Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2005-03-22

2005-03-22

Bembeya Jazz National: The Syliphone Years (Sterns Africa, 2004) Guinea's socialist dream in one decade and two CDs ("Armée Guinéene," "Telephone"). **

Solomon Burke: Make Do With What You Got (Shout! Factory, 2005) "I Need Your Love in My Life" Choice Cuts

Clem Snide: End of Love (SpinArt, 2005) Since all the lines make sense, and almost all the stanzas almost make sense, you keep waiting for the songs to make sense. And waiting, and waiting, through calm, memorable arrangements that are never in a hurry. But they rarely come clear, perhaps because Eef Barzalay believes it isn't just love that's ending, it's the world, and what exactly is sensible about that? As befits an Israeli in Nashville in the end times, he worries about his relationship with the Almighty, so it's no surprise that "Jews for Jesus Blues" parses fine: "Now that I'm found I miss being lost" means what it says, with attendant explanations. The next song is called "God Answers Back": "If you get everything you hope for/Then I will have to punish you." Which really isn't fair. But what can we mortals do? A-

Clinic: Winchester Cathedral (Domino, 2004) Decried for the sin of repeating themselves by those who once discerned the face of the Blessed Virgin in their surgical masks, these minor formalists find their calling. Really, children, they were never punky enough for fast-short-hard. Here, their structures adamantly circular and their tunes less catchy but more durable, they make dandy mystagogues on an album that begins inarticulate and attains the nirvana of total nonverbality. A-

Cyod: Better Sh!*$ on the Way! (Trust Me, 2003) Sound kind of Giant Sand, think more Hold Steady ("Hey Moe--You Kicked Ass," "Apt. K"). **

Daddy G: DJ-Kicks (!K7, 2004) Long on hooks and cameos, the Wild Bunch DJ's mix tape connects by the crude expedient of not proving how obscure his crates are. Sure he showcases rare versions of Tricky's "Karmacoma" and Aretha's "Rock Steady," but the songs you know--and if you don't, you will. Think of it as Massive Attack dinner music, nothing more, nothing less. B+

De La Soul: The Grind Date (Sanctuary, 2004) Weary blues from waiting ("The Grind Date," "Rock Co.Kane Flow"). *

Delays: Faded Seaside Glamour (Rough Trade, 2004) Dud

Diplo: Florida (Big Dada, 2004) Unlike true turntablism fans, I'm glad Shadow casts such a shadow ("Big Lost," "Sarah"). *

Eagles of Death Metal: Peace Love Death Metal (AntAcidAudio, 2004) Dark secrets of the counterculture revealed--sexism! greed! hooks! ("San Berdoo Sunburn," "Kiss the Devil"). ***

The Ex: Turn (Touch and Go, 2004) "In the Event," "Listen to the Painters" Choice Cuts

Giant Sand: Giant Sand Is All Over the Map (Thrill Jockey, 2004) In Denmark and the desert, Howe Gelb lives and is ready to brag about it ("Classico," "Remote"). *

Al Green: Everything's OK (Blue Note, 2005) Not great--OK ("I Can Make Music," "I Wanna Hold You"). **

Jolie Holland: Escondida (Anti-, 2004) Dud

Holy Modal Rounders: Bird Song: Live 1971 (Water, 2004) Different songs, good drummer ("Boobs a Lot/Willie & the Hand Jive," "Smokey Joe's Cafe"). *

I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House: Menace (In Music We Trust, 2004) It's the right historical moment for pissed-off catharsis and praise songs to your dead Christian grandma ("Westboro Baptist Church," "Pauline"). *

Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection (Epic/Legacy, 2004) This well-selected, rarity-studded phantasmagoria of great hits, alternate takes, soundtrack oddities, previously unreleaseds, demos, and remixes traces an arc not merely of promise fulfilled and outlived, but of something approaching tragedy: a phenomenally ebullient child star tops himself like none before, only to transmute audibly into a lost weirdo. Until his fourth solo album as an adult, Dangerous, Jackson's immense originality, adaptability, and ambition generate genius beats, hooks, arrangements, and vocals (though not lyrics). This is no less true of 1970's "ABC" than of 1979's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" or 1991's "Black and White." While inventing sounds never heard before, Jackson changes with the times, from top 40 to disco to studio funk to new jack swing. This wondrous stuff will stand forever as a reproach to the puritanical notion that pop music is slick or shallow and that's the end of it. But as his troubling life gets away from him in the '90s, so does his music. The fourth disc wisely downplays his intermittent belief that the next step in his progress was Celine Dion, and two tracks from 2001's underrated Invincible prove that he hasn't lost his unnatural sense of rhythm. But theme statements like R. Kelly's endless "You Are Not Alone" and Free Willy 2's regrettable "Childhood" are quietly yucky, and the four new songs are bland, forced, or both. The big finale opposes war. [Blender: 3]
"Shake a Body," "Monkey Business," "Sunset Drive" Choice Cuts

Shooter Jennings: Put the O Back in Country (Universal South, 2005) Dud

Jin: The Rest Is History (Virgin, 2004) Dud

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Live in Paris With the Dennis Bovell Dub Band (Wrasse, 2005) Though he's only released two albums since his last live one, 20 years ago now, LKJ retains the calm confidence with which savvy ideologues generate authority--so much more convincing in the long run than fervent rhetoric. With leftists everywhere twisting in anxiety or flailing out in defensive contempt, his voice alone is a comfort; announcing "a couple of old anti-fascist numbers" or matter-of-factly explaining the economic program that will bring everyone the precious gift of "more time," he sounds so intelligent, decent, and uncompromised that you feel political struggle can be a sane and rewarding life choice. His voice quieter but undiminished, his band subtler but no less tricky or effective, he unblushingly repeats five songs from the 1985 set, and although I wish he'd tapped Tings an' Times more--"Sense Outa Nansense," certainly--I sure didn't mind hearing the early material again. A-

