Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ted Hawkins

  • Watch Your Step [Rounder, 1982] A-
  • Happy Hour [Rounder, 1987] B
  • The Next Hundred Years [DGC, 1994] *
  • The Final Tour [Evidence, 1998] *
  • Suffer No More: The Ted Hawkins Story [Rhino, 1998] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Watch Your Step [Rounder, 1982]
Cut ten years ago by a street musician and jailbird who sings like Sam Cooke and strums acoustic guitar like Bob Dylan, these fourteen songs--especially the four backed by Philip Walker's humdrum blues band--wouldn't have seemed so remarkable had they been released back then, in the late soul era. But they are remarkable, because Hawkins is a true folkie hero, by which I mean that his lyrics are his own. These little dramas of passion, tenderness and betrayal are stamped with the sin-and-redemption of a lived life. And if the musical conception is excessively elementary, the singing is distinctive--derivative or not, the voice is expressive and earned. A-

Happy Hour [Rounder, 1987]
This L.A.-based folk bluesman can bring you up short by latching onto homely details or just telling the embarrassing truth. I'll never forget "Bad Dog" ("What's the reason your dog don't bark at that man?") or "You Pushed My Head Away" ("Baby that sucker had to learn too"). But the unaffected can also be naive, and the unsophisticated can also be received. To ignore how often he falls into both traps is to condescend to an artist who deserves our respect. B

The Next Hundred Years [DGC, 1994]
last of the independents ("There Stands the Glass," "Big Things") *

The Final Tour [Evidence, 1998]
Died trying ("Bring It On Home Daddy," "There Stands the Glass"). *

Suffer No More: The Ted Hawkins Story [Rhino, 1998]
Maybe the radical alarm and homely detail of "Sorry You're Sick" are less unguarded than they seem--this guy made his living disarming passersby. Even so, Hawkins's two Rounder releases achieve an aesthetic of the natural--songs about combs, about doing the dishes, about vagrant desire. The U.K.-only late-'80s selections are pedestrian by comparison--beautifully sung, but incompletely imagined and indifferently arranged. Because compiler Gary Stewart thinks like a collector and adores Hawkins, a summing-up that might have established an American original is only a misleading introduction--to an American original. B+