The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, will be available from Duke University Press in October. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Chicago Farmer: Quarter Past Tonight (chicagofarmer.com) I'd never heard of transplanted son of the soil Cody Diekhoff and you probably haven't either. But this tenth-anniversary double-live, 24 songs and eight spoken bits that include a tribute to his heroically supportive wife entitled "Benefits," documents the Chicago-based singer-songwriter's sold-out weekend at the world-famous, 3000-capacity Apollo Theater—in Peoria, Illinois. Diekhoff isn't as sharp as his hero John Prine—one disc at a time will do. But he's funny, he's kind, and he's preparing an instructional video about "how do you get that drawl that you do—it's kind of a mix between a small-town big-city kind of a northernly southernly easterly westerly stuck-in-the-middle type of a drawl." And if you grant that his DIY life touring the Midwest in his heroically supportive van is very nearly as hard as the lives of the fans he says put in 40 or 50 less colorful hours every week, he never stops thinking about class, which is why he brushes off an admirer who tells him that if he'd "leave out the politics" he'd move twice as many records (raising his nightly sales to 12, the merch guy in him calculates). Diekhoff assumes most of his fans are Democrats but welcomes Republicans, and why shouldn't he—not even a Republican could leave a Chicago Farmer show meaner than when he or she walked in. And ask yourself this: how many musicians have the consciousness to employ the square, tired-ass, polarizing terms "Democrat" and "Republican" at all? Only some kind of northernly southernly easterly westerly stuck-in-the-middle visionary. A MINUS
AD the Voice: Maxi-Single (Statik Entertainment) AD is Schenectady-born, Rhinebeck-based, African-American attorney Antonio Delgado, Democratic candidate for Congress in New York's 19th district, where the mealy-mouthed Republican incumbent has gone after him for this hip-hop EP he recorded in 2007. And how about that? Not only doesn't it deploy "phrases derogatory to women" or—wha?—"glorif[y] pornography and drug use." It's also really good. Suavely articulated over simple, dramatic beats, every word is thought through and all five songs work as songs. The special standouts are "U Scared," where "There's a war going on" evokes America's ongoing race and class combat while dissing both black-on-black violence and "pop like a pimple" rap, and "Draped in Flags," the best-informed Iraq War song this side of Becky Warren's "Get Calm, Stay Low." A DCCC poll has Delgado's jobs-and-healthcare campaign seven points ahead in a predominantly white district where John Hall of Orleans served two House terms a decade ago. So get on it, my peeps in New Paltz with its SUNY hipsters and Oneonta with its SUNY pop music program, in Hunter no longer just a ski town and Hudson now an exurban hub. This 2016 iteration of the EP is filled out with "clean" versions you can do without, although the a cappella "U Scared" is a keeper. So you could just download the songs. But I say you buy the physical and then do some phonebanking if not door-knocking for Antonio Delgado. When he wins, you'll have a collector's item on your hands. A MINUS
American Aquarium: Things Change (New West) Diligence rewarded: 10 years on the road, six DIY full-lengths, and 30-plus band members later, Reidsville, North Carolina's BJ Barham cold-turkeys the Jameson, ties the knot with Rachael, welcomes baby Josephine, and gets label financing on an album fit to introduce him to the nation at large. Beginning with the stricken anthem "The World Is on Fire," he fashions songs for non-urbanites appalled by America's twin epidemics of cruelty and cowardice—for lifelong patriots negotiating the ground "between hypocrite and hallelujah" in what's become "the home of the afraid." Even when his good heart goes soft, his songs retain their smarts, and city folk have plenty to learn from them. B PLUS
Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.