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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: January, 2020

Music from Nashville and Brooklyn, London and Paris, Senegal and Nigeria, the long-lost '60s (twice!), and of course the unmourned 2019

Big Thief: Two Hands (4AD) Spare and a touch awkward, short on hook and groove without disrespecting melody or beat, Big Thief prove intensely listenable nonetheless if you give them a chance-and-a-half. Adrianne Lenker's slight, nearly childlike voice is never cute; she emotes with the subtle strength and considered precision of a Berklee scholarship student and avoids the strophic songpoetry now making its latest comeback. On the band's second 2019 album she tends forthright, doing a solid for loyal guitar-bass-drums bandmates with no discernible folk-rock in them. And then--unexpectedly, after six reflective songs--erupts the prematurely climactic six-minute "Not," which tops off its line-by-line catalogue of homely details and existential insufficiencies with a two-guitar freakout that just might blow you away. Listen up, black midi. (Bet they already have.) A MINUS

Pip Blom: Boat (PIAS/Heavenly) Stripped-down jangle-pop so smart it's surprising how little she does with the word part--although, true, she is Dutch ("Ana," "Ruby," "Bedhead") **

Mal Blum: Pity Boy (Don Giovanni) The nonbinary, transgender, "they"-favoring Blum sports not just a first name that suits this preference but quite often a voice: delivered in a mellow, conversational middle register, "Did you sweat through your sheets last night/Or did you bleach the blood out of them?" evokes a high school senior working on his cool no less than a short-haired coed who rocks loose tops. Usefully and also attractively, this extends the human ambit of the depressive struggles this guitars-bass-drums band chronicles: "I hate the grass/I hate the trees/The way my hair blows in the breeze/Whatever isn't cruel to me" or "What if I see you on the block/I won't stop/I won't/I won't/I won't." On and off meds and saddled with commitment issues, at least in song, they make these anxieties seem ordinary enough to be relevant rather than so commonplace they're cliches. B PLUS

Charly Bliss: Supermoon (Barsuk) An EP that documents not only their transition from Guppy's grunge-pop to Young Enough's power-pop but something more complex: Eva Hendricks's powerful attraction to and sane distrust of these guys who say they love her and may even be telling the truth as they understand it ("Threat," "Feed") ***

Diabel Cissokho: Rhythm of the Griot (Kafou Music) Inheritor of a centuries-old griot tradition and son of a renowned kora player who died of tuberculosis in 2003, this Damon Albarn protege with homes in both Cornwall and Senegal is a mellow-voiced kora master who's been releasing solid albums under his own name for a decade. But this latest one, underwritten by the do-gooding wets of Arts Council England, is the sharpest and most interactive by a noticeable margin. Pace and flow are smooth and thoughtful; individual tracks turn successively clear, spry, warm, traditional, solicitous, playful, ritualistic, virtuosic. An exceptional piece of album-making. A MINUS

Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits (Dualtone) Not every singer (I tried, Phoebe, really I did) is lifted by every song, so good work Corinne Bailey Rae, Courtney Marie Andrews, and Aimee Mann and praise the Lord for Iris Dement (Iris Dement, "House Where Nobody Lives"; Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, "Ol' 55"; Rosanne Cash, "Time") **

Hickoids: All the World's a Dressing Room: Live in L.A. 08.24.2018 (Saustex) From families so religious they don't believe in sex after marriage, long-running Austin dirtbags rhyme "Texas" with "peckers," cover Elvis, Elton, and the Doobie Brothers, and treat their associates to all the Night Train and Monistat they can drink or apply ("Queen of the Barbecue," "Burnin' Luv") ***

Miranda Lambert: Wildcard (RCA) The first nine seconds of "Too Pretty for Prison," wherein Miranda and her pal Maren decide not to snip his brake linings or antifreeze his Gatorade because orange isn't their color, deploy guitar-bass-drums suitable for climaxing a Motley Crue ballad--and for reminding Luke Combs et al. that Lambert has been outrocking the penis-packing "country" competition since her 2005 "Kerosene." In a Nashville where steel guitars are as vestigial as Harlan Howard covers, she's a rawer version of Tom Petty with more help on the songwriting (Luke Dick-Natalie Hemby snag five cowrites, Lindsey-McKenna-Rose four). Hence all the songs stand up in a row, and this still being Nashville--not only was it recorded there, the onetime Oklahoman now shares a nearby mansion with the NYC cop she just married--the metaphor bank has a ring that's more like a twang. She's got an Airstream to go with her new truck, "It All Comes Out in the Wash" recommends the spin cycle, and "White Trash" catalogues upscale versions of the real thing from a Cadillac on cinder blocks to dog hairs on the Restoration Hardware. Like she says: "Pretty bitchin'." A MINUS

