Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys: Anthology 1935-1973 [Rhino, 1991]
Newcomers may be put off by Wills's opportunistic omnivorousness. As a popularizer of what he considered Texas fiddle music, he felt no more loyal to country, which didn't mean much in the '30s anyway, than the early black songsters did to blues. An entertainer who assumed, correctly, that his audience liked everything he did--folk, hillbilly, blues, swing, and let us not forget pop--his format was the pop format of the time, the big band. Plus fiddle and pedal steel, and also plus fellow frontman Tommy Duncan, a congenial equivalent to the generic boy singers of swing. He's almost sublimely relaxed--the country meeting the city without the usual anxious excitement. The classic Wills is just plain Anthology, a Columbia double-LP turned Sony Special Products CD, which collects 24 cuts where the two separately available CDs in this package each offer 16. But these are a tad longer on sheer song quality. Volume 1 duplicates five Sony tracks, Volume 2--which finally convinces me that Wills's post-Columbia work wasn't busy and tuckered out--zero. Wills's eclecticism was tremendously ambitious, but it was never pretentious. And sometimes unpretentiousness is its own reward. A