Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

All right, soon you'll be familiar with my prejudices. I grew up in the 50s and I like hard rock. I listen to much more black music than most white people. I like folk music and carry out periodic vendettas against insipid singer-songwriters. In general, I like music that jars me a little, intellectually if not physically. Downers are for other people. "A" rated records are records I would buy for myself if I didn't have this hustle. I would probably buy the "B plusses," too, but you may find "B" records boring even if you like the artist and unless you really like the artist I wouldn't recommend purchasing anything below a "B minus." All those lower grades are there as a lamentation for the varying degrees of artistic indifference that persist in the music biz. Maybe someday they will disappear forever, but I doubt it.

Ronee Blakley (Elektra). I was attracted by the lyric sheet, a rare recommendation, only to find my two favorites ("Fred Hampton" and "Cock o' the Walk") destroyed by inappropriate music. The sound is clean as country water, gurgle gurgle, but not as tasty. I'm rooting, but meanwhile I'll stick with Joni Mitchell. C

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Mardis Gras (Fantasy). Creedence is no longer a one-man band, which has disoriented a lot of John Fogerty freaks, myself included, but once you get used to the new group--which is really what using Doug Clifford and Stu Cook to compose and sing amounts to--it sounds as good as the old, and potentially even better. A MINUS [Later: B]

Dr. John: Gumbo (Atco). This tribute to New Orleans rock and roll has its antiquarian aspect--rather than drawing inspiration from the past, it recreates it--but it's still an exceptionally intelligent and spirited fusion of Mack Rebennack's studio-expert piano and voodoo-weird voice. Huey Smith and Allen Toussaint may do it better, but not on any album I've ever heard. A MINUS

The Electric Light Orchestra (United Artists). This is really Roy Wood's ever-restless Move exploring its obsession with celli, French horns, and such, so if deliberately ugly chamber music in rock time is your thing, go to it. I pass. C PLUS

Fleetwood Mac: Bare Trees (Reprise). A lot less muddled than Future Games and occasionally as distinctive as Kiln House, but so thoroughly homogenized that it's hard to remember exactly how the cream tasted once it's gone down. B PLUS

Tom Fogerty (Fantasy). This is not incompetent, but it is exceptionally unoriginal--even a pretension or two would be welcome. Good thing identity crises weren't so fashionable in the days of David and Ricky Nelson. D

Janis Joplin: Joplin in Concert (Columbia). It sure would be nice if, more of this double-LP was new--all the Full Tilt Boogie and over half the Big Brother cuts are available in earlier versions--but this is a must for Janis freaks and an excellent introduction for anyone who's spent the last five years in the Himalayas. Recording quality: vibrant. Stage talk: poignant. A MINUS

Alexis Korner: Bootleg Him! (Warner Bros). The most authentic English blues rediscovery since Long John Baldry. C MINUS

Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina: Sittin' In (Columbia). Despite one wonderful melody ("Danny's Song") this sounds like vapid Poco-style happy--happy to me--even when it's serious. C PLUS [Later: C]

Ian Matthews: Tigers Will Survive (Vertigo). I know that Matthews (Fairport Convention, Matthews Southern Comfort) is one of the best acoustic-type performers around. I enjoy him at clubs. But they tell me that all the tunes on this record catch up to you, and after listening a dozen times I'm up to two "Da Doo Ronn Ron," which had a head start, and "The Only Dancer." B MINUS

The Mothers: Just Another Band From L.A. (Bizarre). You said it, Frank, I didn't. C

Graham Nash/David Crosby (Atlantic). Those captivated by their personae doubtless hear human beings singing these songs, but all I can make out is two stars trapped in their own mannerisms, filtering material through a style. Even Nash's "Black Notes" and "Strangers Room," good melodies that look fine on the lyric sheet, sound completely flat. C MINUS

David Peel and the Lower East Side: The Pope Smokes Dope (Apple). You know, sometimes I kinda miss the Maharishi. E MINUS [Later: E]

Paul Pena (Capitol). Certain hip blacks--Richie Havens is the perfect example--have developed a style of unspecific humanitarianism so wishy-washy it sends me scurrying to "War" and "Ball of Confusion." Pena's outlook is similar, but for some reason--a combination of vocal presence that transcends conviction and acute instrumental virtuosity--he makes me feel it. Even the naivete of the lyrics works: such homely truths are often unavailable to more sophisticated writers. The most moving first record in quite a while. A MINUS

Brinsley Schwarz: Silver Pistol (United Artists). I underrated this band's previous LP, Despite It All, a melodic slightly askew country-rock record that I play as much as I ever played Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but I'm not going to be a bad umpire and make up for it this time. If you're intrigued, find Despite It All (on Capitol) and then go to this one. It just isn't as memorable. B [Later: B+]

Gary and Randy Scruggs: The Scruggs Brothers (Vanguard). Significant that two musicians so close to the Flatt-picking roots--though it ought to be remembered that their father is an entertainer, not a mountaineer--have put together such a doleful-sounding country-rock band in the face of the goodtime sippin'-that-wine stuff the more famous guys are selling. Unfortunately, promising concept and execution suffer from merely adequate material. B [Later: B-]

Mike Seeger: Music From the True Vine (Mercury). The great prebluegrass folkie socks 14 weird old mountain songs into the archives. It Sure isn't rock and roll, but Seeger sings with spunk and authenticity, plays eight acoustic instruments, and taps his foot pretty good, and every once in awhile l find myself wanting to play it. B PLUS

Spirit: Feedback (Epic). When Randy California led this group, I disapproved of its arty tendencies, but now that he's gone they seem to work. A lot of solid hard rock, some memorable slow ones, a few jazzy interludes and a good instrumental. A MINUS [Later: B-]

Steve Stills: Manassas (Atlantic). Yes, Steve has gotten it together a little, even deigning to cooperate with real musicians in a real band, and yes, some of this four-sided set echoes in your head after you play it a lot. The only problem is that, when it echoes, you're never sure from where. C PLUS

Stories (Kama Sutra). The Left Banks, Mike Brown's long-ago previous group, seems prissy in retrospect, but it was nice at the time, no? Well, this may seem prissy some day, too, but it's not at all soft and sweet, and if the rest had the melodic sinew of "St. James" and "Step Back" it would sure sound great now. Wait till the next one--something happening here. B

Bill Withers: Still Bill (Sussex). Withers has created the most credible persona of any of the new middle-class male soul singers, avoiding Marvin Gaye's occasional vapidity, Donny Hathaway's overkill, and Curtis Mayfield's blackness-mongering. He sounds straight, strong, compassionate. This album moves out rhythmically, too, yet in the end he's still missing some essential excitement. B PLUS [Later: A]

Creem, August 1972

Mar. 2, 1972 September 1972