Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Expert Witness: October 2018

October 12, 2018

Link: Hamell on Trial / Lyrics Born / Mudhoney / Will Hoge

Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight (Saustex) Recorded live on his phone in venues hither and yon, these 13 low-life tales are different from all the other low-life tales the barfly with his stage name on the cover has peddled over the years. That's because they're enraged rather than merely sardonic, and also because 14 of these low-lifes die, often hideously. These include one commander-in-chief (it was the vodka, swear to God) and start with the five dispatched quatrain by quatrain in "Slap": a wife-beating cop, a foreclosure king, a Nazi fuck, a pedophile priest, and some lawyer or CEO or something whose smirk Bobby didn't like. Accompanied solely by Ed Hamell's trusty guitar and one boozy singalong, the minimal melodies of these brutal fantasies hit bone on the strength of the narrative punch he's honed over decades on the road--"I've gotta go from Iceland to Dublin," he notes at the close of "Melting Snow (Kill Them All)." That ominously subtitled selection adds no new stiffs to the death toll. It merely targets every stupid-as-shit hate-spewer now adding meanness to the world--starting, let's figure, with a commander-in-chief or something who inspired this Jeremiah-come-lately to spew his report from the fucking front. Which front, in case you hadn't noticed, is everywhere. A

Lyrics Born: Quite a Life (Mobile Home) Exuberant and extravagant if gravelly at times, chanted more than sung because Tom Shimura is a rapper, this major funk vocalist's sixth solo studio album celebrates life the hedonistic way. Its first four tracks praise sex as chocolate cake, bling that includes a stegasaurus skeleton and some sasquatch fur, the girl from first-period English who turned him out, and the beauty of difference. But it also embraces life the conscious way. "Can't Lose My Joy" distills his wife Joyo Velarde's long, frightening triumph over non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The double-reversed James Brown cover adds that question mark to "This Is a Man's World?" for the best of reasons. And we'll call the unlisted bonus track "Arrest the President" because it begins by chanting that phrase 14 times before cataloguing shortcomings that include his small penis. A MINUS


Mudhoney: Digital Garbage (Sub Pop) "They got a loophole in Davos / They got a giant needle / If you can pay the price / They'll let you ride a camel through the eye"--which is why "Evangelical Hypocrites" could give a shit about the "Next Mass Extinction" ("21st Century Pharisees," "Next Mass Extinction") ***

Will Hoge: My American Dream (Thirty Tigers/EDLO) "Don't want your stars n bars and your blood on my damn hands / I'm lookin' away now Dixie cause I've seen all I can stand / But I'm still a Southern man" ("Nikki's a Republican Now," "Thoughts and Prayers") **

October 19, 2018

Link: Riton & Kah-Lo / I'm Not Here to Hunt Rabits / Next Stop Soweto Vol. 4 / Seun Kuti & Egypt 80

Riton & Kah-Lo: Foreign Ororo (Last Gang) Riton is London 40-year-old Henry Smithson, who's been riding the waves of the UK dance scene since 2001, Kah-Lo Nigerian 25-year-old Feridah Seriki, who moved to New York in 2009 to attend college and stayed to pursue a job in marketing. Their delectable 2016 "Rinse and Repeat" nabbed a Grammy dance track nomination and ultimately generated this irresistible little album. The light, catchy loops and beats of the dance-pop Riton goes for take their lead from the girlish delight of Kah-Lo's half-spoken unrap in a synthesis that bears only a peripheral relationship to Lagos's electro-happy Afrobeats craze. Kah-Lo's saucy vocal signature is as calculated an invention as the besotted pitch corrections of Rayce or Mr Eazi, but her presumption of innocence is as old as rock and roll, manifesting in an evolved schoolyard chant that needs a fake ID to get loose with the Henney and the Coke. Notice, however, that ID quality becomes a much heavier matter in the Mr Eazi cameo "Immigration." And that "Money" is about not really needing that much. A MINUS

