Released on Rycodisc Sept. 27, 2005
Review by Greg Adams
ALL MUSIC GUIDE
The Index Masters chronicles the early years of Wall of Voodoo, digitizing the group's debut self-titled EP, The Morricone Themes (appearing here under a different title), from their Ring of Fire 12", and nine live tracks from the same concert at which The Morricone Themes was recorded. The live recordings from 1979 include songs that later appeared on Dark Continent, as well as a very early performance of "Tomorrow" from Call of the West. The package includes lyrics to the first six tracks, an early concert review, and a thorough reproduction of the EP's original artwork. A couple of the live tracks ("End of an Era" and "Invisible Man") are particularly interesting because they are compositions that have not otherwise been released. The Index Masters is a collector's dream
buy it at Amazon.com
Music- Metro Active / North Bay / Oakland CA
Stan Ridgway and Drywall "Barbeque Babylon"
buy it here
Drywall blends synth-pop, film noir and politics
By Greg Cahill
May you live in interesting times, goes the old Chinese curse. (OK, actually that misappropriated quote is from Eric Frank Russell's 1950 sci-fi novel U-Turn.) Into these, uh, interesting times steps the latest from interesting singer and songwriter Stan Ridgway--a pop artist with the heart of a pulp-fiction writer--and his Drywall collective.
Barbeque Babylon: 15 Choice Cuts for Your BBQ Party (Redfly) is the third installment in Drywall's obscure Trilogy of Apocalyptic Documents. It's chock-full of vivid cinematic storytelling and what music writer Zach Hoskins has branded Ridgway's "street-corner doomsday preaching."
It's all about fear and frustration and an impending sense of doom, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
In Drywall, the former Wall of Voodoo singer Ridgway, best-known for the twangy, brooding 1982 alternative-radio hit "Mexican Radio," is joined by keyboardist Pietra Wexstun of Hecate's Angels (Hecate was the Greek goddess of witchcraft), a master of sci-fi and noirish sound; bassist and guitarist Rick King; and various "wrecking crew" members.
You're forgiven if you missed the previous Drywall incarnations; 1996's Work the Dumb Oracle and the 1997 collection of surreal song sketches called The Drywall Incident barely caused a blip on the pop-music radar.
Barbecue Babylon, on the other hand, comes on the heels of Ridgway's critically acclaimed 2004 return-to-form Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs, his first solo studio album in five years. It is a sometimes surreal, often darkly Dylanesque protest record that skewers the government and corporate America. Ridgway, 51, even evokes paranoia about the persistence of AARP junk mail while poking fun at his own creeping age.
The disc is, Ridgway has noted, his Howard Beale moment, his way of saying, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. "A strange look at a strange land by a strange man," is how the Boise Weekly has described the album.
This flaming party starts off with the Cajun-flavored "Goin' on Down to the BBQ," an uplifting dance number that masks the drunken violence of the subject matter. The jerky, jazz-inflected "Fortune Cookies," which follows, ponders the state of friendly fascism, social decay, sex and death--Ridgway isn't one to mince words.
"Somewhere in the Dark" fuses a sultry samba beat and cooing Brazilian chorus with an ominous narration about alienation and existential angst. The loopy "Abandon Ship" is an unsettling metaphor for the current ship of state and its reckless insistence on staying the course. "Buried the Pope" is the album's most topical tune, a neo-psychedelic examination of blind faith and religion. "In Total Focus" delivers the album's best line: "Hey, maybe if we're lucky, the government will dope us."
"That Big Weird Thing," which launches the second half of the album, is the centerpiece of this strange magnum opus.
It finds Ridgway railing about "shit piles of sour psychotic panic" as Wexstun delivers a funereal montage of bells and dark synth washes.
The song ignites a string of political and social commentary, including "Robbers and Bandits, Bastards and Thieves," that leave no doubt about where Ridgway stands on the political spectrum.
