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: September, 2023

Lovequests, sobriety songs, combustible guitar effects, and the last will and testament of 91-year-old believer, mother, artist, over, sister, and grandmother.

Atmosphere: Sad Clown Bad Dub II (Rhymesayers) The II is to distinguish this (identical? revised? improved? dunno) version from the "bootleg" fans get to buy at shows, said to be a crucial element of the satisfaction it affords ("Body Pillow," "Hells Playground") *

Rodney Crowell: The Chicago Sessions (New West) Ten love songs so varied and intermittently challenged I was surprised to learn that having been married to Rosanne Cash between 1979 and 1992, this rocking but basically country singer-songwriter had been married to the less renowned Claudia Church since 1998, with the committed "Oh Miss Claudia" and the one-two punch of "Lucky" and "Somebody Loves You" not all there is to show for it. True, tracks seven and eight flatten out the way 10-track albums do, and Jeff Tweedy's production is no more inspired than you'd figure. But then comes "Making Lovers Out of Friends," which advises against this option, adding a great love song that is also anything but to what is already a consistently intelligent and decent exploration of the most universal theme of pop and country both. A MINUS

Dave and Central Cee: Split Decision (Neighbourhood) Far be it from me to taxonomize bewilderingly multicultural UK hip-hop beyond reporting that this four-song collab would seem a terse way to establish an alliance between cerebral Anglo-Nigerian David Oborosam, who followed the path of not merely hip-hop but music to rise above his distinguished yet troubled family history, and intelligent Irish-Guyanese Oakley Neil HT Caesar-Su, who's leaner and more autobiographical. There's plenty of gangsta in British rap--too much, I say. In their individual ways, these two guys avoid that trope, and are worth keeping an ear on. B PLUS

Gloss Up: Shades of Gloss (Quality Control) Sexy mama (and I mean both descriptives literally) raps like she enjoys her job (which term I also mean literally) ("Thicc," "She'n Me," "Miss My Dawg"). ***

Killer Mike: Michael (Loma Vista) Preach, trap escapee, preach ("Motherless," "Talk'n That Shit"). ***

Ashley McBryde: The Devil I Know (Warner Music Nashville) McBryde's multi-artist 2022 concept album Lindeville, which for sheer playability I prefer to Tommy itself, was such a collective triumph I briefly forgot how remarkable McBryde is on her own, for instance on this year's digital Cool Little Bars EP, where every one of the five self-penned songs, all of which are also included on this album, is why I do this for a living: assuaging broken hearts in the title establishments, assuaging broken hearts in return for Kentucky bourbon at a less cool watering hole, sticking with your bad choices, living with learning to lie, the many shades of your mama's advice, hanging in there when you're one big break away. Not all of the six extras that fill out this 11-track album are quite up to their standard, although the impossible love song "Single at the Same Time" and the impossible sobriety song "6th of October" have a depth to them matched on the EP only by "Learning to Lie." Of course McBryde can sing--with impressive clarity and deliberation at that. But it's what she's singing that keeps you paying attention--even on the light-hearted ones, which are definitely there. A

Janelle Monae: The Age of Pleasure (Wondaland Arts Society/Atlantic) Her breakthrough album five years behind her, "fine-as-fuck" cultural heroine bets her iconicity on her pan-sexuality and comes out on top of a crowded field that includes Megan the Stallion, SZA, and Amaarae, none of whom has ever even feinted toward the conscious gravitas she rode in on as an audacious 22-year-old circa 2008. Secret classic: "Water Slide," track 10, by which point most of us have stopped noticing lyrics, which here include "'Cause the water feels fine." Do not make this mistake. And no, it's not a sex song--except insofar as it is. A MINUS

Thelonious Monk: The Complete London Collection (Black Lion/Deutsche Austrophon '18) Three CDs that could be squeezed onto two recorded in November, 1971, then released to put a ribbon on a tour of Europe that would prove Monk's last anywhere, these 29 selections include 23 Monk classics and six pop standards. Master drummer Art Blakey, who knows Monk's book by heart, keeps things moving yet in place as unschooled bassist Al McKibbon follows along as best he can. What's striking about the originals is that they lack most of the dissonant smashes with which Monk often embellished his classics while deconstructing them. What's striking about the covers is that they're also taken relatively straight--honored, in fact, almost as if he loves them, which ten-to-one he does. Solidest of all is the Gershwins' "The Man I Love," which he renders so declarative it's like he's assuring his friend Billie that her dreamboat will be along right soon after all. A MINUS