I'm Not Here to Hunt Rabbits (Piranha) Site of both the monumental Norman Rush novel Mortals and the soft-hearted James McCall Smith No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series (Jill Scott played Precious Ramotswe on TV), Botswana is less esoteric than Piranha wants curiosity seekers to believe, its capital no further from Pretoria than Boston is from New York. Nor will the bass-heavy "Botswana guitar" style showcased on this oddly configured compilation sound strange to any fan of South African mbaqanga. But that's good--with mbaqanga having long ago run its post-apartheid course, these tunes work up the same gruff energy and stalwart pulse without percussion instruments or anything Jo'burg would call a recording studio. Propelled by a guitar technique in which the hand reaches over the neck to riff on three strings while the thumb drives a bass sometimes furnished by a battery cable, their rustic confidence is less frantic than mbaqanga's urban drive. The vinyl disc features only 11 tracks, whose purchase permits the download of eight otherwise unavailable others, including one called "Condom." Those 11 are the cream. On side two, hear the scratchy violin of "Ngwana Wa Dichabeng" transition to the playful vocalese of "Tiki Molamu" to the organ-driven female falsetto of "Re Babedi." And wonder where Sibongile Kgaila found the guitar hook of "Gladys." A MINUS


Next Stop Soweto Vol. 4 (Strut) "Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985" with an emphasis on the Zulu rock, though that old mbaqanga stomp bangs in there (T.Y. Boys, "Lekopokopo Single Moqashoa"; Harari, "Give") ***

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Black Times (Strut) "Till we free, you and me, dem no go see last revolutionary" is more inspiring as a slogan than a line in a song, which is how political music goes sometimes, isn't it? ("Black Times," "Bad Man Lighter [B.M.L.]") *

October 26, 2018

Link: Maria Muldaur / Blue Lu Barker / George Jones / Duke Robillard / Willie Nelson

Maria Muldaur: Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker (Last) Now 75, Muldaur became a dynamo in her fifties, an album a year between 1998 and 2011. Always a nuanced singer, she got subtler, sassier, and smarter; her pipes remained supple and the burr in her voice never went to seed. But her best albums were sharpened by a concept, particularly the wide-ranging Memphis Minnie tribute Richland Woman Blues and the mind-blowing .Heart of Mine: The Love Songs of Bob Dylan and its climactic "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," which gets busier in that easy chair than was dreamt of in the Byrds' philosophy. This album flips the script by breaking out an obscure songbook rather than reimagining a famous one. Muldaur has been performing Blue Lu and Danny Barker's lubricious title song since it spiced up her solo debut in 1973, and in 2007 she assembled a whole album called Naughty, Bawdy & Blue. Here she lightens her timbre in tribute to her friend Lu on top of a hyperactive New Orleans band, and she's never sounded sexier or more committed. "Georgia Grind" jumps out at "Mama mama look at sis," after which "Loan Me Your Husband" follows hard upon "Leave My Man Alone." But it signifies that naughty and bawdy ain't all. "Now You're Down in the Alley" and "Here's a Little Girl from Jacksonville" could double as 50s dance novelties, "Nix on Those Lush Heads" means what it says, and if "Trombone Man Blues" evokes Dinah Washington at her filthiest, "A Little Bird" ends happily ever after. After all, Blue Lu and Danny were wed for 67 years. A

Blue Lu Barker: Remastered Collection (J. Joes J. Edizioni Musicali) These 21 calm, playful numbers include only five of the ones Muldaur picked. They average just under three minutes rather than just under four and are slighter in other ways too. Unpretentious but not unsophisticated, Barker's light, unslurred mezzo was admired by none other than fellow non-belter Billie Holiday. Often backed by New York pros more understated than their counterparts back in New Orleans, she's slyer than a first listen suggests--give her some time and her originality will stand there hands on hips until you notice. Unlike Holiday, Barker wrote a lot of her own material, but she also knew when Andy Razaf or Lil Hardin came up with a good one. She's too wise for you to jive, and you're too dumb to realize. She got the jitterbug blues and she's looking for someplace to dip. A MINUS


George Jones & the Jones Boys: Live in Texas 1965 (Ace) Listen to these 26 numbers not for their resonance or intensity, but for how expertly and dispassionately they're picked up, performed, and put back down ("I'm Ragged but I'm Right," "Who Shot Sam," "Intro: Hold It") ***

Duke Robillard and His Dames of Rhythm: Duke Robillard and His Dames of Rhythm (M.C.) Skilled blues-rock guitarist expands into pop-swing-etc. keepers he hands off to women who can sing him under the bandstand--none deeper, natch, than Maria Muldaur ("Was That the Human Thing to Do," "Easy Living") **

Willie Nelson: My Way (Legacy) Casually expert interpretations that say more about Sinatra's ingrained gravitas than Nelson's practiced ease ("A Foggy Day," "Summer Wind") *

Noisey, October 2018


September 2018 November 2018