Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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ESTHER PHILLIPS
Jazz Moods/Hot
Epic/Legacy

An R&B pro adapts to the '70s by clocking disco dollars

Niggles about great singers who trend-hop are often swallowed up by their voices as history passes. A sardonic acolyte of jazz hitmaker Dinah Washington, Esther Phillips is respected for her early-'60s R&B output, especially with the Atlantic Records posse. But her commercial peak, a decade later, was her dance records with Creed Taylor and various jazz fusioneers, and this ill-packaged cheapo, her only extant U.S. compilation in the style, proves disco was good for her. Sure, the Washington cover "What a Difference a Day Makes" is taken too fast. But her astringent, vibrato-laden soprano is never derailed. And it owns the socially conscious Gil Scott-Heron and Joe Cocker songs, the Duke Ellington classic, and--remarkably--Bill Withers's "Use Me."

Blender, Aug. 2005