"Rain on Down," "The Alibi Room," "Wargasm 2005" and "Bold Marauder" conspire to stick it to the swaggering swine that feed at the trough of our bought-and-sold democracy.
Indeed, Ridgway reserves his strongest venom for President Bush. Case in point: Drywall closes the disc with a biting, hidden, untitled mash-up of Bush's 2005 State of the Union address rearranged so that GW indicts himself for all the horrors he has unleashed on the Iraqi people.
Imagine if Springsteen had the courage--and wit--to make this kind of political statement?
STAN RIDGWAY'S DRYWALL OFFERS CHARRED MUSIC FOR SMOKIN' BBQs
Barbeque Babylon: 15 Choice Cuts for Your BBQ Party slated for January 10, 2006 release
VENICE, Calif. -- Songwriter and musical alchemist Stan Ridgway has taken a short break from his solo endeavors (last year's acclaimed CD Snakebite, the DVD Holiday in Dirt) in order to deliver another installment from his Drywall side project, Barbeque Babylon: 15 Choice Cuts for Your BBQ Party, on redFLY records (distributed by Bayside Distribution).
Drywall is Stan Ridgway, guitar and vocals; Pietra Wexstun, keyboards and vocals; and Rick King, guitar, bass and vocals. Other musical friends join in from track to track. Street date for the album is January 10, 2006.
?Drywall," explains Ridgway, ?is a mad musical project of ours that gets nailed up every once and a while when things of this nature pile up. Our experimental eletro noise combo. I still enjoy messing with sounds. Drywall music attempts to give ?sonic understanding' in a world that too often does not. It's also about saying we're mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. These days, there's a lot to get angry] about, too. We feel it's the best Drywall record we've done. Pietra, Rick, myself and our studio gang cooked it up this last summer in a way to gather some equilibrium emotionally. We hope it does the same for listeners. It's about trash and frustration, fear and control."
Not that Ridgway doesn't address trash, frustration and fear on his solo outings. But Drywall ups ? or downs ? the ante, addressing warmongers(?Wargasm"), middle age ennui ("Somewhere In The Dark"), economic hardship (?Something's Gonna Blow") and robbers, bandits, bastards and thieves (?Robbers & Bandits & Bastards & Thieves") in a mix of tropical rhythms, acid jazz, electronica, country and funk. Despite its topics, lots of Barbeque Babylon is quite\danceable, and certainly will be fine accompaniment to any BBQ party . . . as the world burns.
Stan Ridgway's musical career began in the late ?70s as part of a soundtrack company to create music for low-budget horror films. From its ashes, art-punk outfit Wall of Voodoo was born, and with Ridgway as lead\voice, released an EP, two albums, and the 1982 single "Mexican Radio." Ridgway then embarked on a solo career that has included work in film (Rumblefish with Stewart Copeland, other independent film soundtracks) and artist production (most recently Frank Black & The Catholics' Show Me Your Tears, 2003, and Blood, 2004, with composer Pietra Wexstun, a musical score to accompany the paintings of artist Mark Ryden) in addition to numerous critically acclaimed solo recordings.
Stan says, "This CD completes the ?trilogy of apocalyptic documents' we started back in 1996 with the first Drywall record, Work The Dumb Oracle. Drywall music is like a weather report, really. The songs are written by all of us in a topical vein and you might even call this our blow-yer-mind/protest record, in the grand tradition of recordings we grew up with like Country Joe & The Fish's I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die. It also puts your head in a different space to make a band record, even though it's more of a project than a real band. Still, we'll be playing some of this out on tour if we can just calm down long enough."
Further, Stan has a suggestion for meeting others if you'll be listening in your car: ?Place a big dirty sock over your car radio antenna to alert like-minded others that you are listening to Drywall in there. Then form a convoy and head towards your state capitol at breakneck speed. Do not stop. Do not pass go. Park in handicap spaces and wait for further instructions."
