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SNAKEBITE: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs

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Album Review

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.

Biography

Born: 05 April 1954 in Barstow, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most unique singer/songwriters in American indie music, with an unforgettable adenoidal vocal delivery that makes him sound like a low-level wise guy in one of those old Warner Bros. gangster films of the '30s and a lyrical obsession with the themes of pulp crime novels and film noir, Stan Ridgway is a true original. From his early days with quirky Los Angeles new wavers Wall of Voodoo to his even more intriguing solo career, Ridgway has created an impressive, if at times somewhat inscrutable...
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Top Albums and Songs by Stan Ridgway

SNAKEBITE: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs, Stan Ridgway
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