Critic's Choice for the week of December 8-14, 2004
by j. poet
From East Bay Express
Stan Ridgway doesn't easily fit into any of your preordained pop categories. Wall of Voodoo, his original band, was almost rock, but even back in the day its electronic textures, spaghetti Western twang, and skewed world vision set it apart from your average pop outfit. Now Stan is solo, and touring to support Snakebite, another collection of mutant blues, moody jazz, and arrhythmic rock delivered in his usual guttural croak to complement his usual dark humor. The Boxcar Saints close out the show. (j. poet)
Stan Ridgway with Boxcar Saints
by Bill Picture
From The San Francisco Examiner
December 2nd, 2004
For his latest release, "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs" (Redfly), Stan Ridgway conjures up a creepy noir-blues soundtrack to blast from the crackling speakers of a dust-covered car on a long desert road trip. The former Wall of Voodoo frontman, who in addition to several solo releases has also scored a number of films, invites a handful of shadowy figures seemingly culled from old black-and-white movies -- carnie workers, lonely soldiers, rail-riders and stickup men -- to ride shotgun, adding a gloomy hue to his already blue roots blend.
9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10 advance/$12 door. Call (415) 861-5016 or visit www.cafedunord.com.
The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Beyond the Wall of Voodoo
By Carolyn Lamberson
November 5th, 2004
The name Stan Ridgway may not ring any bells. But mention Wall of Voodoo and, more precisely, the hit single "Mexican Radio," and the bells will chime.
That twangy, nasal voice. The lyrics "I wish I was in Tijuana/ Eating barbecued iguana." And a defining image from the video: a guy's head popping up out of a bowl of pinto beans.
Yeah, that Stan Ridgway.
It's been more than 20 years since Ridgway left Wall of Voodoo, the avant-garde, new wave band he helped form in the late '70s. Since then, he's continued to produce his own peculiar brand of rock music.
And on Monday night, the Stan Ridgway Trio will stop by the WOW Hall in support of his ninth album, "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Sons."
Wall of Voodoo originally formed to produce sound tracks for low-budget horror movies. As the allmusicguide.com biography puts it: "The group was eventually swept up into the local post-punk new wave scene, where their combination of Ennio Morricone, Lefty Frizzell and crime novelist Jim Thompson was loved and hated with equal passion."
Ridgway left the band in 1983, at the height of its popularity. And while "Mexican Radio" is destined to forever put Wall of Voodoo among M ("Pop Muzik") and the Vapors ("Turning Japanese") as the great one-hit wonders of the '80s, Ridgway went back to the movies.
He collaborated with Police drummer Stewart Copeland on the sound track for Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 teen drama "Rumble Fish," and he scored a minor hit with the single from the sound track, "Don't Box Me In." Ridgway also worked on music for the films "Slam Dance" and "Pump Up the Volume."
In many ways, "Snakebite" continues the songwriting style that Ridgway established way back with Wall of Voodoo. Its 16 songs are quite cinematic, portraits of loners and losers that are painted with equal parts jazz, blues, country folk and rock - with Kurt Weill and Bo Diddley tossed in for good measure.
Ridgway even remembers and honors his past with "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1." It's a cautionary tale that recounts the band's rise and fall, complete with "shark" agents and contracts that are 200 pages long.
It also remembers the band members who since have died: drummer Joe Nanini and guitarist Marc Moreland.
"Didn't want no MTV/ Didn't want no VH1/ Was a time so long ago/ Yeah we had some punk-rock fun," Ridgway sings in his distinctive voice. "Made a great big noise/ For all the girls and boys/ It was 1977/ Now two are gone to heaven."
THE STRANGER (Seattle, WA)
ROOTS & AMERICANA
by Kurt B. Reighley
November 4th, 2004
That voice. There's no mistaking it. The adenoidal snarl immortalized on the 1982 MTV hit "Mexican Radio." The one that challenged "Don't Box Me In" over the credits of Rumble Fish, and scaled the UK top five in 1986 with "Camouflage." It's the voice of Stan Ridgway, original singer for Wall of Voodoo. And while it's not quite the piercing bark it once was, it still has plenty of bite... even over the phone.
