Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-07-09

2013-07-09

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer: Child Ballads (Wilderland, 2013) The 305 canonical English and Scottish ballads are obviously good tunes--time-tested, one might say. And these seven are pretty much unchanged, too. Yet subtle fiddle, accordion, pump organ, and especially bass liven up the acoustic guitars just a touch, and both Mitchell's fluting, childlike lead and Hamer's mellower follow avoid purist sanctity as well as modernizing pizzazz. If only I could swear the presentation is so beguiling I keep the plots in mind. But I will say that the two about mean parents thwarting true love speak more directly to my spirit and conscience than the one about the fine lords going down on their very own Titanic, and point out that what saves the princess-laying Willie of Winsbury is he's R-I-C-H rich. B+

Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle (Nonesuch, 2013) The ritual passing of the songbook from tart old folkies to sweet-and-sour showbiz kids worked better as theater, where we don't get to re-examine the performances, than it does as recorded music, where we're able to ponder just how the kids remodeled the house and put in that piano-shaped hot tub. But though Rufus's and especially Martha's oversinging stretches some of Mom's songs well beyond their limits, it's a hell of a songbook, and in the end it's the lesser material that fares worse, not the less experienced performers. Aunt Peggy Seeger is no more impressive than the youngish gender mixers whose names you'll forget again without the credits, and it's a shock to realize that a youngish gender mixer whose name you know delivers a "Go Leave" more heart-wrenching than Richard and Linda Thompson's. Almost as shocking is that the next best thing isn't a Kate song. It's Chaim Tannenbaum and the gang's "Travelling On for Jesus." A-

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