Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

I feel a little guilty about this month's Pick Hit. The album by James Talley (whom see) is one of those unanticipated blessed events that come along once a year or so; looking backwards, I would include the second Thomas Jefferson Kaye, Coulson-Dean's Lo & Behold, the first Manfred Mann's Earth Band, and the second Insect Trust in the category. As should be obvious, such records need all the help they can get. But I'm hoping this unsolicited testimonial and last week's lead review by Greil Marcus will help get adventurous readers and distributors after the record retailers. Talley's record is one that only a confirmed hard rock (jazz) (disco) (soul) bigot can dislike; to market it as "country" is to miss how perspicaciously it looks beyond such categories.

Shirley and Company: Shame, Shame, Shame On the other hand, I couldn't very well keep Shirley and Company's cover away from you, could I? Especially when the LP (from a black indie of intense but narrow clout) is unlikely to get much display in "rock" retail outlets or "rock" press (Vince Aletti gave me his extra copy or I might never have heard it.) The album is admittedly a bare B plus of the acquired taste sort--not one of your unified aesthetic experiences. But in a time when most albums are hit-plus-product without admitting it, I get off on its candor.

And in case you think I'm a sucker for such candor, note what beat out AWB for Must to Avoid.

AVERAGE WHITE BAND: Cut the Cake (Atlantic) In the past, the impassioned identification of this group with its own technical mastery of a narrow nonwhite musical form has transcended the banality of its material. But success seems to have mellowed them out, and the result ahs as little spirit as your standard soul schlock job. Next step: strings. C PLUS [Later]

BEE GEES: Main Course (RSO) Their most--in fact, only--listenable album in five years is marred by the certain knowledge that the improvement is a desperate commercial ploy. I mean I don't get the feeling they're telling me any of this stuff because they want me to know, they just figure it's the only way for them to sell records in 1975. And I'm not sure I buy it anyway. Exception: "All This Making Love," a baroque, frantically mechanical evocation of compulsive sex. Pray that it's the next single. C PLUS [Later: B+]

ELVIN BISHOP: Juke Joint Jump (Capricorn) Elvin's solo albums started coming out five years ago, but this is the first one this fan ever wanted to hear twice. Nothing spectacular, that would violate his sense of propriety--just rocking with a steady roll, perfect for admirers of Robert E. Lee if a mite laid-back for Broadway Bob. Nice to hear a National Merit Scholar make good. B MINUS [Later: B]

TERESA BREWER: Unliberated Woman (Signature) If your jazz-entrepreneur husband bought you Nashville's finest for your 44th birthday, you might think unliberation paid yourself. C MINUS

THE CAPTAIN AND TENNILLE: Love Will Keep Us Together (A&M) The fact of this album's failure is expected, but the extent is a shock. Their good sense in appropriating Neil Sedaka's unused hit arrangement was a one-shot; the rest of the time they spread the middle of the road so thin they make "Rainy Days and Mondays" sound like "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." Admirers of the single should invest in a copy of Sedaka's Back; his version is really a lot crisper. D MINUS [Later]

THE EAGLES: One of These Nights (Asylum) Put on your neckboots and wade through the slickshit and you may get a kick from the lyrics--these boys like lotsa malaise with their mayonnaise. But in rock and roll the difference between tragedy and soap opera is usually the acting, here so completely immersed in stringing sings that even the aptest phrases are reduced to the clichés they restate. C PLUS

SONNY FORTUNE: Long Before Our Mothers Cried (Strata-East) Support your local jazz musicians. Fortune is a sax player whose warm-up for the Wailers at Schafer turned my head around not with its originality--Fortune is a cultivator rather than a ground-breaker--but with its commitment to plain good music, from bop to new thing. A righteous thing to do with your life, and righteous to hear. Despite even the bracing piano comps of Stanley Cowell, there's nothing compelling here. But satisfying. B PLUS

RUPERT HOLMES (Epic) In another time this guy would be writing short stories for Collier's; if he really is a civilized Randy Newman, as some seem to feel, then the emphasis is on the civilized. The giveaway is the voice, devoid of feeling or even eccentricity, and hence inoffensive. Randy Newman is never inoffensive. That so many putative rock critics mistake Holmes's deftness for the real thing only proves how desperate we have become for original intelligence, no matter how shallow. B MINUS

THE ISLEY BROTHERS: The Heat Is On (T-Neck) This is well-nigh flawless Isleys, which is to say that it includes no lyrics worthy of Seals & Crofts. The rockish electric textures at which they excel are muted nicely by an Al Green-styled pace change on side two, and there's even a political sounding hit single. But the Isleys are the sort of ambitious rippers-off in whom flawlessness can signal lost inspiration, and there's not one track here that I want to hear as much as "That Lady" or "Work to Do." B [Later]

