Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Elmore James Completism,
Volumes I Through V (or VI)

I always knew I loved Elmore James, but not until Rhino let Robert Palmer loose on him did I know how much--one of the great albums of the '90s, The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James exemplifies the compiler's craft like some Trevor Herman Afropop summum. Now two lesser recent comps replacing treasured earlier ones have me considering Elmore James completism as a life option: Shake Your Moneymaker: The Best of the Fire Sessions on Buddha and James's entry in Virgin's/The Right Stuff's spotty-by-definition Blues Kingpins series, which share 10 and 12 songs respectively with Music Club's devilishly entitled The Sky Is Crying (Bobby Robinson sessions in Chicago, New Orleans, and NYC) and Virgin's deleted "Let's Cut It" (Bihari brothers in Mississippi, Chicago, and L.A.). Only a madman would covet so much redundancy, but I just played the unshared tracks back to back--plus all four "Dust My Broom"s, why not?--and wasn't bored a minute. Even the new Virgin (what genius decided to do without "My Best Friend," or lose the "Let's Cut It" from "Dust My Broom"?) could whomp your joint or get you through a traffic jam with the AC down. The Music Club has a better (meaning different) "Dust My Broom" as well as piano on the equally classic "It Hurts Me Too," the Buddha more muscle overall. James was the original houserocker, a wilder party animal than Little Richard, Jerry Lee, or any of the three W's. Augment Rhino's (caveat: Not Music Club's) The Sky Is Crying (caveat: not Rhino's Blues Masters) with whichever one of these you can find cheapest, and proceed.

Village Voice, Sept. 30, 2003

  Nov. 11, 2003