Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Z.Z. Hill

  • Down Home [Malaco, 1981] A-
  • I'm a Blues Man [Malaco, 1983] B+
  • Greatest Hits [Malaco, 1986] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Down Home [Malaco, 1981]
No relation to Top, Hill is an old pro who's never been able to decide whether he's a soulful blues man or a bluesy soul man and has never found the material to make anyone care for more than a single or two. Now that the question is commercially moot, he's somehow scored eight out of ten pungent, basic songs on an LP cut in and for Jackson, Mississippi. A bluesy soul man, in case you were wondering. A-

I'm a Blues Man [Malaco, 1983]
The title boast is inauspicious. If Hill's 1981 Down Home turned into a phenomenal 450,000-sold-and-counting sleeper on mere stylistic integrity, then why didn't his 1982 The Rhythm and the Blues do almost as well? You guessed it--song quality went way down. But after the bad start it rebounds considerably here. Personal to Tommy Couch: is Jimmy Lewis ready for another album of his own, or is he a stay-at-home? B+

Greatest Hits [Malaco, 1986]
Don't romanticize him. A bluesy veteran whose plentiful earlier music is for loyalists and specialists (cf. his U.K. compilation on Stateside), he turned a Bobby Bland rasp into a trademark at Malaco, which couldn't promote the original anywhere near as profitably. Maybe his secret is that he had less voice to shoot, or that deep down he was more country. Anyway, in the last three years of his life a predominantly black songwriting stable obsessed with the perils of monogamy joined forces with white producers good for soul bottom and dollops of sweetening to make him a regional star. In short, he was a hack who finally hit the jackpot, and this best-of--not the In Memoriam comp Malaco put together right after he died at forty-eight in 1984, not even his breakthrough Down Home--is his testament. It has no secrets, this record, just one great song after another: George Jackson's embittered "Cheatin in the Next Room," Jimmy Lewis's generous "Get a Little, Give a Little," Jimmy Lewis's calculating "Three Into Two Won't Go," Dave Clark's unrepentant "Friday Is My Day," and I could go on. Residual culture, my man Raymond Williams calls this sort of throwback. Hope he'd love it. A