Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-05-03

2011-05-03

Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Odditties (Querbeservice, 2010) A hodgepodge segmented to make sense as a sampler, all recorded by 1990 and most well before, consisting of: 1) Four Stephen Foster weepers, two Civil War and two early death, harmonized prettily instead of tartly. They're saccharine, yes, but wittingly so, and exposure plus comparison with a Foster comp I like convinced me that this was the most effective rendering of 19th-century parlor music I knew. 2) Two by Canadian folk icon Wade Hemsworth, a McGarrigles staple in their Mountain City Four days--the first a waltz that motorvates plenty after those weepers, the second in 5/4 and over my fundament. 3) A Quebecois encore done live in '76 and a Cajun two-step studio-stomped. Both leap the language barrier. 4) Four lost McGarrigles songs, three by Anna and a collaborator, one by Kate alone. All are worthy, two wondrous: Anna's threnody for her cat Louis, which is slight, and Kate's love song to Martha and her dolls, which is wiry. Play it for someone you love on Mother's Day. But be sure to check it out yourself first. A-

Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Tell My Sister (Nonesuch, 2011) Since these "demos and unreleased recordings 1971-1974" are part of a superbly designed and moderately priced little box that also includes their extraordinary Warner Bros. albums of 1976 and 1977, I should specify that my grade is for the bonus disc, which although it includes only five titles unavailable in later versions is one of the most useful I know. Much as I love the debut, its intelligent gloss is no longer needed to put the music across; on the demos, spare piano highlights voices we now know to be delectable without the subtlest sweetening. Proudly selling herself, Kate especially is more forthright and less cunning--and also, poignantly, younger. In a few cases--I'd name "Kiss & Say Goodbye," "Tell My Sister," and "Blues in E"--the demos are even preferable. Special thanks too for Chaim Tannenbaum's unheard "Annie." And then there's the great prize: Kate's newly unearthed "Saratoga Summer Song," a fond, funny, ruefully dissolute chronicle of a hippie summer that casually epitomizes both concepts--not just "hippie," but "summer." A

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