Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In 1993, when a bunch of famous artists underwrote Victoria Williams's multiple sclerosis treatments with the tribute album Sweet Relief, their show of support somehow transformed an eccentric singer-songwriter into a full-service musician. Williams is a highly nondenominational Christian who grew up in Louisiana, and although macho men may turn up their noses at her kooky pastoral epiphanies and Technicolor memories fey, she's finds clear-eyed strength in her weirdness when need be. On 1995's Loose and the new Musings of a Creekdipper (Atlantic), her quavery voice and associative structures are as fragile as ever, but the lyricism Sweet Relief's cover versions emphasized is out there for all to hear. Loose has the more forthright tunes, but the melodies of the quieter Creekdipper reveal themselves soon enough, and the subtlety of the project renders its pleasures deeper in the end. Delicacy can be like that when there's sinew underlying it.

In these days of gone-tomorrow novelty one-shots the many casual fans who grew to love Tubthumping and Walking on the Sun might sanely expect not much from Chumbawamba's Tubthumper (Republic/Universal) and Smash Mouth's Fush Yu Mang (Interscope). But they;d be wrong. In their very dissimilar ways, both albums are brash and busy, tuneful and verbal--fun surprises like the singles, only less addictive.

Anyone who can't believe that a generation of yong Deadheads can be quite as addled as bigots believe should take comfort in the three-CD Dozing at the Knick (Grateful Dead), which proves that for at least one post-Nixon gig (Albany, New York, 1990) their permanent roadshow was as responsive and inspired as their fans expected, prayed, or claimed it was every night.

Playboy, Feb. 1998

Jan. 1998 Mar. 1998