Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Expert Witness: January 2013

Carl Perkins/Willie Nelson

Born barely a year apart
Tuesday, January 1, 2013  

Carl Perkins: The Very Best of Carl Perkins: Blue Suede Shoes (Collectables '98)
Subtly bopping the essence of blues growl and juke-joint thrust, he was more adult, more regional, and more threatening than the Everlys or Buddy Holly. That's one reason he so quickly became a specialty taste artistically and a Nashville born-againer commercially, beloved by guitar adepts and romanticizers of Dixie-fried fundamentalism but legendary for one definitive song only. The guitar people have a point--while no James Burton, he had more jam than Scotty Moore and would have gotten where he got without Moore or his big boss man. But if that's all there was to him, he'd deserve to be a specialty taste. It's the songwriting that has reach. "Blue Suede Shoes" aside, these ditties seem to be trifles. Say you will when you won't. Put your cat clothes on. Or your pink pedal pushers. So now you try to do it--in 2:46, 2:48, and 2:25 respectively. Fine is the line between a spontaneous throwaway and a miraculous miniature. A

Willie Nelson: Heroes (Legacy)
How much you value this entry in the 79-year-old's unchartable catalogue--over and above "Roll Me Up," in which Jamey Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, and none other than Snoop Dogg top off the title with the genius punch line "and smoke me when I die"--depends on what you make of Willie's 23-year-old son Lukas, who sings on nine of the tracks and wrote three of them. I think one of his originals is aces, one self-sustaining, and one--which naturally goes on for six minutes--the worst thing on the record. But once I learned to distinguish him from the half-century older Billie Joe Shaver, who undercuts the solemn title track with his patented off-the-cuff aplomb, I decided that Lukas's stoned-hillbilly affect was just what his dad needed to distinguish this particular assortment of what-thes, why-hasn't-he-evers, and written-to-orders from rival entries in his unchartable catalogue. B PLUS

Odds and Ends 019

Legacies and leavings
Friday, January 4, 2013  

This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark (Icehouse)
Legend gets the country-canted alt-star lovefest he deserves (Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Homegrown Tomatoes"; Suzy Bogguss, "Instant Coffee Blues"; Jack Ingram, "Stuff That Works") ***

Shonen Knife: Osaka Ramones: A Tribute to the Ramones (Damnably)
Temporarily unannoying J-altpop post-geishas chirp the classics ("We're a Happy Family," "Blitzkrieg Bop") ***

The Bachata Legends: The Bachata Legends (iASO)
Thirty years later, DR icons re-record their bittersweet acoustic hits like the nostalgic professionals they've had the opportunity to become (Leonardo Paniagua, "En un quarto dos amantes"; El Chivo Sin Ley, "Tirale bajito") ***

Enoch Assembly: King Elvis Dead (self-released)
Twenty-four Elvis-Beatles-Herman's Hermits interviews and ad snippets ask why the King never visited the mother country, among other things (Elvis Presley, "Perfect for Parties LP 10-56"; Paul McCartney, "Ram Ad") **

Paul Simon: Live in New York City (Concord/Hear Music)
Old perfessor's enjoyable survey course in his own legacy, only he should never let the world forget "Peace Like a River" ("The Boy in the Bubble," "That Was Your Mother") **

Taj Mahal: The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 (Columbia/Legacy)
A dozen previously unearthed semiprecious stones plus ramshackle concert ("Sweet Mama Janisse," "I Pity the Poor Immigrant") **

Mighty Sparrow: Sparromania!--Wit, Wisdom, & Soul From the King of Calypso 1962-1974 (Strut)
Got paid every time he walked into a studio--still does ("Dancehall Brawl," "No Money, No Love") *

Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe (Fiesta Red)
New-country hopefuls impart more life to old new wave songwriter than he's shown in 20 years (Caitlin Rose, "Lately I've Let Things Slide"; Jeff the Brotherhood, "Marie Provost") *

