Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-01-16


Bushwick Gospel Singers: Songs of Worship Vol. 2 (self-released, 2014) Fire-and-brimstone Reverend Peter Phallasy, his wailing soulmate Sister Snow Bunny, and free-thinking third wheel Zoe Stampfel lead the holiness-tinged acoustic assembly in 13 post-bluegrass Satanist hymns about hypocrisy, techno-heathenism, fee-based evangelism, brand worship, money in general, the hard rain that's coming, the war that's coming too, and other things that fill them with a loathing their sardonic glee declines to deliver from their unholy rage. Occasionally genuine Sunday school melodies are commandeered. The finale lasts 10 minutes and is called "Thin the Herd." It tell us that sure as Lucifer, a mass die-off is coming too, and they're not sure that such a cleansing would be a bad thing. Wonder whether they realize that Lucifer runs iTunes, which is the only way you can buy this thing. Hey, maybe that's why they signed on the dotted line. A-

Chris Butler: Easy Life (Future Fossil, 2014) It has its slow spots, especially on a few fast-forwards from 1970, but this cobbled-together concept album by a long-scrabbling professional on the rock fringe earns its subtitle: "The Bohemian Dream & American Nightmare of Kent State 1970." The buoyant title track evokes the late-hippie mindset as accurately as Neil Young's melancholy "Don't Let It Bring You Down," and the surrounding historical detail powers an acute portrait of a movement that was simultaneously casual and righteous--a movement of young people who'd never seen their world contract and couldn't believe it actually might. Part one of the long tale that ends the album proper climaxes with a road trip to see the Dead in Cleveland, during which Butler sneaks onstage and plays beer can until Jerry tells him to shut the fuck up. In part two, the bummed-out kid gives his drum kit to Jeff Miller three weeks before Miller becomes one of four Kent State students slaughtered by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970. The postscript is Creedence's "Fortunate Son," which lest you've forgotten is about not being one. B+

Company Freak: Le Disco Social (OpusLabel/Superlatude, 2014) You may not want to know that this could be the most intelligent disco album ever made, especially when I go on to amend that to "intellectual" on the grounds that most good music is intelligent one way or the other and usually both. But you must be told that the intellectual in charge is a Ph.D. named Jason King who's long been my boss at NYU's Clive Davis Department/Institute of Recorded Music--and who (now he tells me) studied voice before he went on to more abstruse pursuits. The idea is to reconstitute classic disco as a band music featuring divaweight vocalists--not the original heroines of a style now 35 years past its commercial prime, but their better-paid heirs, Broadway belters like Vivian Reed and Shayna Steele. "Company freak" meant "house hippie" in the biz's pre-disco days, but here, at least according to "Theme From Company Freak," it signifies five-day-week wage slaves whose only recourse is dancing. "Sexaholic" warns them that alcohol can freak your life, and not in the good way. "Do Ya Wanna Funk" is a Sylvester cover that's even more uplifting live. "Crackdown" deploys a cartoonish Bootsy voice to sing the 99 percent and the immigration that founded every nation. "Istanbul Disco" finds a groove in Muslim instrumentation. And "Andr? Leon Talley" escapes into fashion. Jason is quite a dresser. A-

Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce: Complicated Day (Enja/Yellowbird, 2014) For three decades on multiple cusps, saxophonist-bandleader-actor-storyteller-educator Nathanson has shown a proclivity for song that he's regularly explored but only once indulged--on the Deborah Harry-showcasing, Elvis Costello-featuring Jazz Passengers showcase Individually Twisted two decades ago. But those were much more arranged and avant--they deliberately didn't flow. This album is relaxed; its jokes are friendlier; companionable vocalist Nathanson cedes the lead often and slips comfortably into his spoken-word shtick. "Simon" recapitulates Simon Says; "Slow Boat to China" is sillier than that; "No Storytelling"'s composed free-jazz messing around generates a satirically overwrought recitation about narrative technique before returning to the previously scheduled program. The topper is a charmingly off-key "I Can See Clearly Now" by Nathanson's 18-year-old son Gabriel. I still prefer Individually Twisted in theory. But this is the one I'll play next. A-

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