ROBERT KLEIN: New Teeth (Epic) The funniest album by a standup comic since George Carlin's Class Clown leaves behind the grammar-school nostalgia--which although frequently amusing always seemed formulaic when it wasn't--that kept Klein from sounding commercially uncompromised. Unlike Carlin, Klein gets better all the time. Never trivial, never cynical, never lacking a comic purpose for his outrage, he's up there with Pryor and Tomlin. A MINUS

THE LOST GONZO BAND (MCA) Jerry Jeff Walker's backup band transcends its own roots to offer the best evidence to date for Austin's rep as the last refuge of the hippie visionary. The record will probably stand as the best by a new group this year; side one is virtually unflawed; and Gary Nunn's "Money" reminds me of Peter Townshend's "Tattoo" in its understated rock and roll eloquence. B PLUS

NASHVILLE (ABC) The only musician of promise here, Ronee Blakley, hasn't righted any of the quirks that unfocused her solo debut three years ago, and she's no more a country singer than Wendy Waldman. If the music makes the movie, as more than one film critic has surmised, then the movie is a lie. Another possibility: the critics are fibbing a little to cover their ignorance. C

WILSON PICKETT: Join Me and Let's Be Free (RCA Victor) As a respecter of history, I want to note that this is the Wicked's best since going soft, kicking off with a likable groove that I began to find tedious well before Carola stopped dancing. C PLUS [Later]

LOU REED: Lou Reed Live (RCA Victor) I thought Berlin was a pompous failure following a throwaway failure and thereupon gave up on solo Lou. But listening back to last year's Rock n Roll Animal I realize that I underestimated him once again. At its best, his live music is a clean redefinition of heavy, thrilling without threatening to stupefy, the real metal machine music. Unfortunately, where Rock n Roll Animal reworked Velvet material this reprises mostly weak solo stuff. So go with Rock n Roll Animal first. B MINUS [Later]

SHIRLEY AND COMPANY: Shame Shame Shame (Vibration) This bargain package includes: 1) title smash and follow-up, very similar but a little slower; 2) instrumental versions of same; 3) a song reprising the smash riff and tells what a terrific dancer Disco Shirley is; 4) a recycled "Iko Iko"-style folk song; 5) several boy-girl duets; 6) other stuff. Very slap-dash, very expedient, and--except for the instrumental followup, which drags--quite smashing. B PLUS [Later]

GARY STEWART: You're Not the Woman You Used to Be (MCA) In case it's not clear why rock and rollers are so excited about a new country singer, it's because that's not really what he is. He sings rockabilly, a music that flourished for a few years in the mid-'50s and then vanished. What I like best about this compilation of unsuccessful singles from a few years ago is the way Stewart transforms rockabilly's adolescent phobias about wimmin into unabashed burlesques involving the likes of "Big Bertha" and "The Snuff Queen." Recommended to those who already own Out of Hand. Time: 26:20. B PLUS [Later]

STEPHEN STILLS: Stills (Columbia) Inspirational Verse: "This is my favorite set of changes/Already good for a couple of songs." Admirers of Stills might find that endearing, I know. They might even dig him copping a lick from Alice Cooper later on in the lyric. But me, I find it pathetic. C [Later]

JAMES TALLEY: Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love (Capitol) The most attractive thing about this homespun Western-swing masterpiece--infusing both its sure, unassuming intelligence and its plain and lovely songs--is a mildness reminiscent of the first recorded string bands. Talley's careful conception and production both work to revive a playing-pretty-for-our-friends feel that most folkies would give up their rent-controlled apartments for. Despite its intense rootedness, it's neither defensive nor preachy--just lays down a way of life for all to hear. A

CECIL TAYLOR: Silent Tongues (Arista/Freedom) Since I recommend Taylor's appearances so extravagantly, it's only fair to note that there is a natural theater to his live performance that I miss on record--observing his concentration greatly increases my own. Especially solo, he's too abstract for a rock and roller to follow, although I love his Monkish early group sessions, recently reissued on a Blue Note twofer called In Transition. Even more than usual, take my grade as a measure of personal usefulness rather than aesthetic merit. B

THE TROGGS (Pye) A favorite of the dimwits' liberation movement. Personaly, I've always liked rock and roll because it takes brains. C [Later]

Village Voice, Aug. 18, 1975

Postscript Notes:

Graphics are sparser than hen's teeth hereabouts, but since the intro touts the Shirley and Company album cover, we thought it necessary to include it here. However, this particular scan differs slightly from the original LP, which had both title and artist name above the image, and a wider red margin--both of which are beside the point.

July 21, 1975 Sept. 22, 1975