Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-10-05


Iris DeMent: Sing the Delta (Flariella, 2012) From its opening chords, DeMent's own piano rolling beneath nearly every track--vernacular church piano, piano you can imagine a church lady playing--is the conceptual backbone of her first album of originals in 16 years. After "livin' on the inside too much," books "stacked on my table," she's ambitious intellectually like it or not, and the album has a James Agee quality right down to the unflattering cover photo of the 51-year-old artist. DeMent craves stuff she can "see and touch," but her songwriting makes do just fine with feeling. However thickly she applies her drawl, she left the South at four, and figures out how to correct for that absence by force of artistic will. The laxest concepts drift toward the commonplace, but that's what the piano is celebrating, so you forgive her. The strongest concepts bear down on her parents and their faith, which she loves on their behalf and rejects on her own. "The Night I Learned How Not to Pray" has no piano at all. A-

Carolyn Mark: The Queen of Vancouver Island (Mint, 2012) Mark is known in the Northwest Kingdom as the Boozy Chanteuse and in my house as an also-ran singer-songwriter who made her best album in 2000 as Neko Case's fellow Corn Sister. At about 40 she's on her seventh solo outing since 2000. Not an exciting prospect, and while it's solidly tuneful and cleverly arranged, not exactly an exciting record either--which it turns out is thematic for this matter-of-fact bunch of terrific songs. Not bitter, certainly not despairing, defiant and funny in a muted way, it's an album about being in love with Nobody, as in "Nobody('s Perfect)," or "Nobody knows the troubles I've seen/I trust Nobody and Nobody trusts me"--which has a companion piece called "Not Talk," as in "Let's not talk about it later." I wouldn't trust her myself. But I note that the song about being a whore is really about marginalization in the music business. Well, one of the songs about being a whore. A-

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