Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bert Williams: His Final Releases, 1919-1922 [Archeophone, 2002]
Williams wasn't just a success--he was a major star, the cultural equivalent of Hendrix in the '60s, the black man epitomizing a supposedly white entertainment culture. As he got older he grew impatient with the limitatins of the role he'd carved out for himself. Like many comedians before him he wanted to do drama, go legit, only in this case there's clearly a racial dynamic as well. But though some believe that his records weakened, as so often happens, I don't hear it. Improved recording certainly compensates. In any case, it's estimated that between 1918 and 1922 he moved nearly two million pieces, including two of the Elder Eatmore sermons Louis Armstrong imitated and adored, and the enduring opera parody "I Want to Know Where Tosti Went." [Recyclables]