Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Barrence Whitfield and the Savages

  • Barrence Whitfield and the Savages [Mamou, 1984] B+
  • Dig Yourself [Rounder, 1985] B+
  • Ow! Ow! Ow! [Rounder, 1987] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages [Mamou, 1984]
Though I really don't believe that Esquerita and the Seeds, say, loom larger in rock history than, say, Gamble & Huff and the Grateful Dead, this time I have to grant dumb-ass obscurantism its due. Whitfield isn't a genuine throwback, but he is a genuine historical oddity--an acceptable Little Richard substitute, with a band that doesn't fake it. He's not crazed or rubber-piped enough to go all the way with a frantic groove, though "Mama Get the Hammer" and "Ship Sails at Six" come close. But when everybody lets up a little, especially on semi-instrumentals like "Walking With Barrence" and "Cotton Pickin'" and the steady-spreading "Go Ahead and Burn," Art Rupe would be proud. Time for thirteen tunes: an authentic 27:52. B+

Dig Yourself [Rounder, 1985]
No other r&b copy band has such an in at the chicken shack that transcends all knowing, and not just because they play and sing their asses off on covers remarkable, generic, and recondite enough to get born again as new classics. They're smart enough to play cool as well--so smart that only when the chicken shack disappears (as mysteriously as it has materialized, I'm sure) do you wonder just why they're so hot to spend all their time there. B+

Ow! Ow! Ow! [Rounder, 1987]
Whitfield has yet to take a composition credit on three albums whose best originals are indistinguishable from the obscure old backbeat grooves and frantic novelties that are his trademark, but he's the auteur for damn sure--just replaced his entire band, with no trace of shift or slippage beyond the two overextended blues-soul showcases that lift him over the 30-minute mark. These are merely generic because the boss has no special gift for expressive sincerity--not on the order of his gift for backbeat grooves and frantic novelties, here written mostly by his new helpers, and I dare you to pick out the "real" one without reading the label. B+