Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Personal Picks: Best of 2009

Private Stock: Christgau's Favorites

I took the liberty of naming only items I hadn't already swooned for at column length, particularly Brad Paisley's American Saturday Night and Leonard Cohen's Live in London.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz

Pop and political, fantastical and learned, hilarious and goofy and brutally depressing, the novel of the decade passes its tale of death and bicultural self-creation between characters it transforms from intruders into admired confidants as its heightened demotic, incomprehensible Spanish included, flips off the well-made sentence.


Francophonic, Vol. 2
Franco

The 1977-1989 half of the magnificent restoration Sterns Africa's Ken Braun has hammered into existence for the great abettor, scourge, and escape artist of Mobutu's Congo was born of equal parts luxury and suffering. Singing and grooving of nights untold, its 13 long tracks constitute some of the 20th century's most intoxicating dance music.


High Wide & Handsome--The Charlie Poole Project
Loudon Wainwright III

The revival this generously packaged two-CD tribute achieves for mountain songster Poole extends to its instigator. Wainwright has never cut as loose as on these breakdowns and blues or sung with more body and emotion than on the parlor ballads. Superb new songs chronicle Poole's hard-drinking life. Old jokes live again.


The E.N.D
The Black Eyed Peas

The energy never dies, but its elements need defending--not as individual songs, especially with six here already hits of one sort or another, but as parts of a whole. Two decades from now, album revivalists won't worry about will.i.am's crass motives or obvious samples. They'll hear ebullience beginning to end, and envy us our sense of closure.


In Plain Sight

Cop shows are soap operas with puzzles attached--character interactions are what bring you back. The witness protection program premise here guarantees a better class of perp and greatly reduces silly murder plots. Protagonist's a wise-ass blonde with entertaining family issues, but I prefer her sidekick, an uptight guy who reads a lot. Plus it's set in Albuquerque.

Barnes & Noble Review, Dec. 10, 2009