Anyone who has read the Village Voice more than a few times since around 1970 is probably familiar with the music critic Robert Christgau. If you haven’t read his work there, perhaps you’ve seen it in Esquire or Rolling Stone or Blender or any number of places. He’s referred to, not least by himself, as the ‘dean of American rock critics.’ Like a lot of good writers with strong opinions he’s someone you either love or hate. Lou Reed, for example. If the tirade on his live album Take No Prisoners is any indication, Lou’s not a big fan. Me? I like him. Don’t always agree with him, but his writing’s a lot of fun. It’s been variously described as maddening, thought-provoking, or catty, like he when he described Willy DeVille as “The song-poet of greaser nostalgia.” Or Jackson Browne’s writing as ‘sentimental sexism and kitschy doomsaying.”
The reason I bring him up is that knowledgeable though he is, like a lot of us, sometimes he just gets it as wrong as is humanly possible. Exhibit A to that claim is somewhere in the middle of this week’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl. It’s a track off David Crosby’s album If I Could Only Remember My Name, an album Cristgau graded a D minus and called a ‘disgraceful performance.’ Well, everybody has one. And my opinion differs. You get to make up your own mind. We’ll hear a song called “Laughing” featuring Crosby with Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann. As long as I was at it, I looked up Christgau’s reviews of the other albums represented in the set. I couldn’t find his thoughts on Captain Beyond but he liked Fleetwood Mac’s Mystery to Me alright, gave it a B+. He seems to have a grudging respect for the country blues interpretations of Hot Tuna, and he gets pretty close to heaping praise on Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys. But I couldn’t find his review of Steve Forbert’s debut album, Alive on Arrival. So, you be the judge. Let’s return now to “Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977.”
|Steve Forbert||Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977|
|Hot Tuna||Water Song|
|Captain Beyond||Sufficiently Breathless|
|Randy Newman||Louisiana 1927|
What has happened down here is the wind have changed. Nobody does character and setting in three minutes any better than Randy Newman. That’s from his classic album Good Old Boys. A song called, “Louisiana 1927.” Before that, it’s a Mystery to Me why that Fleetwood Mac album didn’t go platinum, but it didn’t. We heard a beautiful Christine McVie track called “Why?” ending with those strings that segued so nicely into the Randy Newman. Why? I dunno, just did. We opened the set with a guy out of Meridian, Mississippi. Steve Forbert, who wasn’t the first guy to be dubbed the New Dylan, is my favorite example of someone who should have been huge but who ended up with more a cult following. From his fabulous 1978 debut album, Alive on Arrival, we heard “Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977.” If you’re a fan of that record, you’ll want to check out his 2001 release, Young Guitar Days which features previously unreleased tracks from around the same era. Steve’s still out there performing and recording so stop by his website and check his schedule. If he’s in the neighborhood go check him out.
The rest of the set was a healthy serving of spaced out acoustic cowboy hippie pop rock melodies all tenderly hand mixed and all vinyl, except for the Hot Tuna, because my copy of Burgers sounds like someone took it from the sleeve and danced on it in a parking lot. We heard the classic “Water Song” followed by “Sufficiently Breathless” from Captain Beyond a band formed in the wakes of Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly. And in the middle, David Crosby with Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell and half the Grateful Dead. From Crosby’s solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Oh, that’s right. I’m Bill Fitzhugh, in the Way Back Studios. Thanks for joining us. If you want to see the set lists, drop by the old web site at billfitzhugh.com. In the meanwhile, I’ll be working on another batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl, right here in the Deep Tracks.