Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sir Douglas Quintet

  • Together After Five [Smash, 1970] B+
  • 1 + 1 + 1 = 4 [Philips, 1970] B-
  • The Return of Doug Saldana [Philips, 1971] A-
  • The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet [Takoma, 1980] A-
  • Border Wave [Takoma, 1981] A-
  • Day Dreaming at Midnight [Elektra, 1994] **
  • Live From Austin TX [New West, 2006] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Together After Five [Smash, 1970]
The hallmark of Doug Sahm's warm, reliable, steady-rocking Tex-Mex is that it always sounds like you've heard it before--not the lyrics, which Doug just jotted down on some rolling papers five minutes ago, but the riffs. This can drive you crazy--"Nuevo Laredo" is "Mendocino," obviously, but where the hell does "Revolutionary Ways" come from? When the mood is right, though, it gives the music a kind of folkish inevitability that doesn't get boring because Tex-Mex is such a stew of influences. This is way too loose, and forget the slow ones, but what fun. B+

1 + 1 + 1 = 4 [Philips, 1970]
"Let's [garbled] it seriously, man, get all the notes right," Doug orders his platoon before they attack an obscure Hayes-Porter song, and you can hear them trying--throughout the album, the effort gets in the way. Except for the classic "Be Real," the most striking groove is struck by guests Wayne Talbert and Martin Fierro, who impersonate McCoy and 'Trane on the coda to "Don't Bug Me!" B-

The Return of Doug Saldana [Philips, 1971]
What makes Doug so moving is the diffidence with which he reflects on his "mellow" (and not so mellow, unless you think drought and rail monopolies are just part of the American karma) counterculture experiences; his bohemian sketches aren't any artier than "She's About a Mover." On this album the relaxed but sloppy groove of Together After Five meets the attempted musicianship of 1 + 1 + 1 = 4 as Doug rejoins his "Chicago brothers" from hometown San Antonio. The result is a blues-based synthesis that's good for a lot of relatively distinctive songs, including "Stoned Faces Don't Lie," his most memorable since "Mendocino." A-

The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet [Takoma, 1980]
With five of its twelve cuts lifted from Doug's 1969 Mercury debut Mendocino, which I replaced for 97 cents not long ago, and none of the rest from his mid-'70s star shots for Atlantic and ABC, this best-of is pretty archival--a good deed, modest promo for a deserving genre artist. John Fahey's indie is proud to claim now that no one expects to turn his genius into gold. Of course, given the specifics of Doug Sahm's genius, it would have sounded pretty archival in 1973, too. Riding in on Augie Meyer's organ, Tex-Mex like "Nuevo Laredo," "Dynamite Woman," and "She's About a Mover" sounds as inevitable as "Honky Tonk Woman" or "Louie Louie." "Mendocino" and "Stoned Faces Don't Lie" say more about hippiedom than "Woodstock" and "Eight Miles High." And "Song of Everything" is a dog. A-

Border Wave [Takoma, 1981]
He handles horns better than most, but the quintet is Doug's home concept, and this reunion could be his best LP ever. It's loose, it's tight, it's got great Kinks and Butch Hancock and 13th Floor Elevators covers, it's got Alvin Crow playing guitar and taking a song, it's got Johnny Perez on drums, and it's got Augie Meyers doing what he was born to do. It also has Doug making you believe he just thought up classic titles like "Old Habits Die Hard" and "Revolutionary Ways," because he just did. Making "simple" rock and roll this late in the game ain't easy. But simplicity has always been his gift. A-

Day Dreaming at Midnight [Elektra, 1994]
hippiedom as folklore ("She Would if She Could, She Can't So She Won't," "Romance Is All Screwed Up") **

Live From Austin TX [New West, 2006]
Although Doug Sahm's cult has never assembled a best-of consistent enough to convert listeners who think Tex-Mex equals burritos, he defines a style as purely rock 'n' roll as doo-wop or grunge. Buoyed by Augie Meyers's organ and borrowing tunes from the polka conjuntos of his San Antonio raising, the best of his simple songs riff as infectiously as Allen Toussaint's. This 1981 Austin City Limits show, consumer-available as one of a fans-only series that also includes an unnecessary Texas Tornados set, catches him just right at 40. Hard living hasn't wrecked his voice, the musicianship is more disciplined than anything Huey Meaux imposed, new guy Alvin Crow is breaking out, and Sahm is flogging a strong late album. Even beats that Bottle Rockets tribute, I swear. Add tortillas, homemade salsa, and "96 Tears," and you're all set. A-