Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Blasters

  • American Music [Rollin' Rock, 1980] B+
  • The Blasters [Slash, 1981] A-
  • Over There: Live at the Venue, London [Slash EP, 1982] B
  • Non Fiction [Slash, 1983] A
  • Hard Line [Slash, 1985] A
  • The Blasters Collection [Slash/Warner Bros., 1991] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

American Music [Rollin' Rock, 1980]
One of two bands cited as proof that L.A. punks aren't just bigots with mohawks (the other, the Go-Go's, has--gulp!--girls in it), these rock and rollers don't quite fit their rockabilly revivalist pigeonhole. Where the average Whitecat is so pencil-necked he can hardly hold up an acoustic bass, they have muscles, and where the average Rockin' Ronnie Weiser signing is a barely literate has-been who never really was, they have brains and potential. Or so songs like "Barn Burning" and, believe it or not, "American Music" lead one to believe. They do get that chickenshit Scotty Moore guitar sound right, though. With Ronnie at the boards, they don't have much choice. B+

The Blasters [Slash, 1981]
Ex-Canned Heat piano man Gene Taylor and a horn section anchored by New Orleans's own Mr. Lee Allen wreck that neobilly image, as do the three reempowered remakes from their debut. Neobilly's just an excuse that lets them play blues--plus r&b, country, New Orleans, all the unfashionable vernaculars they love--to a young and hungry audience in a recharged dramatic context. If the originals work better than the covers, that's partly because Phil Alvin's expressive moan does sound pinched sometimes, so even when you don't know the source recording (which you probably don't), you can imagine it fuller. And it's partly because Dave Alvin is a songwriter with John Fogerty's bead on the wound-tight good times of America's tough white underbelly. A-

Over There: Live at the Venue, London [Slash EP, 1982]
If you want to give the EP a bad name, stick to bands like Devo and the Chartbusters. These guys are too good for a quickie, but though the songs they choose are classic, they cover them only adequately. B

Non Fiction [Slash, 1983]
"Train whistle cries / lost on its own track" could be half a haiku for Hank Williams should these American traditionalists ever turn Japanese, and if "Leaving" is worthy of George Jones, "Bus Station" and "It Must Be Love" pick up where Tom T. Hall left off. None of which is code for countrybilly--this is r&b Jerry Lee could be proud of. It's just that Dave Alvin writes with an objective colloquial intensity that fits the straight-ahead dedication of his cross-racial and -generational band the way James Taylor's ingrown whimsy suited the laid-backs he hung with. In other words, Dave might qualify as the last great singer-songwriter if only he was a singer. And brother Phil is. A

Hard Line [Slash, 1985]
Non Fiction imagined a world in which the American music the Blasters love remained the common tongue of ordinary guys, guys whose connection to their cultural history helped them understand where they were--not in control, but at least conscious. The follow-up attempts to reach those ordinary guys with producers and stereo and more drums and no horns and a John Cougar Mellencamp song, and also with the kind of fancy stuff that comes naturally--accordion here, acoustic version there, Jordanaires all over the place, and the Jubilee Train Singers on a fiercely joyous remake of "Samson and Delilah," which with its ancient threat to tear this building down is good reason not to fret about philosophical retreat. As are "Dark Night," about a race murder, and "Common Man," about some president or other, their two most pointedly political tracks ever. What's softened is the bits of the writing--where Non Fiction nailed specifics (plastic seats, repentant husband wiping ashes off the bed), here Dave Alvin settles (or works) for a level of generalization suitable to pop. Guess he's decided that sometimes ordinary guys don't want things spelled out so fine. He may be right. A

The Blasters Collection [Slash/Warner Bros., 1991]
The remains of a great catalogue, baited with three rockin' previously unreleaseds that can't hold a candle to the Non Fiction gems now erased from history (a moment of silence for "It Must Be Love," "Bus Station," "Leaving"), this nevertheless makes its willful, undeniable case for the matchless titans of "American Music," rockin' style. Dave Alvin and his singing brother Phil you know, kind of. So introduce yourself to the rhythm section--Gene Taylor's panboogie piano, John Bazz's fast-stepping bass, and especially Bill Bateman's whipcrack drums. And tell the world about the songbook they all share. A-

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