Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Greenberger Greenberg Cebar [extended]

  • Tell Me That Before [Pel Pel, 2011] A-
  • Oh, Pa [Pel Pel, 2012] *
  • They Like Me Around Here [Pel Pel, 2013] A-
  • Near the Edge of the Penny Jar Spill [Pel Pel, 2014] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Tell Me That Before [Pel Pel, 2011]
David Greenberger and his Duplex Planet project are old news, and there've been other recordings. But I'm not sure how many a music person would want, and can't imagine any of them improving on the new one I've fallen for: 17 subtly intonated dramatizations of words Americans in elder facilities have spoken to Greenberger followed by a multivocal 19-minute finale. No one's altogether bitter, but many are weary, and gradually the selections become not so much sadder as deeper, their bygone vernacular a bearer of authority and idiosyncrasy, reason and regret. Wise, deluded, confused, loving, placid, wacky, they reminisce and philosophize as they wait for the end, and Greenberger respects them all. Mark Greenberg provides each reflection with dedicated homespun accompaniment--bass and/or drums and/or keyboard, ukulele and/or accordion and/or vibraphone--that accents the musicality of their speech. The words would appear to be all. Yet every time your mind wanders, your ear tells you they're not. A-

David Greenberger & Ralph Carney: Oh, Pa [Pel Pel, 2012]
Starring 75-year-old smoker and verbal gymnast Fergie, with everybody else a sideshow ("The Fergie and David Show: The Meaning of Embarrassment," "Fergie's Gilligan's Island," "Reason to Get Up," "The Fergie & David Show: A Recording Session") *

David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here [Pel Pel, 2013]
I do wonder how reliably I can judge these records, in which Greenberger transforms serious seniors' generally touching, often loopy, and sometimes inspirational musings and recollections into dramatic readings with musical accompaniment. They're pretty numerous by now--I sure haven't heard them all--and risk getting repetitive too. Nevertheless, they do vary, in part because Greenberger shuffles arrangers. Yet though this is billed as a "follow-up" to the 2009 Cebar collaboration Cherry Picking Apple Blossom Time, it's very different structurally. There 34 of 38 tracks run under 2:13, where here only three of 19 do, and just because these have more heft, fewer of them skew toward pathos or damage. The steady good humor of the voice the 58-year-old Greenberger has developed to enact his interviewees always imparts dignity, smoothing over hesitations and infirmities. But here the words have extra force, with Cebar's instrumentation fuller too. The proud "She Voted," the prouder "Thank You, Reuben," the skydiving "The Thrill," and the title track "Nemo and Harmony" all inspire mightily. For pathos, try "Telephone": "I don't have anyone to call." A-

David Greenberger & Dozens: Near the Edge of the Penny Jar Spill [Pel Pel, 2014]
Best when he trusts his sources more and his pick-up musicians less, you think--until Paul Cebar constructs a threnody from the linguistic shards of late-stage Alzheimer's ("Used to Say," "Six Snakes," "How Records Are Made") ***