Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-09-18

2012-09-18

Dylan Hicks: Sings Bolling Greene (Two Deuces, 2012) This is complicated. Minneapolis critic and singer-songwriter Hicks recently published a debut novel called Boarded Windows, about which you can believe Dana Spiotta ("eloquent and unusual") and Greil Marcus ("whispered, confided, mused") or you can believe me ("buncha bohos wax clever about art until you want to paste someone"). Its seventh most important character is a country-singing aesthete of implausible renown named Bolling Greene. But these aren't simply Hicks's renditions of Greene's previously nonexistent songs. They're also songs about goings on in the novel itself to which Greene couldn't have been privy as well as a leftover about a golf course that, as Greene's widow complains in the notes, it's impossible to imagine the vaguely delineated cult hero writing. I love the first four and like all 10, because the same fine distinctions that make my teeth hurt at 252 pages are piquant at a hooky half hour of rhymes I can ignore at will. If you crave concrete detail in your songwriting, here's your fix, from "West Texas wind/Blowing headlines in my lap/Lonely Man Takes Nap/Chubby Girl Learns Tap" to "The musty olive carpet/The sticky minibar/The grainy baby movie/The broken VCR." A-

Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance (ATO, 2012) Hood earned this avowedly autobiographical album by creating fictional and fictionalized characters for 20 years. Its dozen songs were conceived to bait a memoiristic account of a turbulent period or two in his twenties, but the book stopped coming midway through so he made an album out of them instead. Sweetly skeletal arrangements featuring various bandmates and his bassist dad underpin the quietest and most winning singing of his career, with lyrics so crystalline you never need the booklet. But you can bet their import would be clearer if the book was there too. B+

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