Stan Ridgway Press


August 2004

Snakebite Review
by Dant? Dominick
Special to RockzillaWorld
August 22nd, 2004

The common review tactic of aligning the work in question with similar artists or styles simply is not apt in the case of Stan Ridgway and his latest release, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs. It would be misleading (and far too difficult) to list the styles of music employed on Snakebite, so in lieu of hard-to-pin genres, let's examine an abbreviated list of instruments credited to the musicians. Starting simple, there are various guitars, drums & percussion, piano and bass. Then there are the less conventional instruments, but ones we are at least familiar with, such as harp, jawbone, French horns, celeste, glockenspiel, melodica, autoharp, bamboo flute and tap shoes to name a few. Then we have the third tier of, well, objects not typically considered musicmakers: angry birds, underwater bells, shovels & rakes, beer cans, sci-fi machine, trash compactor, popcorn box, etc. and some things called oberhiem and juno 106.

In the past three weeks I have listened to Snakebite more than any other album and I'm still not sure what I think. That's not true actually. I know I like it. Just surprised I like it so much and deeply curious about whatever force it is that keeps me popping the disc back in for yet another listen.

Stan Ridgway's music is well known to quite a lot of folks. He enjoyed fleeting mainstream fame during the early, edgy heyday of MTV and the subsequent decades as a solo artist have found a legion of loyal followers. His avant-garde, industrial folktales are well-thought, complexly layered gizmo soundscapes built atop barebones acoustic folk. Ridgway is a media-age storyteller.

Snakebite is broken into three acts. Act One includes twisted tales of human lives gone amuck, fodder for sensational 5 o'clock breaking news quirks. "King For a Day" follows a man's cell-phone conversation with the woman whose auto he just "stole" as he is chased by a battalion of police and news crews. As the narrator gives "a message for your mother/Out the window, can she see?" it is evident this is the knockout ending to domestic deterioration and not a random crime. The conclusion finds the singer crashing the car into a house, "Daddy's home."

Act Two begins with the obscene gaiety of farifsa organ (?) and glockenspiel (Pietra Wexstun) and "carny drums" (Bruce Zelesnik) in "Runnin' With the Carnival." Here Ridgway enlivens the fascination a country farm boy holds for the traveling carnival, finding romance and pure charm in what is truly grotesque, "Oh, the dogface boy lifts his leg out in the pourin' rain/When you're travelin' with the carnival, there really is no shame." The boy is so taken with the Monkey Woman, Rubber Man, Bearded Lady and Siamese Twins that he expresses, "I'm tired of totin' water, feedin' chickens in a shack/I'm runnin' way with the carnival, an' never comin' back."

The following number, "Our Manhattan Moment" mocks cosmopolitan high-society, the juxtaposition of following the dreamy-eyed boy in "Runnin' With the Carnival" with this depiction suggests the daily lives your average, fashionable urbanite are today's true freak show:

One night up in a penthouse suite
Your famous friends I got to meet
So nice to have my pinky painted blue

Not one to mince words, Ridgway strikes hard with the acerbic conclusion:

These city streets burst at their seams
And flood the earth with people's dreams
But you're only concerned with some new shoe

So we'll amble through the bars
And count the pretty colored jars
I still wish that I could be as dumb as you.

The project starts to slow down at the onset of Act Three, provoking thoughts that this generous platter of 16 songs should maybe have been slimmed down. But Ridgway was simply saving the best for last. The final cut, "My Rose Marie (a soldier's tale)" clippity-clops along like the hooves of a lonely horse and a remorseful harmonica playing a Dixie melody. This five-minute song captures an entire movie score; on the big screen is a poor chap whose honorable devotion is rendered pointless when met with returned abandonment. A wonderful example of Ridgway's ear for composing a score spiced with little touches of woodwinds, brass, strings and keys at the perfect moments to portray emotions with solid clarity.

But it is the preceding number, "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1," that will floor the longtime fans. Some 25 years later Ridgway lays down the painful truth about his heady days in the band that is this song's namesake.

