Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Esther Phillips: The Best of Esther Phillips (1962-1970) [Rhino/Atlantic, 1997]
R&b chart-topper at 15, repeat hitmaker with a Ray Price remake, discofied interpreter of Van and Elton as well as her secret sharer Dinah Washington, Phillips died of liver and kidney failure in 1984 and is now somehow classified as jazz. Although she was honorably served by Atlantic's all-the-class-the-market-will-bear aesthetic, her astringent voice zipped with unique authority through schlock like "Moonglow/Theme From Picnic," which is as striking as any of these 40 tracks--although no more so than "Makin' Whoopee" or "Moody's Mood for Love," "Crazy Love" or "And I Love Him." Her vocal gift was narrower than that of her other secret sharer Etta James, but because she knew perpetual disillusion, Phillips was far defter with pretentious lyrics. Her current obscurity is a disgrace. I look forward to a companion package culling her patchy brilliance at Kudu and Mercury. A-