Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1978-00-00


Any Old Time String Band: Any Old Time String Band (Arhoolie, 1978) The somewhat creaky musicianship of this all-woman quintet doesn't bother me, but if you have trouble putting your voice on a note and keeping it there, it's a mistake to let on that you care. Song finds: "Home in Pasadena" and (from old-time hero Bing Crosby) "C-U-B-A." C+

Bill Chinnock: Badlands (Northern State, 1978) I hope the reason Chinnock made his breakthrough in Maine is that no audience of city dwellers could tolerate his pervasive urban sentimentality, but I'm not taking bets. Decent melodies, humdrum Joisey arrangements, and a thick voice to go with his head. C+

Christ Child: Hard (Buddah, 1978) This is not punk rock. This is an ambitious, anonymous bunch of heavy metal pros who thought it might be timely to use the words "punk" and "New Wave" on the back of their debut LP, and who are now really pissed at Johnny Rotten. Inspirational Verse: "Blow it up/Tear it down." C-

Lee Clayton: Border Affair (Capitol, 1978) Clayton doesn't seem to like the term "outlaw," and although he does adduce a silver stallion he also mentions Bach, so I guess he's got a right. But how come he sings like his jeans are too tight? C+

Stanley Cowell: Waiting for the Moment (Galaxy, 1978) Side one offers a slight but delightful capsule history of acoustic jazz piano, beginning with a rag and a boogie-woogie from Jimmy Heath and moving on to compositions by Powell and Monk. Unfortunately, side two does something similar for electric piano; at times so devoid of content that you forget it's there. B+

Eruption: Eruption (Ariola America, 1978) From Frank Farian, creator of Boney M.: sharp disco interpretations of "I Can't Stand the Rain" and "I'll Take You There" on a danceable/listenable first side, a version of "The Way We Were" that would turn Rasputin into a Barbra Streisand fan, and "Party, Party," the poopiest song ever on that time-honored theme. C+

Freddy Fender: Swamp Gold (ABC, 1978) There are 15 songs here, most of them, from what I read on the back cover, originally hits for producer Huey P. Meaux, who loves Freddy almost as much as he loves his own catalogue. Nice idea. But Freddy's chronic case of hit-or-miss disease is unaffected by this treatment--of the four cuts I'd consider for the Real Best of Freddy cassette I'm going to compile some day, three do not seem to belong to Meaux. B-

Leif Garrett: Leif Garrett (Atlantic, 1977) This is not punk rock. And it isn't Shaun Cassidy, either. D

Stephane Grappelli: Parisian Thoroughfare (Arista/Freedom, 1978) This sprightly, elegant jazz violinist from the days of Django Reinhardt records all the time, in general quite nicely, which is confusing. After all, one's need for sprightly, elegant jazz violin is not unlimited. But this is a good one. For the straight stuff, swinging and serene, I like his Prestige twofer with Oscar Peterson. Here, Monkian pianist Ronald Hanna darkens the textures and jangles the rhythms for a modernistic effect that works as well on Chopin as it does on Bud Powell. A-

Hounds: Unleashed (Columbia, 1978) This is not punk rock. This is a hard-working, not untalented bunch of cock-rock pros who thought it might be timely to put a dragon lady sporting dog collar and chain on the cover of their debut LP, and who are now really pissed at Johnny Rotten. C+

Keith Jarrett: Bop-Be (ABC/Impulse, 1978) Unspiritual clod that I am, I can live my life content without ever going along on one of Jarrett's endless solo pilgrimages, but I love this collection of circa-1976 quartet material. Ah, ain't theme-and-improvisation grand, especially when Dewey Redman is showing so much control and heart on the saxophone that dominates what is nominally a pianist's record. Redman also contributes two angular compositions and a desultory one that I like anyway, and Charlie Haden chips in another two. I don't even mind when Jarrett plays soprano sax, or sounds--appropriately enough--like Brubeck on the final cut. Ah, ain't group creation grand. A

Millington: Ladies on the Stage (United Artists, 1978) June and Jean Millington led Fanny, an all-female band that never made a good album but was always hot live. They're now responsible for this Vegasy non-nutritive sweetener. And where the hell is Alice de Buhr, anyway? D

Charles Mingus: Cumbia and Jazz Fusion (Atlantic, 1978) I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I've never bought Mingus as Great Jazz Genius--Important Jazz Eccentric is more like it, I'd say, especially in his more ambitious compositions. The 27-minute title fantasia is rich, lively, irreverent, and enjoyable, but it's marred by overly atmospheric Hollywood-at-the-carnival moments, while the kitschy assumed seriousness of "Music for 'Todo Modo'" almost ruins its fresh big-band colors. B+

David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, Volume 1 (India Navigation, 1978) Rarely do I find much use for jazz that not only abandons theme but disdains melodic development, as both "Obe" (which runs 18 minutes) and (more modestly) "Nevada's Theme" do here. But Murray's saxophone and Lester Bowie's trumpet speak polymorphically enough to sustain simple interest, and to make up for the futuristic abstractions there's "Bechet's Bounce," a gently satiric, fiercely infectious Dixieland romp. A-

