Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

THE GREGG ALLMAN BAND: Playin' Up a Storm (Capricorn) One expected the new band to cook, but the spiced-up song formulas are a surprise--and the timing, grit, and passion of Gregg's singing simply astonishing. My wife thinks Cher must be the first woman ever to make him feel something, while I suspect a sibling rivalry is brewing with Dickey. First round to (Cher) (big brother). B PLUS

DICKEY BETTS & GREAT SOUTHERN (Arista) I believe those who insist I missed some great rockaroll when Betts's new band blew through town in April only becuase they tell no such tales about this album. C PLUS

CACHAO: Cachao y Su Descarga '77 (Salsoul) Despite a decade east of Avenue B I've never responded to salsa, which is a quirk, not a judgment; it must have to do with my clumsy dancing, my lack of Spanish, my finickiness about horns. Even Grupo Folklorico, whom I love live and admire on record, rarely find their way to my turntable. But I play this for everyone I can. Cachao--real name Israel Lopez--helped invent salsa, and here recreates two phases of its evolution. The style of side one dates from the '50s and sounds more or less like the small-group salsa of today; although I appreciate the dynamics of its percussion, I'm not drawn to it. But the style of side two--which dates from 1938, when Cachao claimed the genteel danzon for black rhythm in Havana--I find breathtaking in its conjunction of restrained swing and elegant romanticism. Because it is simultaneously suave and audacious, it reminds me a little of early Duke Ellington, although finally it's more conventional. But Duke Ellington never tempted me to learn to mambo. A MINUS

ORNETTE COLEMAN: Dancing in Your Head (Horizon) Some may have hoped the greatest saxophone player alive would go the Weather Report route on his first small-group record since 1971, but I'm reminded more of the programmed synthesizers of Eno and Philip Glass. Basically, the record consists of charged repetitions of one motif from Coleman's symphony, Skies of America. The difference is that where most such music aims for a hypnotic effect, Coleman wants more: a sustained and formally satisfying version of the kind of galvanic intensity John McLaughlin used to create at climatic moments. He gets it, too. A

CHICK COREA: My Spanish Heart (Polydor) From the schlock pomp of Romantic Warrior to the schlock funk of Musicmagic, Return to Forever's recent work has been so far from galvanizing that I've tended to ignore Their Leader, but this double LP includes the subtlest playing he's done in years. At its best it's playful and passionate enough to make an unashamed Nordic like me wonder about duende. At its worst it features a soprano "vocal choir" who prove once again that the notions of beauty and spirituality inspired by L. Ron Hubbard aren't much different from those inspired by Percy Faith. B PLUS

BRIAN ENO: Discreet Music (Antilles) That's discreet, not discrete--the title side comprises one quite minimal synthesizer piece more than thirty minutes long and the other three permutations of a schmaltzed-up Renaissance canon. Anybody who thought Another Green World sounded too much like radar blips or musical furniture should definitely avoid this. Me, I consider Another Green World miraculously lyrical and find that this encourages a meditative but secular mood (good for hard bits of writing) more effectively than any of the other rock-identified avant-garde music that's come our way. That includes the two Fripp & Eno albums now available on Antilles, Evening Star (although the scratch that decorates "An Index of Metals" is one of the most reassuringly fallible moments ever recorded) and No Pussyfooting (despite Fripp's unrestrained snake guitar on the unfortunately titled "Swastika Girls"). A MINUS [Later]

FOREIGNER: Foreigner (Atlantic) You've heard of Beatlemania? I propose Xenophobia. C

MARVIN GAYE: Marvin Gaye Live at the London Paladium (Tamla) Especially considering how awkward Gaye can be on stage, this isn't bad for a live Motown album--the arrangements are finky, but some of Marvin's more interesting vocal quirks seem to have survived editing. Which is not to suggest that the live stuff is worth owning. "Got To Give It Up," on the other hand, is his quadrennial studio masterpiece, and its 11:48 are cut up on the single. Still, at $7.98 list, I think that's what I'd buy--while petitioning for a disco disc. B MINUS [Later]

