Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: February, 2022

Sex-not-love songs from women born 98 years apart, pansexual classroom autobiography, and fictional love & hip-hop drama. Plus: Nas's heavy head, bare-boned rock, & heroines of blues, gospel and rock

Lucille Bogan: Shave 'Em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan (Columbia Legacy '04) Tracks 17 to 19 lay out Bogan's signature title song three ways--one "Clean," one "Explicit," one an "I'm Gonna Shave You Dry" variant featuring a fella we'll presume is pianist-with-a-penis Walter Roland, whose reliable blues licks add extra texture to Bogan's relaxed, articulated, calmly lascivious drawl throughout this collection. Then comes a climactic "Till the Cows Come Home" there's only one of, which begins "I got a man I love/I got a man I like/Every time I fuck them mens/I give 'em the doggone clap" and raises the stakes from there. But while that dirty climax is the selling point of this retrospective, it has plenty of company as "Barbecue Bess" invites any customer with greenbacks to help himself at her Piggly Wiggly and assures the hopeful who wants her stew meat on credit that it'll still be there when he comes back with his pay. And in whatever interim that remains there are always those "B.D. Women" who "don't need no men." Inspirational Verse: "I got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb/I got something between my legs make a dead man come." A MINUS

Apollo Brown & Che Noir: . . . As God Intended (Mello Music '20) Forty-one-year-old Detroit alt-rap bro boosts 27-year-old Buffalo sister who instead of becoming a certified nursing assistant like the breadwinners who bore and raised her went into the hip-hop business to make her nut. Sampling James Baldwin and Rihanna, Scarface and Solomon Burke and Foxy Brown's "You tell me what I'm supposed to do with all this ambition I got," she lives by the credos "What's worse than being physically dead is mentally dying" and "Do it twice as better 'cause you got the skin of a slave." The problem she hasn't solved yet is putting her "father's mistakes" out of her mind, a failure that costs her boyfriend his life in a genuinely shocking track we'll assume is fictional as we thank the innocent bystander from Detroit for helping her put it across. A MINUS

Doja Cat: Planet Her (RCA) "She doesn't write love songs, she writes sex songs," I told my wife, who was liking what she heard. "Good for her," she replied, and given the sprezzatura of this definitely biracial, avowedly ADHD 26-year-old dropout from both Alice Coltrane's ashram and the L.A. Unified School District's performing arts academy, I say yeah. But that as with the Carly Pearce EP-LP split at a more postmodern level of filler manufacture and songwriting savoir-faire, not one of the five add-ons that bulk up the "deluxe" version, now the only one Amazon has on sale, has been released as a single, a fact I determined after I found myself zoning out as my deluxe CD spritzed pornographically on. So as with the Carly Pearce EP, I've burned myself a 14-track original version that has the great virtue of never reminding me of the Weeknd even when he's on it. A MINUS

FKA Twigs: Caprisongs (Atlantic Mod) "There's not as much focus on experimentation and expression, which could disappoint some exacting fans" (Clash Music) "while easing up slackers who've always been irritated by her pretentious renown" (And It Don't Stop) ("Lightbeamers," "Oh My Love") *

Corey Harris: Insurrection Blues (M.C.) Young revivalist turns old head as his hair gets grayer, as is only natural, and his blues get darker than he dreamed possible, which he shares with a lot of us these days ("Insurrection Blues," "When Did You Leave Heaven") **

Iamdoechii: Oh the Places You'll Go (Five 5 '20) "Seven years old going on 17 centuries," this Tampa Soundcloud-TikTok gal said to be 22 though she rhymes younger was inspired by Fear Factor to "make my teddy bears fight and my Barbie dolls fuck," news that prepares the listener but not her teacher for the pansexual classroom autobiography "Yucky Blucky Fruitcake." After which she launches her career proper with a grown-up "Black Girl Memoir," three sprightly pieces of high-pitched dance-pop, and one called "God' so vain and banal it's a fear factor itself. A MINUS

Iamdoechii: Bra-Less (Iamdoechii) Self-starter leads her four-track follow-up with "PMS," employed as a verb, and then recycles the same tune on the even more sexually amenable "Truth," "Shit," and "Girls," all designed to convince listeners that her monthlies are a thing of the past--this week, anyway. I couldn't swear what kind of communion "Bitches wanna break bread like Corinthians" means to indicate, but do wonder whether any other poet, songwriter, or cult leader has provided this sexualized a context for such scripture as "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you." A MINUS