Yeah, I guess we blew it big time
Business got us bent
We played a show for forty grand
And the manager took every cent
Every goddamn cent

Ridgway is reminiscent of Warren Zevon who refused for years to play "Werewolves of London." Like Zevon, Ridgway eventually capitulated and re-commenced playing his signature song in concert. But don't expect to hear "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues" at live shows. Most are amazed he cut this song at all.

This omission is easily forgivable as Ridgway is anything but stingy with his performances. A recent evening at Austin's Saxon Pub found the singer weaving through his recordings and he performed noticeably longer than the scheduled time. The swelled crowd hinged to the beginning of every number in an unspoken competition to be the first to identify what song he was starting to play. Slightly surprising is how jolly and chatty the singer is considering his songs are often brooding and, uh, demented. Ridgway routinely jokes with the crowd while seemingly modifying the set list as desired because, "that's my prerogative as Bobby Brown the philosopher says."

Fine with us.

There. I believe I just finished the first ever review of Stan Ridgway that did not include the title *e****n ***i* in it anywhere.

Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs
by Kent Harrison
Special to 9X Magazine
August 22nd, 2004

Welcome back my friends to that world of Mr. Stanard Ridgway, he of long-ago and hopefully forgotten Wall of Voodoo fame, not to mention some outstanding solo releases and some film score contributions. Seemingly, this world is inhabited by, as the song goes, loveable losers and other outlaws. Every few years Stan Ridgway gives us insight into his world, and this time he and with his wife Pietra Wexston connects with his best solo releases, THE BIG HEAT and MOSQUITOS. SNAKEBITE is another Ridgway understated sonic, movie-esque wonder.

The record is divided into three acts, each with a kind of theme. Act One seems to fall into the "Blacktop Ballads" territory. Like MOSQUITOS, SNAKEBITE opens like a film with some soft and smoky keyboards and spaghetti western staccato baritone guitar which introduces you to a place "where the air's too thick to breathe... [and] where the sand blows into your eyes." Again, welcome to Stan's world.

From there, Act One kicks in with "Wake Up Sally (the cops are here)," an atypical Ridgway number about bumbling dog loving inept thieves on the lam throughout the U.S. all the way to Idaho. Brantley Kearns lends some tasty fiddle. Also in this act is the topical "Afghan/Forklift", the quintessential family man goes bad "King For A Day" (once you've heard this, "Daddy's Home" will never be quite the same), and sexually loaded swamp blues "Your Rockin' Chair."

The second act seems to focus on individual weaknesses and thoughts. The listener gets an insider's view of a carny's life in "Running With The Carnival," sweats along with a chain gang where "everyday a good day that you above ground" on "Crow Hollow Blues," shares the idle life of urban hipsters and fake friends to a slow jazz shuffle on "Our Manhattan Moment," shares the toil and backbreaking worker of a railroad man works 'cause "hungry kids need clothes and shoes...and moms and dads need their and booze," and travels down the midnight road to a Bo Diddley beat in "The Big 5-0."

By Act 3, Ridgway is gets a bit personal a retrospective. "My Own Universe" is a pretty moonlit ballad of love and regret, "Throw It All Away" is a double meaning tale based on the exploits of backs-stabbing dumb crooks getting caught in Italy, and on "Talkin' Wall Of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1" Stan details the triumphs, tragedies, and lost chances of his former band "How were chumps like us to know?" The kicker, for me, and maybe other Southerners, is the closer, "My Rose Marie." It is an acoustic quiet and sad tale of a rebel soldier facing a firing squad in a prisoner of war camp, only to be freed at the last moment. He marches home to his Rose Marie in Tennessee, who, alas, has married and moved away. Well done, credits roll, slide guitar instrumental bleeds, come back again and see Ridgway's next film....

Singer transcends Voodoo, 'Mexican Radio'
by George Lang
Special to The Oklahoman
August 22nd, 2004

Before he was on a "Mexican Radio," Stan Ridgway wanted to be the Ennio Morricone of '70s drive-in cinema, creating sound tracks for low-budget exploitation flicks. He had an office, a desk and a phone, and the sign outside his Hollywood digs was a masterpiece of hard-boiled simplicity: "Acme Soundtracks."