National Lampoon: That's Not Funny, That's Sick! (Label 21, 1978) Wisely, this takes off on specifically aural phenomena: radio above all, but also telephone tapes, other comedy records, and confession. If it were a little looser it would qualify as a '70s update of Firesign's Dear Friends. Highlights: Bill Murray seeks alms for WBAI, Les Skanx don't come, and the 2015-Year-Old Man throws in the toga. B

Johnny Paycheck: Take This Job and Shove It (Epic, 1978) If this is proof that country is the real working-class music, then the only oppressor the working man knows is the woman whose pedestal he supports and the only right he demands is the right to cry in his beer. There's enough anomie, male bonding, and random violence on this record to inspire one cover story on whither outlaw and another on whither punk, and although it offers numerous insights, I wish I believed just a few of them were as intentional as the catchiness of the tunes. B-

Alan Price: Alan Price (Jet/UA, 1978) Yet another demonstration that smart people have as hard a time writing credible love songs as everybody else. See Rick Danko. B

Proctor & Bergman: Give Us a Break (Mercury, 1978) In which the funny half of the Firesign Theatre regresses from mini-dramas to blackout bits. It figures that comedians who were so funny stoned should have trouble when they stand up. C

Sonny Rollins: Don't Stop the Carnival (Milestone, 1978) I've always felt that Rollins's Caribbean airs and easy expansiveness were well-suited to his fusionoid recording ideas of recent years, but the only album that has broken through for me is Nucleus. Even on this double-LP it's the relatively mournful standard, "Autumn Nocturne" and the relatively austere Donald Byrd (!) theme, "President Hayes," that tempt me past the dancey magic of the title cut, a tune Rollins has been playing for 15 years. And a good thing, too--the meat of the album is sustaining if not exquisite, jazz food that anyone can digest. A-

Sonny Rollins: There Will Never Be Another You (ABC/Impulse, 1978) But this much knottier 1965 session is the Rollins I keep going back to. The man is expansive here, too--casually interpolating rapt modal runs into his thoughtful thematic improvisations on the 16-minute title tour de force, for instance--but the context is more angular, with continual commentary by Billy Higgins (who shares the drumming with Mickey Roker) that erases the memory of Tony Williams's work on Don't Stop the Carnival. Also knotty is the question of who owns this music--Rollins has claimed in court that ABC had no right to release it. A

Archie Shepp: Steam (Inner City, 1978) You'd think records on which world-class saxophonists think on their feet in an inspired rush for 20 minutes a side would be as plentiful as John Coltrane reissues, but they're not, and this is one of them. Drummer Beaver Harris has a lot to do with how powerfully things flow. A-

Styx: Pieces of Eight (A&M, 1978) Wanna know why Starcastle is heavying it up? 'Cause they wanna go platinum, like Styx. Fortunately, Starcastle hasn't gotten to the cathedral organ yet. C-

Johnny "Guitar" Watson: Giant (DJM, 1978) Okay, John, I understand how you go about things. A week or two in the studio with your guitar Freddie and your drummer Emry and a bunch of electric keyboards and organic percussion devices you can beat on yourself. Get rid of the horn guys, sure, you can do without 'em. Write the songs inside; keep them casual, funny, and of course funky. Ideal formula dance music, I agree--no frills. But even disco artists avoid the word "disco" in titles these days--sounds gauche. Also, why are you fading your voice back? So that no one notices you're singing about having money instead of not having it? And what happened to the hooks? B-

John Paul Young: Love Is in the Air (Scotti Bros., 1978) If the title tune seems familiar it's because you tuned it out along with "Kiss You All Over" a few months ago. The culprits are ex-Easybeats Harry Vanda and George "No Relation" Young, the power-pop production heroes whose first LP with this singer actually did offer much of the bright thrust claimed for the style--not to mention the triviality that goes along with it. It didn't sell, though, and here V&Y prove their depth of aesthetic principle by mellowing and syncopating their boy into MOR AOR fodder, four leisurely tunes to the side. C-

Spitballs (Beserkley, 1978) I assume the title is a takeoff on Nuggets, and I approve of the concept--14 musicians playing all at once while trading lead vocals on beloved oldies both famed and anonymous. I find most of the remakes amusing and one or two amazing. But inevitably, the music is ragged. Anyway, I've never been impressed with cover versions by Earth Quake or the Rubinoos before, and I miss the pure dumb inspiration of the originals. B-

Woodstock Mountains: More Music From Mud Acres (Rounder, 1978) This superhoot features such upstate notables as John Herald, John Sebastian, Eric Andersen, the Traums, etc. The problem with such collaborations is that--unless the audience is autohyped, as is often the case--no group of 15 or 20 performers can touch any individual listener uniformly. It was love at first chorus between me and Herald's "Bluegrass Boy", and I suspect the song is irresistible. But is everyone else going to enjoy Artie Traum's arch "Cold Front" or John Sebastian's take on "Morning Blues"? Does Eric Andersen make everyone else's teeth hurt? Do harmonica duets put everyone else to sleep? Eventually the boredom is bound to even out. I'll play the first side again for sure, but that's me. For folk tokies only. B

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