Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Percy Mayfield: His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides [Rhino Handmade, 2004]
Excepting Muddy Waters wordman Willie Dixon, the eloquent depressive Percy Mayfield was the blues's greatest post-World War II songwriter, and unlike Dixon he could sing. The classic tracks on two Specialty compilations were cut before a disfiguring accident ended his live career. But this collection captures his professional peak, when Ray Charles had him under contract. In 1961, Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack" went No. 1 for Charles, who reciprocated by putting its creator in the studio with crack musicians who loved him. His baritone blurred by booze and tribulation, Mayfield doesn't completely nail such self-explanatory titles as "River's Invitation" and "Life Is Suicide." But even on this completist package's lesser songs, you can hear him brooding--and trying to put a wry face on it. [Blender: 3]