Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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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: November, 2020

Voices of compassion and complexity from Philly, Brooklyn and Nashville. Plus a proudly biracial genius who invented his own jazz language, and Thelonious Monk flexing his muscles in a high school gym

Black Thought: Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Able (Republic) Cameo power is the main thing the major label imposes on Tariq Trotter's third excellent mixtape inside of two years, and from Stokely Carmichael on the beaten down "State Prisoner" to matched Pusha T and Killer Mike on the exultant "Good Morning" to Dave Chappelle on the historical "Steak Um," they deliver. But not only are the most winning tracks here personal, subject-wise you could call them predictable: the success story "Nature of the Beast" and the marriage-counseled "We Could Be Good (United)." Subject-wise you'd be right, too. Compassion- and complexity-wise, no. A MINUS

Will Butler: Generations (Merge) If you think the committed, dismayed songs of a white male liberal who's earned bona fides in both music and public policy are banal by definition, fine--I feel the same about, for instance, Norwegian protofascists imbuing the dark arts with musical form. But the fact is that sans Arcade Fire, Butler enlivens his post-liberal alt-rock with an array of soaring melodies and hooky falsetto choruses both impressive and compelling: "You can hide it away, hide it away, for so long" and "Tired of waiting for a better day" and "I'm getting outta here" but also "These are hard times, hard times/These are hard times, hard times/But I don't care I don't care I don't care/If I can spend them with you." The next-to-last song predicts that rather than die in a conflagration, he'll check out in a hospital surrounded by strangers who claim they're his children. The finale contemplates a George Washington remembered as both a slaveholder and a father of his country who nearly froze to death "dyin' to be free." Shit's complicated. A MINUS

Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus (Agent Love/Thirty Tigers '16) In and around 2010's Welder, which finally got this 37-year-old Nashville pro some national cred, her marriage ended, her mother died, her father died, a brother died, her former mother- and father-in-law died, and her family farm went thataway. So why shouldn't this 2016 album be a substance abuse album? Begins with a title track in which sex is a drug and a damn good one: "Let's part the waters, let's walk the seas/Let's laugh in the face of modern disease" (and "Fall to pieces on some other day"). It closes by honoring a murdered Nashville 12-year-old who's already a cold case even though "five sex offenders live on this street." In between it's mostly drugs and entirely vivid and sardonic. I recommend every song but find myself recalling the on-the-road diptych "Broke Down in London on the M25": "I can drink myself dry/Long as I can stay alive." And then there's "Methadone Blues": "Look at those fools, it's like a welfare line/Good thing being a junkie ain't no crime/Now don't get them and me confused/Methadone, methadone, methadone blues." A

Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath (Agent Love/Thirty Tigers) Having exhausted celebrity rehab last album out, Cook homes in on her home subject: women in the less pious precincts of the sub-middle class South, many of whom frequent the country music buckets of blood her daddy played as well as working that farm. Their belle ideal inspires the classic-in-waiting "Thick Georgia Woman," with her "hair that reaches for the sky" in the humid air without distracting from that "basket of peaches under her clothes." And closing it all out is the John Prine tribute "Mary, the Submissing Years," in which a 12-year-old Jesus disappears one Sunday after church, leaving his mom to relocate to Chattanooga, watch Steel Magnolias, drink rosé, take a few classes, and go on Instagram until she chops off her hair so as to pose as a man and save him from the fraternity hazing--"the worst kind"--she knows he has in store. A MINUS

Slim Gaillard: Groove Juice: The Norman Granz Recordings (Verve '18) A proudly biracial genius who died at 80 in 1991, Gaillard spent portions of his boyhood on the cruise ships where his German-Jewish father worked as a steward. By the late '30s the silly classics "Flat Foot Floogie" and "Cement Mixer (Putti-Putti)" had established novelty-artist bona fides every bit as as august as those of his heirs Louis Jordan and Spike Jones. Personifying the lost hipster compliment "wiggy," Gaillard fooled with animal sounds and foreign lingo, savored new jargon and here-and-gone trends, and never stopped swinging. Jazz was his milieu, and vocally and instrumentally he had the chops for it. But while nobody needs his "St. Louis Blues" or "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," two of many extras on this double-CD, we can all use an occasional shot of "Laughing in Rhythm," "Chicken Rhythm," "Serenade to a Poodle," "Potato Chips," and "Mishugana Mambo," which are here as well but also featured on 1994's still buyable one-disc Laughing in Rhythm. So while grateful to own "When Banana Skins Are Falling (I'll Come Sliding Back To You)," for instance, I advise that you buy this one only if you already just love the guy or have no other options. Gaillard was a great American, both original and major. B PLUS

Slim Gaillard: Searching for You: The Lost Singles of McVouty 1958-1974 (Sunset Blvd '16) Having cut the misleadingly titled twist "Frank Rhoads Round" after he turned 50, Gaillard also rerecorded the two career-cementing '30s novelties that made his Verve years possible ("Flat Foot Floogie," "Cement Mixer Putti-Putti") *

