Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas [extended]

  • Nona [RCA Victor, 1983] B+
  • The Art of Defense [RCA Victor, 1984] C+
  • The Edge of Heaven [Indigo, 2002] **
  • Mutatis Mutandis [Righteous Babe, 2012] ***
  • Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons [Cuneiform, 2016] A-
  • The World of Captain Beefheart [KFW, 2017] A-
  • The Essential Gary Lucas [KFR, 2021] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Nona Hendryx: Nona [RCA Victor, 1983]
Charged with curbing Nona's insatiable desire to make rock records, Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn were abstemious enough not to make a Material record instead--just a slightly cerebral who-is-that-singing? funk record, with the cerebration mostly Nona's. As you might deduce, it could be smarter, but you can dance to it without losing your mind. B+

Nona Hendryx: The Art of Defense [RCA Victor, 1984]
Nona earns her loyal insider support. She's honest; she cares about the right music and the right issues in the right way. But she just isn't as talented as you wish she was, and on this follow-up her undifferentiated melodies come back to haunt her. Her singing is surprisingly careful. Material's groove surprisingly careful, Material's groove surprisingly straight-ahead, and I can guess why--everybody involved knew how thin the ice was. C+

Gary Lucas: The Edge of Heaven [Indigo, 2002]
"mid-century Chinese pop" that sounds like John Fahey--when nobody's singing ("Please Allow Me to Look at You Again" [track 2], "Please Allow Me to Look at You Again" [track 13]) **

Nona Hendryx: Mutatis Mutandis [Righteous Babe, 2012]
After a lifetime of well-regarded overstatement, her straight protest album embraces r&b subtleties no one who starts with "Strange Fruit" will believe are there ("When Love Goes to War," "Strange Fruit") ***

Gary Lucas' Fleischerei Featuring Sarah Stiles: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons [Cuneiform, 2016]
The master guitarist's avant-garde playmates have included Stampfel, Pulnoc, Beefheart, the Beefheart repertory band Fast 'N' Bulbous, and bigger weirdos than that. So for him, this re-creation of pre-Code animator Max Fleischer's leggy sexpot-ingenue Betty Boop is a pop move. Lucas ups the musical ante, of course--while respecting the cinematic idiom, his Gibson acoustic and Sesame Street music director Joe Fiedler's trombone prod an active rhythm section as everyone adds more spritz and oomph than would have made sense in a moviehouse. Lucas also plays both a Queens-accented Popeye and a rough-and-gruff Barnacle Bill in the six-minute "Beware of Barnacle Bill" transcription that closes. But the star of the show is Broadway find Sarah Stiles, who adds weight, sass, and flesh-and-blood nuance to the cartoonish squeals of the great Mae Questel, who brought Betty to musical life nearly a century ago. A-

The World of Captain Beefheart [KFW, 2017]
Although avant-guitarist Lucas accompanied and eventually managed Don Van Vliet during his mercurial 1978-1982 second coming, to reimagine him with post-soul artiste Hendryx he leans on Beefheart's blues-besotted youth. Ten of these dozen selections are from 1972 or before, and the two from 1967's Safe as Milk you may not believe are Beefheart at all--the Delta-as-desert "Sure 'Nuff Yes I Do" and "I'm Glad," a doowop torch song the captain wasn't tender enough to nail himself. Gentle ain't exactly Hendryx's default mode either, but she knows how to fake it, then switches smoothly into the jagged "Smithsonian Institute Blues." On the whole, the album cants sensuous, Latinizing Beefheart's jagged groove--before climaxing with the nutso "Tropical Hot Dog Night," which remains as much fun as two flamingos in a fruit fight. A-

Gary Lucas: The Essential Gary Lucas [KFR, 2021]
Like most great guitarists, he can use a boost from great vocalists and great material, as the David Johansen feature and Chinese Dylan cover stand up and shout on this self-curated double CD ("One Man's Meat," "All Along the Watchtower") **