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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: April, 2020

Two proud country women, two grrls getting started, two songsters hanging in there, a flood of spiritual wisdom from a saxophone saint, and a wittier brand of wisdom from one of COVID-19's fallen

Sparked by an Xgau Sez question, I've spent many hours of 2020 exploring my slightly expanded Coltrane collection. So this spiritually fraught moment seemed the right time to go public: four full reviews plus an Honorable Mention that skip his Atlantic output altogether, where I recommend My Favorite Things and Giant Steps while noting that the alternate takes have a diluting effect easily avoided by playlisting or programming buttons. I'll also note that while I'm usually a stickler about alphabetization, I ordered the Coltranes for rough chronological continuity.

Thomas Anderson: Analog Summer (Out There) The story songs stroll along at their usual calm pace, with the album's most telling words uttered over the phone by a mealy-mouthed young promoter explaining why Anderson needs a gig he won't even get gas money for ("Great Exposure," "Sundays for Strippers," "Doris Mae") *

Brandy Clark: Your Life Is a Record (Warner) Assuming you prefer your popular music with bite or at least cred, you've probably figured out that unhappy love songs come more naturally than happy ones. But few work so many changes on the warmth and regret that infuse saner breakups as this connoisseur of the Nashville hook: "I'll be your sad song/Your what we almost had song," "I'm sorry I'm not who I was when I met you," "All I know is I loved you/So fuck the rest." That doesn't mean she's never mean, as she proves from "Long Walk" to "Bad Car" (though even that one is bittersweet). But when she wants to expand on "the rich get richer, the rest get a little more broke," what instrument better than the irreducibly sardonic drawl of Randy Newman to underline the difference between the Titanic and Noah's ark. A MINUS

John Coltrane: The Best of John Coltrane (Prestige) Designate a misnomer so as not to to say lie the title of what now seems to be a rare item, which is not, unfortunately, The Very Best of John Coltrane, though it does seem to be the first disc of Prestige Profiles: John Coltrane. Coltrane worked with both Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk before forming his classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones, both of whom tower over such sidemen as leader-pianists Red Garland and Mal Waldron on the dolled-up blowing sessions cherry-picked here. These 1957 and 1958 recordings are money dates, the material mostly standards although one called "Slowtrane" closes the collection out. But that turns out to be the charm. This period was just when a detoxed 'Trane was mastering the sheets-of-sound sound that would revolutionize jazz, and while he's willing to fit in, his solos just naturally immolate the stalwart thoughts of such hornmen as Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams, and the excellent Idrees Sulieman. It's relaxed, expert, even engaging postbop jazz blown away by the winds of change for a thrilling minute on every track. It's a giant striding among mortal men. It's stimulating background music forced to admit that there's more to entertainment than this. A MINUS

John Coltrane: Ken Burns Jazz (Verve) If a best-of is really all you want, this will suffice even though it lacks "Giant Steps," but I say Coltrane is better absorbed period by period and breakthrough by breakthrough ("Alabama," "Afro Blue") ***

John Coltrane: The Africa Brass Sessions, Vol. 2 (Impulse!) Nothing wrong with 1961's Africa/Brass itself, and--near as I can tell without owning either--Impulse!'s 1995 and 2006 Complete Africa/Brass Sessions both combine the 1961 original with this 1974 vault dig, which I raved about at the time even though the inundation of outtake albums that followed the 40-year-old's 1967 cancer death was what taught me to cast a cold eye on all posthumous product. But instead, this January I bought Not Now's 2012 Africa/Brass, which combines the 1961 Africa/Brass with the less than memorable 1961 Coltrane Jazz, a mistake that inspired me to find out whether I'd been right 35 years ago. And how about that, I had, because the dollops of massed horns that give the album its name contrast far more dynamically against the forward-looking "Song of the Underground Railroad" than the original album's generic "Blues Minor." And while I admit that Elvin Jones is more spectacular on the 1961 "Greensleeves," the world is a better place with two of 'em. A

John Coltrane: "Live" at the Village Vanguard (Hallmark) The relaxed quietude of side one is lovely enough--'Trane applying both soprano and tenor sax to the Eric Dolphy-aided 14-minute original "Spiritual" before caressing a six-and-a-half-minute Hammerstein-Romberg "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise" on soprano solely. But this endlessly rereleased album is sacred for one reason: a second side consisting entirely of the 16-minute "Chasin' the Trane," 'Trane wailing and whaling on tenor as Jones furiously drives and depth-bombs and bassist Jimmy Garrison tirelessly anchors and intensifies (and Dolphy is said to interpose brief alto commentary, though I've given up on figuring out where). I still remember the first time I heard it: April 1963 in Michael Levin's dorm room, which was also the second time and probably the third, because neither of us could get enough of how it both evoked and rendered unto history a theretofore unknown species of chaotic command I'd first encountered shouting and cheering for a Coltrane-Dolphy encore at the Village Gate in I believe 1961. "Chasin' the Trane" is as important a recording as "She Loves You" or "West End Blues." So buy the album, put track three on repeat until you've had your fill, and then learn how the calmer stuff fits in. A

