Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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If you assume soul music is obliged to drown in Memphis horn charts and gospel chords, 24-year-old English-Jamaican Alistair Tennant, who under the cognomen Ali has just released Crucial (Island Black Music), may not meet your genre specifications. But if you admit Luther Vandross into the fold, if you think Boyz II Men are in the tradition, sing hallelujah. Influenced most directly by Al Green, with goodly dollops of Vandross and Ronnie Isley and much respect for his love-man contemporaries, Ali distinguishes himself from new jack crooners like Maxwell and D'Angelo not so much with his voice as with his songwriting--he works to come up with solid tunes and lyrics that delineate a situation or express an emotion. Crazy Don't (the solace of insanity) and Wish You Better (than him) are two of his harder hitting concoctions. But rarely these days does a black pop album--any kind of pop album--so successfully avoid filler.

Are you a guy who yawns when We Will Rock You blasts out over the stadium PA but still feels his fannish bloodlust stirred by the Ramones? ESPN Presents Slam Jams Vol. 1 (Tommy Boy) is designed to make you cheer: 16 surefire "new wave" anthems whose punky beats no longer seem weird to anyone--not even Mike Ditka.

The long-planned Capeman rides the wave of the ltest world-music trend, which is no longer Celtic but "Latin"--especially Cuban. Which is why incorrigible musical tourist Ry Cooder visited Havana recently. He intended to come back with two albums, but couldn't resist a third: Introducing . . . Ruben Gonzales (World Circuit), which features a revitalized 77-year-old master pianist and no Ry at all. It's certainly the prize of the three. Thank you, Ry.

Playboy, Dec. 1997

Nov. 1997 Jan. 1998