Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-01-29


Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Grifter's Hymnal (Bordello, 2012) At 66, this fringe Texas outlaw has been making records for 42 years even though, as he says himself in the quotable "New Year's Eve at the Gates of Hell," "the truth of the matter is I really can't sing." That's why I never checked him out seriously, shelving his first album on his wife's label even though it showcased a Hayes Carll co-write I relished. Reaccessing that record now--its sobriety-inspired title: A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C)--I decided the problem wasn't the vocals, but Hubbard's decision to prove that he considers Muddy Waters "as deep as Blake" by grooving his blues downtempo. The follow-up is his party record, and deeper as a consequence, dark and hilarious and gone so fast you're too busy tapping your inner foot to cavil about pitch or timbre. So permit me to complete that "Gates of Hell" couplet: "But I can quote Martin Luther King." And then add another one: "They're burning over there with the Fox News whores/Oh look is that the singer for the Doors?" (BTW: it isn't.) A-

Father John Misty: Fear Fun (Sub Pop, 2012) Right, he has played and may yet again play drums in Fleet Foxes, whose beat means so much to us all. But that's not the good part, for goodness sake. The good part is that, under the influence of organic psychedelics and the American road, he figured out how to deploy words, as in the deathless couplet: "And I'm writing a novel! Because it's never been done before!" Whereupon, presumably, he also figured out that novels were a losing proposition. And though he dumbs up his songwriting half the time by fearing fun literally as regards forward motion, don't give up. Beyond "I'm Writing a Novel" itself, the four best tracks are the four last tracks, where he picks up the tempo and looks fun in the eye. He could use a more outgoing drummer, though. B+

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