Some early critical reaction to Drywall:
"A strange look at a strange land by a strange man.." -- Boise Weekly
"They're selling pure gold with this record! . . . Not only does Ridgway make a great carnival barker at the gates of Armageddon, but the music here is some of the strongest he's ever done." -- Santa Fe New Mexican
"Ridgway has transformed himself into a decidedly offbeat version of Johnny Cash and Captain Beefheart, Rod Serling and Tom Waits all rolled up into one." -- LiveDaily.com
Stan Ridgway and Drywall / BBQ Babylon - redFLY Records
Reviewed by Zach Hoskins
You might never have heard of Drywall - but if you've ever watched one of VH1's '80s alternative marathons, chances are you've heard of Stan Ridgway. As chief singer and songwriter of neurotic L.A. new-wavers Wall of Voodoo, Ridgway is best known today for one quirky hit ("Mexican Radio"). Not that it matters: the hour-plus of music on Barbeque Babylon, the third release by Ridgway's Home Depot-monikered side project, is likely to catch even the most avid Left of the Dial listener by surprise.
Subtitled 15 Choice Cuts for Your BBQ Party, it's an album where darkly surreal Dylanesque vignettes come cloaked deceptively in merry Farfisa and accordion; where street-corner doomsday preaching drapes itself over synth bells straight out of Mannheim Steamroller, sitting (un)comfortably beside twisted sea shanties and low-key, malignant exotica. Ridgway himself describes the project as an "experimental electro noise combo"...but that description doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of this weird, haphazard, naively original record.
So how can one sum up such a record? Frankly, if there's anything that unites Barbeque Babylon, it's the overarching sense of doom from song to song; only fitting for an album which bills itself as "The Third Installment in the Trilogy of Apocalyptic Documents."
From the beginning, Drywall makes it very clear that it ain't just hot dogs that will be roasting at this barbeque: it's our own miserable, condemned souls. The Pope is dead and buried. The world is at war, poised to destroy itself at any moment. Our only option, arguably, is cultural anesthesia; as Ridgway drawls on "In Total Focus," "hey maybe if we're lucky, the government will dope us." Even the singer's anxieties about reaching middle age are worked into the paranoia-soaked tapestry, as he sings "The AARP is After Me" and makes it sound as if he's being pursued by Mafia hitmen. Not exactly the feel-good record of the year, then.
Thankfully, the times are sufficiently fucked-up to justify Ridgway's bleak visions, and it's a testament to the man's resilient knock-kneed panache that he manages to avoid looking like a sour old crank. Instead, he's the mad scientist in his basement lab; mixing steaming, bubbling beakers of moody synthpop, Americana pastiche and volatile sociocultural protest without a care in the world for the ethics and expectations of the chart scene outside.
Whether one can actually enjoy Ridgway's concoction, of course, depends entirely on one's tolerance for cheesy (we're talking Super Nintendo-quality) digital keyboards. Ironically for an album about postmodern detachment and the apocalypse, the "modern" electronic touches employed by Drywall would have sounded obsolete back when "Mexican Radio" was still in the charts. Ridgway's occasional stabs at rapping (!) in particular - see "Fortune Cookies" - are wince-making, serving to remind the listener that the man is, after all, old enough to be the average hip-hop fan's father.
Unsurprisingly, then, Babylon is most impressive when the trio play to their strengths, rather than essaying clueless attempts at "stretching": the twitchy, shambling guitars on "The Alibi Room" trump pretty much every Casiotoned low-rent Devoism on the album, calling to mind both the "grim reapers" of Tom Waits and the rootsy spazz-rock of Wall of Voodoo themselves. Even better is "Somewhere in the Dark," an eerie desert landscape with murmuring, transistor-radio vocals.
