Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

David Blue: Nice Baby and the Angel (Asylum). Long ago, before he sought institution in David Geffen's tastefully maintained diaspora, David was a nice baby who had grown up. His songs were tortuous and somewhat arty, but they had their strengths. This one sounds like outtakes from the Eagles, all easy rhythms and ladies and outlaws in old Chevrolets. C MINUS

The Blue Ridge Rangers (Fantasy). If John Fogerty really wants to play all the instruments himself, he's wise to perform country music. Overdubbing on top of yourself produces the kind of semi-mechanical feel Nashville producers strive for. There are energy rushes here (one guitar break on "Jambalaya," the "no-no-nos" on "Hearts of Stone") but they're always brief and controlled by the context. Doing that sometimes is fine--it was always the point of the cover versions on Creedence's albums--but this time there are no original songs. Result: one better-than-average country-rock statement. B PLUS

Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Michael Clarke: Byrds (Asylum). Don't believe the title, believe the artist listing. The difference is between a group, committed however fractiously to a coherent collective identity, and a bunch of stars fabricating a paper reconciliation. Maybe if Gary Usher had produced, as promised, this would be more than the country-rock supersession David Crosby has granted us. Maybe Usher would even have persuaded the boys to let go of the songs they're saving for their solo albums. C

Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies (Warner Bros.). Yes, this is Alice's most consistent album. But only brilliance justifies such out-front exploitation, and there's simply no "School's Out" on this record. B PLUS [Later: B]

King Curtis and Champion Jack Dupree: Blues at Montreux (Atlantic). Even the music Curtis intended for LP release was marred by a kind of marginal-differentiation monotony--he was a saxophone stylist, not an improviser, and stylists do get boring by themselves. His posthumous concert records are even worse. Dupree, meanwhile, as one of Europe's resident Real Blues Singers, is included in all kinds of blues series, almost never notably. But this collaboration cancels out the dross--just when Dupree starts repeating himself, Curtis responds with his saxophone, which is what he was always meant to do. A very pleasant surprise. A MINUS [Later: B+]

Cymande (Janus). A better than average Afro-jazz-rock group with Jamaican influences--Rastafarian, not reggae. Solid music, not all of it especially imaginative, plus a few borrowed folk chants that are. The real thing may be better, but I haven't managed to hear the real thing yet. B PLUS

Betty Davis (Just Sunshine). Move over, Tina--this is the best comicbook sex since Angelfood McSpade. B MINUS

Donovan: Cosmic Wheels (Epic). Didn't you always know he'd go bananas? C MINUS

Faces: Ooh La La (Warner Bros.). I've been playing this album for weeks in the hope that it would eventually have its way with me, but my body is still untouched. Soul, too. Maybe Rod Stewart really does save his best songs for the solo albums. B PLUS [Later: B]

Kinky Friedman: Sold American (Vanguard). I'm sorry to note that Friedman's unique cross between Woody Guthrie and Henny Youngman extends to his singing. Fortunately, "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" does not require dulcet tones. Keynote: "Ride 'Em Jewboy." B

Dobie Gray: Drift Away (Decca). If the title song wasn't a Tasmanian Gorilla, the fault wasn't Kal Rudman's, or Dobie Gray's, either. This is easily the best resuscitation of a long-lost '60's one-shot yet recorded. Sometimes Gray sounds like a black Joe Cocker with the strain removed, if that makes any sense. Unfortunately, the only outstanding song besides "Drift Away" is "We Had It All," and that's not quite enough. B PLUS [Later: B-]

Merle Haggard: It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad) (Capitol). Haggard has become such a legend that he's turned more and more to the gimmick--an album tribute to Bob Wills, an album with songs interspersed with narration. This is the first solid country music album he's released in recent memory, and I like it. He's not playing the poor boy or the ex-con any more--those days are far behind--just the country singer-composer, and he's still among the best in either category. Like most country albums this does have its flat moments, especially one pseudo-Tom T. Hall song, but it's recommended. B PLUS [Later: B]

Waylon Jennings: Lonesome, On'ry and Mean (RCA Victor). I can't say for sure whether it's me or him, but Waylon doesn't sound anywhere near so . . . strained this time out. Maybe it's just "Sandy Sends Her Best," as painful a song about the guilty good will on the hurting side of a break-up as you'll ever hear. Still a touch or four melodramatic, though. B

The Kinks: The Great Lost Kinks Album (Reprise). Maybe it's only that I've learned to love them again, but this collection of B sides and outtakes sounds like the best new Kinks album in about five years. A MINUS

Don McLean (United Artists). The smoothest dreck yet from your unfriendly doom-saying hitmaker. Question: Why does he say "I feel like a spinnin' top or a dreidel" without explaining how a dreidel differs from a spinning top? Point of information: McLean's pubbery is called Yaweh Tunes, Inc. Point of order: No one who has sailed with Pete Seeger should put this much production into an album. Auswurf! C MINUS

Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth: Poor Man's Paradise (Columbia). Somewhere on her way to becoming our most inspired white female singer, Tracy Nelson settled into being a minor talent. You like her or you don't--nothing to get exercised about either way. I like her, and may play this occasionally; it's not bad. I guess when part of your genius is the way you contain your genius, it's hard not to get boring after a while. B [Later: C+]

Procol Harum: Grand Hotel (Chrysalis). For years, these guys have vacillated between a menu of grits that certainly ain't groceries and larks' tongues in aspic. Despite their current white-tie conceit, they still haven't decided. Personally, I wish they'd pick their poison and choke on it. C

Todd Rundgren: A Wizard/A True Star (Bearsville). I'm supposed to say he's a wizard but he's not a star yet, but just you wait, he's the Mozart of his generation, that last a direct quote from a fan who collared me at a concert once. Bushwa. A minor songwriter with major woman problems who's good with the board and has a sense of humor. B PLUS [Later: B-]

Stealer's Wheel (A&M). Skeptics said: "Producer's record." I disagreed, because Leiber & Stoller have done nothing but sit on their genius for almost a decade and this group had a promising pre-history, as the Humblebums. Anyway, almost every song on the album sounded substantial--until I really listened to it. Conclusion: producer's record. B

Bill Withers: Live at Carnegie Hall (Sussex). This man sounds stronger every time out. The kind of live album you listen to because you're sorry you weren't there, rather than hoping vainly to recreate an experience that can't be recreated. A MINUS

Creem, August 1973


June 1973 October 1973