Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2018-11-09

2018-11-09

Mandy Barnett: Strange Conversation (Dame Productions/Thirty Tigers, 2018) I doubt Barnett conceives this strange little album as a rebuke to the reverent high musicianship of the Patsy Cline interpretations she made her bread and butter long before 2011's Sweet Dreams. High musicianship with a gourmet flourish is what she does. But there's a savor in hearing it applied to this potpourri of humble deep-pop obscurities--late Connie Francis, later Sonny and Cher, lost girl-group and guy-group keepers by Mable John and the Tams--garnished with newer art-pop obscurities. For me the clincher is "The Fool," a top-10 one-shot for 21-year-old Sanford Clark that I thought I hadn't heard since 1956 until I found out there are karaoke versions. A-

Robbie Fulks/Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild! (Bloodshot, 2018) The acerbic Fulks tailors his material to the "sunny, high-humored attitude" of Jerry Lee's little sister, who was way more fun acerbic herself on 1991's alt-rock International Affair, not to mention 1969's consanguineous Together ("Round Too Long," "Till Death," "Memphis Never Falls From Style") ***

Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (RCA, 2018) Did Miranda Lambert/Ashley Monroe/Angaleena Presley, as the composer credits on 13 of these 14 songs put it, come up with the "Jesus is the bread of life / Without him we're toast" opener or lift it from some rakish evangelist I'm too provincial to know about? I wouldn't rule the evangelist out, because while the writing is every bit as sharp as on their near-perfect 2011 debut, these bad-girl and mad-wife nuggets take sin seriously. "Stop Drop and Roll One" and "Got My Name Changed Back" retain the threesome's signature devil-may-care. But there's a deep sadness in "When I Was His Wife"s been-there-don't-do-that, "Leavers Lullabye"'s love-ain't-enough, "Best Years of My Life"'s "hankering for intellectual emptiness," and the blood, sweat, and bitterness of "5 Acres of Turnips." "Cheyenne" envies a gal who can take love or leave it, "Milkman" wishes Mama had cheated, and "Commissary" is so glad the abuser folks fronted for got beaten to a pulp in jail. Even the steadfastly unharmonious path to enduring matrimony laid out by the closing "This Too Shall Pass" suggests the wisdom of maturity. Why am I not surprised the woman who did herself a favor by shitcanning Blake Shelton didn't pitch in on it? A

Becky Warren: Undesirable (self-released, 2018) On 2016's War Surplus, Warren wrote and then sang both the husband and the wife songs on an autobiographical concept album about a marriage wrecked by Iraq PTSD. Here the psychological calisthenics aren't so tricky. She does sing "Carmen" as a longtime loser who's found a Neil Diamond fan who'll inspire him to make ends meet so he can move her into the house painted blue she deserves, and the chin-up narrator of the undeplorable West Virginia opener could be a coal miner. But mostly Warren just works her own changes on the fed-up love-getting-by songs that are a well-earned staple for so many Nashville feminists. It's a theme and mood she seems to have become quite familiar with. A-

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