Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Panic Is On [Shanachie, 2009]
Ranging well beyond the folkloric songsters you'd expect, this CD/DVD documenting "The Great Depression as Seen by the Common Man" makes a point of how far that disaster spread by resuscitating bland session singer Dick Robertson's desperately jocular "If I Ever Get a Job Again" and Bing Crosby imitator Charlie Palloy's non-hit cover of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"--and also cheerier songs by each. From a title track in which Hezekiah Jenkins splits the difference between black or white to a Roy Acuff rarity equating Social Security with good riddance to the cosmetics industry, unfamiliarity deepens thematic impact. It's as if you couldn't walk out the door back then without hearing about hard times. In controlled doses, the DVD is almost as good. Don't miss the surreal dance marathon clip. The federal documentary about rural electrification is pretty surreal too. A-