Covers, Classics, and Tributes: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The Dean reviews releases from Gary Lucas, Del McCoury, Jimi Hendrix, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn.
Welcome to Expert Witness with Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics." He currently teaches at NYU and published multiple books throughout his life. For nearly four decades, he worked as the music editor for The Village Voice, where he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll. Every Friday, Noisey will happily publish his long-running critical column. To learn more about him and his life, read his welcome post here.
Gary Lucas' Fleischerei Featuring Sarah Stiles: Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons (Cuneiform) The master guitarist's avant-garde playmates have included Stampfel, Pulnoc, Beefheart, the Beefheart repertory band Fast 'N' Bulbous, and bigger weirdos than that. So for him, this re-creation of pre-Code animator Max Fleischer's leggy sexpot-ingenue Betty Boop is a pop move. Lucas ups the musical ante, of course—while respecting the cinematic idiom, his Gibson acoustic and Sesame Street music director Joe Fiedler's trombone prod an active rhythm section as everyone adds more spritz and oomph than would have made sense in a moviehouse. Lucas also plays both a Queens-accented Popeye and a rough-and-gruff Barnacle Bill in the six-minute "Beware of Barnacle Bill" transcription that closes. But the star of the show is Broadway find Sarah Stiles, who adds weight, sass, and flesh-and-blood nuance to the cartoonish squeals of the great Mae Questel, who brought Betty to musical life nearly a century ago. A MINUS
The Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody (McCoury Music) Musically, Woody Guthrie can wear out his welcome right quick, but it would be perverse to deny the inherent musicality of his lyrics. By my count, this is the seventh consecutive album in which friendly meddlers such as Wilco, Billy Bragg, the Klezmatics, and Rob Wasserman turn a few of his unnotated songpoems into something worth hearing again and again. Bluegrass lefty McCoury is an easy fit as he applies his lively trad to the New York subway system, budget car repair, a good-paying federal road project, a kind woman, a cute baby, and being poor. Only when Guthrie's sexism surfaces does the mood curdle. Born in 1939, McCoury is old enough to know that jokes about wimmin's hats were old hat by 1950 and probably weren't funny to begin with. A MINUS
Jimi Hendrix: Rainbow Bridge (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) This long-lost, new-to-CD album followed The Cry of Love in 1971, when slavemaster Mike Jeffery and some Warner Bros. overseers hired bereaved collaborator Eddie Kramer to make sense and of course dollars of the dead hero's vastness. Half of it reappeared on 1996's Kramer-overseen First Rays of the New Rising Son, a what-Jimi-wanted reconstruction that's always paled against Electric Ladyland. So probably the two in-the-moment profit-takers give us a better sense of who Hendrix was in the excited, spiritual, bummed-out sprawl of his final year. Among its rare gifts: a synthlike, pre-Woodstock "Star Spangled Banner" and the measured, lyrical "Pali Gap." A MINUS
Loretta Lynn: Full Circle (Legacy) Remakes that never seem redundant from an 83-year-old who's lived clean but never been a prig about it. ("Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven," "Wine Into Water") ***
Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (Legacy) Great singer applies his old no-verses-please-we're-country trick to greater songbook. ("It Ain't Necessarily So," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off") **