Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Iris DeMent is sure to get in dutch for The Way I Should (Warner Bros.) Having earned respect for two unfashionably plain albums, the Arkansas-born, California-bred, Missouri-residing little singer-songwriter with the enormous voice and the bigger heart commits two sins: hiring Nashville producer Randy Scruggs and protesting public and private immorality. Doesn't she know that her place is simple music about simple folks like herself?

But you can't trust simple folks--give 'em an inch and they'll start thinking they're as smart as people who've been to college. And often they are. So Scruggs's brightly traditional production separates Dement from her characteristic sobriety without gussying her up. And the obvious targets of Wasteland of the Free combine with the plainness of DeMent's attack to make her indignation seem as natural as the childhood recollections of Walkin' Home or the love behind the amazingly straightforward This Kind of Happy, her absolutely convincing tribute to the guy you absolutely believe she's gonna grow old with. Only a woman as nice as Iris DeMent could make the line "That sounds like crap to me" as damning as it ought to. We should just wish there were a hundred million more Americans as simple as she is.

Few pop musicians can claim to have invented a style, and when Thomas Mapfumo adapted Zimbabwe's traditional thumb-piano lines to the electric guitar, he became one of them. Now two terrific compilations showcase his haunting, reggaeish chimurenga: the relatively upbeat Chimurenga Forever: The Best of Thomas Mapfumo (Hemisphere) and the songful Singles Collection 1977-1986 (Zimbob).

Is there sex after 50? On Matapedia (Rykodisc), the Canadian folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle show no signs of sweetening with age, but in Talk About It they make clear that there are still things they'd rather do in bed than die. Just keep your mouth shut till morning, OK?

Playboy, Sept. 1996

Aug. 1996 Oct. 1996