Low Cut Connie: Private Lives (Contender) With Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins long passed, Roy Bittan and Benmont Tench outclassed, his hero Jerry Lee in seclusion, and his fan Elton in limbo, Low Cut Connie frontman Adam Weiner stands as the most fluent as well as the most rocking piano man in the music. Plus he's a commanding singer and a wisecracking showman known to tickle the ivories with his feet. So people brought their friends to see his practiced, unpredictable, welcoming act, the friends brought their friends, and Low Cut Connie became a club-circuit powerhouse, with records a mere merch stream economically. But Weiner has always been too brainy, empathetic, and artistically ambitious to leave it there, and now he not only wants to make good records, he wants to make good records that add political context to the party vibe his shows will return to yet again. So it's no surprise that this meaty, purposeful, 17-song hour is so far from the waggish 2011 debut job epitomized by the dating advisory "Shit, Shower and Shave": evolved, virtuosic garage-rock with an evangelical edge--if you'll pardon an esoteric historical analogy, more Iron City Houserockers than Rubber City Rebels. Too often Weiner overdoes the vocals, and a bare half of the songs are sure shots. But from the nanny who moonlights weed sales on the side to an Atlantic City song that begins "Tough shit for the little guy living like a chump with his back to the wall" to a loving closer called "Stay as Long as You Like," enough of them most definitely are. A MINUS

Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto (Impulse) No Coltrane-at-Carnegie coup but with plenty more to offer than, for instance, 2017's Les Liaisons Dangereuses "soundtrack," this 37-minute Sunday-afternoon high school gig squeezed into a three-week 1968 San Francisco club run is one of the Great One's more distinct live albums, not least because it showcases his late-life band, which by spurring tenor henchman Charlie Rouse with lithe bassist Larry Gales and deft drummer Ben Riley was also his sprightliest. The sound is so crisp it's hard to believe it was recorded on a janitor's tape machine (a treasured Webcor, I bet), capturing not just how muscular his touch is on "Ruby My Dear" and how scalar his comping is on "Blue Monk" but how enthusiastically he grunts his enjoyment of Gales's bowed solo. Rouse's brisk, angular "Blue Monk" solo doesn't top 'Trane's at Carnegie but cuts his own Paris and Newport efforts. And while Ethel Waters's "Don't Blame Me" has never been my favorite Monk standard, a nostalgic yet discordant minute-plus of Rudy Vallee's "I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams" is an aptly cockeyed way to bid the kids goodbye. A MINUS

Margo Price: That's How Rumors Get Started (Loma Vista) They told her she could be a star, and she really, really tried ("That's How Rumors Get Started," "Twinkle Twinkle") **

Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree: Names of North End Women (Mute) Melodies peep through obscurely tender songs inspired by street names in a bohemian patch of Winnipeg and shot through with marimba and its synthy city cousins ("Humps [Espriu Mix]," "Names of North End Women") ***

Rodney Rice: Same Shirt, Different Day (Moody Spring Music) Autobiographical singer-songwriting for a class-conscious age ("Ain't Got a Dollar," "Pillage and Plunder," "Middle Managed Blues") **

Sad13: Slugger (Carpark '16) Four years late, I learned that Speedy Ortiz headwoman Sadie Dupuis also helms what's oft slotted a pop project. This 2016 debut had the misfortune of coming out three days after Trump's first and we hope only coup, but that's no excuse for missing a feminist coup: 11 first-rate songs that combine noise and tune and cut sharp wit with deft indirection. Standouts include "Get a Yes" on the erotics of consensual sex, "Just a Friend" on a guy she talks to when stressed, "Tell U What" on the "chump wages" of being some abusive bigshot's assistant, and a finale propelled over the top by a 16 from Samuus, a rapper I never heard of. A MINUS

Sad13: Haunted Painting (Carpark) Confused as to what exactly distinguishes Sad13 from Speedy Ortiz, I propose that Sadie Dupuis stick with the Ortiz moniker because it's catchier while touring with whoever and whatever makes sense to her when that's finally possible again. I also propose that the band be sure to serve the musical needs of this hookfest, where almost every song is set on "chasing the ghost of a good time" no matter what it's "about." The mood is whoops-I-turned-30 anxiety from climate change to "first time someone I slept with passed." But as with Pavement, a forebear guitars or no guitars, what it's about is ultimately itself. A MINUS

Harry Shearer: The Many Moods of Donald Trump (Twanky) Impression thin, arrangements thick, historical detail encyclopedic ("Covid 180," "I Never Knew Him," "Very Stable Genius") ***

And It Don't Stop, Nov. 11, 2020

Oct. 14, 2020 Dec. 9, 2020