Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Anthology of American Folk Music [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1997]
Harry Smith's act of history--three two-record sets originally released by Folkways in 1952, now digitally remastered into a gorgeously appointed six-CD box--aces two very '90s concepts: the canon that accrues as rock gathers commentary, and the compilations that multiply as labels recycle catalogue. In its time, it wrested the idea of the folk from ideologues and ethnomusicologists by imagining a commercial music of everyday pleasure and alienation--which might as well have been conceived to merge with a rock and roll that didn't yet exist. What enabled Smith to bring off this coup was his preternatural ability to hear unknown songs that were irresistible to his own people--the bohemians and collectors who have been inflecting pop ever since. Somebody you know is worth the 60 bucks it'll run you. So are you. A+