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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: May, 2022

Sexual autonomy & mortality in a country style, almost abstract polygrooves in a South African style, and indie-femme pop sopranos. Plus: soul heroines, leftist shitfits, & more.

Mary J. Blige: Good Morning Gorgeous (Mary Jane Productions/300) As I figure it, Mary's studio albums run about 50-50. So it's no surprise that when this one sounded good enough to inspire a compare-and-contrast with 2017's weak Strength of a Woman I very nearly bogged down in analogies that weren't there. Absolutely this very good album is superior while the other isn't very good at all. But it's an unmitigated must-buy only for fond reminiscers who've outgrown their completist tendencies. That said, highlights do include the 50-year-old checking herself out in the mirror in the title track (although not in any of the six gorgeous booklet photos) and a collab with dat dumbass DJ Khaled that clocks in at a powerful 2:39 (three-minute pop lives!). A MINUS

Kady Diarra: Burkina Hakili (Lamastrock) A Burkina Faso native based in France and particularly Lyon for most of her adult life, Diarra submits her mission statement as yet another warming, rousing voice from an Africa where female singers become all too rare once the Muslim desert has morphed into the animist rain forest. Her French guitarist, Thierry Servien, leads with an irresistibly lyrical hook that's quickly augmented by multi-instrumentalist Mabouro "Smifa" Diarra (Kady's husband? nephew?), whose balafon generates throughout the album a synthlike resonance that could be electronic but never sounds "unnatural." Burkina Faso was led briefly in the '80s by visionary pan-Africanist Thomas Sankara, who was assassinated when Diarra was in her teens. By then she wasn't yet a singer by trade--she was a dancer who by the early '90s had earned a starring role in an African ballet troupe. Good for her if that troupe was half as engaging and universal as this album. But frankly, I doubt it. A MINUS

Bobby Digital vs. RZA: Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater (MNRK Music Group) "Premonition, we need divine intervention" ("Fate of the World," "Fisherman") *

DJ Maphorisa X Kabza de Small: Scorpion Kings (BlaqBoy '19) Maphorisa is a big-deal DJ in a South African dance genre called amapiano, de Small more renowned as a producer. As with most dance genres, I know nothing about amapiano, which I gather is associated with deep house. What I do know when I hear it is a good beat--which in these variations dispenses with the r&b fours of mbaqanga for what presents itself as a consciously pan-African nod to a panoply of central African polygroove(s)--highlife, rumba, soukous, perhaps even "Afrobeats." The same pair's somewhat flightier and more divafied 2020 Once Upon a Time in Lockdown goes down too easy to suit me. This one, however, I couldn't put back on the shelf. It's all beats, so amelodic it's almost abstract at times. It provides little pitch or even texture--electronic though it presumably is, this percussion percusses so vividly you sometimes feel you can hear the drumstick that isn't there depressing the drumhead that isn't there either. The vocals are mostly chants if that, though they do vary, divided 50-50 genderwise with some kids in there too. The selling point of a record like this isn't hooks you hum. It's hooks that compel you to replay the album because you just have to hear them again. A

Miranda Lambert: Palomino (Vanner/RCA) I hope those who climbed on her fanbase circa 2005's "Kerosene" imagining that Miranda was the kind of gal who'd set a guy's house on fire have outgrown their touching belief in self-expression. If not, however, this 15-track exercise in Nashville bad girldom should do the trick. In utterly indelible songs of highly credible spunk, the TX-to-TN woman who spent post-lockdown telling the press how the domestic intimacy imposed by Covid firmed up her impulsive marriage to an NYC cop tells how one rootless heroine after another works variations on wanderlust and sexual autonomy and acting up and feeling strange and country money and rolling down the river and actual stabs at actual stability. True, these songs are naught more than skillful entertainments and proud of it. But let them be that and that alone and they're guaranteed to enlarge. A

The Linda Lindas: Growing Up (Epitaph) Eleven-and-over Hispanic-Asian girlpunk foursome get down to bizness: "We'll sing to people and show/What it means to be young and growing up" ("Racist, Sexist Boy," "Fine," "Nino") *

Taj Mahal & Ry Cooder: Get on Board (Nonesuch) Ry's more than Taj's tribute to Folkways-validated Piedmont bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, who the notes note were "not encoded, there was no secret race subtext to worry about" ("Hooray Hooray," "Deep Sea Diver") *