But these more galvanizing moments are few and far between. Most of the album deals strictly in novelty, a peculiar stew of irony and self-indulgence that suggests, unsurprisingly, that Stan Ridgway isn't terribly bothered about winning new converts at this stage in the game. If you like what this still-raving snake-oil salesman is peddling, then by all means, Barbeque Babylon is just the platter for you. But I, for one, have the sneaking suspicion that this was first and foremost the record Ridgway himself wanted to make - and that audience of one is already convinced. The end of the world is coming, and Drywall is celebrating with one hell of a cook-out...whether we decide to show up or not.
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Stan Ridgway and Drywall: Barbeque Babylon (2005) - on redfly records
Five Stars *****
In the mid '90s, Wall of Voodoo mainstay-turned-solo artist Stan Ridgway bid farewell to the major label treadmill via Drywall's masterfully dark debut and embarked on an indie career as the more historically-rooted, acoustically-centered singer-songwriter found of the compelling Black Diamond, Snakebite and Anatomy albums. The original Drywall concept ("a trilogy of apocalyptic documents") seemed intended to variously antagonize his then-label, subtly evoke his Wall of Voodoo past and offer outlet for his latent "mad scientist" tendencies. But Ridgway has completed that decade-spanning triptych with an album that's closer in tone to his elegiac modern solo work (his main accomplices here are also the same, keyboardist/vocalist Pietra Wextun and guitarist Rick King), if no less thematically provocative than DW's first installment. The infectious, industrialized zydeco of "Goin' On Down to the BBQ" revolves around a typically debauched Ridgway storyline, while elsewhere Stan variously stirs in jazz (the saxed-up "Fortune Cookies"), cinematic cool (the evocative "Somewhere in the Dark" and "Rain On Down") and even folk conceits both nautical ("Abandon Ship," "Robbers & Bandits & Bastards & Thieves") and Celtic (Wexstun's haunting "Bold Marauder"). "The AARP is After Me" and tipsy "Something's Gonna Blow" are filled with typically self-deprecating Ridgway wit, while the electro-edginess of "In Total Focus" and "That Big Weird Thing" contrast sharply with the stark beauty of the morally ambiguous ballad "Buried the Pope." Drywall closes out their first trilogy in rich, expansive style — and ultimately leaves listeners hoping they'll embark on another soon. --Jerry McCulley
Buy this now from Stan Ridgway's PURCHASE page.
But you could also buy it from Amazon.com if you prefer.
Through the Wall
Twenty years after ?Mexican Radio,? Stan Ridgway still finds his own way.
Jul 21, 2005
By Stuart Thornton
Back in 1976, Stan Ridgway never intended to pursue a career in rock and popular music. After all, these were the days when lightweight pop like Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" ruled the airwaves. Instead, Ridgway opened an office on Hollywood Boulevard and set about creating movie scores for low budget movies. He called his company Wall of Voodoo.
Ridgway ended up doing some work for the Harry Novak Film Company, purveyor of sophisticated drive-in fare like The Sinful Dwarf and Caged Virgins. "The Harry Novak Film Company was a few rungs below [legendary B-movie director] Roger Corman," Ridgway admits by phone from Los Angeles.
While Ridgway was sitting behind a desk with a rotary phone at his Wall of Voodoo office, the burgeoning punk rock scene was making music exciting and dangerous again right across the street, where a music club called The Masque was hosting bands like X and The Germs.
After Ridgway started jamming with guitarist Marc Moreland at the office, Wall of Voodoo morphed from a film company into a new wave band that started performing at The Masque. Eventually, the four-piece band released a self-titled EP featuring a keyboard-laden version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
Ridgway had big expectations for his nascent outfit. "The whole idea was to build something different that had never been played before," he says.
In 1982, Ridgway and his group achieved their goal by recording "Mexican Radio," a dark but catchy number that stood in stark contrast to sunny hits of the day like Olivia Newton John's "Physical" and Toni Basil's "Mickey." Ridgway says that even the song's lyrics were born from the band trying to escape the banality of pop radio at the time; the words are about the south of the border stations he and Moreland would seek out on their car radio while driving to their recording studio.