Moreno and L'Orch First Moja-One/Laba Sosseh

African Afro-Cuban looks east and west
Tuesday, January 8, 2013  

Moreno and L'Orch First Moja-One: Sister Pili + 2 (Sterns Africa)
Batamba Wendo Morris was born in Patrice Lumumba's east Congo hometown in 1955 and died at 38 having migrated to East Africa itself like such fellow Congolese musicians as Samba Mapangala, with whom he sang for a while in a rough baritone pitched so luxuriously low some call it a bass. When he was leading the band, he not only made sure the guitars slackened soukous's high-tension-wire acrobatics in the casual Kenyan-Tanzanian manner but generally gave a single saxophone its say. Recorded in his home base of Nairobi, the 1983 title album comprises four nine-minute tracks, the most notable the half-English closer and "Kaka Puneira Wivu" with its drolly twangy second guitar. The clattery plus two are from 1977, with Tabu Ngongo horning in irrepressibly. A good groove is had by all. A MINUS

Laba Sosseh: Volume 1 (Syllart)
Of griot family, the seminal Senegambian salsero sang forcefully from the sternum and grooved unshakably from the fundament, a principled disciple-evangelist who recorded regularly with Orquesta Aragon in Paris and occasionally with his Manhattan heroes as well. In Dakar he was the dancing master of the postcolonial elite, steadying his bands' Congo-rooted "Latin" beats so that they signified for West Africans. In what I assume is completist grandeur on a two-CD set whose français-seulement notes are impeccably free of useful detail, these 26 ('70s?) ('80s?) (classic?) (early?) tracks are solid and resonant once the recording quality rights itself. Seldom, however, do they rise above, with the biggest exception the same "Marie Gomis" available in somewhat duller audio on the Sosseh album I've puzzled longest over, Monguito El Unico and Laba Sosseh. Three of the other four tracks on that record also repeat here, with the bonus that this "Yamanekh" adds a speedy and welcome three-minute coda. A titan, definitely, and near as I can tell--compared to Sar's easier-to-find Laba Sosseh, for instance--this is as good as you're liable to find until some saint does a proper comp. B PLUS

Odds and Ends 020

As pop is measured, all Afrogrooves seem pretty rare from here
Friday, January 11, 2013  

Juju: Justin Adams and Juldeh Camera: In Trance (Realworld)
You'd never know there was only one African on this rocking piece of Sahel high-energy--Camara, sing-shouting hoarsely and making a racket on his self-fabricated one-string violin ("Djanfa Moja," "Deep Sahara") ***

Zani Diabaté & les Héritiers: Tientalaw (Sterns Africa)
Underrecorded Malian guitarist's final album goes long on balafon and doesn't corral the singers he deserves ("Soubagaya," "Moussolankolo") ***

Sofrito: International Soundclash (Strut)
Pokier and more clackety than the first, second rare-Afrogrooves-international comp is heavy on Caribbean Francophonie (Luis Kalaff y Su Alegres Dominicanos, "Agarraio Que Eso Es Tuyo"; Grupo Canalon, "La Zorra y El Perol") **

Sékouba Bambino: The Griot's Craft (Sterns Africa)
Doesn't get his groove on as often as his craft, which as with all griots is best understood in its native language(s?) ("Diatiguya," "Moya Kankoun") **

Sory Kandia Kouyaté: La Voix de la Révolution (Sterns Africa)
Projecting quite a lot of voix and not all that much révolution, Guinean paladin is less overbearing in his acoustic manifestation ("Fouba," "Namatimbaye") **

Sotho Sounds: Junk Funk (Riverboat)
Roots revival fully worthy of the concept's primitivist conceit--Lesotho shepherds piece together their own guitars, fiddles, and drums ("Ha Kele Monateng," "Jerusalem") **

African Blues (Putumayo)
World-music easy-listening specialists achieve enjoyable as opposed to the usual saccharine (Mali Latino, "Ni Koh Bedy"; Issa Bagayogo, "Djigui") *

Gnossas Pedro: Volume 1 (Syllart)
Two discs worth of the Baobab of Benin, or so 'twas claimed--a little too dependent on Other People's Clave, I'd say ("Las Melodias," "Atimawuin Dagamasi") *

