Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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I'm too old for Ani DiFranco, so let's just say I hope my daughter turns out this feisty and smart. I hope when she's 18 she'll have the confidence to think about all the guys who won't leave her be and conclude: "Smile pretty and watch your back." And I hope when she's 25 she'll to realize that "We lose sight of everything when we have to keep checking our backs." Both lines are among the many that stand out from Living in Clip (Righteous Babe), a live double-CD that draws liberally on her formative folk-punk years for those who only caught on with 1996's Dilate. Fronting a loose-limbed bass-and-drums duo, DiFranco is never boring; she doesn't rock, exactly, but she sure hops around a lot. And I think her big nose is cute.

That Dog's Anna Waronker comes with a daunting L.A. pedigree--her dad is a fabled record exec and two sidewomen are daughters of Coltrane bassist Charlie Haden. These connections can't have hurt when she was shopping for a contract, but they're one reason 1995's winsome Totally Crushed Out went almost unnoticed by gatekeepers who always assume the worst. The new Retreat From the Sun (DGC) isn't quite as charming. But Waronker's eye for the nascent relationship and ear for the dissonant hook add up to a romantic pop that radiates credibility in a cynical world.

Like Taj Mahal, young black bluesman Corey Harris is an adept of the National steel-bodied guitar and a master of several different voices. He's also a Delta revisionist whose residency in New Orleans taught him how to play up the rhythmic variety of the style. And on Fish Ain't Bitin' (Alligator), he writes songs that sound very old until you heed the lyrics, which aren't.

Playboy, Apr. 1997

Mar. 1997 May 1997