Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-08-09


Steve Cropper: Dedicated: A Salute to the 5 Royales (429, 2011) This tribute record isn't designed for nostalgic old folks or curious young folks. The 5 Royales never attracted many of either. Yet without once cracking the top 40, they recorded more first-rate songs than any of their rivals except the Coasters, and unlike the Coasters they wrote their own. That is, Lowman Pauling did, and remarkably for a '50s vocal group, Pauling was primarily a guitarist. So here paying his respects comes the guitarist who co-invented Stax-Volt and co-wrote "Knock on Wood" and "In the Midnight Hour." Short on context for decades now, he proves Pauling's book is deeper than his own with assistance from such serial oversingers as Steve Winwood, Bettye LaVette, Delbert McClinton, John Popper, and Sharon Jones. Lucinda Williams takes "Dedicated to the One I Love" with Dan Penn manning the bridge. Cropper has the hubris and common sense to transform what you thought was James Brown's "Think" into an instrumental. A-

The "5" Royales: The Very Best of the 5 Royales (Collectables, 2004) Rhino's Ed Ward-picked Monkey Hips and Rice exemplifies the compiler's craft. It doesn't rank with Robert Palmer's Elmore James or Ken Braun's Franco only because the 5 Royales aren't quite in that league. But these North Carolinians certainly outshone such oft-mourned '50s also-rans as Charlie Feathers and Orioles, as anyone who owns Ward's long-deleted 1995 comp is aware. Anyone who doesn't, however, may be put off by collector prices that start at $45 for two used CDs and quickly rise into triple figures. So here's a starter kit, which adds 11 good-to-excellent tracks to 14 of the 41 keepers Ward chose. Presumably the idea was to target doowop nuts, who like things slow, and skip uptempo finds--although not such essentials as "The Slummer the Slum" or "Monkey Hips and Rice." Even the more generic new selections demonstrate that Lowman Pauling wasn't the group's only weapon--singer Johnny Tanner presages doowop's evolution into soul with a lot less market calculation than Ben E. King. And it's really too bad Ward didn't squeeze in the four-minute group workout "I'm With You" or the barely articulate "My Wants for Love," where Johnny lets his brother Eugene grab the lead and the opportunity moves him very much. A-

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