The dB's/Yo La Tengo

Hoboken forever
Tuesday, January 15, 2013  

The dB's: Falling Off the Sky (Bar/None)
Solo or in tandem, neither the easygoing Peter Holsapple nor the lapidary Chris Stamey has put his hand to an album nearly as good as drummer Will Rigby's 2002 Paradoxaholic since Reagan was president. They've sounded stiff, tired, twee. But although it's nice to have Rigby's drive (and his hickster kissoff ditty) dirtying up this reunion, motor problems weren't what sunk H&S's 2009 Here and Now with Jon Wurster in the drum chair. And in 2012, it's like H&S never went away. The difference could be parallel life changes or the luck of the songwriting draw or even what never seems to work in the reunion hustle, pride in the band brand. But it's unmistakable. As ever, Holsapple's songs have more life than Stamey's, with the lead "That Time Is Gone" a song about finality a 25-year-old could get behind that's as rousing as anything in their book. But dreamy Stamey has just as much right to a premonitions-of-death title closer a 15-year-old could get behind. A MINUS

Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador)
Their quietest and most fragile album is also their most orchestrated--horns! strings! live! (on four songs total). Even so, the songwriting is so diffident it tempts us to fill in the blanks by concluding that what we've long been told is all there is to know. This music's ground is a warm, sweet, committed relationship troubled by withdrawal issues each partner enacts in his or her own way--silence met with impassivity, say. But on their quiestest album, for the first time, mortality has crept through the door. Conclusion: "Find the comfort in our life/Before it disappears." (Hence the orchestrations?) A MINUS

Odds and Ends 021

Pazz & Jop comments 2012
Friday, January 18, 2013  

Animal Collective: Centipede Hz (Domino)
All too theoretically fun-loving communards nice up the hilarity, whereupon their base tells them to stop being such goofs already ("Moonjock," "Applesauce") ***

El-P: Cancer4Cure (Fat Possum)
Loathing this fearsome gets kitschy fast unless it cops to caricature or abjures surreal overstatment--which latter his least austere album does sometimes ("The Jig Is Up," "Drones Over Bklyn") ***

Hot Chip: In Our Heads (Domino)
Possibly the world's most thoughtful and loving dance band--virtues that, tragically as usual, often aren't as exciting as one might hope ("How Do You Do," "Don't Deny Your Heart") **

Cat Power: Sun (Matador)
Chanteuse realizes she can say no to peace without giving love the fish-eye, lowering her tristesse quotient beaucoup ("Peace and Love," "3.6.9") **

Future: Pluto (Epic)
The truth is, his Auto-Tuned flow has more future in it than his intermittently interplanetary rhymes ("Turn on the Light," "Permanent Scar") **

Tame Impala: Lonerism (Modular)
You have to respect a nuevo-psychedelic sage whose message to the world is "Nothing ever changes/No matter how long you do your hair/It looks the same to everyone else"--well, at least I do ("Apocalypse Dreams," "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards") **

Purity Ring: Shrines (4AD)
Displaced soprano asks musical question: is this home or exile? ("Ungirthed," "Lofticries") *

Andy Stott: Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
Electronics more human than sopranos! ("Sleepless," "Luxury Problems") *

Public Enemy

Flava in your ear
Tuesday, January 22, 2013  

Public Enemy: Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp (Enemy)
After a decade-plus of preaching the singles gospel and trying to outsmart a digital music system he saw coming and secretly fears has no room for fiftysomethings, Chuck D gathers his forces for two albums released back-to-back--numbers five and six of the new millennium for all his singles talk, and like most of them, pretty damn good. This one's preferred because there's more Flav on it. Preacher Chuck needs William Drayton's nuttiness no matter how corrupt it's become, in part because its corruption is a corrective to all of Chuck's conceptualizing. Although young beatmakers echo the old Bomb Squad whomp, the preacher has lost some boom vocally, and like his cadences, the politics are old-school--a term he disparages, preferring "classic rap." But as he explains at length in "still necessary" liner notes unavailable from iTunes, which had an exclusive on this music for months before physicals became available from the evil empire of online everything, the times justify those old politics more than ever. A MINUS