Mr Eazi: Life Is Eazi--Vol. 2: Lagos to London (Banks Music) Lite, pitch-corrected Nigerian college grad sings Nigerian-Ghanaian "banku" ditties of pleasing if varying catchiness over a keybish electro-simulated "band." Enhancing various tracks in their special if imitable ways are Diplo, Chronixx, and others. Check the foreshortened intro "Lagos Gyration," the Burna Boy-guesting "Miss You Bad," and a love song called "Property": "Baby all of my property/All of my property/I give you authority/I give you authority/If you go down like economy/Economy/Baby you go follow me/Follow me." I note for the record that Mr Eazi has been said to be dating the daughter of a Ghanaian billionaire. B PLUS

Pere Ubu: The Long Goodbye (Cherry Red) Except for what might well have passed as a farewell album--namely, 2018's 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo--parsing what one of David Thomas's works of art "means" has long been a superfan's game. This double-CD, two versions of the same music with the live-in-France one superior, is relatively engaging/engaged in its mostly recitative way and seems to be inspired by the Raymond Chandler novel, to what end it's just entertaining enough to inspire superfans to ponder: patriotism as pessimism, nirvana as oblivion, feeling blue. It's also his farewell album until he changes his mind. My favorite track is "Fortunate Son," set in a "Waffle House with a view of Walden Pond," where he cries about America and pays the bill of a man who plays "Fortunate Son" and "Layla" on the jukebox--but declines to tell the guy whether he actually likes Eric Clapton. B PLUS

Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (Drag City) "You see, the life I live is sickening/Just spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion," sings the eternally blocked, depressive, and monotonal David Berman 11 years after his final album with/as the Silver Jews. Yet he sounds sprightlier--the tempos quickened slightly, the tunes turned fetching, the jokes softened. "I Loved Being My Mother's Son" breathes a warmth, devotion, and detail truly corny songs never risk, and if his significant other is making friends while he's acting stranger, she obviously has a right. Even "Margaritas at the Mall" has the spiritual grace to blame those boozy not-actually-happy hours on a God who's a lot more "subtle" than he or she has any right to be. You tell him or her, David. Only then the man goes and kills himself. A

The Seeds: Pushin' Too Hard: Original Soundtrack (GNP Crescendo/Big Beat) Beyond Roky Erickson's 13th Floor Elevators, L.A.'s Seeds were the only album-worthy band singled out on Lenny Kaye's 1971 Nuggets comp. Having pried their eponymous 1966 debut out of my vinyl shelves and played it for the first time in decades, I'd call it a strong B plus, and five of its 12 songs are on this documentary soundtrack, including their two best: the frustrated "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" and the Top 40 "Pushin' Too Hard," directed at a woman but taken to target society as a whole--just like the Stones' "Satisfaction," if you're old enough to recall. Although keyboardist Daryl Hooper was charged with translating Sky Saxon's brainstorms into garage-rock songfulness, the Utah-born yob christened Richard Marsh in 1937 was headman and shaman. But highlights here also include a KHJ DJ's 1967 disquisition on "flower music" at the Hollywood Bowl, a 14-minute extension of "Evil Hoodoo," and backup work for both Muddy Waters and Kim Fowley. Saxon later became the star attraction of a vegetarian Hollywood Hills commune called the Source Family. He died in 2009, leaving the band to Hooper. After putting in his time as an LA cop, '60s guitarist Jan Savage joined back on. A MINUS

Otis Spann: Walking the Blues (Candid) I once asked Nat Hentoff, "supervisor" of a one-day 1960 session I've loved ever since it was finally released in 1972, how he got master Chicago blues pianist Spann, second-generation Delta blues guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Nashville-born blues songster St. Louis Jimmy Oden to groove so easily. His answer: "I rolled the tape." On Spann's solo recordings with main man Muddy Waters, he's a strong, mellow, generic Chicago blues vocalist who was seldom as spare or sharp as he is on the captivating "It Must Have Been the Devil" opener, and while somewhere in his unkempt catalogue no doubt dwell solo instrumentals as virtuosically understated as "This Is the Blues" or as definitive as "Walking the Blues" itself, I doubt they're any better. And then there's what makes the session: four primitivist St. Louis Jimmy features that play his croaky drawl for laughs, as must have happened a lot. Take for instance that "Monkey Face Woman" who "got what I lack": "She's cute when she walks, she wobbles all over the street/She's cute when she walks, she wobbles all over the street/She's got little bird legs and them oversize feet." A

And It Don't Stop, Jan. 8, 2020

Dec. 11, 2019 Feb. 12, 2020