DEXTER GORDON: Homecoming (Columbia) Listed at $7.98, this offers more than 100 minutes of well-recorded music from the master of bop tenor and group, and its availability is gratifying, but trumpeter Woody Shaw plays and composes like the worthy journeyman he is, and I know that when I want to hear recent live Dexter I'll turn to one of the European blowing sessions with Jackie McLean (I prefer The Source to The Meeting) now available here on Inner City. Even more scintillating musically (although duller aurally) is the Blue Note twofer, Dexter Gordon, featuring performances from the early 60's and lots of great sidemen. And if Savoy's Long Tall Dexter, from the middle '40s didn't run all the alternate takes together, it would probably be the best of all. B PLUS

MICHAEL HURLEY: Long Journey (Rounder) Fingers trembling, the oft-cynical critic opened the new LP by the playful, sardonic folkie recluse. Without the Rounders or Jeffrey Fredericks to change paces, there was no way it could be another Have Moicy! (Aw.) But it might be woozy and charming, like Armchair Boogie. (Hey!) Or cute and dull, like Hi-Fi Snock Uptown. (Duh.) Also, the critic might fall asleep before finding out. Four months and many snoozes later, he arrived at a verdict: sardonic, charming, playful, cute, woozy, and only rarely dull. Highly recommended to Have Moicy! cultists. Hitbound: "Hog of the Forsaken." Whoopee. B PLUS

GEORGE JONES: All-Time Greatest Hits: Volume 1 (Epic) This ain't best-of, but it ain't bad. George Jones afficionados may well object to his re-recording his old standards, especially since some of the originals are still in catalogue on RCA and Musicor. As someone who's come late to Jones, however, I must admit that I find the sound quality, relatively schlock-free arrangements, and lightness and brightness of performance here always likable and often preferable to what I hear on the originals I have access to. A MINUS [Later]

BARRY MANILOW: Live (Arista) So rock and rollers can't stand him and what else is new? Well, two aperçus. One, he is beyond the pale of New York chauvinism. And two, all the best commercials in his notorious "Very Strange Medley" were written by other composers, just like his hits. C MINUS

THE MARK & CLARK BAND: Double Take (Columbia) Twin brothers who play twin grand pianos, among the five highest-paid unrecorded acts in America after doing three shows a night in Fort Lauderdale for four years, the Seymours have finally agreed to take Ferrante & Teicher to the rock and roll masses. Insprational Verse: "A world without feelings, they're just cold corporate dealings/You beg, you borrow, and you steal/There is nothing real." D MINUS

BETTE MIDLER: Live at Last (Atlantic) Her fans may find some of the material on this live double-LP repetitious--I could do without five minutes of "Delta Dawn" myself--and her overripe singing will offend those she offends anyway. But she's never recorded 15 of these 25 songs, a few repeats are enhanced by the particulars of this performance, and others gather meaning in theatrical context. A typical stroke: prefacing the glorious tearjerker "Hello in There" with campy, occasionally unkind patter about ladies with fried eggs on their heads, so that the song's romanticized heroine and the weird and depressing fried egg ladies both seem to have something in common with Bette, and therefore with each other. A MINUS

THE STEVE MILLER BAND: Book of Dreams (Capitol) Fly Like an Eagle was a clever little pop record, but I found its refusal to own up to its own meaninglessness annoying, and now I'm sorry. Because the follow-up doesn't even try to sound significant--it's as aggressively banal as a Coca Cola commercial. Only it doesn't have as many hooks as a Coca-Cola commercial. Not to mention Fly Like an Eagle. C [Later: B-]

MOTHER MALLARD'S PORTABLE MASTERPIECE CO.: Like a Duck to Water (Earthquack) Synthesizer mantras recommended to those exploring the space between Eno and Philip Glass, with the warning that they're more sober than the lighthearted name-title-label might make you hope. B PLUS [Later: B]

