Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Todd Snider: The Devil You Know [New Door, 2006]
In 2004--18 years after he started playing his songs in bars for a living, 10 years after he signed with Jimmy Buffett, a year after he nailed a live best-of for John Prine, and a few months after he went to jail and then the hospital for an OxyContin habit--this chronic insomniac cut East Nashville Skyline, which was so smart, deep, and funny it could only have been a fluke. New one's better. If "there's a war going on that the poor can't win," then it's Snider's genius to make you feel how for some people, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose--cf. "Looking for a Job," about a day worker who takes no shit, or "Just Like Old Times," about a high school sweetheart turned hooker. At 37, he still makes a specialty of escapades that belong on Cops. And then there's the one about a similarly hang-loose fella, only he's rich, hence loathsome. Habitué of Camp David, it turns out. A