Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Feeling so much better this month that I've even got a trend for you: singer-songwriters from Georgia. Yep, two pleasant surprises in one month and they both fall into the same category. And come to think of it, Gary Stewart, my other new favorite, is from North Florida. And Gram Parsons hailed from Waycross. And what was Barry Sadler's home town?

All I need to really firm up my mood would be for one of that endless succession of Rock Groups--Trooper or the Outlaws or Glans Penis and the Testes--to pan out. Just one. It would restore my faith. In the meantime, I'm taking refuge in eclecticism, lots of country music and lots of jazz. Keeps the ears flexible, and my judgments get surer all the time.


BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE: Four Wheel Drive (Mercury) Not only is number four their worst--only natural when you've already milked a formula for three pretty good records--but people seem to know it: the surefire single didn't make top ten. Watch out for flying gear teeth. C PLUS [Later]

RANDALL BRAMBLETT: That Other Mile (Polydor) A find. Transcending its well-connected professional genre, the slightly distracted passion of Bramblett's singing combines with his oblique fusion of Southern boogie, studio country-rock, and Caribbean polyrhythms to take the edge of privilege off his philosophical fatalism. His music is too warm and funny to sound self-satisfied, and the way he collects images around an aphoristic catchphrase is too open-ended to sound smug. Start with side two. A MINUS [Later: B+]

KEVIN COYNE: Matching Head and Feet (Virgin) Coyne is the kind of minor artist whose faults--mainly an undeniable narrowness of emotional range that forces him to repeat effects--I am willing to overlook in this homogenized time. Sounding like a sly, bony, and clinically loony Joe Cocker (or a failed Deke Leonard), he here abandons quirky singer-songwriting for unkempt rock and roll. At some level, this is probably slick, too, but I haven't gotten down there yet and I probably never will. B PLUS [Later]

JOHNNY DARRELL: Water Glass Full of Whiskey (Capricorn) The five years of obscurity since California Stop-Over (the brave and ignored crossover album that might have introduced "Willin'" and "These Days" to rock and country audience both) seem to have made him permanently lachrymose. When he tries to sound bright, he also sounds clumsy, as if he hasn't stretched that particular muscle in quite a while. Q: Can a tearjerker have a formal precision of its own? A: Nope, gets too soggy. C PLUS [Later]

MILLIE JACKSON: Still Caught Up (Spring) Jackson's specialty--the funky truth about husbands, wives, and other women--is worth this sequel. As with Caught Up, she has her theme in control about eighty percent of the time, and her tone has become even nastier. But since she no longer has the advantage of surprise, her stridency is beginning to seem a little forced. B PLUS

JANIS JOPLIN (Columbia) No hallelujahs here even in a time of rock dearth. The documentary soundtrack ought to be seen, not heard; the newly compiled early tapes are the rather tinny record of a singer who hasn't found her band. For scholars only. C PLUS [Later]

CURTIS MAYFIELD: America Today (Curtom) I had hoped the featureless doodling of his post-Super Fly albums just meant he was treading water while transferring from Viewlex to Warner Comm. Instead it appears that he was seeking new standards of incoherence. D PLUS

GWEN MCCRAE: Rockin' Chair (Cat) I was relieved to be left tepid by this LP's original release, since it was getting embarrassing to wax warm over Miami every time out. But the newly added title hit, almost as irresistibly Memphis-cum-disco-with-a-hook as hubby's "Rock Your Baby," transforms it into more warm wax, tuff enuff to make you wonder what ever happened to soul music. Time: 28:25. B

LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES: Expansions (Flying Dutchman) I enjoyed the directness of this at first--piano improvisations striding over solid multi-percussion, in the spirit of Smith's former leader, Gato Barbieri, without the manic harshmess. Then I begin to hanker for some harshness. It's not just the strings, which are at least as intelligent as, say, Alice Coltrane's, and less ubiquitous. It's also the rhythms themselves, serving a purpose so expanded and cosmic that it's not even spiritual anymore, thus rendering their connection to the body irrelevant. C PLUS

TOM SCOTT AND THE L.A. EXPRESS: Tom Cat (Ode) Joni Mitchell please note: this isn't jazz, it's background music without the foreground. It doesn't swing, it doesn't rock--it hops. C MINUS

SWEET: Desolation Boulevard (Capitol) Bazooka-rock lives, even without Chapman and Chinn. In the absence of Slade (whose failure to participate on the recent LP that bears their name must be considered disquieting), these guys play second-bill steamroller to Kiss. B MINUS

