Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Why the Hell Not . . . Songs of Kinky Friedman
Sustain

Tribute to a cigar-smoking croaker

For three decades, Austin singer, author, gubernatorial candidate and Jew Kinky Friedman has been a joke crying out for a better punch line -- not even "Asshole From El Paso," the surest shot on his new best-of, The Last of the Jewish Cowboys, has the right timing or pitch control. But though this 10-song tribute album is no more consistent than any other tribute album, four tracks achieve a greatness Friedman himself has never approached. Todd Snider and Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson are proven comics. Thrash-metal grad Kevin Fowler gets lucky for once in his life. And Willie Nelson determines the specific gravity of a previously unrealized affront to decency: A tragicomic song about the Holocaust called "Ride 'Em Jewboy"? As it is written: "Anything worth crying can be smiled."

Blender, Dec. 2006