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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, 2022

From Nova Scotia, a proud alum of Altered State University; from Montreal, guitar & sour fiddle; from Nashville, a concept album with its pants down; and from the road, the return of the Storyteller.

Buck 65: King of Drums (Handsmade) The Nova Scotian rapper born Richard Terfry is so Canadian he's had a gig as a CBC host since 2008, and although I reviewed some dozen of his long-players between 2001 and 2014, he then went on musical hiatus. So I was pleased to discover that this 21-song comeback had surfaced in June and even more pleased to soon conclude that it was his best album ever. The secret is the drums he's not actually king of, with a tipoff that arrives just three seconds in, when it becomes clear that the lead track is ignited by a James Brown homage. Although he was always beatwise enough, at 50 Terfry has done enough listening and thinking to grok how deeply percussive yet seductively sinuous the most compelling hip-hop grooves are. But he remains a word guy, and as a proud alumnus of Altered State University still loves unlikely rhymes: boondocks-boombox, crumb cake-drum breaks, SlimFast-gym class, humongous-homonculus, novelist-obelisk, Ukrainian-cranium, intensely-Zelenskyy. And when it comes to "friggin' them and fraggin' them," note that track two is built around a quick and easy recipe for a Molotov cocktail. A

Armani Caesar: The Liz 2 (Griselda) "Give his lawyer a hundred cash to get his case dropped," "beat your ass like a runaway slave," "the pussy smell good but I fuck 'em like a skank ho," and other women's-lib signifiers Buffalo-style ("Diana," "Meth & Mary") ***

Coco & Clair Clair: Sexy (self-released) You think they're cute but in fact they're nasty, yet another reason you'll never get closer than this record to their admittedly enticing erogenous zones ("Cherub," "Bad Lil Vibe," "TBTF") **

Nicholas Craven, Boldy James: Fair Exchange No Robbery (Nicholas Craven Productions) With rapper James the Zane Grey and beatmaster Craven the Cormac McCarthy, the pair apotheosize modern hip-hop's tendency to purvey crack tales as authentic and formally on point as Western novels were a century ago ("Scrabble," "O Tre Nine") ***

Dr. John: Things Happen That Way (Rounder) Recorded not long before he died at 77 in 2019, this sounds to me like the most committed album hard-hustling New Orleans piano maestro Mac Rebennack recorded in his last two decades on earth, so figure that he knew he was running out of time and elected to go for it. From "Funny How Time Slips Away" to "Guess Things Happen That Way" there's an elegiac fatalism to these selections younguns may not have it in them to get even when he folds in "Gimme That Old Time Religion," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line": "Well it's all right, even if you're old and gray/It's all right, you still got something to say." A MINUS

Stella Donnelly: Flood (Secretly Canadian) Beware of the Dogs was what it said it was: the sweet-voiced, sharp-tongued rundown on a kennel's worth of pricks and creeps so catchy it could have fueled a songwriting seminar. Here Donnelly is sparer and vaguer, giving off the never fully defined feeling that she tried to make a go of it with a guy or two who in crucial respects passed muster--or so it seemed, until, for instance: "Levelheadedness has made for a disastrous love/I know it, you know it." Watching a movie next to a chain smoker, as she puts it, she lowers her expectations like she's dressing up for New Year's Eve. She doesn't let on when he pinches her hard underwater while kissing her sweet up top, and sometimes she feels better against her better judgment even so. But if love is what this is, it doesn't soothe her or move her, and the quiet melancholy of these songs conveys that throughout. A MINUS

Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork (4AD) I prefer Florence Shaw whimsical because from "Anna Calls From the Arctic" to "Icebergs" her poetry with art-funk lacks both all conviction and passionate intensity--but not intelligence, anything but that ("Gary Ashby," "Kwenchy Kups") ***

Girls With Guitars Gonna Shake! (Ace) '60s chicks and their offspring rock out to the best of their ability, mostly--and most effectively--on cover versions that were just waiting to happen (the Belles, "Melvin"; Joyce Harris & the Daylighters, "I Got My Mojo Working") *

Mama's Broke: Narrow Line (Free Dirt) Steeped in folk balladry, stark yet also sprightly but seldom if ever pretty, this strictly acoustic Montreal-based Nova Scotian duo double only on banjo, with Amy Lou Keeler the guitarist as well as the declarative lead singer and Lisa Maria adding fiddle, mandolin, cello once, and extra salt. So we get "Do right man but not right now/Say that you love me but you don't know how" over plucked banjo and sour fiddle. And "But you wrote the same old story in another woman's bed/Just like all other men" only then "'Cause even when it was bad you were the best I ever had." And "But you found your joy you're God's little boy/And all those girls with their words are gonna be sorry" over faint guitar chords and painfully spare banjo. And "All the men dying with more than they can spend" followed by a just barely strummed "We can't hold it all/Our hands are just too small." Strong stuff delicately and even intricately rendered throughout. A MINUS

