Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • John Barleycorn Must Die [Island, 1970] C+
  • Welcome to the Canteen [United Artists/Island, 1971] B-
  • The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys [Island, 1971] B
  • Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory [Island, 1973] C
  • Far From Home [Virgin, 1994] C-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

John Barleycorn Must Die [Island, 1970]
With Dave Mason gone there's not much electric guitar or songwriting, leaving the chronically indecisive Stev(i)e Winwood to his feckless improvised rock, or is it folksong-based jazz? Not much bass no matter what it is. And Chris Wood blows a lot. C+

Welcome to the Canteen [United Artists/Island, 1971]
Lax at times, but not bad for live jazziness--Stevie Winwood and Dave Mason play as engagingly as Mike Ratledge and Elton Dean, say, and in a genuine rock style. Praise the masses it's a lot more aggressive than their studio work, with the double percussion of Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah driving pretty hard at times. Even the lackadaisical "Gimme Some Lovin'" doesn't seem like a desecration. B-

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys [Island, 1971]
These guys waste their talent--they're devoid of intellectual thrust, they've never figured out what to do with their beloved jam form, and more often than not their lyrics are designed only to fill holes in the music or the meter. Yet they're onto something here. Their modest improvisations have a lot more force and hook appeal than the ones of John Barleycorn, they've figured out how to incorporate horns without compromising their electricity, and sometimes it even sounds as if Winwood knows why he's singing. When it works, it suggests a nice paradox--relaxed and exciting at the same time. B

Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory [Island, 1973]
You'd think Muscle Shoals boys Roger Hawkins and David Hood would add a little spark, but they settle for a little swamp. Giveaway: "(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired." C

Far From Home [Virgin, 1994]
Leave those silly Rolling Stones be, children--you're an old-fart virgin until you've done the deed with this slab of eternal life, created in a mere eight months by two well-heeled boys farting around the Irish countryside. Jim Capaldi's drums are mixed like a tribute to the disco of yesteryear, but Stevie, I mean Steve, enters the CD age on his own terms--where ordinary old farts jack their releases up to an hour by unloading 14 or 15 songs, he stops at 10. Title tune takes a full two-and-a-half minutes of overdubbed overture to get to the lyric. Which begins . . . oh, you don't want to know. C-