A Star Is Bought (Asylum, 1975) Brooks apparently lives in a milieu so saturated with comedy that laughter itself seems redundant, perhaps even vulgar. All that matters is the idea of Funny. In just that sense, the album is very Funny. Fortunately, it is also good for a modicum of laughs. Reminiscent in tone of Are You on Something? by Ray D'Ariano, who is now a successful promo man at MCA, where he keeps everyone in the office in stitches. B+

Can: Soon Over Babaluma (United Artists, 1974) As überrock goes, this is diverting enough, ricky-ticking along through various moderately arresting sci-fi soundtrack noises, some of them melodies. But fondness for the machine does not necessitate separation from the body. Just ask Miles Davis. B-

Crackin': Crackin'-1 (Polydor, 1975) Inspirational Verse: "Throw away all your thoughts of failing/We're all important to someone/But even though your house may need painting/Yours is not the only one/We will all fall in line." Parr-tee! C-

Richard Digance: Richard Digance (Mercury, 1975) If God is just, why doesn't He or She grant this lyricist a melodic gift? Or at least a melodist? B-

Duke Ellington and Ray Brown: This One's for Blanton (Pablo, 1972) That the man played with such lithe ambition in his seventies is a challenge not only to the senescent theory of youth culture but to all lingering truisms about youthfulness. That is, this is alive, and what else matters? I wish the movements of the suite that occupies side two were as attractive in themselves as each of the songs on side one is. But any pianist who can suggest the severe understatement of a Basie or Monk and the rather juicy extravagance of a Tatum or Garner in successive phrase has obviously earned the right to make big big statement--as if that's not obvious already. A-

John Entwistle's Ox: Mad Dog (Track, 1975) This bit of inspirational verse is meant to apply to "ladies," but it might just as well apply to you and me: "Ooh you're trying too hard, sit down and relax/I'll tell you what you gotta do/There ain't no sense in running after them/We'll turn around and let them run after you." B-

W.C. Fields: The Further Adventures of Larson E. Whipsnade and Other Taradiddles (Columbia, 1974) A quarter century after his death, Fields is harder to deny in the contemplation than on the TV or the stereo. Sure, he was a great comedian, but that doesn't make his films or records compellingly funny. Poppy and The Great Radio Feuds, two companion discs, suffer from limitations of format and context (radio play, complete with ingenue at swimming hole for sex appeal, running gags about Charlie McCarthy's wooden legs) that seem quaint at best. This collection, however, is so wild that to call it surrealistic is to taint it with aesthetic respectability. Laugh first, appreciate later, I say. A-

Flo & Eddie: Illegal, Immoral and Fattening (Columbia, 1974) No heavy surprise, rock critics usually make lousy records, but not this lousy. Kaylan (wonder why he changed his name from Kaplan) and Volman would have provided some formal balance by including a song about how Jews own all the record companies. We are not amused. C-

Sonny Fortune: Long Before Our Mothers Cried (Strata-East, 1974) Support your local jazz musicians. Fortune is a sax player whose warm-up for the Wailers at Schafer turned my head around not with its originality--Fortune is a cultivator rather than a ground-breaker--but with its commitment to plain good music, from bop to new thing. A righteous thing to do with your life, and righteous to hear. Despite even the bracing piano comps of Stanley Cowell, there's nothing compelling here. But satisfying. B+

Dizzy Gillespie: The Giant (Prestige, 1973) It's gratifying to hear how little the performing vitality of one of the creators of bebop has diminished over three decades; he's still making satisfying records. Personally, I prefer this twofer (a 1973 Paris session that features Johnny Griffin, Kenny Drew and Kenny Clarke) to the more recent Dizzy Gillespie Big 4 (done for Pablo Records with Joe Pass, Ray Brown, and Mickey Roker) because it stresses raunch and rhythm. But both albums are survivor's music: loose and quick-witted, almost untouched by the fierce inward turning that drove so many beboppers into one dead end or another. And that's probably just the reason that both lack the sense of conceptual urgency that hooked me on bebop. B+

The Golliwogs: Pre-Creedence (Fantasy, 1975) Anyone who tells you this accumulation of failed singles and unreleased tapes recaptures the fabulous rock and roll of yore must have spent 1966 in a garage trying to figure out the changes to "She's Not There." Tom Fogerty dominates, and back then the production was even duller than his singing and writing; John begins to sound like himself only on the two final cuts. D

Henry Gross: Plug Me Into Something (A&M, 1974) Living proof that in rock and roll, good tunes can addle the brain. Henry's first album made him sound like a bright fella, now he sounds like he remembers how a bright fella sounds. C+

Joe Henderson: Canyon Lady (Milestone, 1975) Professional ambition and product-conscious mediocrity can vitiate any music. Henderson was a promising tenor player whose economical, full-toned solos were a major attraction of Horace Silver's late 60's group. Now he fronts his own band, stretching his talent over multi-percussive tracks that last eight or nine minutes and adding some tasteful brass for aesthetic panache. The result is far from offensive. But it's pointless. C+

