Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Helen Humes

  • The Talk of the Town [Columbia, 1975] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Talk of the Town [Columbia, 1975]
Humes's skill is manifest, but her aesthetic assumptions don't connect for me. The Afro-American forms from which rock and roll derived acknowledged their class (not race) origins, either directly (the plainspokenness of r&b) or by outright avoidance (doowop's go-for-broke-fantasy). White kids may have identified with ghetto blacks out of the most abject simplemindedness, but they got candor (r&b) or spiritual intensity (doowop) in the bargain. The adult nightclubbers for whom a jazz-blues stylist like Humes performed, on the other hand, related to the subtle twists of emotion implied by her intricate vocal inventions only because such intricacy takes for granted the protective veneer of culture, which is sophistication's bottom line. The hidden message of Humes's music is a ruling-class myth: that the most horrible suffering (catch the lyric of "Good for Nothin' Joe") is of manageable consequence. She denies the out-of-control. And I miss it. B+