Public Enemy: The Evil Empire of Everything (Enemy)
This is going along fine, politicizing indefatigably with cameo help from super-scratcher Davy DMX, saxophone pro Gerald Albright, Otis-channeling soul sister Sheila Brody, and Ziggy Marley 10,000 dutchies on, when finally, midway through, here comes some madman with the deeply stoopid "31 Flavors" and you realize it wasn't going along fine enough. Flav even contributes a superior Otis homage, about cars, and sells the irresistible "Broke Diva," in which Chuck joins an attack on gold-diggers I have the feeling Mrs. Chuck could do without. To compensate, the boss ropes the celebreality money-grubber into an attack on "Fame." B PLUS

Odds and Ends 022

Gritty occasionally, grimey never
Friday, January 25, 2013  

Death Grips: Exmilitary (free Third Worlds mixtape)
Death-metal hip-hop for El-P fans who secretly wish the Insane Clown Posse wasn't so dumb ("Blood Creepin," "Klink") ***

Lushlife: Plateau Vision (Western Vinyl)
Orchestrally textured, beat-driven alt-rap enlists vocoder and Satie-Shad-Kool Moe Dee collab ("Magnolia," "Gymnopedie 1.2") ***

E-40: Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift (Heavy on the Grind/EMI)
Everybody should get to know one of the dozens of genially thuggish albums by the hyphy king, and this is the one I landed on ("My Lil Grimey N*gga," "Spooky," "Trapped") **

Lupe Fiasco: Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 (Atlantic)
Veteran wannabe avers amid thousands of words that if he were a Buddhist he'd be reborn as himself ("Bitch Bad," "Hood Now [Outro]") **

Roc Marciano: Reloaded (Decon)
Anybody who says a clitoris tastes like porridge would obviously rather keep his mouth where his rhymes are ("Deeper," "Tek to a Mack") *

Beanie Sigel: This Time (State Property/Ruffhouse)
Quite possibly the most assiduous Jay-Z impressions you'll ever hear ("No Hook," "The Reunion") *

Meek Mill: Dreams and Nightmares (Maybach Music/Warner Bros.)
To utilize Saigon's formula, the dreams are rap and the nightmares are reality ("Traumatized," "Who You Around") *

Big Boi: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Def Jam)
Claims hip-hop, represents r&b, ends up neither here nor there ("Apple of My Eye," "She Hates Me") *

Ray Wylie Hubbard/Father John Misty

Faster is better
Tuesday, January 29, 2013  

Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Grifter's Hymnal (Bordello)
At 66, this fringe Texas outlaw has been making records for 42 years even though, as he says himself in the quotable "New Year's Eve at the Gates of Hell," "the truth of the matter is I really can't sing." That's why I never checked him out seriously, shelving his first album on his wife's label even though it showcased a Hayes Carll co-write I relished. Reaccessing that record now--its sobriety-inspired title: A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C)--I decided the problem wasn't the vocals, but Hubbard's decision to prove that he considers Muddy Waters "as deep as Blake" by grooving his blues downtempo. The follow-up is his party record, and deeper as a consequence, dark and hilarious and gone so fast you're too busy tapping your inner foot to cavil about pitch or timbre. So permit me to complete that "Gates of Hell" couplet: "But I can quote Martin Luther King." And then add another one: "They're burning over there with the Fox News whores/Oh look is that the singer for the Doors?" (BTW: it isn't.) A MINUS

Father John Misty: Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Right, he has played and may yet again play drums in Fleet Foxes, whose beat means so much to us all. But that's not the good part, for goodness sake. The good part is that, under the influence of organic psychedelics and the American road, he figured out how to deploy words, as in the deathless couplet: "And I'm writing a novel! Because it's never been done before!" Whereupon, presumably, he also figured out that novels were a losing proposition. And though he dumbs up his songwriting half the time by fearing fun literally as regards forward motion, don't give up. Beyond "I'm Writing a Novel" itself, the four best tracks are the four last tracks, where he picks up the tempo and looks fun in the eye. He could use a more outgoing drummer, though. B PLUS

MSN Music, January 2013

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