Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Phoebe Snow

  • Phoebe Snow [Shelter, 1974] B+
  • Second Childhood [Columbia, 1976] B
  • It Looks Like Snow [Columbia, 1976] B+
  • Never Letting Go [Columbia, 1977] B
  • Against the Grain [Columbia, 1978] C+
  • The Best of Phoebe Snow [Columbia, 1981] A-
  • The Very Best of Phoebe Snow [Columbia/Legacy, 2001]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Phoebe Snow [Shelter, 1974]
This woman's languorous, swaying folk-jazz fusion is striking enough to suggest that her debut LP will become some sort of cult item. And it's better than most cult items. But her groove does not quite carry cuts as protracted as "It Must Be Sunday." Nor is it an encouraging sign that the most commercial lyric on a verbally distinguished album, "Poetry Man," is also the most fatuous. The plus is for encouragement, and for the graceful way her voice combines nasality and smoothness. B+

Second Childhood [Columbia, 1976]
Although the rumors of a major new artist that began after the success of "Poetry Man"--still her sappiest song, although the lyrics here aren't what they call creative writing--originated with fuzzy-minded mongers, I'm pleased to report that her trademark melismatic quaver hasn't degenerated into a gimmick, and I acknowledge that this is a good record of its type. I just have my doubts about how good a jazz-folk mood-music record can be. Money isn't all that's "worthless/When your music's mirthless"--sometimes the music is as well. B

It Looks Like Snow [Columbia, 1976]
Except for "Mercy on Those," a quite remarkably tedious profession of self-righteousness that occupies the last 6:06 of side one, Snow's gifts as a singer and lyricist are finally channeled. The silly mystical ideas are way down below her overriding good sense; up above we find a fairly strong, direct, and happy woman who is by no means vegetating in her contentment, perhaps because she's too insecure ever to become complacent. She's rocking a lot more, correct practice for a content but uncomplacent person, and when her voice wavers it no longer sounds as though it wants to disappear altogether. And the three non-originals--"Teach Me Tonight," "Don't Let Me Down," and "Shakey Ground"--make quite a combo. B+

Never Letting Go [Columbia, 1977]
By now Snow projects a jazz singer's assurance, and though the originals are still overshadowed by the covers I'd like to hear Tammy Wynette try "Majesty of Life," about "what can happen to a girl in her hometown." But the tempos are invariably too reflective, and the reprises invariably too much. B

Against the Grain [Columbia, 1978]
With Barry Beckett coproducing she speeds things up occasionally, but if the orchestrations were his idea she lost on the deal. And this time she dies on the nonoriginals. "Do Right Woman" is redundant, "The Married Men" funked up, and Patti Austin's "In My Life" just a dull song. "He's Not Just Another Man" has always been her problem. And Paul McCartney's "Every Night" shows up the hooklessness of almost everything else. C+

The Best of Phoebe Snow [Columbia, 1981]
Most New Yorkers know a woman like this: from a liberal background, with loads of artistic interests, she's insecure about her weight and hence her looks (which are OK at least) and hence her talent (which there's no questioning), and after plenty of therapy her emotions are still all over the place. Only none of her sisters can sing the postblues like Snow--neurotically, that's what she's about, but with incisive power. She's erratic, so given to bad poetry and intermittently eager to please that her albums are off-putting unless you have a weakness for the type. But this compilation--four originals, six covers, including "Shakey Ground," which she owns because it's her all over--is smart, quirky, deeply felt. It proves the type deserves more credit than it usually gets. A-

The Very Best of Phoebe Snow [Columbia/Legacy, 2001]
Great round rough funky voice. Better writer than editor. Air of mild chronic dysfunction. Coulda been a diva, wasn't tough enough. True New York liberal type. Why pay cover charges for white lounge blues when you can play this here and never leave your studio apartment? Oh, I get it--unlike Snow, you want to leave your studio apartment. Like maybe to vote. [Recyclables]