Bobbie Nelson and Amanda Shires: Loving You (ATO) Sister Bobbie, who died at 91 in March, for decades a stalwart of Willie's band on piano and a font of music on his tour bus, picked all 10 songs on this tribute cum last will and testament, with the self-composed instrumental title track, which leads into a closer called "Over the Rainbow," conceived as its anchor--in part, organizer-fiddler-vocalist Shires says, because it encapsulated Bobbie as "a believer, a mother, an artist, a lover, a sister, a grandmother, and a friend." Those who think of Shires as a rocker, which she can be at will, may be surprised by the fluting delicacy with which she delivers such chestnuts you believed stuck in their shell as "Always on My Mind," "Summertime," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," and "La Paloma." Like the two Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga ventures, this is another way to hear such gems fresh. A

Noname: Sundial (self-released) Definitely over my head, quite possibly in over her own, the uncrowned queen of conscious rap delivers a soft-spoken, moralistic razzle-dazzle sadly unlikely to hasten the triumph of the baldly cited socialism or any other kind of equality--tempting though it is to dream otherwise ("Oblivion," "Toxic") ***

Olivia Rodrigo: Guts (Geffen) An aesthetic triumph that deepens its psychological complexity with diverting jokes by establishing that love comes even harder to 20-year-old pop phenoms than to less extraordinary humans, or do I just mean extraordinary females? Either way, only someone as gifted, famous, and likable as Rodrigo has much chance of launching lovequests as worthy of your attention as these. Seldom if ever have the romantic tribulations of a young superstarlet been laid out in such credible detail, their defining complication the extreme unlikelihood that she'll meet anyone as smart, decent, successful, and hilarious as she is on the party circuit her well-earned fame opens up to her and sticks her with. With special respect for the perfect double entendre "Get Him Back!" and the well-schooled rhyme "Dazzling starlet/Bardot incarnate," I hereby swear that these 12 catchy, hyperintelligent, self-penned songs should be committed to memory by any up-and-coming entertainer ready to admit that it may be the better part of discretion to love someone who is in some crucial respect an equal from another sphere--an up-and-coming climate scientist, say. Showbiz hopefuls however gifted are too likely to succumb to jealousy just because she's so damn good at what she does. A

Speedy Ortiz: Rabbit Rabbit (Carpark) Their fourth album in an unrushed career going back to the retrospectively preliminary 2013 Major Arcana, Sadie Dupuis's quartet puts music over lyrics even though she's even more renowned as a well-published poet than as an expansively textured indie-rocker. Guitar effects combust and spill out of the mix without number, so dense and engaging that it hardly matters that you don't know just what she's singing about while of course figuring that it's fairly interesting. It couldn't be, could it, that the secret of the way those riffs and tunelets roll over you as they hurry you along is the production advice of Illuminati Hotties' ever hooky Sarah Tudzin? A

Chris Stamey: . . . The Great Escape (Schoolkids/Car) Four decades on, ace tunesmith still needs a group to flesh his catchy out ("The One and Only [Van Dyke Parks]," "Back in New York") **

Morgan Wade: Psychopath (RCA) Celebrating her adolescent attraction to Sylvia Plath, her abiding admiration for Alanis Morrisette, her hard-won sobriety, and her refusal to join the 27 Club, this builder's daughter from small-town Virginia wrote or cowrote 14 well-put new Nashville love/sex songs that presage more to come and make you wonder where they'll take her professionally once she pieces the emotional details together. Exceptionally gifted and ambitious for the work in progress she remains, Wade's music exemplifies Nashville's evolution away from downhome country toward a less regional style of autobiographical pop that when you think about it has its roots in the punk and disco '70s, when big-city singer-songwriters began emigrating to a burg more amenable to their confessional aesthetic. Less given to braggadocio than the men they settle for, the gals have done a lot more with this aesthetic than the guys, few if any of whom would risk a title like "Psychopath," which turns out to be a pet name a boyfriend she's too good for has laid on her. A MINUS

And It Don't Stop, September 13, 2023

August 8, 2023 October 11, 2023