Music by VICE

Alt-Country for Punks: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean tackles Blake Mills, Leland Sundries, and more.

by Robert Christgau
Jul 22 2016, 2:36pm

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

Leland Sundries: Music for Outcasts (L'Echiquier) No matter where they practice, they're like a garage-band version of the Band—not as deep in the pocket plus there seems to be lint in there, with presiding genius Nick Loss-Eaton never quite squeezing the requisite range or force out of his anxious moan, tune-impaired croon, and cracker-barrel croak. But Loss-Eaton doesn't get to preside just because he writes the songs. He gets to preside because he knows how to deliver them regardless. Here be off-kilter local-color Americana by a Brooklynite who's toured the USA quite a bit, and not just so he can play Slim's in Raleigh or the South Wedge Mission in Rochester. I'm not convinced it was actually Wallace, Idaho where that gal punched a psychic. But I am convinced it's a big country. I do believe the Queens wedding guest who cuts in during the "Clothes Line Saga" rip "Freckle Blues" to complain: "All you ever want to do is go to decrepit towns in the South." And I feel the "Stripper From Bensonhurst" after she takes the subway home: "She sips a beer and watches The Today Show / This is not how New York was supposed to go." A MINUS

Walter Salas-Humara: Explodes and Disappears (Sonic Pyramid) The prime mover of the alt-country Silos, who peaked in 1988 but were still recording in 2011, Salas-Humara is a devout traditionalist whose hero is a retired tugboat that once sent more adventurous craft "Into the light of day / And they will travel far, far away." Tugboat-like, his material chugs so steadily that I bet few under 35 will cotton to it, and he never tops a six-minute opener that chronicles the enduring love of a banker and a short-order cook. But just about every song does its work, which most of the time is documenting lives that keep on going. B PLUS


Blake Mills: Heigh Ho (Verve) Millennial guitar master enlists graybeard backup legends to deploy songs that often prove a shade-and-a-half too atmospheric even so ("Don't Tell Our Friends About Me," "Seven") ***

The Kropotkins: Portents of Love (Mulatta) What could be bad about an Americana ensemble named after a Russian anarchist that reprises Gershwin and Mickey & Sylvia and turns "This Land Is Your Land" into a dirge? ("The Stars of Country Music Greet the Spring," "No Good Lover") ***

Corb Lund: Things That Can't Be Undone (New West) Alt-country lifer as murderer, Iraq vet, rancher, and fucker up of the love of his life ("Sadr City," "S Lazy H") **

The Two Man Gentlemen Band: Two at a Time (Bean-Town) One 1961 Gibson ETG-150, one stand-up bass, a dozen barbed and/or light-hearted ditties ("Prescription Drugs," "Two Star Motel," "Tikka Masala") **

The Rough Guide to Americana (World Music Network) Low on treacle and mawk, give it that, but still not the songbag of the new folkiedom the "genre"'s claque believe is upon us (James McMurtry, "Copper Canteen"; Jim White, "Rambler") **

Blake Mills: Break Mirrors (I) On his 2010 bandleading debut, too much band and not enough leader ("It'll All Work Out," "History of My Life") *

The Yawpers: American Man (Bloodshot) Work up their share of Whitmanesque reach without sussing that yowling ain't yawping ("Doing It Right," "American Man") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter and read the archives of his criticism on his website

Robert Christgau
Corb Lund
Leland Sundries
Music for Outcasts
Walter Salas-Humara
Explodes and Disappears
blake mills
Heigh Ho
The Kropotkins
Portraits of Love
Things That Can't Be Undone
The Two Man Gentlemen Band
Two at a Time
The Rough Guide to Americana