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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.

Customer Reviews

Ridgway's best yet! He's one of a kind!

This from SOMEONE WHO KNOWS - " 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 his 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." -

Good ol' Stan

It soooo good to hear Stan doing some new material - great stories, amazing harp, and the strange karma that made the man great!


Born: April 5, 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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SNAKEBITE: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs, Stan Ridgway
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