With "Mexican Radio" becoming a radio hit and its accompanying video being broadcast regularly on a new cable television station called MTV, Ridgway says the group started to spiral out of control.
"We were destroying ourselves," he says. "We were all on drugs. We were rushing down the highway in our vans."
Eventually, the situation came to a head when Wall of Voodoo performed at 1982's US Festival, a huge concert organized by Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak in San Bernandino that featured bands like The Police and the Talking Heads. Following their performance, Ridgway says he left the group when one of his bandmates freaked out and squashed a bowl of potato salad on a scantily clad female's head backstage.
"I was pretty much having a walking nervous breakdown as well as everyone else," he says of the experience.
After Wall of Voodoo, Ridgway embarked on a solo career, which started to take off when the single "Camouflage" became a hit in Europe. Despite having an ?80s keyboard dominated sound, the number was a story about a dead soldier that unfolded more like an old blues number or the kind of story song done by country artists like Johnny Cash.
His latest CD, 2004's Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs, has its fair share of story songs, like "King for a Day," which slowly divulges information about the narrator, a crack smoking car thief. "I sometimes feel like I'm updating this song and story tradition," Ridgway says.
Ridgway admits that one common aspect in a great deal of his songs is an unreliable narrator. "When characters start to develop, I let them do what they are going to do," he says, possibly referring to the narrator of "King for a Day," who crashes the stolen car he is driving into a house and announces, "Daddy's home," at the end of the tune.
To accompany his off-kilter lyrics, Ridgway plays music that evokes country blues artists, Tom Waits and arty electronic bands from the ?80s. Throughout the album, strange instruments accentuate Ridgway's surreal stories. On "Into the Sun," a harp shimmers like a mirage in a desert landscape where "the coyote walks the toad"; meanwhile, a farfisa organ creates the circus freak show sound of "Runnin' with the Carnival."
Some songs like "Crow Hollow Blues" meld traditional Americana instruments like banjo with modern contraptions like tape loops. "I like the juxtaposition of putting elements together that don't seem to mix," Ridgway says.
For Tuesday night's show at Monterey Live, Ridgway says he will perform as part of a "gothic folk noir acoustic trio." The eclectic artist admits that he might play "Mexican Radio," but he confesses that it would not be a straight take on his biggest hit.
"What we do is deconstruct the old Wall of Voodoo material," he says.
Wall of Stan
Ventura County Star
Stan Ridgway performs Voodoo hits, solo tracks and apocalyptic tunes from his Drywall project on Saturday at Red Cove
By Bill Locey, entertainment columnist
September 15, 2005
Countless albums, songs, gigs and projects later ? proof positive that some folks will do anything to stay away from Barstow ? that wry wise guy Stan Ridgway of Wall of Voodoo fame will be traveling light to Ventura's Red Cove to play a bunch of weird songs along with his black-hatted friends from Santa Barbara, the Deadbillys.
The Cove is the home away from home for the Deadbillys; the group plays there at least once a month, and it often asks friends to share the bill. Like now. Ridgway, you may recall, was the droll frontman for WOV, one of those eclectic new wave bands out of Los Angeles some 25 years ago. The group had a hit with its bizarre cover of "Ring of Fire," and its "Call of the West" album included "Mexican Radio," an even bigger hit that included the memorable line, "Wish I was in Tijuana eating barbecued iguana."
Born in Barstow, Ridgway, before and after WOV, has released a bunch of solo albums, done movie music and has another band, Drywall, which just put out a new album He's even got a new DVD out. In a lengthy, witty and frequently hilarious phone interview from a tour stop in Tooele, Utah, Ridgway discussed the latest.
Q: All these years, all these hotel rooms ... what have you learned through it all?
A: Don't eat as much as you think you need to. I don't know. I can't just quickly give you a pithy remark to that. It's a lot easier doing it this way than doing it at home.
People may think that being on the road is a hardship or something, but it's a pleasure. It's a pleasure to be on the road.