Ridgway makes a long-overdue Seattle appearance at the Triple Door this Wednesday, November 10, in support of his latest opus, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs (on redFLY Records). Featuring 16 songs, Ridgway describes the disc as an exercise in "gothic folk noir." Shady characters populate cuts like the lurching "Wake Up Sally (The Cops Are Here)" and "King for a Day," a detailed account from the POV of a crack-smoking car thief. Despite his vivid descriptions of the album's disreputable cast, Ridgway claims his own criminal record is relatively clean. "I've probably ridden in a stolen car, more than once," he admits, "but not lately."
Musically, the dusty, atmospheric songs of Snakebite bristle and twitch with stringed instruments, a sharp contrast to prior, keyboard-oriented Ridgway outings like The Big Heat. "I wanted to play a mandolin and Dobro, get back out the slide guitar, and write songs with all that in mind." He coaxed his wife and sometimes-collaborator, Pietra Wexstun, to augment her arsenal of keyboards with an accordion. On "That Big 5-0," he even provides percussion on tap shoes.
The emphasis on traditional instruments like banjo and harmonica harks back to Ridgway's earliest influences, before he became fixated with film scores. (Wall of Voodoo was originally formed as a collective of movie composers, not a traditional band.) As a child in Pasadena, the singer "fell into a stack of records" that previously belonged to his aunt. "She had collected all the old folk records, from the late '50s and early to mid-'60s: The Limelighters and the Weavers, Pete Seeger and Odetta and Josh White."
Ridgway also permits himself a look back at his own history on the penultimate cut, "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1." "It's part one because the song is actually much longer than the version on the record," which already clocks in at six minutes. He rattles off the band's rise and fall, and pays homage to former bandmates Marc Moreland and Joe Nanni, both of whom passed away in recent years.
Although his voice has mellowed some with age, Ridgway says he's done nothing deliberate to achieve that. "I have trouble sounding like anything other than what I sound like," he says of his distinctive timbre. "The singers I like are the ones who have a direct, honest delivery--one which isn't that different from when they talk. I love Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash of course, and Bob Dylan. Bob gave us all permission to sing, even if we weren't singers."
TIME OUT NEW YORK
CRITICS PICKS: ROCK & POP
Sun 17, Stan Ridgway, Joe's Pub, The Public Theater, 9:30pm, $25.
On Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs (redFLY), his first new collection of songs since 1999, tart-voiced raconteur Stan Ridgway spins his most diverse collection of tales to date, setting them to Bo Diddley riffs, Tom Waits carny tunes and loungey exotica with equal aplomb. In addition to his customary cast of drifters and lowlifes, Ridgway even turns the spotlight on himself, spinning a bittersweet tale of his briefly famous former band on "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues Part 1." It's admittedly disconcerting to hear his gumshoe croon on a record this brightly mixed; the cozy surroundings of Joe's Pub should do this original voice proud.
SUN. & MON., OCT. 17 & 18
"DON'T YOU EVER stop to think," asks Stan Ridgway, "beyond the safe and sanctioned point of view?" He isn't talking to your father, either. He's addressing the artsy NYC denizens of "Our Manhattan Moment," one of the more beautiful tracks on the new Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs . Ridgway pioneered industrial Americana back in the days of Wall of Voodoo, and Snakebite is another sharp collection of his recent rural noir fixations. He even touches on the uniquely personal with "That Big 5-0" and "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues." Ridgway's self-styled "gothic folk trio" pulls in for two shows this week, as discussed from his California hideout.
This is your most political album, and it doesn't seem leftist to this Republican. You know, I'm not really sure what I am—Republican, Democrat, Independent—but a bit of the world is always going to work its way into what I do. I don't know if a song should ever really be a book or a pamphlet. But, you know, projection is fun to do. We all project a different thing onto something, and it all comes out different and we think we're communicating.
