Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Del McCoury Band [extended]

  • The Mountain [E-Squared, 1999] A-
  • Moneyland [Custard/Kill Rock Stars, 2008] ***
  • Del and Woody [McCoury Music, 2016] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band: The Mountain [E-Squared, 1999]
With bluegrass "more comfortable all the time," the sometime country-rocker turns in his strongest and loosest record of the decade. But bluegrass it ain't--it's too comfortable. I was so impressed with how the music moaned and shivered and flapped around in the wind I wondered how I'd ever overlooked McCoury's outfit until I played their new CD, which is just as clean and tight and anal as every other spoor of Bill Monroe I've ever swept out the door. Slurring like a moonshiner who's been on a mush diet since his bird dog died, Earle rowdies up McCoury's sharpsters till they turn all hairy and bounce off walls like the Pogues. And though the songs are less literary, more generic--blues and breakdown, "pinko folk song" and "real-live-bad-tooth hillbilly murder ballad"--literature is Earle's critical selling point. His stories always sing. A-

Del McCoury: Moneyland [Custard/Kill Rock Stars, 2008]
FDR fireside chats bookend bluegrass good guy Del McCoury's concept comp about slicker greed (Del McCoury Band, "Moneyland"; Dan Tyminski, "Carry Me Across the Mountain"). ***

Del and Woody [McCoury Music, 2016]
Musically, Woody Guthrie can wear out his welcome right quick, but it would be perverse to deny the inherent musicality of his lyrics. By my count, this is the seventh consecutive album in which friendly meddlers such as Wilco, Billy Bragg, the Klezmatics, and Rob Wasserman turn a few of his unnotated songpoems into something worth hearing again and again. Bluegrass lefty McCoury is an easy fit as he applies his lively trad to the New York subway system, budget car repair, a good-paying federal road project, a kind woman, a cute baby, and being poor. Only when Guthrie's sexism surfaces does the mood curdle. Born in 1939, McCoury is old enough to know that jokes about wimmin's hats were old hat by 1950 and probably weren't funny to begin with. A-