Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-02-27


Oscar Brown Jr. & Maggie Brown: We're Live (ESP-Disk', 2014) Blacklisted elder statesman boosts his daughter, who sounds fine in her way and who needs it ("Bird to Word--Billie's Bounce," "Young Jazz") *

David Greenberger & Dozens: Near the Edge of the Penny Jar Spill (Pel Pel, 2014) Best when he trusts his sources more and his pick-up musicians less, you think--until Paul Cebar constructs a threnody from the linguistic shards of late-stage Alzheimer's ("Used to Say," "Six Snakes," "How Records Are Made") ***

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (Uyohlale Unathi) (CDBaby, 2014) Often this highly evolved, showbiz-savvy family choir have courted their international target market of congenial folkies by keeping company with their many admirers in Western pop. This has been dodgy musically, and although their filigreed tenor blend is hard to ruin, 2006 collaborations with Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan, and Natalie Merchant were not propitious. But on this self-released album a South African female provides blessed relief: semi-retired 73-year-old Joseph Shabalala's late wife Nellie, who was murdered in a murky 2002 incident just as her Women of Mambazo choir was about to go international itself. Through the earthly miracle of magnetic tape, Joseph's men and Nellie's women join their voices, and the differentiation is just the thing to make Ladysmith's fifty-somethingth album ring out. Gorgeous has never been their main thing--they're wittier and more intricate than that. But this is gorgeous. A-

Willie Nelson: Let's Face the Music and Dance (Legacy, 2013) Not his dance album, silly, this is Willie Nelson--just one of his after-80-you-get-to-sing-whatever-you-want albums ("Let's Face the Music and Dance," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love") *

Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day (Legacy, 2014) After the jaunty "Alexander's Ragtime Band," I was disappointed to note the tune density diminishing markedly here. Luckily, on my third and I thought final run-through, I noticed Willie emitting the bandless but far from unmusical or amelodic words "I don't know where I am today/I don't know where I was yesterday/This song has so many notes to play/I just hope that I hit them today." Thus begins the Senile Dementia Suite, which proceeds through Nelson's 2014 "Amnesia" and 1972 "Who'll Buy My Memories," pauses to dig up Al Jolson's "Anniversary Song," and then tops itself off with the inescapably tuneful 2014 "Laws of Nature": "I get my water from the rain/If it don't rain I'll die/Stormy weather saves my life/Sometimes I laugh and wonder why." There are seven songs after that, mostly remakes of self-written chestnuts he's no doubt remade before. Hell, there's another "Is the Better Part Over" on his 2013 album, although you can see how the concept fits better here, as does what is just barely or maybe not a different version of Django Reinhardt's signature "Nuages," which you'll understand when you learn that this is Willie's guitar album way more than it's Bobbie's piano album, which it also is, and yes, the rest of his band pitches in subtly when needed. My mother-in-law played Willie's Stardust on repeat in her last years. I won't be like that--I have more music in my kit. But as a senescence album this definitely tops L. Cohen's. A

Scott Ramminger: Advice From a Father to a Son (Arbor Lane, 2013) Better on road safety than on wimmin, but not altogether devoid of second-line wisdom either way ("Advice From a Father to a Son," "More Than One Flavor") *

Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) (429, 2014) Waggish Wainwright ordinaire, all but a few of the 14 tracks equipped with laugh lines that vary considerably in depth, acuity, and, come to that, humor. The parking song is a deft trifle, the dog-walking song a sharp cut; the NRA satire is heavy-handed, the Harlan County lament multidimensional; the one where his estranged lover dies of guilt is uglier than it knows, the one where they can't find the right date to split kinder than it pretends. My favorite is a birthday song for a kid I figure is young Lexie. It's tender, not funny at all. A-

Chuck E. Weiss: Red Beans & Weiss (Anti-, 2014) With a lot of help from his friends, Hollywood's pet reprobate shows some talent of his own after all ("Tupelo Joe," "Exile on Main Street Blues") **

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