Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-01-24


Bhi Bhiman: Bhiman (Redeye, 2012) In an unruffled show of assimilative will, this Sri Lankan American 29-year-old channels John Hurt and the Staple Singers into sweet, firm folksongs about injustice's cruelty and love's confusions--and is funnier about both than, as a random instance, Van Morrison. The stolid beats define the limits of his Americanization. But from the first strums of "The Guttersnipe," the melodies are universal language at its most outgoing. A-

Ani DiFranco: ¿Which Side Are You On? (Righteous Babe, 2012) After a decade of futzing around, of music so overthought that even her best-of couldn't make a case for it, this one's like re-encountering a friend who drifted away after she took a bad job or married a jerk. Both of which might have happened--nobody she signed to Righteous Babe did much for her bottom line, and the nuptials that ruffled her feminist faithful in 1998 ended badly in 2003. Now, finally, her first album since she married her five-year-old's father is as fresh as Lisa Lee at the top of the key. With Uncle Pete signing on via banjogram, the title song announces a political renewal so focused on the three-syllable F-word that it includes an E.R.A. anthem. But for DiFranco the political has always been personal, which doesn't mean private and can mean intellectualized, as in "Promiscuity." The singing on the homelessness tale that opens is as emotionally accomplished as its assumed first-person is formally atypical. The one that reads "If yr not getting happier as you get older/then yr fucking up" is her true credo. A-

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