Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Charley Pride

  • The Best of Charley Pride Volume 2 [RCA Victor, 1972] B
  • The Best of Charley Pride Vol. III [RCA Victor, 1976] B-
  • RCA Country Legends [Buddha, 2000] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Best of Charley Pride Volume 2 [RCA Victor, 1972]
Says Paul Hemphill: "There might be something to the suspicion that he is Nashville's house nigger . . . if he didn't sing `Kawliga' better than Hank Williams did." Wrong. First you sing real good, and then maybe they let you be a house nigger. Pride's amazing baritone--it hints at twang and melisma simultaneously, and to call it warm is to slight the brightness of its heat--loses focus as he settles exclusively into "heart songs." Though these tales of married love are worthy enough, only "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone" ranks with "Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger" or "Just Between You and Me" or "All I Have to Offer You," while "I'm Just Me" asserts an "identity" so vague it couldn't get him a tricycle license. In however irrelevant a way, "Kaw-Liga" at least acknowledged the existence of race, and "The Snakes Crawl at Night" at least cast him as a criminal. Neither was much to retreat from. But they helped round out a persona that's beginning to seem dangerously shallow. B

The Best of Charley Pride Vol. III [RCA Victor, 1976]
It's no longer so easy to hit consistently in Nashville with such MOR (MOR country, I mean) material, but Pride does it, specializing in happy-marriage songs (which I often find likable) and touching such themes as Jesus, elusive dreams, childhood home, and country-singer-on-the-road (with sex). An achievement, even though he's got a gimmick as well as a voice--which seems to be softening slightly, losing its resonant edge. But especially given how middling his MOR often is, I wish he wanted to do--or is it could do?--more. B-

RCA Country Legends [Buddha, 2000]
Voicewise, as brilliant as Vernon Dalhart, Ray Price, George Jones. Contentwise, as wan as Red Foley, Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbitt. Only for Pride, wan was perverse. A deeply ambitious sharecropper's son who moved up to Montana to pursue his first love, baseball, and settled for a job smelting zinc, Pride didn't stand out because he could dip from tenor to bass in well-enunciated middle-American smeared with drawl and flanged with vibrato. He stood out because he wasn't white. Although it wasn't easy becoming the only black country star ever, once he got over the hump he was the perfect token for Southern traditionalists eager to find safe common ground with the civil rights movement. Stylistically honky-tonk when Nashville was trying to be modern, he was never thematically honky-tonk--no drinking songs, God knows no catting songs. Yet his skin color was inescapable. From this Mississippi emigre the pro forma can't-go-home-again of "Wonder Could I Live There Anymore" was an indictment, "voice of Uncle Ben" and all. And how to read the cornball complacency of "I'm Just Me": "I was just born to be/Exactly what you see/Nothing more or less/I'm not the worst or the best/I just try to be/Exactly what you see"? Early on some well-wisher suggested he bill himself George Washington Carver III. But that would have been taking on airs, he'd stick with his own name thankee, and look what it was. Belated Country Music Hall of Famer Pride no longer tours regularly. He doesn't have to. He owns a bank. A-