Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-03-29


Middle Brother: Middle Brother (Partisan, 2011) Deer Tick's John McCauley is the centerpiece of this Americana supertrio. Compared to Matt Vasquez of the florid Delta Spirit or Taylor Goldsmith of the wan Dawes, he's got the melodies, the wit, and the cultivated rasp. What he doesn't have is the ripeness of spirit without which roots music dies on the vine. So the doting Vasquez love song "Blue Eyes," the lyrical Dawes lost song "Thanks for Nothing," and the clippety-clopping Replacements road song "Portland" all augment the deep craft and acrid wordplay of the guy who's why you heard them--in fact, who's why you heard this varied, consistent, tune-conscious album. Catchiest of all is the McCauley road song "Mom and Dad," sing-song rather than clippety-clop and better for it: "Mama gave a camera to her little star/All she gets is pictures of hotels and bars/No Big Ben, no Statue of Liberty." A-

Those Darlins: Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow Dang, 2011) What pushes this Nashville cowgrrlcore trio past the cutesy two-steps and over-the-hills strums of their brief professional yore is the male drummer who turned them into a quartet. But I bet the Casio that marks track one as not-country was their idea--and that, actually, so was the drummer. Because this album's great leap forward is hooky, saucy, punky songwriting in a mood somewhere between Be Your Own Pet and the Donnas, only savvier: "Be Your Bro," which may not sum up their platonic feelings for that drummer but could, or "Hives," proving they do too get the itch, or "Boy," in which love on the road needn't be permanent to be nice. They have mouths on them, yes they do. But their mouths are connected to their hearts and minds, and amped by loud guitars. A-

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