Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: January, 2022

A 29 year old starts again, an 80 year old comes alive, and a "Marque Moon" cover from two guys separated by 37 years. Plus songs from Georgia, Timbuktu, Congo, Nashville, and the Velvet Underground.

BaianaSystem: Oxeaxeexu (Maquina de Louco) Twenty-one schematized Bahian grooves in one terse, lilting hour ("Rádio África," "Nauliza," "Reza Forte") ***

Chuck Berry: Live From Blueberry Hill (Dualtone) This surprising album was culled from around when the man who invented teenagers was 80: the 2005-2006 run of the 209 monthly shows Berry played between 1996 and 2014 in St. Louis's sold-out 340-capacity Blueberry Hill. True, there are scads of live Chuck Berry albums. But most of them are bootlegs or close to it, and the legit likes of the 1967 Fillmore one, the 1969 Toronto one, and the 1972 London one are haphazard and raggedy-ass except for the soundtrack to the valiant 1987 Keith Richards-Taylor Hackford concert documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, with Etta James and Robert Cray right at home and Linda Ronstadt and Julian Lennon sincerely overwhelmed. But where back then he was still playing the sly bad boy, and making it work for him too, two decades later he's become something new and arresting: a puissant old man whose voice has roughened without a hint of frailty singing teen songs he devised when he was a much more puissant young man. Having never stopped loving his art whatever his personal failings, I rate this a crucial addition to what I damn well call his oeuvre. His son Charles Jr. plays creditable second guitar, his daughter Ingrid adds harmonica, and while the locals on piano and drums obviously aren't Johnny Johnson or Fred Belew, they've clearly lived this music. Sure the album reprises some obvious classics, but it also revives the campaign-shouting "Nadine" and elevates the minor "Little Queenie" and juices the payday anthem "Let It Rock" and, how about that, justifies 1973's premature "Bio": "Can't help it but I love it/Stand here, sing to you/Brings back so many memories/Many things we used to do." A

Precious Bryant: The Truth (Terminus '04) Bryant was news to me when Adia Victoria turned the title song of this 2004 album into a quietly sassy highlight of Jason Isbell's Georgia Blue project, whereupon I streamed it twice and obtained it while the obtaining was good. Call her "Piedmont blues," indicating less showy guitar and vocals than the Texas much less Delta variants--cf. ragtime finger-picker Blind Blake, North Carolina conjunctivitis casualty Blind Boy Fuller, Folkways stalwart Brownie McGhee, and self-made sophisticate Josh White. Bryant herself was born in 1942 to a sharecropping family near Georgia's Alabama line, where she resided till she died at 71. A musician all her life, she only began to tour when she was 41, and followed the debut album she finally recorded at 60 with this simple, definitive band session two years later. Bryant's guitar is deft but not much more--what puts her music across is the unaffected directness of her singing and the unpretentious range of her writing. The flat declaratives of the title song are powered by quiet conviction: "I said I told my baby/That afternoon/That if you mistreat me/You'll be leaving soon." Spectacular this satisfying album definitely isn't. It would ruin the effect if that was any kind of goal. A MINUS

Anansy Cissé: Anoura (Riverboat) In 2014, this Timbuktu-based Songhai guitarist-vocalist debuted with Mali Overdrive, a more than respectable, not quite riveting traversal of the harsh, soulful byways of rock-inflected, Tuareg-dominated desert blues. He'd already begun this follow-up when en route to a 2018 peace conference he was accosted and detained by thugs who destroyed his instruments, which you can see might set him back a little. But shored up by time and fatherhood he recovered, and the result is this spiritual-sounding album--still desert blues, but softened with an airy sweetness that recalls no close parallels. If you're not entranced by the opening sequence, sweetly keened "Tiawo" to smoothly grooveful "Foussa Foussa" to quietly raucous "Tiara," keep going. You'll get there. A MINUS

Combo Lulo: Neotropic Dream (Names You Can Trust) Brooklyn studio gatos explore not exploit the perky side of clave inna skanky stylee ("Port Antonion," "Para Mancini") **

McKinley Dixon: For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her (Spacebomb) If middle-class hip-hop is your calling, how much more committed can it get than "Pardon my black ass, but my niggas need therapy/Pardon my black ass, but my sisters need therapy"? ("Swangin'," "Make a Poet Black") *

I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve) To be clear, the tributee here is the album dubbed The Velvet Underground & Nico, not the band-artiste combo of that name. So I spun said album for the first time since Lou Reed died--The Velvet Underground, Loaded, and the Matrix sessions all get more play around here--and was almost startled by how sere and crude that classic now sounded, and also by what a shitty producer Andy Warhol was even with Tom Wilson cleaning up after him. Still great, absolutely--dulled or not by the production, the band's "throbbing cadences" (Variety) and "atonal thrusts" (Richard Goldstein) rendered it one of the most momentous rock albums ever. So for younger admirers to render the same song sequence with meticulous clarity, toned chops, and unfettered interpretive elan can be disorienting, even annoying--if you never warmed to the sadie-maisie "Venus in Furs," you won't thank Andrew Bird for his avant violin, and though St. Vincent is too corn-averse to admit it, "All Tomorrow's Parties" was once a song. But there are also dynamite covers from Michael Stipe, Thurston Moore, Iggy Pop, and others. Sentimental favorite: Courtney Barnett's title tune. A MINUS

