Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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James Talley

  • Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love [Capitol, 1975] A
  • Tryin' Like the Devil [Capitol, 1976] A-
  • Blackjack Choir [Capitol, 1977] B-
  • Ain't It Something [Capitol, 1977] B+
  • Woody Guthrie and Songs of My Oklahoma Home [Cimarron, 1999] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love [Capitol, 1975]
The most attractive thing about this homespun Western-swing masterpiece--infusing both its sure, unassuming intelligence and its plain and lovely songs--is a mildness reminiscent of the first recorded string bands. Talley's careful conception and production both work to revive a playing-pretty-for-our-friends feel that most folkies would give up their rent-controlled apartments for. Despite its intense rootedness, it's neither defensive nor preachy--just lays down a way of life for all to hear. A

Tryin' Like the Devil [Capitol, 1976]
Something about this record as a whole is slightly off--maybe it's Talley's humorlessness, or maybe it's that his voice is much better suited to the startling talky intimacy of his first record than to the belting bravado with which he asserts his ambitions this time. But every song works individually, and an audacious concept--returning a consciously leftish analysis to the right-leaning populism of country music--is damn near realized in utterly idiomatic songs like "40 Hours" and "Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?" It belts good enough. A-

Blackjack Choir [Capitol, 1977]
Populism always has a sentimental side, but here the received images take over: bluesmen singin' sad songs and everybody lovin' love songs, lasses from Georgia and broken dreams from Chicago. His voice is richer, and "Magnolia Boy" and "When the Fiddler Packs His Case" are as great as anything from the first two albums, but I hope this is a lapse. B-

Ain't It Something [Capitol, 1977]
The country populism on Talley's previous album was vague enough to suit Johnny Cash or Charley Pride (not to mention Jimmy Carter) and went with mawkish love songs and some dubious B.B. King guitar. This one is as tough culturally/politically as Tryin' Like the Devil, as tender romantically/domestically as Got No Bread, and puts in some James Brown funk where it belongs. B+

Woody Guthrie and Songs of My Oklahoma Home [Cimarron, 1999]
20 Woody songs done calmly and faithfully, as a spiritual resource ("Belle Starr," "Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues") *

See Also