The Dean tackles new country records from Sunny Sweeney, Becky Warren, and Whitney Rose.
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 six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. 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.
Sunny Sweeney: Trophy (Thirty Tigers) Last time bad girl was her play, and she was funny, feisty, and sexy about it. This time it's more bad girl's progress, bad girl gets older, in there. She begins by getting smashed at a bar and daring the guy she goes home with to come up with a better bad idea. But soon she's off those pills, and then it transpires that the "Bottle by My Bed" she craves comes with milk and a rubber nipple. Proceed to "Grow Old With Me"—next line: "I'll keep you young forever"—and a title tune in which a proud trophy wife skewers his ex with the perfect putdown: "I'm his trophy for putting up with you." Why am I not surprised that these last three, the finest songs on an album filled with good ones, are Lori McKenna cowrites? "Grow Old With Me" to "Trophy" bears the mark of someone who's looked at marriage from many sides now. And "Bottle by My Bed" is an infertility song—a rare thing, as I happen to know—brought to fruition by a mother of five. A MINUS
Becky Warren: War Surplus (self-released) Warren is a singer-songwriter who put her music on hold in 2006, when her new husband came back from Iraq with PTSD. The marriage didn't survive, but they gave it a hard try, and years later Warren's solo debut, a muscular, bro-country sounding concept album where she sings five "June" songs and seven "Scott" songs, is born of that effort. June's a dive bar sweetheart whose love for her man is ironwood strong, Scott a casual patriot looking to escape the day-to-day who comes home with a mouth that explodes whenever he pulls the pin. Scott's memories of the girl who loved him best are painful. But they have nothing on the Iraq memories of "Stay Calm, Get Low," borrowed from memoirist Colby Buzzell, who liked Warren's adaptation so much he wrote liner notes. A MINUS
Whitney Rose: South Texas Suite (Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers) Rose isn't the first country singer from the Canadian Maritimes, although neither Hank Snow nor Anne Murray was blessed with or limited by such a crystalline soprano. But a debut that favored the folk-angelic also showed a fondness for verities like the "Hearts Made of Stone" piano triplets that open it, and now come five simple songs where verities prevail. "Three Minute Love Affair" turns a single roadhouse dance into the lovely fleeting thing it can be, and soon "Analog" is exemplifying the corny notion that tunes this fetching shouldn't have to coexist with newfangled annoyances like robocalls, GMOs, and the pitch correction Rose plainly doesn't need. And that the other three are plainer doesn't mean they're dull—although somebody must have beaten her to "Looking Back on Luckenbach"'s built-in pun, I doubt anybody's done it nicer. A MINUS
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