Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Holy Modal Rounders

  • Good Taste Is Timeless [Metromedia, 1971] B+
  • Alleged in Their Own Time [Rounder, 1975] B
  • Last Round [Adelphi, 1979] B+
  • Too Much Fun [Rounder, 1999] A
  • 1 & 2 [Fantasy, 1999] A
  • Bird Song: Live 1971 [Water, 2004] *

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Good Taste Is Timeless [Metromedia, 1971]
A sextet who put the communal principle into practice--five of them sing lead, four write. They celebrate meat ("Pork liver, lambies tongues, vienna sausage"), boobs ("They're big they're round they're all around"), and a bunch of farmers who danced till dawn one night in the spring of '65. They're not crazy about horoscopes, "cute antics," or city wimmin who live with dogs. Except for the timeless reel of "Spring of '65," their great moments are fast and relatively loud, probably because projecting soft and sweet isn't something any old communard can do. But their collective spirit is touched with poetry nonetheless. B+

Alleged in Their Own Time [Rounder, 1975]
I love the Rounders chronicle and the theory of Western civ and the pornographic reminiscence but I wish there were times and credits in the liner notes too because I don't feel like putting a watch on what I estimate as fifty-plus minutes of random canon and also because I wonder whether Steve Weber and maybe Luke Faust and Robin Remailly are putting out and in addition I prefer Dave Van Ronk's "Random Canyon" to Peter Stampfel's and would just as soon Peter recut "Nova" and "Synergy" as well but he probably designed the album to sound like a field recording which I'm sure is just what the Folks-with-a-capital-F at the Rounder collective wanted since this isn't traditional enough for them and maybe it's also too traditional for me but I doubt it. B

Last Round [Adelphi, 1979]
In which Peter Stampfel and friends--including veteran Rounders Steve Weber and Robin Remailly, many Clamtones, and Antonia, composer of "That Belly I Idolize" and "God, What Am I Doing Here" (with "Fucking Sailors in Chinatown" yet to come)--prove that the counterculture still exists. Strange drug experiences are detailed, ooze is embraced, girls without underwear consume hoagies and juice. In short, Head Comix live. B+

Too Much Fun [Rounder, 1999]
Peter Stampfel is the intense seeker, Steve Weber the mellow layabout. Where Stampfel is all comic focus, whether comic ha-ha or comic-as-opposed-to-tragic, Weber is someone who can just not give a fuck while remaining both charming and musical. Their magic isn't eternal youth--they're as much old codgers as John Hurt and Clarence Ashley in 1963. It's their argument that play is the fundamental life-principle. Among the exhibits: the Henry Clay Work emancipation hullabaloo "Kingdom Coming" rewritten to lay more insults on the massa, the scatted dog-yip solo and verse about Simulac-boosting junkie moms that bedecks the psychedeliprop "Euphoria," a sea chantey that climaxes "Don't you rock me daddy-o," a celebration of Buddha's fondness for caffeine and twisted '50s chord progressions, and a girl-group obscurity in which a sweetly love-struck teenager goes gaga over a "Bad Boy": "He'll sell your heart on St. Mark's Place/In glassine envelopes/He'll cut it with a pig's heart/And burn the chumps and dopes." A

1 & 2 [Fantasy, 1999]
An Xgau Sez question alerted me to my failure to review Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber's amply annotated, still-available 29-track double-CD, which resurrects without quite replicating the 1964 and 1965 LPs they put out on Prestige in their mid-twenties. How could that be, I wondered, and indeed, in the reissues portion of the 1999 Dean's List found I'd placed it fifth behind Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, A Tribe Called Quest, and Hound Dog Taylor best-ofs and ahead of five others I'd also reviewed. I'd rank it ahead of Taylor and Tribe now, and leave Crosby second out of respect more than use value. Illimitable fiddler Stampfel is in full cartoon voice on these 29 mostly traditional, mostly wacko songs, while doomed speed freak and ace guitarist Weber applies his high-baritone coulda-been-a-croon to such ploys as converting "Mr. Bass Man" into "Mr. Spaceman" and pretending the all too prophetic "Junko Partner" is a bagatelle. Freak folk started here. Would it were still thriving, though Stampfel's young potna Jeffrey Lewis does do his part. A

Bird Song: Live 1971 [Water, 2004]
Different songs, good drummer ("Boobs a Lot/Willie & the Hand Jive," "Smokey Joe's Cafe"). *

See Also