The Muslims: Fuck These Fuckin Fascists (Epitaph) These three queer punks of color from the not exactly downtrodden college burg of Durham, North Carolina, have been throwing leftwing shitfits since Trump was elected. So fuck political efficacy--there should be more such just to remind more practical-minded folks how extreme our crisis is. From "No one's illegal but white people" to "I don't give a fuck if you're straight you are still gay" to "John McCain's Ghost Sneaks Into the White House and Tea Bags the President," their first album on a real label is a tantrum start to finish. Don't you dare think they don't deserve it. B PLUS

Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time (Legacy) I keep up with Nelson's phenomenal if not always knockout album output better than most--this one, released April 29 to mark his 89th birthday, makes 45 solo albums reviewed plus 16 collabs. To the best of my recollection, his 2021 Sinatra tribute--the second one, That's Life it's called--seemed de trop. But from Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton's jaw-dropping "That one sharp conversation is still the reason why" defining the leadoff "I'll Love You Till the Day I Die," this one had my number. The five new Buddy Cannon collabs including "I Don't Go to Funerals" plus Shawn Camp's title number would have sufficed and then some. Only just when you think he's fulfilled his death-defying quota and then some come two covers it's hard to believe he's new to: Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song" implausibly topped by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and let us not forget Ringo Starr's "With a Little Help From My Friends." Both are transcendent, not to say death-defying. Can he top this come his 90th? Don't bet no. A

Dolly Parton: Run Rose Run (Butterfly) Miraculously undiminished vocally at 76, and she still writes her own too, but by now more inspirational as a public figure than an artist ("Driven," "Woman Up [And Take It Like a Man]") ***

Ann Peebles: Greatest Hits (Hi '15) Beyond the towering Aretha Franklin--plus Etta James and Mavis Staples and if you insist Diana Ross via their respective side doors--soul music was short on heroines. I mean, the outspoken Millie Jackson and after that who? Sure I could pull a few more out of my memory book, as maybe you could yours. But this lean, clean, tough, sweet, lucid St. Louis woman, married 48 years to Memphis native and Hi Records songwriting stalwart Don Bryant though a stroke ended her performing career in 2012, was and remains more memorable than that. Beyond the towering Al Green, she was the most distinctive singer ever to hook up with Hi Rhythm, regarded by many who should know as the equal of the Stax-Volt and Muscle Shoals bands and by more than one as the class of the field. "Part Time Love" was her 1970 breakout. Her 1972 "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" was covered by guess who on her Divine Miss M follow-up. "I Can't Stand the Rain" was her indelible 1973 classic. Too cool to be forgotten. A MINUS

Ann Peebles & the Hi Rhythm Section: Live in Memphis (Memphis International) It's 1992, she's 45, Howard Grimes lives, and she wants us to know that "Just because I say I feel like breakin' it up don't necessarily mean that I'm gonna go out there and do it" ("I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," "I Didn't Take Your Man") **

Oumou Sangaré: Timbuktu (World Circuit) The title honors the medieval West Saharan trading hub north of Malian capital Bamako and well north of the forested Wassoulou whence emerged the music of this African queen. But the most salient reason Oumou's latest continues a phenomenal run of superb albums that goes all the way back to 1991's Moussoulou is Parisian-Guadaloupean guitarist and dobro master Pascal Danaë, who adds fresh color, sharp commentary, and outspoken propulsion to the reliable ngoni of her immemorial helpmate Mamadou Sidibé. As one of Africa's longest-running feminists, she has the guts to address the social isolation of the pandemic period. Translated, "Degui N'Kelena" advises her sisters: "Learn to rely on yourself/Learn to live alone, because no one can tell you what tomorrow will bring." A MINUS

Wet Leg: Wet Leg (Domino) Not only am I taken with this Isle of Wight indie-femme duo like the rest of the world, I think it's perverse not to be. Less simple and crystalline than initial appearances suggest, their pop sopranos do occasionally swallow syllables, garble lyrics, ask what that means, and sneak in the occasional absurdity. Nor does the crack all-male backup three-piece that renders Wet Leg in point of fact a conventionally structured rock quintet let their precision get in the way of big noise or the occasional bracing distortion. And waiting in the wings is Rhian Teasdale's "longest and loudest scream," as well as occasional patches of convincing Inspirational Verse, such as: "I used to want to love you like you wanted me to/Now I wanna hate you like I tell you I do." A

And It Don't Stop, May 11, 2022

April 13, 2022 June 8, 2022