Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2014-11-14

2014-11-14

Brandy Clark: 12 Stories (Slate Creek, 2013) Clark writes better than any other un-bro--better than Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley. Every winning tune opens up or clicks shut with a few unexpected words--"There's so many shades of gray but this is black and white," "This'd be a real good time to hold my hand," "Crazy women are made by crazy men," "Thanks for the Mary Jane." And there's an added attraction--near as I can tell from NYC, the feminism is a notch more ideological than the un-bro norm without ever going over the Nashville line. Nevertheless, there's a neatness to the execution that I suspect compromises her credibility and have no doubt compromises her gut attraction. I recommend her album to anyone who's intrigued. I know I'll enjoy it again myself. But I can't tell you exactly when that will be. A-

Jenny Lewis: The Voyager (Warner Bros., 2014) After a five-year absence if you don't count the time she threw herself away on Johnathan Rice--which if we are to take these songs autobiographically (as of course we are not) is kind of a syndrome with her--Lewis's formal command remains a wonder. If terse, well-turned, literal, indelible songcraft is so easy, why can't Aimee Mann or Gillian Welch or for that matter a more attractive character like Elizabeth Morris bring it off right down to the B sides? Every melody stands alone; every arrangement tops it off; every vocal nails it; every lyric parses with just enough mystery and mordant self-regard to make you crave some backstory. But her bad romances are so nonstop that their cumulative effect wears thin. You begin to suspect that her characters never achieve the consummations they think they wish because it isn't love they're looking for--it's perfection, or control. A-

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (Ace, 2014) He's always preferred to call himself a stylist, not a rocker, and these impromptu late-'70s recordings with Sam's son cohere into a lost concept album that proves him right. After transforming Leroy Brown into a Memphis motherhumper who stomps all over Jim Croce's stupid cartoon and wears the tatters around his neck like a victory garland, he rewrites a Moon Mullican blues, matches a 50s Chuck Berry medley with a 50s Teresa Brewer-Hugo Winterhalter medley, covers a humble Fanny Crosby hymn and a schlocky Mickey Gilley hit, posits a humble country hit of his own, and--after anointing America's first fulltime professional songwriter "one of the greats of all time" along with Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and Al Jolson theirself--goes out on the greatest weeper Stephen Foster ever wept. His piano pumping irrepressibly, Jerry Lee defines his musical identity in the middle of the night with nobody listening: a stylist who can't stop rocking. A

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