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: October, 2023

Two country singers searching for connection in different ways, democratic-socialist folk-rock agitprop grab bag, and a singer/songwriter/bandleader relearning and reclaiming her undeniable gifts.

Armand Hammer: We Buy Diabetic Test Strips (Fat Possum) Elucid and Billy Woods gift their specialized world with virtuosic free-form hip hop, beautiful and brilliant in its unduplicable way yet just about devoid of discernible groove or verbal coherence. Like the free jazz of half a century ago, it brims with intelligence and has its moments of wit. But also like the free jazz of that bygone time, it bespeaks a revolution that's mostly in the head. "Woke Up and Asked Siri How I'm Gonna Die" precedes "The Flexible Unreliability of Time & Memory"; "The Gods Must Be Crazy" precedes "Y'All Can't Stand Right Here." Can we really take exception to someone who reports that his "bedtime stories had the kids crying before they got tucked in"? After all, he did tuck them in. B PLUS

Chai: Chai (Sub Pop) Their fragile signature sound remains as they get older and older, smarter and smarter, although not a whole lot catchier--and this kind of music, insofar as that's a meaningful generalization, is supposed to be catchy. But deep in their perky, fragile souls, these young "new cute" Japanese women never stop learning no matter how far they still have to go. "I should practice my kissing." "Driving through the traffic jam/Views are lovely I need coffee." "Not all needs to change./Every second we age." "We are the female/We are the human being." A MINUS

Tyler Childers: Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? (RCA) That I respect his compulsion to sing two CDS worth of church songs rousingly in two different styles doesn't mean all that music isn't a little more than an atheist can swallow ("Old Country Church," "Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?") ***

Tyler Childers: Rustin' in the Rain (RCA/Hickman Holler) A mere seven songs lasting a mere 28 minutes, this is the album the no longer merely "promising" 32-year-old lassos and rides back to the barn. It's also the greatest album ever to include a song about percheron mules ("Percheron Mules," it's called) or to the best of my knowledge a secular song that quotes all of Luke 2 8-10, which might time out rather well as a Christmastime hit. "Help Me Make It Through the Night" cover--right, been done before, but not a whole lot better. Not done before is a song to someone--a male buddy, sounds like, maybe "I consider us friends" indicates otherwise and maybe it doesn't--who's stopped answering his emails. In case you're wondering what his singing's like, as by now you should be, well--high, intense, committed to a natural drawl he may exaggerate an iota or two that just makes the music more compelling. Final song begins: "I never want to leave this world/Without sayin' I love you." As someone who knows that feeling, I'm convinced he lives it. A

The Fugs: Dancing in the Universe (Fugs) Eighty-four-year-old Ed Sanders's perennial democratic-socialist folk-rock agitprop is here augmented by posthumously enhanced Tuli Kupferberg's standup-or-siddown laff-a-line ditties, their highlight one called "Where Have All the Commies Gone?" ("Gone to Scarsdale, some of them") plus a tribute song by resident younger muso Steven Taylor in which every stanza ends "God bless Johnny Cash," this is neither the comedic erotomania of the Fugs' '60s nor the pensive humanism of their long maturity. But it is a true Fugs album, especially if like me you believe the late-'80s "Dreams of Sexual Perfection" is their masterwork. True, that one wouldn't have signified so strikingly if it didn't come from a band so smutty that in the '60s Warners stole them from ESP-Disc on account of their sex appeal. Here on a brand new album best classified as a grab bag, they end with two heartfelt history lessons. Sanders's "Tribute to Frank O'Hara" finally honors the commission he got in 1966 to write a poem about the just-deceased poet. Tuli's "Song for Emma Goldman" begins "If I can't dance you can keep your revolution/If I can't fuck it's you that's out of luck." B PLUS [More information here.]

The Hives: The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons (Fuga) Spear carriers for the punk verities when they invaded from Sweden in 2002, this g-g-b-d lost a dollop of a certain something that might have been purity and might have been novelty on 2004 and 2007 follow-ups. Then they disappeared, supposedly because legendary songwriter Fitzsimmons had died but in fact because actual songwriter Nicholaus Arson was ailing. That Arson and his henchmen should return after 15 long years does inspire one to wonder how he was ailing, but never mind that, because while permitting themselves not the hint of a change of pace they make it their business to remain more or less catchy while never slowing down, almost as if "Rigor Mortis Radio" remained as much a lifestyle option as "hitting the weekend like a cake shot out of a gun" in a world of "a million boys in love with a dozen girls." B PLUS

Malcolm Holcombe: Bits and Pieces (Proper Music/Need to Know) Rough-hewn veteran singer-songwriter proves more tender than anybody but him says he has to when his music gets down to cases ("Conscience of Man," "Hard Luck City," "Ev'ry Soul Is There") ***

