Review: Stan Ridgway- Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs
I'd take a bullet for Stan Ridgway. I worked security for Wall Of Voodoo one night in 1982 and Stan sat next to me, asked my name, and then said, out of the side of him mouth as always, "So, tell me something about yourself." The nicest guy, hands down.
Snakebite, from 2004, is his best album since 1985's The Big Heat. I think his best songwriting was with Wall Of Voodoo, before his solo career as the great American storyteller of the imaginary, anachronistic noir west. "The Big Heat" and "Drive, She Said" were engrossing tales, but Stan didn't and couldn't write to that level all the time. Each song was expected to be a Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Raymond Carver masterpiece all rolled into one, and not even Stan could pull it off.
What one should expect from Stan is a group of songs you wouldn't mind hearing him play live. The big appeal of Stan Ridgway is Stan Ridgway, sitting at a piano lit by a single spotlight as cigarette smoke snakes to the ceiling, singing stories in a small club on a small stage. That's the stuff. I don't know if this is how he performs, but if not, he should.
Snakebite finds Stan with a catchier set of tunes, fascinating arrangements and a beautifully recorded cd that sounds organic and analog. The Delta Blues and a bit of roots country permeate the work, making this the first disc in a while where I imagine Stan and the whole band, not just Stan and a few musicians better kept in the dark. Here's the non-standard instruments found on the cd:
Jazzmaster guitar, squawk box, harp, wurlitzer piano, efx drums, sunblock, bug repellant, reed organ, fiddle, siren, harmonica, organ, handclaps, 2 string jawbone, french horns, mellotron, farfisa organ, celeste, flute, slide guitar, cello, viola, wooden swamp flute, dice, elka strings, sci-fi machine, violin, brass & monsters, brushes, angry birds, stylaphone, glockinspiel, trombones, carny drums, underwater bells, nylon & octave guitars, piano, PPG Wave, cocktail drums, banjo, tape loops, shovels and rakes, bamboo flute, bo guitars, tap shoes, beercans, spoons, baritone sax, hammer dulcimer, samples, hand drums, rhythm ace, train whistles, dustpan, trash compactor, saxophones, wurlitzer, mellotron, accordian, mandolin, nylon guitar, woodwinds and brass, cinema string quartet, popcorn box, marching drum, snake guitar, melodica, oberhiem, juno 106, moog bass, reed organ, mellotron, autoharp, marching percussion, woodwinds, hi- strung guitar.
Stan writes a great history of his involvement with Wall Of Voodoo, "Talkin' Wall Of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1". I would still like to know what exactly went wrong. At times I detect a Lou Reed type delivery. Stan often sings like he's talking in tones. The lyrics are top notch all around. It's numerically impossible to top lyrics like "Oh, the people in the carnival, they all act just like kin / And you can't be in the middle when you're sleepin' with a Siamese twin / Oh, the dog-faced boy lifts his leg out in the pourin' rain / When you're travellin' with the carnival, there really is no shame / Nope, no shame". That's from "Running With The Carnival", which steals the happy riff from "Feelin' Groovy". Then there's this line "I gotta hang up now and crash into this house / Daddy's home!" Freakin' sweet.
Stan is the man, and I hope nobody's gunning for him because I hear bullets sting.