There's little you actually take with you. In other words, you only take your essentials, so what's right there in front of you is just what you need and not a whole lot of what you don't need. I find it easier to write music and songs on the road. It's always easier to write while you're moving.
I don't know why that is, but it seems to work better that way.
Q: Really? A lot of musicians have told me that they can't work on the road.
A: No, I look at it as a very lucky thing to be able to do.
Q: Anywhere you haven't been but you'd like to go?
A: In America, I've been about everywhere there is to go, but not for a long time. Anyway, I guess I haven't been in Canada enough. I haven't been to Florida in a long time, so I'd like to go to Florida. And my heart is sinking over New Orleans; it's one of my favorite cities. I hope everything hasn't been washed away down there; hopefully, it'll get back to some semblance of what the music culture was down there.
Q: What's up with this new DVD?
A: "Holiday in Dirt"? That's a bunch of friends and filmmakers that got together. At first the record company said, "Are you guys going to make a video?" And I said, "Gosh, I don't want to make a video for a song. They're just so boring and who's going to show it, anyway? Why don't we take this budget and get a lot of filmmakers to do a short film on each song and divide the budget up?" I'm on the DVD but I'm between the songs. There's some inserts between each song. The videos are what the filmmakers thought the song was about and, I think, it turned out really good. Maybe that's what MTV should've been, but it never turned out that way. Now it's all about selling the bling, as they say, right? They're just a lot of singing models. They're not really musicians, are they?
Q: You have all these band albums and solo albums and film things with the common thread being you. Are they the same, only different?
A: The Drywall project, I suppose, is another hat for me to wear. Pietra Wexstun (Ridgway's wife) is on vocals and keyboards, and my friend Rick King is on guitar, which is, funny enough, the same band I use when I do the other things. It's all sort of blending in together. The Drywall project is all about fear and frustration and apocalypse. It's all kind of interesting that it's out right now. I don't know, but it all seems to apply somehow. The Drywall record is like a tribute to those old protest records like Country Joe & the Fish ... the stuff I grew up with.
Q: It seems like the music biz is working out for you.
A: Yeah, I sort of run my own circus here. I haven't done anything other than this for the last 25 or 30 years. My last real job was a dispatcher for a trucking company. My job was to route trucks to different parts of Los Angeles to pick up furniture, oftentimes from people who were getting divorced, including a lot of celebrities.
I remember one time I was talking to Rod Steiger, and I was sorry to inform him that the truck was coming over to his house for the furniture his wife wanted moved, and he said, "Over my dead body!" When you get Rod Steiger telling you that, it was fairly convincing.
Q: And now this gig is still like a job but without Rod screaming at you?
A: Well, in the music business, you have to be somewhat industrious in order to will yourself into existence. I don't really count on many people to come on in and say, "This is a wonderful investment, Stan Ridgway. I think I'll throw a million bucks his way." I'm an artist, and without sounding too inflated as an American artist and entertainer, the things I produce I can get out of my room and, hopefully, someone else can use.
Q: Los Angeles, 1977 ? what was it like being a part of all that?
A: It was a real exciting time, a real creative time. When it started, I was old enough ? 22, I think ? to know that I was on top of a scene. I missed the Beatniks, but I was always a great admirer of all the great American writers like Kerouac and Bukowski.
Q: Where does Wall of Voodoo fit into the rock 'n' roll cosmology?
A: Well, Wall of Voodoo was designed to be an entity that sounded like nothing else. So when punk rock came along and people would say, "You are punk," well, we didn't want to be that. We were pretty tenacious when it came to doing something different, and some people really hated us for that. People would say, "So why don't you sound like the Ramones?"
And we'd say, "Yeah, we like the Ramones, but why should we sound like them? They're already there."
Q: So your version of "Ring of Fire" was a good idea?
A: Well, that came about quite by accident. I knew that song by playing in a lot of cover bands, and I'd always been a Johnny Cash fan.