An admirer of Phil Spector's recording technique, Ridgway would conduct experiments with ancient equipment, layering noise upon noise. During one such experiment, a bank of old drum machines spelled out his future.

"One evening, I had all these rhythm machines set up and was trying to get them all synchronized," said Ridgway, who performs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Blue Door. "I asked a friend of mine, 'Well Joe, do you think this is the wall of sound?' and he said, 'No, I think it's a wall of voodoo.'"

Acme Soundtracks became Wall of Voodoo, then Wall of Voodoo became a band. The Los Angeles group excelled in new wave songs bolstered by unusual rhythms, spaghetti western guitars and film noir lyrics, but it was Ridgway's drawling sing-speak on a foreboding 1980 cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" that first achieved notoriety.

From there, Ridgway built a reputation as a chronicler of stark truths. The title track to Wall of Voodoo's 1982 album, "Call of the West," revealed the dead end of California dreaming, while songs such as "Lost Weekend" and "Factory" told of simple people getting lost amid the on-ramps and bedroom communities. Then, there was "that song."

"We used to go to rehearsals in my car, in my Mustang," Ridgway said. "Marc (Moreland, Wall of Voodoo's guitarist) would want to tune into the Mexican radio stations that were flying across the border.

"When he would get one, he'd go, 'Good?I'm on a Mexican radio.'"

"Mexican Radio" became a staple on MTV in 1982 and is still Ridgway's best-known song, but its success was concurrent with an almost immediate unraveling of the band amid infighting and bad management. Ridgway and percussionist Joe Nanini left, and Wall of Voodoo stumbled onward for a few years with new vocalist Andy Prieboy. Ridgway went on to collaborate on the "Rumble Fish" sound track with the Police's Stewart Copeland, then formally launched his solo career with 1986's "The Big Heat."

Those who followed Ridgway know that "Mexican Radio" is a small but crucial element of his career. "The Big Heat" and its follow-ups, 1989's "Mosquitoes" and 1991's "Partyball," were filled with details of the dark side, like anthologies filled with four-minute pulp novels. Ridgway said he always gravitated toward such stories.

"The grit of it, the dirt of things is attractive to me," he said. "It equalizes things. I mean, we're all dirty?we're all crawling through vacant lots in our lives. The human condition is a mixed-up map, and a lot of the roads lead to an intersection with just more signs."

After "Partyball," Ridgway left behind the major labels and became his own boss. He has recorded several well-received albums, including 1999's "Anatomy," but his past was never far behind him. Nanini died in 2000, then Moreland died two years later of liver failure. So, when he recorded his latest CD, "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs," Ridgway took the Wall of Voodoo apart, brick by brick.

"Talking Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1" tells the story, all the way from the sound track office to the bad breakup. Ridgway said it was a way of settling scores and dealing with the fair-weather fans who wish he was still "in Tijuana, eating barbecued iguana."

"It was a great band, people should remember it, and this was my story," he said. "It was a way of running headlong into it instead of trying to avoid it. It was something that people always ask me, and now I don't have to talk about it anymore. I can say, 'Go listen to the song.'

Ridgway said he does not resent "Mexican Radio." He sees the song as a logical entry point for his fans. He just asks that they travel beyond its signal.

"Honestly, it only bothers me when that's all they've heard," he said. "I still play it when I feel like being 'on it'?I control the vertical; I control the horizontal. You have to lead?you can't let the audience lead you.

"You get to a point in life when the word 'gratitude' is something we all need to meditate on," Ridgway said. "I'm lucky I haven't wrapped myself around a telephone pole at this point. I think I've fallen so far off the roulette table that I'm running my own game. I'm lucky enough to say that I haven't had a real job in 30 years."

Strangely intriguing Stan Ridgway takes audience into the twilight zone
by Thor Christensen
Special to The Dallas Morning News
August 20th, 2004

Stan Ridgway sings with such a peculiar sense of drama "think Marv Albert crossed with Al Jolson" that he'd be worth listening to even if his songs weren't very interesting. But, of course, they are.