Ashley McBryde: Lindeville (Warner Music Nashville) McBryde is less featured artist than ringleader on this concept album with its pants down. Simultaneously hilarious and sad as shit, it's the made-up songs of a simple Southern town where nobody's fucking who they're supposed to and everybody but the groundskeeper who lost his thumb in Vietnam and his wife to cancer has a drug of choice, with Bud Lite and vodka-and-Sprite barely qualifying. In the opener, Brenda had better put her bra on or she'll miss seeing Marvin next door boning the babysitter, and with a few commercial breaks it's pretty much downhill from there. McBryde takes the lead a few times, but so do Caylee Hammack, Pillbox Patti, Aaron Raitiere, Benjy Davis, and to name folks previously known to me Brandy Clark and the Brothers Osborne. Inspirational Verse I: "My stepkids hate me." Inspirational Verse II: "Jesus loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers/Would you recognize him if he bought you a beer?" A

New York City Blues (Ace) Since unlike Memphis, Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, in its Latin-tinged way New Orleans, and for that matter Detroit, my hometown never had a blues scene, this compilation seemed a stretch conceptually on its title alone. But as you'd expect from the co-author of New York City Blues: Postwar Portraits From Harlem to the Village, compiler Larry Simon has an argument to make, and as you could only hope he also has the recordings to back it up. Right--crucial stylistic variations on the blues arose in the Delta, eastern Texas, the Carolinas. But given its sheer size and a sophisticated African-American community well-stocked with jazz adepts and Southern emigres, the home of the most vital pop music industry in the world was equipped to absorb all those variations and more. Fitting right into Simon's concept are budding r&b stars Lonnie Johson, Joe Turner, and Ruth Brown, visiting titans Muddy Waters, Blind Boy Fuller, and Victoria Spivey, Corona Queens fixture Reverend Gary Davis, a bustling folk scene, and the largest complement of hip bizzers in the nation. The grabber that opens, by a 65-year-old named Larry Dale about whom I know naught else, is followed by a version of the Fuller classic "Step It Up and Go" Fuller himself recorded a year before he died in 1940. They mesh perfectly. A comp that makes its case--and closes with both sides of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk." A MINUS

Todd Snider: Live: Return of the Storyteller (Thirty Tigers/Aimless) This is Snider's fourth live album, and except for 2013's perfectly OK here-and-gone Record Store Day special Happy New Year Vol. 1 they're all both superb and different. Up till now, I've favored 2011's Live: The Storyteller--can't get enough of the one where Todd takes the mike by default when the bandleader is knocked cold by a drunk woman on a swing. Two of these selections are on that one too, but I don't mind hearing them again and neither will you. And not one of the eight new stories has gotten old on me after some dozen plays. True, you can just stream it and put it in your memory bank. But Snider hopes to lure you into buying the physical, so he and his faithful correspondent Diana Hendricks provide 17 booklet pages of impressionistic liner notes worth having in your actual library. A very modest sample: "touring is a slippery trick/there's only one way to do it/exhausted"; "science reports that in cognitive ratio equivalency testing,/by all accounts, eight hours of bus sleep is the same as no sleep at all"; "i didn't play any of the songs i planned to/i played green castle blues/and the rest a the set played itself//what i get to do is just a total privilege." A

They Might Be Giants: Book (Idlewild) I was pleased to learn that the superfacile duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell had regrouped and not especially surprised to determine that they were as catchy now as they were as young wiseasses 25 years ago. What did surprise me when I went poking around for lyrics was that this was their sixth album since I gave 2013's Nanobots a B plus--and that they hadn't crossed my mind since. But I read along indefatigably till I got to track 11 of 15, when "Part of You Wants to Believe Me" inspired me to jot down the phrase "suspension of disbelief," an aesthetic ploy I realized isn't an issue with these guys because they make sure belief is out of the question. And damn it, I miss it--miss being able to pretend that the relationship blips and socio-existential anxieties addressed in their songs, like the relationship blips and socio-existential anxieties addressed in other people's songs, have a biographical correlative I can care about. But no--whether they address 20-car collisions and container ships crawling with snakes in the sand or abandonment by every friend and needing you the most, their hooky concoctions remain formal exercises by definition, a dubious achievement that renders them a quintessential cult band for better but also worse. B PLUS

Billy Woods: Church (Backwoodz Studios) You gotta admire this guy. His groaned raps crackpot yet deeply informed, his electrosymph beats textural by default while falling short of arresting or hypnotic, he steeps his rhymes in the lore of the church in the jungle his grandfather built and via his Marxist dad takes armed revolt more seriously than Immortal Technique and Dead Prez combined. "The shit I wrote can't do it on a phone," he brags amid references to "Ceaucescu's chess moves," "an Amharic Bible she found on 113th," a stabbing at Shakespeare in the Park, and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. "Win or lose the Maoists is still glum," he reports. Which may be because "When the revolution was over they gave 'em half of what they promised." B PLUS

And It Don't Stop, November 9, 2022

October 12, 2022 December 14, 2022