Low Cut Connie: Art Dealers (Contender) A tireless entertainer with matchless chops and a sense of humor so acerbic it isn't funny, Adam Weiner is a high-IQ frontman perfectly capable of writing with more subtlety than he sings with. So even if you give this very post-pandemic album the close attention it deserves, you still may not notice some of the nuances of its gibes, plaints, protests, outcries, and observations. Having identified as a "song and dance man" up front, by the time Weiner showcases a title track he only gets around to as the album approaches a tuckered-out finale he's still trying to come to terms with the middlemen he calls the art dealers--the "dead on their feet" bizzers who "don't live here no more." "Who's gonna listen to my song after everyone is gone?" he wonders. "I feel like a garbage man who's lost his wedding ring," he confesses. Then it's on to the next gig. A MINUS

The Moldy Peaches: Origin Story 1994-1999 (Org Music) I doubt many readers replay the only previous album by this duo-plus, the eponymous 2001 Rough Trade one I gave an A minus and then put right after "Love and Theft" at number two on that year's Dean's List, a full A after all. But around here it's a standard of sorts, and we own more records than you. In pretty much the same pattern, I soon found myself upping my provisional B plus for these 21 tracks in 34 minutes, which even for Kimya and Adam are pretty hither-and-yon, although only "On Top" and "Little Bunny Foo Foo" (in live as well as studio versions!) repeats from the debut. For fans only? Sure, you poor benighted ones. But ingenuous, whimsical, and shamelessly catchy nonetheless. Check out "Ugly Child." "Put Your Mama in a Headlock" too. A MINUS

Willie Nelson: Bluegrass (Columbia) The sprightly accompaniment is a pick-me-up, and as long as he magically remains in good voice Willie-is-Willie will be no ordinary tautology, but note that the less familiar the song here the better it tends to sound ("Somebody Pick Up My Pieces," "No Love Around," "Still Is Still Moving to Me") **

Parchman Prison Prayer: Some Mississippi Sunday Morning (Glitter Beat) From Mississippi's oldest and most unforgiving penitentiary, the nearest its vicims can come to some simulacrum of grace ("If I Couldn't Say One Word, I'll Just Raise My Hand," "I Give Myself Away, So You Can Use Me," "Locked Down, Mama Prays for Me") ***

Ed Sanders: The Sanders-Olufsen Poetry and Classical Music Project (Olufsen) No beat to speak of, but the lyrics--booklet included!--are definitely worth hearing more than once ("Two Poems About Samuel Beckett," "Hymn to Miriam"/"Polka on the Lawn With Miriam") ***

Lucinda Williams: Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart (Thirty Tigers) Whatever you think of this undeniably gifted, notoriously headstrong singer/songwriter/bandleader whose 2020 Good Souls Better Angels remains one of the most scornful anti-Trump screeds to be set to music, the courage it took to create its belated follow-up just can't be denied. That's because the stroke she suffered just after Trump lost in 2020 compelled her to spend well over a year learning to walk and sing all over again--and then, because she has her pride oh yes she does, write these 10 new songs and I bet others just to put her performance skills to the test. Peppy openers dubbed "Let's Get the Band Back Together" and "New York Comeback" get that job done quick; willful closers called "Where the Song Will Find Me" and "Never Gonna Fade Away" are her version of a lifetime guarantee. In between "Last Call for the Truth" and "Hum's Liquor" celebrates her chosen Nashville. Too bad, I feel, that in an accident of timing her comeback emerged almost simultaneously with the Covenent School massacre and the racist political powermongering that has dishonored Tennessee so shamefully in its wake. This has to have made the record hard to fully enjoy in its moment despite the already written but all too general "This Is Not My Town." Since then it seems nobody's advised her to rev up her self-righteousness for the occasion. Somebody should. A MINUS

Bailey Zimmerman: Religiously (Warner Music Nashville/Elektra) Lyrics eloquent and tempos moderate, melodies workmanlike and affect heartfelt, this 23-year-old Illinois boy scored several minor country hits before he came up with the one-word hook of dreams. The apparently unbalanced full stanza goes "'Cause I don't have the woman who was there for me/Religiously," and there you have the theme of a whole 16-track album. It could move a little quicker, I guess, but Zimmerman clearly believes his lifetime commitment to colloquial English will have to do until he gets this love thing straight. "Before them plans fell due"? "Gettin' over you feels so wrong"? "That's when I lost it. Midnight in Austin. Damn I'm exhausted"? "Good Lord we had a good long run"? Makes an old guy think, yup, she sounds like a keeper, but I guess it just didn't work out. So keep trying, kid. You really seem to have the stuff. A MINUS

And It Don't Stop, October 11, 2023

September 13, 2023 November 8, 2023