Performing Wednesday night at the Gypsy Tea Room, the former leader of Wall of Voodoo ushered fans into his own strange universe, a sleazy place populated by Siamese twins, peroxide blondes and guys who drink whiskey with a pickle-juice chaser. Like a character from one of his own songs, he came off as eccentric and slightly ornery#&151;someone with whom you might want to share a beer, but not a cross-country car trip.

"I'll do this song any ... [expletive] way I want to," he said, introducing "Mexican Radio," the galloping hit that catapulted Voodoo onto MTV in 1982. And, sure enough, he transformed it from a new-wave ditty into a rousing Cajun folk song complete with accordionlike sounds from keyboardist Pietra Wexstun.

Mr. Ridgway started the concert solo with just an acoustic guitar and a pair of reading glasses to double-check the lyrics to his new CD, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs. The one-man-band format worked fine on "Runnin' With the Carnival," a Dylanesque strut with carnival life as a metaphor for today's society.

But the Snakebite songs really heated up when Ms. Wexstun began adding eerie textures, like a funeral church organ in "King for a Day," a Lou Reed-ish tale of a crack-fueled crime spree. Between his new songs, Mr. Ridgway dug through his solo career for old gems like "Big Dumb Town," his creepy 1995 kiss-off to Los Angeles, and 1989's "Goin' Southbound." The latter had the same swaggering-blues rhythm as Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," as did several other tunes he played Wednesday.

As good as his own material was, some of the show's high points came when he wrapped his odd, nasal tenor around Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" (a tune Wall of Voodoo once recorded), Bob Dylan's rare "Only a Hobo" and Mose Allison's "Monsters of the Id," a witty psychodrama that could pass for one of Stan Ridgway's originals.

Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs Review
by Hal Horowitz
Special to The All-Music Guide
August 17th, 2004

Stan Ridgway sounds recharged on a sprawling set that revisits familiar territory but does so in a fresh fashion. Not counting 2004's Blood which was more a soundtrack, this is the ex- Wall of Voodoo frontman's first solo album since 1999's Anatomy. The 16-song track list is divided into three "acts" which infers that there is a thread connecting the tunes. But even if one senses a vague theme about traveling, reflections on life, and tall tales of outcasts, outlaws and loners, the narrative—if there is one—is difficult to follow. That won't lessen a fan's enjoyment of this splintered but always innovative and challenging album. The music occasionally has a twisted carnival feel, similar to a more upbeat version of Tom Waits' unique style, but much less abrasive. Ridgway's offbeat lyrics are some of his finest and most thought-provoking, with songs like "The Big 5-0" either telling a straightforward tale of a pair of losers trying to find the titular road, or a more oblique observation on a mid-life crisis. The words are juxtaposed against a modified Bo Diddley beat that also conveys the rattling of wheels on a highway. The singer's distinctive harmonica provides the high lonesome effects on "God Sleeps in a Caboose"; standard Ridgway train fare played with unplugged sympathy for its windswept landscapes and loser hoboes. "Throw It Away" implicitly references his Wall of Voodoo days where the bellboy puts the main character—which seems to be Ridgway—on hold after saying he heard "that radio song." "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1" is a candid recap of his years in the band, sung with a detached yet loving approach which rails against the commerciality of the record business and pays tribute to two members who have passed. Musically, Ridgway sounds assured throughout this terrific, and rather long, but never boring disc. While it is by no means a bid at stardom, he incorporates avant-garde elements within pop structures. As such it is arguably his most impressive—if not necessarily cohesive—release and his best album. Established fans will be thrilled, while newcomers are encouraged to search this out and work backwards.

Recommended Music Listings
Special to The Austin Chronicle
August 17th, 2004

Though best known for the 1982 hit "Mexican Radio," there's much more to the former Wall of Voodoo singer than barbecued iguana. Originally a composer for low-budget horror movies, Stan Ridgway imbued his New Wave with the air of film noir, a synthesis culminating in "Don't Box Me In," the frantic theme to Rumble Fish . Ridgway's latest, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs (RedFly) is a folk-tinged collection of aural novellas from the road that showcase his uniquely tweaked songwriting instincts. Ridgway plays at 8pm, followed by Mark Addison's Mad 3 and Chad Updegraff.