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (Impulse!) This four-track, 33-minute January 1965 release is without question Coltrane's most beloved album. Only certified gold in 2001, it never cracked the Billboard 200 as it cemented 'Trane's divine status in Japan, was adored by American hippies from the Byrds and Carlos Santana on down, and served as theme music to Lester Bangs's wake at CBGB. The through-composed product of two weeks of solitary brainstorming at the Long Island home Coltrane had established with his new wife Alice, it's meditative rather than freewheeling, with each member of his classic quartet instructed to embark on his own harmonically mapped excursion and the title set to a chanted four-note melody you could hum in your sleep. I'm on my fourth consecutive play with no signs of tune fatigue as I write, plus my wife loves it. All true, all remarkable. But how much you value it, I expect, depends on how much faith you place in your own spirituality. Having finally freed my changer to move on to My Favorite Things, which I've loved since I bought it in 1960, I wonder how soon I'll play it again and regret to say that that may well depend on who dies when. And having purchased the Deluxe Edition CD to augment my vinyl, I say go for the single. A MINUS

The Exbats: Kicks, Hits, and Fits (Burger) Daughter-father trio roll out 10 more brief punk ditties, not all fast-hard-(or-unfortunately)-catchy but some sweet and even meaningful to compensate ("I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts," "Florida") ***

Grrrl Gang: Here to Stay! (Damnably) Although they sing solely in English, these three college kids are from Yogyakarta, a city of half a million that's the capital of a monarchist subdivision of Indonesia. Breaking down two female and one male, they're more Vaselines than Bikini Kill musically, and though they date back to 2016, this compilation EP collects only eight songs, with the opening "Dreamgrrrl (Single Version)" transformed into the closing "Dreamgrrrl (Album Version)" solely by punchier production. None of which renders them an iota less charming or militant, a synthesis achieved most confoundingly on a seven-line ditty that begins "My baby is taking a shit/In the bathroom." On "Thrills," lead singer Angeeta Setana calls her one-night fuck "Daddy" as he wraps his hands around her neck, and in "Guys Don't Read Sylvia Plath" she declares and then repeats that she "wasn't born to be a mother" or "a wife." I believe her both times. On his "Night Terrors" feature, bassist-manager Akbar Rumandung wishes his shrink would do more for his night fears than feed him pills. I believe him too. A MINUS

Kirby Heard: Mama's Biscuits (CD Baby) Plain. Really plain. Plain even by the standards of her folk-Americana niche. So plain that if the "Butter churnin' and a wood fire up the flue" of "Montgomery County" doesn't convince you, "Slingshot" with its squirrel for dinner will. Did me, anyway--I felt sure this was the musical autobiography of the back cover's aggressively plain middle-aged Carolina woman with thick brown hair and a toothy smile. Only then I delved around for some bio and found a LinkedIn pitch for a Greensboro "customer service agent," a photo where a sleeveless top reveals many tattoos, and a spare webpage averring that Heard migrated "from a big city in the Midwest to a sleepy southern town, and the love of her life." Hmm. No wonder "Caroline" begins "My home was in the Midwest flatlands." And that cliched "Who do I see in my mirror/Is she the same as me"? A real question that undermines the simplicity the sure melodies evoke and exploit. As do "Get (The Hell) Off My Farm," where she spies on the intruder via "infrared," and "You Don't Have to Know Jesus," where an unbeliever claims the right to write gospel songs. A MINUS

Grant Peeples: Bad Wife (Rootball) With nary a pronoun switch, male artist sings 11 first-person songs by women of small renown, the first half dozen a steely bunch who've obviously known too many men for too damn long ("Unsustainable," "Bad Wife," "3:52 a.m.") ***

Pharoah Sanders: The Impulse Story (Impulse!) The tenor legend had a huge sound and Leon Thomas, but I gotta say it: "The Creator Had a Master Plan" would have been more mythic at half its 32:45 ("Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt," "Spiritual Blessing") ***

Adam Schlesinger: The End of the Movie (Carl Wilson Spotify playlist) While proving that Schlesinger was much more than Fountains of Wayne, this also suggests that he was at his most complex and humane when writing with and for Chris Collingwood, whose tender and sometimes even caring voice softens FOW's fondly sarcastic satires of post-yuppie financialization victims after the S&L scam sank what was left of their boat. Nonetheless, Wilson's overview is such a conceptual knockout that it's more than fine that 15 of these 23 unfailingly catchy and well-turned tracks are non-FOW. All contextualize and all belong, including six of the comedy songs Schlesinger churned out for the long-running sitcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: try "Gettin' Bi" ("I'm a bi kind of guy there's no reason to be shy"), "Let's Generalize About Men" ("There are no exceptions all three billion men are like this"), or the nonstop "First Penis I Saw" (from "It really made me drop my jaw" to "I was so eager I couldn't hide my keenness/Everything about it seemed quite ingenious/I couldn't find a single flaw"). Meanwhile, the FOW opener "All Kinds of Time" hurts like you never dreamed it would, and on a title closer from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that Schlesinger sings himself, the big picture comes all too clear: "If you saw a movie that was like real life/You'd be like 'What the hell was that movie about?/It was really all over the place.'/Life doesn't make narrative sense/[brief pause] Nuh-uh." A MINUS

And It Don't Stop, Apr. 8, 2020

Mar. 11, 2020 May 11, 2020