A Trip Down Country Road: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean of American Rock Critics gets his twang on with Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, and The Bottle Rockets.

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Oct 9 2015, 4:24pm

Welcome to Expert Witness with Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics." He currently teaches at NYU and published multiple books throughout his life. For nearly four decades, he worked as the music editor for The Village Voice, where he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll. Every Friday, Noisey will happily publish his long-running critical column. To learn more about him and his life, read his welcome post here.

Continued below.

The Bottle Rockets: South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot)

Alt-country vet Brian Henneman is one of those guys who likes writing songs too much to quit. Weary evocations of the persistence of Monday and airbag duty at the Chrysler plant convince you music isn't his day job whether it is or not. Similarly, the long-haul passion of "Big Lotsa Love" makes you hope the perfect breakup lamentation "Something Good" is just poetry he couldn't resist whether it is or not: "World turns/Rome burns/Can't you hear that fiddle sound/Time flies/Elvis dies/It's all over but the shoutin' now." If you notice the material weakening toward the end, give him a break. He's beat. A MINUS

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (Southeastern)

Although his alt-Americana base may find him less "authentic" now, it's a musical positive that getting sober has finally cheered Isbell up. The resigned confidence of his singing signifies mental health. His contained Alabama drawl and guitar-bass-drums aesthetic mark his people as Southern whites of modest prospects subject to the "powder keg ready to blow" that is God's will. Talk of The Bell Jar and "character sets" mark him as a participant-observer while reminding bicoastalists how many Southern whites of modest prospects live in a larger world than bicoastalists imagine. A MINUS

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Wussy: Public Domain, Volume 1 (Shake It) Their roots alt-country, their sonics arena-drone, they subject five pieces of Americana history to the treatment for Record Store Day ("Poor Ellen Smith," "Lavender Blue") ***

Daniel Romano: If I've Only One Time Askin' (New West) A normalization move even if the title song romances a prostitute, and I miss the oddball ("Learning to Do Without Me," "Two Word Joe") **

Ashley Monroe: The Blade (Warner Bros.) Maturing either at last or all too quickly, she devises many well-worked midtempo metaphors exploring love's pain ("The Blade," "Dixie") **

Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material (Mercury) Nice girl makes nicer—uh-oh ("Family Is Family," "Late to the Party") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter and read the archives of his criticism on his website