Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Elmore James

  • Let's Cut It: The Very Best of Elmore James [Flair/Virgin, 1991] A-
  • The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James [Rhino, 1993] A+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Let's Cut It: The Very Best of Elmore James [Flair/Virgin, 1991]
Already leading what must have been a pretty damn raucous Mississippi horn band by 1939, James is the missing link between Robert Johnson and Hound Dog Taylor. Johnson taught him, or couldn't stop him from stealing, the "Dust My Broom" lick he lived off of; Taylor converted his slashing simplification of Johnson's slide into something even simpler--boogie. These are the Bihari brothers-produced originals of tunes he recorded as often as he could get paid before drinking himself to cardiac arrest at 45 in 1963--not subtle, you could even say monochromatic, and they rock like nobody's business. I miss the endless despair of "1839 Blues" and the post-Bihari classic "It Hurts Me Too." But if you're so culturally deprived you can't hum "Dust My Broom," here's your chance to become an addict. A-

The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James [Rhino, 1993]
Robert Palmer (the important one, I mean) raided the vaults of eight mostly deceased labels to assemble this compiler's tour de force, designed to prove that his man belongs on Mount Bluesmore with Muddy, Wolf, and Sonny Boy II. And though that can't be done in a mere 21 songs (much less 14 on cassette), especially with the more predictable Virgin Flair and Capricorn Fire collections out there proving James's mortality, he rewrites history anyway. As a devotee who considered James a creature of "Dust My Broom," I now know him for the visionary bandleader and galvanic guitarist Palmer and his many previously uncollecteds champion. His voice vying with the harsh distortions he gets out of his amplifier, James would play any kind of blues as long as he could make a lot of noise, and he made "It Hurts Me Too" famous after he was dead. What more do you want? How about his scariest sexual rival, "The 12 Year Old Boy"? A+

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