Keith Jarrett: Death and the Flower (Impulse, 1975) Jarrett has the kind of gift that is labeled genius because it's so hard to put down. But for a genius, he makes an awful lot of music that can best be described as pleasant. Granted that its pleasantness is substantial and sensual and spirited all at once. Granted too that the accomplishment of this album is more reliable than that of his last group effort, Treasure Island. I still expect more from a genius. B

Jerry Jordan: Phone Call From God (MCA, 1975) Jordan is a Christian comedian who makes jokes about arcane subjects like tithing. I like him. He's sharp, charitable, genuinely folksy, and without sanctimony, reminding me of all the best qualities of the people in the church where I grew up. And it's worth noting that I got a lot more pleasure from this than from the latest George Carlin. B

Robert Klein: New Teeth (Epic, 1974) The funniest album by a standup comic since George Carlin's Class Clown leaves behind the grammar-school nostalgia--which although frequently amusing always seemed formulaic when it wasn't--that kept Klein from sounding commercially uncompromised. Unlike Carlin, Klein gets better all the time. Never trivial, never cynical, never lacking a comic purpose for his outrage, he's up there with Pryor and Tomlin. A-

Alvin Lee: In Flight (Columbia, 1974) Considering that this live double-LP might well have consisted of eight or nine speed-rapt blues solars and a couple of shorties, it is a triumph of discipline, and Lee's countryish r&b renderings do no dishonor to the memory of Elvis Presley. But his own compositions lack bite, and the covers are never more interesting that the originals. Elvis's most always were. B-

John Mayall: New Year, New Band, New Company (Blue Thumb, 1975) And a brand new batch of clichés. C-

Miami: The Party Freaks (Drive, 1974) Inspirational Verse: "Girl with the see-through pants on/ I can see through to your bone/ What I see is outta sight/ Tell me, can I love you tonight?" C-

Elvis Presley: Today (RCA Victor, 1975) Just in case you were starting to think there's no such thing as eternal life, I decided to acknowledge this, one of the King's thrice-yearly mixes of three (almost classic) killers and seven (not bad) fillers. As sloppy as ever, of course--you want he should be neat? B-

Richard Pryor: . . . Is It Something I Said? (Reprise, 1975) All comedy albums have flat bits--which probably vary from listener to listener--and there are moments here when you get the feeling Pryor is making nasty not to shock but to fulfill expectations, like the guys in the fourth year of Hair waving their cocks at the tourists. But his long tale about Mudbone (stupidly edited between two sides) is so breathtakingly wise and weird that--and I never say this--it's worth the price of the record. A lot of the rest is pretty funny, too. Maybe you and your friends can chip in. A

Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes: Expansions (Flying Dutchman, 1974) I enjoyed the directness of this at first--piano improvisations striding over solid multi-percussion, in the spirit of Smith's former leader, Gato Barbieri, without the manic harshness. Then I begin to hanker for some harshness. It's not just the strings, which are at least as intelligent as, say, Alice Coltrane's, and less ubiquitous. It's also the rhythms themselves, serving a purpose so expanded and cosmic that it's not even spiritual anymore, thus rendering their connection to the body irrelevant. C+

Shoji Tabuchi: Country Music My Way (ABC/Dot, 1975) Tabuchi is a trained concert violinist born in Daishji, Japan, who now plays fiddle for David Houston. He also sings. His first album, which would be an instant camp masterpiece in a truly pluralistic culture, is recommended to all those seeking further insight into the musical art of Yoko Ono. D-

Cecil Taylor: Silent Tongues (Arista/Freedom, 1974) Since I recommend Taylor's appearances so extravagantly, it's only fair to note that there is a natural theater to his live performance that I miss on record--observing his concentration greatly increases my own. Especially solo, he's too abstract for a rock and roller to follow, although I love his Monkish early group sessions, recently reissued on a Blue Note twofer called In Transition. Even more than usual, take my grade as a measure of personal usefulness rather than aesthetic merit. B

Lily Tomlin: Modern Scream (Polydor, 1975) When I hear Tomlin impersonate Suzie Sorority or explain how she managed to play a heterosexual in Nashville ("I've seen these women all my life, so I know how they walk, I know how they talk".) I thank God for making us a woman comedian instead of another light comedienne. Next time, though, I hope She makes her a little funnier. B

The Undisputed Truth: Higher Than High (Gordy, 1975) Finally a disco song that imparts new meaning to the term "boogie on down." Inspirational Verse, from "Poontang": "People say I ought to be ashamed of myself/Because I don't make love like nobody else/You see I was in the war y'all and Lord I got wounded/And when I got home to my wife I got down on my knees and spooned it." C+

Randy Weston: Carnival (Arista/Freedom, 1974) A delightful discovery. Weston applies the rigorous wit of Monk to easy rolling African polyrhythms, and they hold up. The title cut suggests a time when intellect is transcended rather than blotted out and makes Lonnie Liston Smith sound pretty sloppy. B+

David Wills: Barrooms to Bedrooms (Epic, 1975) Q. Can a tear-jerker have a formal precision of its own? A. Maybe, if the singer wears black-rimmed glasses, keeps a microphone in his nose, and doesn't take his seriousness too seriously. Time 25:53. B

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