JONATHAN RICHMAN & THE MODERN LOVERS: Rock & Roll With the Modern Lovers (Beserkley) This all-acoustic record is even further in general tough-mindedness from Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers than that fey testament was from The Modern Lovers; it defines the difference between a child who is cute and a child who knows adults think children are cute. Sometimes I think I should hate it. But in fact I don't, because its self-indulgence represents not the manipulative arrogance of a star but rather the craziness of an almost powerless case of arrested development, and you can hear that. However unattractive a child Richman may be, he does convey the fragile lyricism only children are capable of. B [Later: B+]

DONNA SUMMER: I Remember Yesterday (Casablanca) Cut of the month is "Love's Unkind," a remake of "Then He Kissed Me" that I prefer to the original for the way its solo saxophone opens a window in the wall of sound. But the Supremes and Dr. Buzzard (and Natalie Cole?) takeoffs are stale if not stuffy, and when Kraftwerk goes to the disco the best you can usually hope for is air conditioning. Wait for the single. B MINUS [Later]

JOE TEX: Bumps and Bruises (Epic) Tex is a novelty artist whose subject is morality, so that in one song a little old lady brains a mugger with a can of sauerkraut, in another Tex advocates tolerance for "sissies," and in a third he sings a humorous chorus about having his hands cut off--all over some very punchy dance tracks by James Brown out of Stax-Volt. I loved him 10 years ago and haven't played his best-of in five, but this is amazingly rich and spirited for a comeback album off a freak hit. B PLUS [Later]

THE TRAMMPS: Disco Inferno (Atlantic) I hum the title track and admire three of the remaining five, but one sharp figure of speech per song--my favorite occurs in "Body Contact Contract," where the "party of the first part" parties--doesn't cancel how oppressive and forced the last 10 minutes are. B [Later]

Additional Consumer News

Sam Goody's has initiated a return policy on 10 specially advertised albums per month--assuming people buy enough (without returning them, I bet) to justify the advertising outlay ($4000, I've heard) by teh record companies supporting the project. Needless to say, the LPs available aren't the ones I'd choose, but it's better than nothing, I think. . . .

Four excellent country best-ofs: Merle Haggard's Songs I'll Always Sing, a 20-song twofer on Capitol that is the one Haggard record to buy if you only want one; Columbia's Best of Moe Bandy Volume 1, which collects the out-of-catalogue GRC music that established what Nick Tosches calls "third-generation honky-tonk"; ABC's Best of Freddy Fender, a little less valuable only because Fender's regular releases are so quirkishly good; and RCA's Willie Before His Time, which selects and remixes some of the melancholy formula masterpieces of Willie Nelson's pre-outlaw phase. . . .

Beware of the country titles just added to the ABC Collection, the budget line I praised last month. The twofer (list price: $6.98) from bluegrass's Mac Wiseman repackages his two well-regarded Dot albums, and teh Lefty Frizzell, while of very late vintage, is quite listenable, but the other four--out-of-season work by Sonny James, B.J. Thomas, George Hamilton IV, and Brian Collins, none of whom are so tasty at peak ripeness--wouldn't be worth culling from a dime bin. . . .

While listening to a New Riders of the Purple Sage album recently, a woman unnamed in the press release gave birth to a daughter, naming the child--wow--Sage. The New Riders responded by sending her "some albums, an autographed photo of the group, and some T-shirts," plus this personal message from drummer Spencer Dryden: "Congratulations on a healthy birth and your good taste in music!" As he might have added, good taste is timeless.

[ . . . ]

Village Voice, June 27, 1977

Postscript Notes:

The photocopy is clipped top, left, and bottom. It seems unlikely that there is an introduction, given that it only looks like one line was clipped from the Jonathan Richman review, and the top of the Gregg Allman Band album review is clipped. Not sure about the end, either, although it does look to be done.


June 6, 1977 Aug. 1, 1977