Of course, this is also the big mid-life crisis album. Yeah, well, you roll over in bed and say, "What? Am I old now?" It ain't no big deal. I don't have much control over the times and what I'm writing. I don't want to have much control. If I find my writing becoming too on-the-nose, I probably do enjoy moving it off-the-nose a bit. You know, you've caught me on a morning when I'm in an ambiguous mood. If this runs as a Q&A, people will wonder what the fuck I'm talking about.
"Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues" is getting some attention, but "Classic Hollywood Ending" seems more like a tribute to Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland. I would say that's partially true. When Marc died, and [WoV percussionist] Joe Nanini died before that, it put me to the side of the road for a while. "Classic Hollywood Ending" really started with me wanting to play the mandolin. Then out of those things comes something on your mind. There's no confusion about "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues." I felt like Wall of Voodoo deserved a folk song on a Paul Bunyan level. The reason it's "Pt. 1" is because it's a narrative that just kept going on for way too long.
You never get much credit for your live act, which usually mixes show biz and deep bitterness. You're going to hear more older stuff now than I've played in a while. For me, a show has become just a collection of what my background is. I've really been enjoying playing live music lately, but I've always been hard to classify. It hasn't been voluntary. People just wonder, "What is Stan doing here?" and throw up their hands.
Sun. at Joe's Pub, 425 Lafayette St. (betw. E. 4th St. & Astor Pl.), 212-539-8778; 9:30, $25; Mon. at Maxwell's, 1039 Washington St. (11th St.), Hoboken, 201-653-1703; 9, $15, $12 adv.
THE NEW YORKER
October 13, 2004
Illustration / DEMETRIOS PSILLOS
Stan Ridgway and his eighties rock band, Wall of Voodoo, had a hit with the spooky and mordant "Mexican Radio." Ridgway hasn?t spent much time on the charts since, but he?s kept making excellent music that ranges from the noirish to the outr?. Oct. 17. (425 Lafayette St. 212-539-8777.)
Stan Ridgway - Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs
Redfly Records 84812, Released: 2004
by Joseph Taylor, Special to Soundstage
Stan Ridgway, a student of unusual behavior, includes a photo of Appalachian snake handlers in the CD booklet for his new disc, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs. Snake handlers are rural Pentecostal Christians who take literally the passage in the Bible from Mark 16:17-18, "And these signs will accompany those who believe?They will pick up snakes with their hands?." The detail that caught my eye was at the back of the photo: A member of the worship band, a late middle-aged man calmly watching the snake handlers in the foreground, is holding a Fender Precision Bass. Ridgway could probably write a song about that guy and his P-Bass and where they?ve been.
Snakebite is Ridgway?s first disc on his own label, Redfly Records, and his first disc of new material since 1999?s Anatomy. As with his other discs, Holiday in Dirt and Black Diamond, Snakebite is filled with complex stories that deepen with each listen. Ridgway works the way a short-story writer does, allowing small details to reveal what?s most important about his characters. The narrator in "Afghan/Forklift" is "Movin? crates for exportation?Two were marked Top Secret, headed for Afghanistan." He asks later, "What?s a man to do with all the trouble ?round today?" In "Talkin? Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1," Ridgway even brings his sharp eye to his own experiences: "A big manager for Sting/Said ?sign here, boys, you?ll all be stars.?"
Things, of course, didn?t work out that way, but Ridgway has taken more chances musically than fame might have allowed. Snakebite is a work of remarkable depth and variety, completely accessible but too smart for radio. Ridgway?s choice of subject matter and instrumentation is unusual and he doesn?t tie himself down to a particular style. "My Rose Marie (A Soldier?s Tale)," for instance, sounds like an old Appalachian ballad, while other tunes show the influence of surf music, Bo Diddley, and '60s movie soundtracks. As I?ve noted in other SoundStage! reviews of Ridgway?s work, his discs are beautifully recorded -- spacious and lovingly detailed. Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs is full of surprises. It?s the sound of an already essential American artist creating his masterpiece.
Listen to Stan Ridgway interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, Sept. 19th 2004. He discusses his new album, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs with host Liane Hansen. http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3925788