Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Denise LaSalle

  • Trapped by a Thing Called Love [Westbound, 1972] B+
  • On the Loose [Westbound, 1973] B
  • Here I Am Again [Westbound, 1975] B
  • Under the Influence [ABC, 1978] B
  • Rain and Fire [Malaco, 1986] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Trapped by a Thing Called Love [Westbound, 1972]
LaSalle seems to be a songwriter first and a singer second, which may be why there's a certain professional anonymity about her unusual moods. But the voice is there--sensual, warm, even wise, ideal for Willie Mitchell's meditative Memphis funk. And because she's a pretty good songwriter, just about every one of these twelve tracks offers its professional pleasures. B+

On the Loose [Westbound, 1973]
This leads with the proud, ebullient, raunchy "A Man Size Job," which outromps even "Run and Tell That" on her debut, but after that things get quite nondescript--enjoyable except for the silly cover of "Harper Valley P.T.A.," but nothing for Aretha to get nervous about. And Aretha could use a good case of nerves. B

Here I Am Again [Westbound, 1975]
Not many country albums are crafted so carefully--LaSalle does one a year instead of two or three--but the similarities between Memphis and Nashville are striking here. I prefer her musical formula (despite strings from the accursed David Van De Pitte) to Billy Sherrill's, but she's not singer enough to make much of it. Her songs run the gamut from loss to infidelity to less complex sexual situations while Nashville's run the gamut from loss to infidelity to less complex emotional involvements. So what's the difference? It's that when LaSalle invites her lover to let his "imagination run wild," I believe he might think of something I wouldn't. B

Under the Influence [ABC, 1978]
In the wake of two bad tries for the big label, this perpetually promising, perpetually frustrating singer-songwriter rebounds a little, flattering Millie Jackson sincerely every step of the way. The bleh ballad is more than overbalanced by "Feet Don't Fail Me," a sorrowful, tellingly specific cheating song. But the self-production never finds a groove. Recommended to stubborn old souls. B

Rain and Fire [Malaco, 1986]
LaSalle earns enough in Malaco's songwriting stable to limit her recording career to a humdrum album every year or two, and since that's all she managed as a perpetual also-ran, there was no reason to hope for serendipity. But here she learns her revenge from the soaps and her tune from George Jackson, throws role model Sylvia Robinson a cover, name-drops all over a toot-toot follow-up, and demonstrates what Millie Jackson might be today if she hadn't put on airs--a teller of truths too raunchy for the country moralists who prime but fail to satisfy her market. Highpoints include the eight-minute saga "It Be's That Way Sometime" and dovetailing critiques of the hard-on, "Dip, Bam, Thank You Ma'am" and "It Takes You All Night" ("To do what you used to do all night"). Plus this Inspirational Verse: "They can't eat no more, no sir/They got anorexia nervosa." B+