Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Merle Travis: The Best of Merle Travis [Rhino, 1990]
The Kentucky emigre fronted a California band like no other--Western swing gone honky tonk, with trumpet and accordion--and showed Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore how to play guitar. Which is fine for aesthetes--me, I listen to country music for singers and songs, in this case songs. Writing for money, Travis was a man of his class in the homeless "No Vacancy," the now-traditional "Dark as a Dungeon," From Here to Eternity's "Re-Enlistment Blues," and, oh yeah, "Sixteen Tons." He was a man of his gender in the endlessly clever "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed," "I Like My Chicken Fryin' Size," and on and on. And he was a font of Inspirational Verse. Try "Cincinnati Lou" ("She's got a way of rollin' them eyes/Makes me think of paradise/And I don't mean heaven just a plain old pair o' dice") or "Fat Gal" ("Warm in the winter, shady in the summertime," and also "If things get rough and times get hard/I'll render my gal and sell the lard") or "Lawdy, What a Gal" ("You keep your eyes wide open/Every time I'm kissin' you/The reason that I know you do/Is I keep them open too"). Try just about anything. A