Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band

  • Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band [RCA Victor, 1976] A
  • Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Meets King Penett [RCA Victor, 1978] B
  • James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington [Elektra, 1979] A-
  • Calling All Beatniks! [Passport, 1984] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band [RCA Victor, 1976]
I hated this the first time I played it, which turned out to mean that I had encountered a clear, uncompromising and dangerously seductive expression of a vision of life that was foreign to me. Call it disco-sophistico: a version of post-camp nostalgia that celebrates the warmth (OK) and class (ugh) or a time irretrievably (and safely) past. Since they're not white, the Savannah Band never make you feel they love the '40s because there were no uppity muggers back then, though I still wonder about their get-thee-behind-me dismissal of hard r&b, not to mention their fashion-mag potential. But it's a pleasure to admit that their music is a fresh pop hybrid with its own rhythmic integrity, and that its sophistication is a lot brighter and more lively than most of the organic bullshit making it to the rock stage in the mid-'70s. A

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Meets King Penett [RCA Victor, 1978]
A brilliant dud. The lyrics read like Ishmael Reed--soft Ishamel Reed--but for all its skillful synthesis the music just doesn't kick in. Of course, that's what I once thought about their debut. People danced to that one, though. B

James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington [Elektra, 1979]
Acclimated after three and a half years, I find the music easy to love even though it's more exotic than ever--immersed in the Latin accents of '50s (and '50s) dance music, blissfully indifferent to current disco formulas. And for all the charm of Cory Daye's solo bid with Sandy Linzer, her wit and grace--that is, her chance to be remembered as the finest female vocalist to emerge in the '70s--is showcased more precisely by August Darnell's words and Stoney Browder's music. I only wish I knew what the lyrics meant sometimes (especially that one about the neo-nazi). A little clarity, rather than the indulgently atmospheric Hollywood romanticism Darnell strives for, might make up for the absence of floor hits. A-

Calling All Beatniks! [Passport, 1984]
Disinclined though I am to blame music on engineering, I reluctantly decided that what ailed this five-years-awaited fourth album wasn't just uncharacteristically inelegant arrangements and lyrics unworthy of Stony Browder but a fuzzy, cavernous mix that at times turned Cory Daye into another background element. Then I remembered that I'd gotten an advance last spring, and when I compared the two I was shocked. Remix engineers Gary Hellman and Rob Paustian--abetted I'm sure by schlock svengali Sandy Linzer and possibly Browder, credited with coproducing the new version--have ruined a crisp, spare, inelegant-on-purpose rock and roll album, smothering a great singer in artificial fog along the way. They've also deleted two songs, each strong enough to lead a side of the advance, neither (hmm) produced by Linzer. And you know what else? The little subhead that says "featuring Cory Daye" on the original cover is gone as well. Docked a notch or two to encourage boycott. C+