America on the Tip of the Tongue: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The dean tackles recent releases from Drive-By Truckers, Dogbrain, and Watkins Family Hour.
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published a number of books over his career including his autobiography, Going Into the City, which was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Drive-By Truckers: American Band (ATO) In part because the Hood-to-Cooley ratio is back up and in part because they're less relaxed as the Obama Age ends, this superb song collection is raggedier than the last superb song collection. But in recompense it's more explicit and bereaved. Having resettled in Oregon just in time to detail an Umpqua massacre preceded by a victim's nice morning and idyllic weekend, Hood also spends 6:27 in Ferguson and its branches nationwide. Cooley opens with "Ramon Casiano," which minimal Googling makes clear is an assault on the NRA, and soon follows with "Surrender Under Protest," about the actual outcome of that war the starry-eyed say ended at Appomattox. Then there's the finale that begins "I was listening to the radio when they said that you were gone." Gotta be Merle, right? Uh-uh—Robin Williams. It's about mood swings and depression out of control, a somatic heritage Hood tells us he knows firsthand. A
Dogbrain: Blue Dog (dogbrain) Wondering why these six slices of slide-guitar Americana cut through with such uncommon truth power, I learned that Jay Ward is a lifelong stutterer who escapes his prison not just by singing but by singing about his prison. Standin' at the edge of a dream gettin' ready to jump, nothing special in itself. Turnin' at the fork in the road, ditto. But "I've got some tales on the tip of my tongue / Gettin' ready to speak"? Now you're talkin'. B PLUS
Watkins Family Hour: Watkins Family Hour (Thirty Tigers) Musos with a right enact an Americana songbook that makes room for Lindsey Buckingham and Lee Ving as well as Roger Miller and Robert Earl Keen ("Feelin' Good Again," "Not in Nottingham") ***
The Handsome Family: Unseen (Carrot Top) In this unpoetically dark time, only the social realism that has never been their style of pessimism seems to truly . . . can I say spark them? they're way too dour to enliven ("Back in My Day," "Gold") ***
The Haymarket Squares: Light It Up (The Haymarket Squares) Musically clean-cut Phoenix "punkgrass" fixtures lay out the jolly economics of private prisons and swear their favorite cocktail is the Molotov ("High Demand," "Let's Start a Riot") **
Rhiannon Giddens: Tomorrow Is My Turn (Nonesuch) Soul-schooling the Americana artsongbook, with Patsy Cline as Mary Wells and Charles Aznavour fooling no one in his Nina Simone disguise ("Last Kind Words," "She's Got You") *
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