Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Beat the Retreat: Songs by Richard Thompson [Capitol, 1994]
I hate tribute albums. They're patchwork by definition--even when the oeuvre is worth reprising, no way will all the contributors hit it right or the producer hear any way to segue it if they do. But this one peaks early and often, with double side-closers by balladic Britons June Tabor and Maddy Prior wiping out the creamy off-taste left by Bonnie Raitt and Shawn Colvin. The honoree's chronic inability to sing as good as he writes adds use value, and the two tours de force are vocal--the Five Blind Boys of Alabama's autumnal "Dimming of the Day" and R.E.M.'s joyous "Wall of Death." The honoree has also been known to play guitar, and Mould, Gilkyson, et al. make like it's a cutting contest. And then there's the oeuvre. A-