I grew up on his television show, and my father had his records. One day I walked into the WOV office, and I turned the corner and the Moog synthesizer we just got fell on the floor while it was still plugged in, and the whole machine started to make this sound.
I thought "Wow ... how did that happen?"
So I propped it back up and figured we should put it down on tape so we could save this idea.
I didn't want to touch the keys, and it was like a three-chord song, and what came to mind was "Ring of Fire."
Q: That would qualify as "quite by accident." So, did you ever eat barbecued iguana?
A: Sure. Tastes like chicken. It wasn't the first line I came up with but it was the best one. Another version was, "Way down there, they call me bwana" or "Sitting in a nice, hot sauna."
That song came about rather quickly, in two or three days, and we recorded it over the weekend. Once we were done we all thought, "You know, this one is gonna go. It's pretty catchy." It was so catchy, that we almost didn't play it because at the time we were so enveloped in our own avant- garde-ness, but we knew we had to do something to keep going, or we were going to break up. There was no way we were able to sustain ourselves, so that song was to be our calling card, and the album "Call of the West" came out of that. And that song has been very good for me. I don't know if there's been anything that sounded like that before or since.
Q: I know you've been to Ventura a few times, How'd you meet the Deadbillys?
A: I think I met Fred and Heather (Dickson) in Santa Barbara at a show, but I'll have to think about that one. We just said, "Hey, let's do this show together." I think everyone should come. We're calling it the "End of Summer BBQ Bash." We're looking for a place to play in Ventura, so if the Red Cove works, we'll come back.
Terrell's Tune-Up, 08/26/2005 - Ridgway Back To New Tricks
By Steve Terrell | The New Mexican
August 26, 2005
As a solo artist, Stan Ridgway is nothing short of an eclectic, eccentric musician. He draws from all sorts of musical sources ? garage rock, horror-movie soundtracks, crime jazz, and more. His most recent solo album, last year's Snakebite, showed a fine knack for rootsy country and blues.
Lyrically, Ridgway has a skewed outlook and a soft spot for losers, loonies, small-time crooks and society's dregs. Most of his songs are sympathetic to his characters. He grants them dignity, and many of his songs seem to offer a ray of hope for those struggling beneath the underbelly.
But when Ridgway records as the front man of his band Drywall, all bets are off.
And, after a ridiculously long recess, Drywall is back with Barbeque Babylon, "The Third Installment of the Trilogy of Apocalyptic Documents."
Drywall also includes Ridgway's wife, keyboardist Pietra Wexstun, and guitarist/bassist Rick King. (For those keeping score, the first installment was 1995's Work the Dumb Oracle, which contained some of Ridgway's most intense songs ? "Police Call," "Bel Air Blues," "Big American Problem." The second was The Drywall Incident, which was mainly instrumental tracks.)
Like Work the Dumb Oracle, the songs on the new album are darker, harsher, and more extreme both musically and lyrically than Ridgway's other work. Rays of hope don't last long in Drywall Land. And except for a few stray moments, forget about kindness or dignity.
And, yes, the world of Barbeque Babylon is apocalyptic. Corruption is everywhere. A desperate spirit of lawlessness has settled over the land. Thievery and murder abound, but the government has gone even more insane than the populace. To play on a few song titles here, it's a "Land of Spook" run by people seemingly intent on achieving a "Wargasm."
Life is cheap. Love is tawdry. Paranoia thrives. ("The AARP is after me," sings one sad Ridgway narrator.) Doom is always just around the corner.
Luckily, Ridgway's twisted humor still abounds.
Not only does Ridgway make a great carnival barker at the gates of Armageddon but the music here is some of the strongest he's ever done.
The opening tune, "Goin' on Down to the BBQ," is a deceptively upbeat tropical romp with shaking maracas and a happy organ that sounds like it might break out into "Tequila" at any moment. The song sounds like a darker version of Joe "King" Carrasco: "Tammy got a knife with a razor blade/She brought her baby with a burnt teddy bear/Lost her finger on a midnight swinger/Cook it up and like it medium rare."
