Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Martha Redbone Roots Project: The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake [Blackfeet Productions, 2012]
Produced by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's John McEuen, and for once that's a good thing. Where on Allen Ginsberg's weird old Blake album a tuneless hippie chorale rendered Blake's lyrics over finger cymbal, flute, and harmonium that cried out for a round of oms, Afro-Cherokee Redbone claims Blake for British balladry, where he belongs. Traditional lyrics are worth marveling and puzzling over. But I know of few as powerful and strange as "The Garden of Love," "I Rose Up at Dawn of Day," or "The Fly," to name three that went unannotated when I marked up my complete Blake at 19. Blake is always less obscure in Songs of Innocence and Experience mode, and between Redbone's lucid, subtle force and the modernized Appalachian settings she fits to the poet's stanzas, she's created a new body of folk song by a lyricist who compares favorably to, well, Bob Dylan. Not every track takes it home. Nothing is that automatic. But a major find nonetheless. A-