Recordings

If for no other reason, the CD is worth owning for Chilton's skewed rendering of his 1967 Box Tops chart-topper "The Letter." Obliging a request from his hometown audience, Chilton was by this time already bitter about the popular indifference to Big Star, which he clearly viewed as a more artistically rewarding experience than his teen-pop tenure in the Box Tops.

On Nobody Can Dance, Chilton takes his revenge by reworking "The Letter" into a plodding blues-influenced stomp. This deconstruction is especially insightful as it at once anticipates the frightening darkness of Sister Lovers and foreshadows the sloppy contempt he would bring to his mid-'70s solo work (e.g., Bach's Bottom).

Live albums generally don't have the effect of bringing a listener closer to an artist. More often than not, the opposite is true. But Nobody Can Dance is a clear exception. Without the pristine Ardent studio production, the subtle nuances of Chilton's voice are front and center--the jagged phrasing, the unpolished wistfulness. It would be generous to say that Chilton's career has been uneven, but hearing his angelic tenor turn caustic within a short breath on this recording helps to explain why he and Big Star remain so compelling 25 years after the fact.

--Bob Mehr

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