But after the cops break up the backyard party, Drywall goes straight for the Bizarro world with the acid-jazzy "Fortune Cookies." A honking sax soars over the techno rhythms as Ridgway declares, "Fascist state television, it's a blast. ? That's the way the cookie crumbles."
On "Big Weird Thing," against a throbbing, electronic sonic backdrop punctuated by sampled voices and sinister clanking bells, Ridgway goes into a berserk rant. He sounds like the celebrated crank Francis E. Dec (Google him, if you dare) or one of those frothing preachers and political crackpots that David Byrne and Brian Eno sampled from short-wave radio broadcasts on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. "It's a whitewash! Disintegration! Surely something that just seems to rot and fester. ? Show me these things and I shall salute it."
On Barbeque, Drywall sounds more like a band than it did on Work the Dumb Oracle. Wexstun, whose voice is a proven delight on her own albums (released under the name Hecate's Angels) gets two solo spots on this album. The most impressive is "Bold Marauder," an old Richard & Mimi Farina song that's appropriately sinister and, yes, apocalyptic for a Drywall CD:
"For I will sour the winds on high and I will soil the river/And I will burn the grain in the field and I will be your mother/And I will go to ravage and kill and I will go to plunder/And I will take a fury to wife and I will be your mother/And death will be our darling, and fear will be our name ?"
There's a secret hidden track featuring the voice of the president of the United States. Ridgway surely remembers National Lampoon's infamous cut-and-paste manipulation of a Richard Nixon speech ("I am ? a crook."). He's done the same shock-and-awe editing here for President Bush.
"Every year by law and by custom we meet here to threaten the world," the president says, backed by an ominous Mideastern-sounding Drywall instrumental track, interrupted every now and then by applause. "We must offer every child in America three nuclear missiles. ? We are building a culture to encourage international terrorism. ? I have a message for the people of Iraq: ?Go home and die.'"
There's one notably calm moment in the madness of Barbeque Babylon, a cool, almost jazzy little finger-popper called "Buried the Pope." Ridgway released this surprisingly reverent tune as a free Internet download just days after Pope John Paul II's death.
"A world choked up with lies and politician doublespeak/Nowhere to get the truth sometimes, but some will always seek/Now you can criticize it, run it down/Maybe religion's not your dope/But it's hard to argue solid about a man of peace and hope/That's the day they buried the pope."
But the funeral is just a short respite for Ridgway's outrage. Elsewhere he has nothing but contempt for the large and in charge. In a sweet, almost Western waltz called "Robbers & Bandits & Bastards & Thieves," he sings, "Hey, nothing is new, this story is old/Some will always steal tin and then sell it for gold."
That's not the case for Ridgway and Drywall. They're selling pure gold with this record.
Barbeque Babylon is available in stores Aug. 30th and at Stan Ridgway concerts and on the Internet.
Check out Stan's appearance on Extra this past weekend (June 11-12, 2005). It's short, but it's Stan!
Stan Ridgway (Los Angeles, CA)
by Tjames Madison, liveDaily Contributor
Published: March 09, 2005 09:01 PM
Stanard Ridgway and his band Wall of Voodoo burst onto the scene in the early '80s, hitting the charts with "Mexican Radio" and representing a then-novel, art-punk camera into the LA music scene. ?Since his Voodoo days, Ridgway has transformed himself into a decidedly offbeat version of Johnny Cash, Kurt Weill and Tom Waits all rolled up into one. ?Oh, the odd visuals are still there, the swamps and strange streets and alienation ever-present in the lyrics, but the poppy paranoia has been replaced by roll-up-the-sleeves bayou grunge in places and, get this, the man actually croons now. ?His recently released album "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs" is available on redFLY Records. --Tjames Madison
Performing Thursday, March 17 at midnight (TX Union 24th @ Guadalupe).