Ka: A Martyr's Tale (Iron Works) All but embodying what Nina Simone observes in "I Notice"'s coda: "I think that the artists that don't get involved in preaching messages are happier" ("With All My Heart," "Having Nothin'," "Subtle") ***

Kasai Allstars: Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound (Crammed Discs) Not so much a group as a conceptual collective in which musicians from Congo's Kasai province, well east of the former Zaire's soukous central in Kinshasa and its gorgeous, flowing, guitaristic groove, have grouped and changed around in five Belgium-fabricated albums since 2007, all more jagged and jumpy than anything dreamt of in Rochereau's philosophy. But the masterminds who conceive these releases do like to mix things up. Where in 2017, Around Felicité included a bonus disc and some Ärvo Part parts, its successor gestures back toward jumpy Congotronics thumb-piano electrobuzz without altogether abandoning Around Felicité's soundtrack aspirations. Try for instance the rather lovely track two, "Olooh, a War Dance for Peace," which the notes inform us is just that: the dancers carry rather than brandish their weapons. Followed by the groovier and more guitaristic "Musungu Elongo Paints His Face White to Scare Small Children." After which comes "Like a Dry Leaf on a Tree," where a street child is the dry leaf and deserves our succor. Repays attention, this album. A MINUS

The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band: Both Ways (Bandcamp) Recorded in 2017 with Stampfel's voice undiminished, this 22-track double album is available only via Lewis's Bandcamp page. It reprises many Stampfel & Antonia chestnuts while introducing many new Lewis songs, some of which cop melodies from such sources as Jimmy Driftwood, the Searchers, Cyndi Lauper, Anthology of American Folk Music, and a Stampfel banjo fantasia. Then there are covers of such arcana as Hawkwind's "Orgone Accumulator," Autosalvage's "Same White Light," (Lou Reed and) the Beachnuts' "Cycle Annie," and retrofitted ditties from the life list in Stampfel's memory book. The Lauper steal "True Tax Forms" addresses a now deposed president. "Heroin" is repurposed with lyrics that merit the stark title "Internet" before "Marquee Moon" is covered straight next track. And the opener is an every-which-way musical manifesto the rest of this curated, offhand hodgepodge embodies like there's no tomorrow on the off chance that there may be one. A

Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone (Big Machine) Since the perfect DL-only 29 EP this inflates into an album is here in three- and four-track chunks and the eight additional songs are OK-plus, my recommended strategy is to buy the album but then mostly play the EP you burn from it. OK-plusses include "Diamondback," about the stone of the album title, "What He Didn't Do," which includes "Treat me right, put me first, be a man of his word," and two drinking songs, both anti. But from the title "29"--"the year that I got married and divorced"--to the post-breakup closer "Day One," which progresses through days 17, 45, and 92, the EP is all about trying again, as for any 29-year-old it should be. A MINUS

Allen Ravenstine: Nautilus (Waveshaper) The most substantive and hence coherent of five instrumental-cum-ambient limited-edition EPs released simultaneously by the onetime Pere Ubu synth chair, this opens with "Fog (Devil's Island Mix)" and never gets more entrancing than that track's seagull-accordion duet. But track two somehow maintains the mood by sampling gunshots and wrong-number messages, and all in all the album remains interesting enough to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Hassell & Eno, a compliment I last extended to the first Bktherula album, with which this has absolutely nothing else in common. B PLUS

Peter Stampfel and the Dysfunctionells: Not in Our Wildest Dreams (Don Giovanni) mid-'90s: Holy yet also Unholy Modal Rounder fronts Rich Krueger's band for fun and peanuts ("The Pennsylvania Polka," "Midnight in Paris," "Prairie Biscuit") ***

Morgan Wade: Reckless (Ladylike) Unlikely as it seems just because the claim is so extreme (but hey, where's the competition?), this is the most sexually explicit country record I've ever heard. She wants to love and she wants to fuck, on the kitchen floor if that's the way things go. The partners are multiple to an indeterminate degree, the pleasure quotient convincing and subsidiary to a passion quotient that is often subsidiary to a solace quotient. All of which seems suitable to a 27-year-old now ready to try again with someone who may be Mr. Right and may not: "You knew my skin back before I had all these tattoos/You remember me on late nights strung out on pills and booze." "Won't you bring yourself on home?" "Northern Air" implores. But if he'd prefer she'll just "drive all night to be there." A

And It Don't Stop, January 12, 2022


December 8, 2021 February 9, 2022