DEVILS, BLOATS, OLD FARTS AND YIDDISH MARXISTS.
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL ECLECTIC!
The following reviews are dedicated to Robert Christgau, who last week was “fired” by The Village Voice as part of a “restructuring.” For 37 years he inspired countless rock lovers and would-be critics with his wit and a painfully honest style of writing. Now he’s a free agent, a casualty of an industry that long ago stopped giving a shit about rock-n-roll.
Good luck, Robert. We will never forget your contributions, commitment or your passion.
Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door, 2006). That Snider has become a troubadour of the underclass is a given; that he’s managed to develop into a substantial artist capable of transcending his art into a competent product and a vehicle that continues to draw new fans to him is the best damn news musically to hit the industry in years. What made East Nashville Skyline unique and great was Snider’s ability to be both funny and evoke rage at the same time. While it would be difficult for anyone to duplicate such an accomplishment, this comes damn close. My favorite song is “Looking For A Job,” about a worker who doesn’t take any shit. In the ‘70s John Prine tried his hand at this; but while Prine’s vision of Americana was definitely blue collar he never had the stomach or inclination to tackle politics. Snider could care less. He seems to revel in letting the world know where they can stick it. That the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer irks him big time. He hates Bush, the religious right and any asshole who can’t see his logic. My kind of guy! A.
The Streets: The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic, 2006). An English hip-hop artist? Yeah, right. And then I listened carefully. Yeah, you’re damn right! Don’t let the accent fool you. Mike Skinner’s about as vacant and incorrigible as Kanye West. It’s about his women (how many he can get) and his drugs (how much he can buy). Check out “When You Wasn’t Famous,” in which he rhetorically asks, "How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers when I know they've all got camera phones?" The lone exception to his debauchery is “Never Went To Church,” a tearful goodbye to his dad that evokes a rare glimpse into his softer side. Laugh at him if you must; deny him you can’t. A
Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia, 2006). Even if you don’t buy the latter-day trilogy explanation – you know Time Out of Mind is Bringing It All Back Home; Love and Theft is Highway ’61 Revisited; and of course this is Blonde on Blonde – and I certainly don’t, there’s no escaping the fact that no other pop artist in the “modern” era has enjoyed such a reincarnation. To deny this, his latest masterpiece would be criminally stupid. Not only hasn’t he lost his ability to paint lyrical landscapes like no other poet of his time, if anything his pen has gotten sharper. There’s even a scant trace of his spiritual past in songs like “Spirit on the Water.” I always knew he would one day reconcile that period of his career. Since utopian optimism was never part of his meter, it is refreshing to hear him finally come to peace with his genius. Don’t make the mistake of comparing it to his earlier work; instead enjoy its country blues and rockabilly the way it was meant – on its own merits. A great album. A+
The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie (JMG, 2006). Like the Billy Bragg and Wilco compilations of a decade ago, these ageless poems, uncovered by Nora Guthrie, and put to music marvelously by Frank London reveal yet another chapter in the life of an iconic figure. Guthrie’s politics were legendary, but little was known of his spiritual roots until this act of love came along. Lorin Sklamberg’s vocals – among the finest ever, be they Yiddish or English – are the key here. Aided ably by Susan McKeown, the two feed off each other brilliantly. Though sung in English, the style is all klezmer; that is it lends itself to an Eastern European flavor steeped in the Yiddish folk tradition. A remarkable accomplishment that was seven years in the making. Clearly it was well worth the wait. A.