Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-09-27


Ry Cooder: Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Nonesuch, 2011) Folksingers are pretty mad these days, at times to the point of pushing back at the ravening rich people who are sitting on their heads. Some even refer to class or (can it be?) speak up for unions. But not one has topped a sardonic satire like "No Banker Left Behind" with a murderous ballad about Jesse James and his illicitly retrieved .44 taking every bonus-hogging fat cat in heaven to hell with him, or despoiled a Christmas corrido for GIs on leave with anything as gruesome as "I'd like a mouth so I can kiss my honey on the lips." A few tracks drag and one or two misfire. But from John Lee Hooker's campaign song to the earned nostalgia of a lonely old Chicano who'll forgive you for driving a Japanese car, Cooder has brought his longstanding obsession with the Great Depression into the present, where it unfortunately, tragically, enragingly belongs. Kudos too to drummer Joachim Cooder. This doesn't rock, and it shouldn't. But it rollicks, skanks, and two-steps just fine. A-

Note of Hope (429, 2011) Bragg & Wilco? The folk-rock of dreams. Jonatha Brooke? Singer-songwriter. The Klezmatics? Er, his wife was Jewish. But assigning a Woody Guthrie "celebration" to bassist extraordinaire Rob Wasserman? Trailing the likes of Kurt Elling, Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Morello, Studs Terkel, Ani DiFranco, and Jackson Browne behind him? Reads like a jazzbo recipe for leftwing piety. And proves instead yet another winning realization of an idea I had doubts about from the first Mermaid Avenue rumors. Wasserman is all over a record that's less sung than spoken, providing a musical identity as distinct as any other in this motley series. Once again Guthrie's words are set to music, although sometimes these words were prose and sometimes they're rapped or sprechgesanged. They're sly, sexy, down-and-out, up-and-at-'em. Terkel and DiFranco deliver diary jottings of breathtaking acuity, and the Pete Seeger recitation ends: "There never was a sound that was not music. There's no trick of creating words to set to music once you realize that the word is the music and the people are the song." Then Jackson Browne sings a formally static 15-minute ballad about the night Woody met Marjorie and all the dreams he had. I said Jackson Browne. It's magnificent. A-

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