SHOJI TABUCHI: Country Music My Way (ABC/Dot) Tabuchi is a trained concert violinist born in Daishji, Japan, who now plays fiddle for David Houston. He also sings. His first album, which would be an instant camp masterpiece in a truly pluralistic culture, is recommended to all those seeking further insight into the musical art of Yoko Ono. D MINUS

RON TURNER (Folkways) This folkie throwback supports the argument that it's easier to play the outlaw if you don't need roadies with pack mules to lug your amplifiers across the wide open spaces. Armed with a twelve-string and a sense of humor, Turner obviously yokes his imagination to felt experience than production schedules, and his flat monotone is often pretty droll. He makes rock and roll sound even bleaker. B

WAR: Why Can't We Be Friends? (United Artists) Except for the title hit, which sounds even better on the radio, and the seven-minute "Heartbeat," which has been done better by the Wild Magnolias, thi sis a lighter version of the same old pleasant-enough black Muzak. C PLUS [Later: B-]

RANDY WESTON: Carnival (Arista/Freedom) A delightful discovery. Weston applies the rigorous wit of Monk to easy rolling African polyrhythms, and they hold up. The title cut suggests a time when intellect is transcended rather than blotted out and makes Lonnie Liston Smith sound pretty sloppy. B PLUS

BARRY WHITE: Just Another Way to Say I Love You (20th Century) Seeing him live in Westchester dispelled any doubts about whether Barry White is Good Art--but neither is Mount Rushmore. The man's commonness is as monumental as his girth and that's not just meant as an insult. After all, it must have taken formidable creative will to transform Reader's Digest virtues and that face and body into a potent sexual symbol. The symbol has weight on record because White manipulates recording technology with a genius reminiscent on originality, not sound of Mitch Miller's. And the hits sound great on the radio. B MINUS [Later: C+]

DAVID WILLS: Barrooms to Bedrooms (Epic) Q. Can a tear-jerker have a formal precision of its own? A. Maybe, if the singer wears black-rimmed glasses, keeps a microphone in his nose, and doesn't take his seriousness too seriously. Time 25:53. B

LARRY JON WILSON: New Beginnings (Monument) A sleeper from a previously unrecorded Georgian who looks to be around forty. Capsule portrait: he named his crippled son after his father, a dirt farmer who moved to the city with misgivings, and Bertrand Russell, both of whom he "knew and loved." The record is as original as you might hope, catchy and fresh-sounding despite overlays of schlock intended to hook the country audience. I wish I could say it was promising as well, but I suspect not. The drawback to rediscovering home truths, which is definitely Wilson's calling, is that when the excitement fades--and even a modest career takes its toll--the reaffirmations turn back into platitudes. That has already begun to happen on the weak cuts here. B PLUS

WINGS: Venus and Mars (Capitol) Superficially, which counts for a lot with McCartney, his New Orleans venture is his most appealing solo album, clear enough in the mixing and melodic lines to open the possibility that his whimsical juxtapositions (robots and Main Street, Rudy Vallee and Allen Toussaint) make sense on some level. But when he exerts his imagination on the real world he strains for the sentimental. Just as he and Linda are too shrewd to end up in an old age home, so his fans are too shrewd to earn their portrayal (in "Rock Show") as youngsters every bit as winsome as Paulie himself. Until the man and his fans accept their own shrewdness, those juxtapositions will never take on the ironic sting of truth. B [Later: B+]

NEIL YOUNG: Tonight's the Night (Reprise) Like Time Fades Away and On the Beach, this album extends the reclusive desperation of Young's first two solo albums rather than the sweetness of the next two, the ones that made him a star. Better carpentered than Time Fades Away, and less crankish than On the Beach, this is far from metal machine music--it can be listened to. But there's pain with the pleasure, as is natural. In Boulder, it reportedly gets angry phone calls whenever it is played on the radio. What better recommendation could you ask? A [Later]

Additional Consumer News

I occasionally get letters now requesting jazz listening lists. I'm not really the guy to ask, except for confluences of taste over and above the fall of coincidence. But here's a reissue for you: Thelonious Monk's Brilliance, on Milestone. It contains most of Brilliant Corners, which was stolen from me and out-of-print a decade ago. Hearing it gave me a rush for which my intellect did battle with my nostalgia glands, and won. . . .

Hallelujah I Was Wrong: All ecstatic reports on the Wailers are understated. I gave Natty Dread a B; make it A minus. They may even turn into stars. . . .

Press release of the month: "TK has just released Super Jaws by the Seven Seas, a dynamite disco record prompted by " . . . You fill in the rest.

Village Voice, July 21, 1975


June 16, 1975 Aug. 18, 1975