J-Zone: A Job Ain't Nuthin But Work (Fat Beats/Old Maid Entertainment, 2004) Rapper wants a tuna sandwich with all the fixings, hold the tuna, and can you supersize a tap water with that? ("Disco Ho," "Kill Pretty"). *

Ladysmith Black Mambazo With the English Chamber Orchestra: No Boundaries (Heads Up, 2005) Dud

M.I.A. Vs. Diplo: Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 (no label, 2004) Aesthetically, the choice is more like M.I.A. vs. the world, and though I know it's wrong of me, I'll take M.I.A. I'll take the conscious, autonomous individual artist, oppressive concept though that may be, over the welter of cultural forces from which she emerged. With a less complex and compelling artist I might make the opposite choice, though even the hippest mash-ups and mix tapes have less to say than they're given credit for. But I find more fascination--and pleasure, if not variety--in M.I.A. juxtaposed against herself than in, for instance, favela funk juxtaposed against "Walk Like an Egyptian." Which isn't to deny I also find all these good things in favela funk juxtaposed against "Walk Like an Egyptian." A-

A.C. Newman: The Slow Wonder (Matador, 2004) Compulsive craftsmen have feelings too--they're just nervous about letting them show ("Miracle Drug," "Come Crash"). ***

Rahsaan Patterson: After Hours (Artistry Music, 2004) An hour of foreplay and he's ready for more ("The One for Me," "So Hot"). *

Astor Piazzolla: The Rough Guide to Astor Piazzolla (World Music Network, 2005) The tango master cut a lot of pro forma music for Milan, the French soundtrack-electronica-semiclassical outfit that claims to "represent" Piazzolla's "complete catalog" and doesn't come close--his great American Clave albums, for instance, are now with Nonesuch. But the half of this gratifying selection that started on Milan--including "Tanguedia 3" and "Los Sueños," both reprised for American Clave--packs a full measure of dynamic sophistication and high drama, and as Grace Jones or Yo-Yo Ma could tell you, "Libertango" is just where to begin. Concentrating on his mature period--which strictly speaking means 1978 to 1988, although there are three 1975 tracks and one from the '50s--this is as convincing an introduction as Tango: Zero Hour itself. A

Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters (Universal, 2004) Great start: two songs in which gender spirals down the rabbit hole are followed by a Pink Floyd cover done Bee Gees-style. These star-time party boys never get brasher, funnier, or better, and their midtempo Elton isn't ironic enough. But this has more pride than competing gay masscult takeovers, which makes it more liberating for us all. Bless them for lending a queer ear to an ominously straight year. B+

Blake Shelton: Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill (Warner Bros., 2004) Humanist country, Bobby Braddock-style ("Cotton Pickin' Time," "The Bartender"). **

Martha Wainwright: Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole (Zoë EP, 2005) "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole" Choice Cuts

Rufus Wainwright: Want Two (Geffen, 2004) Want One moved well-wishers to decry the evil corporation that forbade its prestige artiste to pile all the post-rehab "songs" he recorded with Björk hand Marius deVries onto one glorious double CD. But had any of them actually heard the lachrymosities he saved for part two? Get Jon Brion in here quick, Van Dyke Parks even, "The Art Teacher" is worth saving. His mom will still love him, that's something--thank God for her cameo. For less sanguine admirers, however, this is too classical, too romantic, and too I-yam-what-I-yam all at once. B-

The Rough Guide to Boogaloo (World Music Network, 2005) Living east of Avenue B from 1965 to 1975, I probably dismissed many of these songs out my window for the jerrybuilt noise they are--not like the salsa elders who resisted Nuyorican soul jive's silly lyrics and simplified dance beats, but like the Anglophone rock snob I would have sworn I wasn't. After all, I dug Jimmy Castor and Joe Cuba on AM radio, and no matter what hip-hoppers think, I consider soul jazz even cheesier now than I did then. But this stuff is--and, I'm sure, was--a gas. In Spanish, Spanglish, or English, enlisting Batman and covering the Rascals or luring the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz into teen hits no more heartfelt than Perry Como's "Hot Diggity," boogaloo proves one of the purest party musics ever. I can't dance to it even now--the crudest salsa is wiser than my hips, mano. But I love its spirit. A-

The Rough Guide to Rebétika (World Music Network, 2004) From the sound of these old Mediterranean café songs, it could be Jews or North Africans singing, but it's Greeks (Roza Eskenazi, "Enas Mangas Sto Teke Mou"; Markos Vamvakaris, "Antonis Varkaris Seretis"). **

Run the Road (Vice/Atlantic, 2005) One so wants to give British MCs the benefit of the doubt. They're sincere, they're determined, and they've paid their dues. So this useful little collection will be praised like The Harder They Come when it's more African Underground Vol. 1: engaging yes, delightful no. As with African Underground, there's a language barrier, albeit a less insuperable one. But with grime there's also a music barrier: The beats are so squelchy (complexly squelchy here, but still) that when Dizzee Rascal and the Streets come on, they could be Just Blaze bum-rushing the permissions department. Three female voices also provide welcome illusions of grace. In fact, Lady Sovereign's cheap, cute "Cha Ching" is delightful. A-

War (If It Feels Good, Do It!) (Hiphop Slam, 2004) Mash up the bushit (Azeem, "Bush Is a Gangsta"; DJs of Mass Destruction, "Liberate the Children (Live)"; 4AM, "InDaClub"). ***

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