Nas: King's Disease (Mass Appeal '20) Showcasing the powers, pleasures, responsibilities, contradictions, and elephantiasis of *the ego that accrue to so many hip-hop tycoons ("Car #85," "10 Points") *

Nas: King's Disease II (Mass Appeal) Many hip-hop fans of a certain age consider Nasir Jones's 1994 debut Illmatic hip-hop's greatest album, and for sure the Honorable Mention I gave it in 1994 was way low. There was a leanness to his flow and timbre back then that the Pete Rock/Large Professor/Premier production honored and enhanced, and I admire how matter-of-factly unmoralistic lyrics from the Queensbridge Houses come to a proper climax with "Represent" and "It Ain't Hard to Tell." But that honest broker went what we'll call conscious gangsta with the thuggier I Am . . . and didn't regain his more humane voice until the mid 2000s trilogy Street's Disciple/Hip Hop Is Dead/Untitled--a voice that hasn't been approached again till this follow-up to its crasser namesake. I know I'm showing my age when I say EPMD, Lauryn Hill, and Eminem make it better and Lil Baby doesn't. But if you suspect I could be right let me remind you that backloading the humane stuff is an old hip-hop trick: "Composure," "My Bible," and "Nas Is Good" provide relief at the end. And oh yeah--the bottom falls out on the so-called Magic he released just four months later, summed up by this Insecure Verse: "You're top three, I'm number one, how could you say that?" B PLUS

Che Noir: Food for Thought (TCF Music Group) Brains absolutely, discipline no doubt, heart as well, something extra not quite ("Communion," "Eat or Starve," "Brains for Dinner") ***

The Rough Guide to Blues Women (World Music Network '16) Despite some chronological overlap, this 25-tracker is functionally the sparer and earlier companion piece to MCA's two-CD 1999 Men Are Like Street Cars . . . Women Blues Singers 1928-1969, with only two artists duplicated: the legendary Memphis Minnie and the superb Mattie Delaney (whose two recordings total the comps split between them). Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith are here, as is Mamie Smith's 1920 game changer "Crazy Blues." So are such deserving legends as Memphis Jug Band sparkplug Hattie Hart, Bonnie Raitt fave Sippie Wallace, hard-headed careerist Victoria Spivey, and the barely recorded Geeshie Wiley. Fats Waller boosts Sara Martin's spirits on the eternal "T'Ain't Nobody's Business"; Bertha Hill gives voice to Louis Armstrong's solitude on the eternal "Trouble in Mind"; Bertha Lee moans Charley Patton's two-timing "Mind Reader Blues"; Kate McTell reiterates Blind Willie McTell's "God Don't Like It." Few of these artists have an oeuvre in them. Compiled, they add up to one. A MINUS

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Live in 1960 (Org Music '20) Just on demographic grounds, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame "Early Influence" Tharpe deserves her legend. Born in 1915 to two Arkansas cotton pickers, a singing father who was soon gone and a mandolin-wielding Church of God in Christ evangelist who taught her to play guitar when she was four and put her onstage at six, Rosetta had married the man who provided her stage surname by 1934. But they split circa 1938, the selfsame year she began her recording career with four songs that included one called "Rock Me," which is quite a coincidence Hall of Fame-wise even if the lyric does continue "in the cradle of our love." If you want a full dose, it's out there--the 60-track The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection cost me not much more than this modestly priced 12-track concert recording, and was worth it. But rock pioneer though Tharpe incontrovertibly was, I've never found her compelling, mostly because she lacked muscle as both a singer and a guitarist. On this unaccompanied live job, her voice is more raggedy sometimes, but it's fuller as well, with the roughness adding flavor and excitement. The guitar is louder. And as happens with live ones, the dozen selections are long on fan favorites. These do include some slow ones--spare me the five-minute "Two Little Fishes." But when I feel like hearing Sister Rosetta, it's what I'll pull out of the T's. A MINUS

Yard Act: The Overload (Island) They namecheck Sham 69 on their debut, a credible analogy but too tuneless even by their less than lilting standards. So instead recall circa-2005 (and still active!) Art Brut--lyrics declaimed more than sung over even barer-boned, lower-affect, four-four rock songs in which a local star gets rich enough in a village-turned-town where his football skills have never been surpassed, lettuce is cultivated in ghetto potholes, the one-eyed man was king till he lost his mind, and history is so obdurate that the club owner still won't let bands play originals. A MINUS

And It Don't Stop, February 9, 2022

January 12, 2022 March 9, 2022