Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jimmy Scott

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1990s]: A jazz balladeer who took the tempo as slowly as any pop stylist of the past 50 years, Scott is as pure as lounge singing gets, yet his 1991 comeback at age 66 preceded and then eluded alt-rock's lounge pseuds. Not only was he African-American, which couldn't have helped, he had too much character--that ethereal croon is so deeply immiserated it seems to detach itself from its own pain and rise from the body that produces it. This style is so recondite, so weird, that I get suspicious when his admirers marvel over his phrasing while brushing by what's obviously the most interesting thing about the guy--his sexuality or asexuality as the case may be. With his soft soprano and timid cool, he's a strikingly hermaphroditic figure--not campy in the slightest, and if anybody knows whether he's gay it isn't me, but almost eunuchlike. Scott's impassive challenge to conventional gender roles makes him a living counterpart to Billy Tipton. The album I recommend isn't Tommy LiPuma's or Cassandra Wilson's, certified jazzbos though both may be. It's Dream, produced by Mitchell Froom of Richard Thompson/Suzanne Vega/Latin Playboys fame, which swings a little if you listen close. Usually, however, I find him, well, slow.