Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Alpha Band

  • The Alpha Band [Arista, 1976] B+
  • Spark in the Dark [Arista, 1977] B+
  • The Statue Makers of Hollywood [Arista, 1978] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Alpha Band [Arista, 1976]
Finally a decent record comes out of Rolling Thunder, from what sounds like a country-rock band shocked by city living into a credible, slightly surrealistic nastiness, rather than the usual sleazy lies. T-Bone Burnett is that rare combination, a tall, inspired crazy; David Mansfield is a precocious, multi-instrumental sound effects man, and Steve Soles is a speed-rapping narcissist who can be thrown to the Poco fans. Plus a rhythm section that plays actual rock and roll. And Bobby Neuwirth in the background, where he belongs. B+

Spark in the Dark [Arista, 1977]
This unholy trio's second album is "humbly offered in the light of the triune God," but T-Bone Burnett still sounds like a helluva monad to me. He doesn't know as much as he thinks he does, but when he steps aside from the songwriting the group usually falls flat--and when he pitches in, these guys could almost pass for a country-rock Steely Dan without money. B+

The Statue Makers of Hollywood [Arista, 1978]
Now I learn that my man J.H. Burnett really is a born-again Christian, which must be why he feels so strongly about money changers and temples. Nonbelievers consider him shrill, but I find something sweet and reflective right beneath his cool, caustic self-righteousness. This is the weakest of three strong, oddball LPs, but David Mansfield's instrumental finesse makes the questionable cuts go, and Steven Soles keeps his mouth shut most of the time. B+