Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dock Boggs

  • Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings (1927-29) [Revenant, 1997] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings (1927-29) [Revenant, 1997]
As careful perusal of Greil Marcus's liner essay reveals, Boggs's legend is based on just eight traditional songs. He cut them in New York in 1927, and there's no better demonstration of how good they are than the four he laid down in Chicago in 1929. In New York he's so full of beans he can scarcely contain himself. If on the one hand he's truly enacting these dark-to-grisly tales, on the other hand they can't touch him; it's Waiting for Godot, in which the intrinsic excitement of creation subsumes all incidental pessimism, plus "I Want To Hold Your Hand," in which one's imminent conquest of the world infuses the humblest ditty with an exhilaration that carries all before it. Where Marcus hears an acceptance of death, I hear intimations of immortality--bitter laughter and defiant cunning, sap rising and blood flowing, meanness and exuberance and sarcasm and deviltry, a refusal to succumb to consequences. Two years later, on leave from the mining town he now senses he'll never escape, Boggs is the image of fatalistic impassivity, as dull as the lyrics he's been handed by the wannabe label owner who underwrote his trip to the city. Soon he would give in to his wife and stop playing for 30 years. A-