Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

It happens every year. I spend most of December reviewing 1972, and in the process I almost inevitably miss some of 1972 at the same time. Below, you'll find at least three very good records, as well as a number of bad ones, that appeared towards the end of the year. I'm late on them for various reasons, but they're all still good. In fact, this is the most encouraging batch in quite a while, and there are more good ones to come. All of which can be attributed to nothing more permanent than post-Christmas good cheer.

Joe Cocker (A&M). This record saddens and confuses me. It is said that Cocker's voice is gone, and I suppose that's true--it was never much less rough than it is now, but it was once richer and more flexible. And the live version of "Do Right Woman" on side two is an overstated embarrassment. But the music on side one, with Chris Stainton providing the same old propulsion, is just as rollicking as ever, and I like the rest of side two. The magic is gone, that's for sure, but maybe it's gone from us, not him. B PLUS

John Denver: Rocky Mountain High (RCA Victor). Denver is everything an acoustic singer-songwriter might be--lush, pretty, vapid, commercial. C

Detroit Emeralds: You Want It, You Got It (Westbound). I put this record aside when it came out six months ago--it seemed uninspired, mechanical, humdrum. Now I can hear it--at least four first-rate harmony-group songs, and only one tune-out, something silly about the lure of the sea. A typically good-but-not-great black music album. B PLUS

The Four Tops: Keeper of the Castle (Dunhill). Motown's formula was to set Levi Stubbs self-indulgence against spare, strict arrangements, and sometimes it even worked, but towards the end breast beating began to sound like an all-percussion orchestra. Here, Lambert/Potter/Barri meet force with force, and the result is so overblown it could easily be argued it has its own validity, but not by me. D PLUS [Later: C-]

Steve Goodman: Somebody Else's Trouble (Buddah). He wrote "City of New Orleans," which is not on this album, and songs about car towing and organic food, which are. Also two consecutive songs about racing the sun, which is at least one too many. Tour de force: a cappella ballad about a Vietnam widow. Arif Mardin produced. B

Grin: All Out (Spindizzy). I love this record so much that I even approved when I thought Genya Raven (not Kathy McDonald) was singing back up. It speaks to my peculiar sensibility. It even includes a song that begins in a house in the country and soon admits "life has been kinda easy on me." Nils Lofgren is everything I think a rock'n'roller should be--pugnacious, explosive, cheerful, loving--and his lyrics get better with every record. But I'm not sure my taste is any more universal than someone else's for, I don't know, some minor song poet, David Blue, say, or George Gerdes. Still, I love this record. A MINUS

Luther Ingram: (lf Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right (Koko). Great single--anyone who recalls "My Honey and Me" knows that Ingram runs into his share of good material--but in his Memphis way he's as colorless as Jack Jones. C

Jukin' Bone: Way Down East (RCA Victor). Anyone in the market for one more better-than-average hard rock record? This is it. B MINUS

Linda Lewis: Lark (Reprise). Deceptively simple sounding songs from a convent-educated West Indian Londoner. Acute voice, all blithe and flighty, but don't forget--float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. B PLUS [Later: B-]

Taj Mahal: Recycling the Blues and Other Related Stuff (Columbia). He probably does OK financially, but my feeling is that Taj shouldn't be classified as an artist or performer. He's a natural resource; his keep should be paid by the Smithsonian. This is his best since Natch'l Blues and includes a live side that actually feels like one of his magic shows. A MINUS [Later: B]

Billy Paul: 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (Philadelphia International). At his worst, Paul is black naturalness at its most mannered--florid, hyped up, homiletic, sort of a Les McCann of small-time jazz singers. But Gamble and Huff have been making great music out of middlebrow jazz for years, and when they give Paul a good song--several of the black-consciousness riffs, which G&H seem to turn out as if they were so many follow-ups to "Tighten Up," are better than "Me and Mrs. Jones"--his overstatement is no more offensive than Ray Charles'. On stupid, unrealistic songs (e.g. "I'm Just a Prisoner") he sounds stupid and unrealistic, which figures. B MINUS

Nolan Porter: Nolan (ABC). Reggae-flavored originals and interpretations from a college-educated, opera-trained black cab driver who put out a most unoperatic album two or three years ago. He strains Randy Newman and Van Morrison but the reggae on this record sounds better cut for cut than Johnny Nash. A plus: "If I Could Only Be Sure," the single, with a hook that makes me talk to myself every time I hear it. B PLUS

Dory Previn: Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign (United Artists). Previn doesn't just belabor a cliche, she flails it with barbed wire, and she never writes about a concrete situation when with extra words she can falsify it with abstraction. A feminist friend once persuaded me that such transparent pretension can only signal pain and bewilderment, but if I trapped a cat in a washing machine, I wouldn't set up a record studio there--I'd just open the door. D

Carly Simon: No Secrets (Elektra). If a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn't rhyme "yacht," "apricot" and "gavotte." Is that some kind of joke? Why did Mick Jagger want her? Why does James Taylor want her? Come to think of it, why does she want either of them? B MINUS

Bruce Springsteen: Greetings From Asbury Park NJ (Columbia). This boy has a lot more of the Dylan spirit than John Prine. His songs are filled with the absurdist energy and heart on sleeve pretension that made Dylan a genius instead of a talent. Only Dylan, or Carly Simon, would rhyme "But did not heed my urgency" with "Your life was one long emergency." B [Later: B+]

Steely Dan: Can't Buy a Thrill (ABC). How about that? A hit single with a good album attached. Oblique, even philosophical lyrics, as befit a band named after a dildo in a William Burroughs novel. B PLUS [Later: A]

The Supremes (Motown). Jean Tyrell lSN'T Diana Ross. Here she confronts producer/arranger/songwriter Jimmy Webb, who isn't a boy genius anymore, but with a small "i." The result is, well, confusing and schlocky, but it does feature Young Jimmy doing a Sweet Baby James imitation in the background. I remember when Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson used to do that. C PLUS

War: The World Is a Ghetto (United Artists). According to all of my own theories, I should love this big Afro-roots band with the number two album in the country, but I don't. The main problem is pace--the band moves at something less than deliberate speed. But the lyrics are pretty slow, too. I got to like "Slippin' Into Darkness" but it took months. Blackstrap-rock? The plus is because I'm not sure I'm right. C PLUS [Later: B]

Dionne Warwick: Just Being Myself (Warner Bros.). Dionne has finally got out from under Bert Bacharach and Hal David and the result is her most satisfying album in years, produced by Holland Dozier Holland. My favorite cut is "You're Gonna Need Me" with a great middle class soul hook, but I intend to let the rest grow on me. B [Later: B-]

Jesse Winchester: 3rd Down, 110 to Go (Bearsville). Winchester emigrated from Memphis to Canada, when he was due to be drafted about four years ago, and even though his first LP was apolitical on the surface, its contained energy and brooding lyricism reflected that decision. Unfortunately, his exile has not brought him closer to anything I much care about and I find this involuted and willfully slight. After many tries, I remember only a few phrases and one seems especially appropriate: "Do it until you're sick of it/Do it til you can't do it no more." C PLUS [Later: B-]

Creem, April 1973

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