Aural Fixations
by Michael Toland
Special to High Bias
August 15th, 2004

Stan Ridgway is the Thomas Hart Benton of American popular music. His portraits and playscapes might convey people, places and activities that look normal at first glance, but a closer look betrays the cynical heart and satirical eye that fashioned the work. He's a living synthesis of American musical storytellers, pulling a thread from Stephen Foster through Cole Porter, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, tying the end around his own little finger so he never forgets in which closet he keeps his favorite sport coats. He focuses the songwriting traditions through a lens of beat poetry, cheesy horror movies and junk culture, his characters refracted through a crazy funhouse mirror that makes them undulate and warped like Benton's dervish dancers. Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs is one of Ridgway's most subdued recordings, with relatively straightforward song structures, folk and country-derived melodies and stripped-down arrangements that emphasize his conversational vocals over everything else. Like a carny with a Jim Thompson novel in his pocket, Ridgway proudly directs the viewer to displays of misfits, with petty criminals ("Throw It Away," "Wake Up Sally [the cops are here]"), stoned joyriders ("King For a Day") and chain gang prisoners ("Crow Hollow Blues"), plus a quick stop in front of a sympathetic portrait of a lovelorn soldier ("My Rose Marie"). Somewhere along the way, though, the perspective shifts, as tunes like "Our Manhattan Moment," "Classic Hollywood Ending" and "That Big 5-0" drag more of Ridgway's own inner world into the light than he's ever previously dared. "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt.1" completely strips away any costuming and simply tells the story of Ridgway's time with the cult new wave act Wall of Voodoo. He even manages to make Mose Allison's "Monsters of the Id" sound confessional. This isn't to say he's baring his soul, mind you—detachment is still way too powerful a part of his artistic makeup for that. But he's obviously willing to invite the same scrutiny of his life as a cult rock musician as he does of the protagonists of his crime 'n' crapout dramas, which adds a more empathic nature to all the tunes found here. Snakebite doesn't have the blatant hooks of his early work, and thus requires close attention and patience to appreciate. But the time spent with this record and its iconoclastic creator will be richly rewarding.

Entertainment Calendar
Special to The Tuscon Citizen
August 12th, 2004

Stan Ridgway: The former lead singer of Wall of Voodoo is back, and not just to remind us he's still here. He has a new album, in fact, "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs" (redFLY Records). It's set to hit record stores Aug. 20, but we're guessing Stan will have a few copies at the show for sale.

Ridgway is still telling story songs with that lovably goofy voice, backed by cheapo keys, violin, acoustic guitar, harmonica and a host of other instruments. Song titles should give you an idea what kind of a crowd he runs with: "Wake up Sally (The Cops are Here)," "God Sleeps in a Caboose" and "Running with the Carnival." Tickets to hear the Stan man at 8 p.m. Aug. 12 at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde are $10. Call the club at 733-6262.

Music: Picks
by Joe Gross
Special to The Austin American Statesman
August 12th, 2004

Stan Ridgway. Perhaps you remember him from Wall Of Voodoo; perhaps you know him from a noir-ish solo career that's perpetually a little more under-the-radar than it should be. "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs" (Redfly) is his brand-new shadow on pop's wall, a lonely train chugging through the night. Expect to hear a lot of it, acoustic-style. Saxon Pub, 1320 S. Lamar Blvd. 448-2552.

Stan Ridgway
by Malcolm Mayhew
Special to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
August 13th, 2004

Having long ago chunked any chance for mainstream success to have musical free-rein, this veteran singer/songwriter and ex-frontman for Los Angeles' underrated Wall of Voodoo lives on the fringes of the fringe, with every new album being a surprise party of exquisitely dark, unpredictable sounds. Which, in Ridgway's case, would encompass jazz, rock, lounge, folk and pulp fictions and facts, all sung in a nasally drawl that makes you wonder if he's got a cold or if he's just been crying again. 8 p.m. Wednesday. Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm St., Dallas. $12. (888) 512-SHOW.