Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-07-26


Lil Green: Why Don't You Do Right? 1940-1942 (Historic, 1996) Even more than Bessie Smith, this later as well as lesser blues singer--born 1919, recorded mostly pre-WW2, pursued sketchily documented r&b touring career until she died of pneumonia at 34--suffers from formulaic recording, and fortunate though she is that her formula included Bill Broonzy on guitar, she lacked melodic outreach even though she preferred pop structures to ye olde aab. Her signature is a sexuality that's sly and lascivious rather than hearty and lusty, put across by a willowy soprano that's ready for anything. Often anything means just what men hope it does, those dogs. But it can also mean patient affection and, if "Just Rockin'" says what I think it does, a thrilling night of self-gratification should her dog be out chasing pussy. If there's an ace compilation hidden in her catalogue, no one's talking, but this equally downloadable old French job beats the recent Lil's Big Hits (on K-Tel, I swear)--even improves on 1971's Romance in the Dark, assembled by the discerning Don Schlitten for RCA. By my count, about half its 23 tracks distinguish themselves as songs. The rest distinguish themselves as style only. B+

Dionne Warwick: The Dionne Warwick Collection: Her All-Time Greatest Hits (Rhino, 1989) Still in print, as is the label's shorter and proportionately cheaper 2000 Very Best Of, which among lesser sins omits three classics: "You'll Never Get to Heaven if You Break My Heart" (7/64), "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" (9/66), and "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" (8/68), the dates of which establish the limitations of the Alfie- and Valley of the Dolls-fueled theory that she got schlockier as she got older, which she certainly did after she moved on from Bacharach-David to Clive Davis in the '70s. Warwick had a voice that you admire like many or love like me--pop velvet with a gospel nap, the epitome of walk-on-by reserve except when amped by commitment to craft, romantic disputation, existential indignation, or her hurting heart. In the first great heyday of rock guitar, her feel for Brill Building baion enabled another kind of beat music: traditional pop with a Latin difference. Her breakup with her two mentors crippled all three for life. A

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