* CD Digipack contains 16 page booklet with song lyrics, photos, production credits and liner notes. *
Does a songwriter chase his muse – or is it the other way ‘round? That’s but one of the intriguing notions at the heart of Stan Ridgway’s 2010 release, Neon Mirage, arguably the most refined, yet musically eclectic collection of the veteran L.A. singer-songwriter/Wall of Voodoo founder’s career. “You never really have a choice about the tone and subject matter of the records you make,” Ridgway confides. “At least I don’t. They’re obsessions, really. It’s about the music, and how it heals the mind.” When Stan lost a beloved uncle, a colleague (Texas violinist Amy Farris, whose brilliant Neon Mirage work serves as fitting elegy), and the man who inspired so much of the musician’s own worldview, his own father, during the album’s writing/recording, Ridgway responded with some of the most reflective – if no less joyous – songs he’d ever recorded. “Events like that can’t help but have an impact on the music you’re making at the time,” Stan admits. "You’d be lying to yourself — and your listeners — if you thought otherwise. I've probably confused people with my music, my choices, the albums and the changes in direction from year to year. But I can’t help it. There’s a weird old American jukebox in my head and it still plays everything that’s ever got under my skin.”
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Complete Stan Ridgway Bio for "Neon Mirage"
"Music is more than just chords and notes to me, it has the ability to make pictures in the mind. My records are designed to be seen as well as heard." -- Stan Ridgway
Los Angeles, CA - "You never really have a choice about the tone and subject matter of the records you make," confides veteran L.A. singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway about his new album, Neon Mirage. "At least I don't. They're obsessions, really. Things happen, good and bad. And for most people, the passing of a parent or a close friend has an impact. It's really about the music, and how it heals the mind. The records I grew up with still inform me, and the best were like an inner journey -- mixing up blues, jazz, pop and country to make something fresh and, in the end, positive. But you can't ignore the darker side of things, either."
Stan Ridgway's Neon Mirage is arguably the most emotionally revealing, musically far-ranging -- dare we say mature? -- album of the L.A. singer-songwriter's accomplished career. Yet it's also a project whose troubled circumstances might tempt Stan to paraphrase John Lennon's familiar wisdom: Life is what happens when you're busy making another album.
Indeed, in many ways Neon Mirage can't help but feel like an elegy to the colleague and family Stan lost in the midst of writing and recording its dozen, typically eclectic songs: gifted Texas-born violinist/session player Amy Farris; a beloved uncle; and the man who helped forge the very foundations of Ridgway's unique outlook on life and music, his own father. "Events like that can't help but have an impact on the music you're making at the time," Stan admits. "You'd be lying to yourself -- and your listeners -- if you thought otherwise."
Ridgway quickly sets the album's tone with a warm, accomplished recasting of "Big Green Tree" from Black Diamond (his forceful 1996 debut as an independent) produced by Dave Alvin. The L.A. roots rock legend reinvents it here in a gentler, more hopeful ethos around Ridgway and his longtime keyboardist/collaborator Pietra Wexstun, with Brett Simmons on upright bass and Amy Farris, then a member of Alvin's own Guilty Women ensemble, on violin. Alvin had heard Stan perform the song solo at a special show for mutual friend and fellow songwriting legend Peter Case, and early sessions also yielded Neon Mirage's memorable, Alvin-produced cover of Bob Dylan's elegy to his own fallen hero, "Lenny Bruce."
It's an album in which Ridgway's familiar wise-guy wit and cinematic lyricism are further tempered by an ever-inquisitive mindset that ranges from the haunting, candid introspection of "Behind the Mask" to an effusive, wistful tribute to lost friends and the Nashville of record producer Owen Bradley, "Wandering Star." Elsewhere, Neon Mirage centers around more impressionistic takes on the toll patriotism extracts from its warriors ("Flag Up On a Pole"), the reality of being closer to the end of life's rich pageant than its beginning ("Halfway There") and the human propensity for myopia in the face of looming catastrophe ("Turn a Blind a Eye").
Yet, as the foreboding and darkly loping guitar lines of "This Town Called Fate" and the album's infectious instrumental title track attest, Ridgway's new songs are also graced by the inventive musicality and unique viewpoint his fans have become well acquainted with since his early days as the driving force behind L.A.'s favorite '80s experimentalists, Wall of Voodoo. But while the album's expressive baritone and deft harmonica flourishes are instantly familiar, Stan employs them here on an ever-restless musical odyssey. Ridgway expands an already impressive musical palette via Wexstun's always intriguing keyboard melodies and textures, the masterful sax, flute and woodwind work of Ralph Carney, the deft acoustic and electric guitar lines of longtime band mate Rick King and the rich symphonic string orchestrations of Amy Farris.
"I've probably confused people with my music, my choices, the albums and the changes in direction from year to year," Ridgway admits. "But I can't help it. That term 'eclectic' fits me perfectly and there are just too many musical styles and songwriters and singers I enjoy to just involve myself in only one type of music. I try to bring all the things I love into the sound. There's a weird old American jukebox in my head and it still plays everything that's ever got under my skin."
Stan is quick to note where his often-mischievous musical curiosity came from: "Your parents' record collection can be a big influence growing up. Something you thought was corny has a way of hangin' on if it's good to begin with. My dad was a big fan of country & western music, comedy records, hi-fi playboy stereo lounge stuff. Hank Williams, Dean Martin, Ernest Tubb, Sinatra, Johnny Cash of course, Allan Sherman, Charlie Rich, Patsy Cline, and Marty Robbins -- all of the great originals. I learned to love the singing, the stories, and even when my tastes in music grew far too weird for my dad, we could still come together on those old records we loved and listened to together. The old western myths of heroes and villains and storytelling of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was an important one. And I never would have thought of covering 'Ring of Fire' with Wall of Voodoo without my dad's influence in the beginning."
Ridgway also credits his father with informing much of the wry personal/musical viewpoint that's always been central to his songwriting. "A sense of humor is important in handling the disappointments in life," Stan notes. "My father taught me that, too. Along with a strong work ethic. A certain type of 'black humor' helps put a light on the darker realities of living and let's you get above them by making a joke about it. But it wasn't a cynic's view, more of a frustrated romantic's perspective over a developed sarcasm about the way things really are and not how they seem to appear."
Stan explains: "In the last few years in his 80s, he always knew my mother and all of us right up until the end. But memory could sometimes be sketchy for Dad. Even so, he never lost who he was or his love, loyalty and dedication to family and working hard in life to achieve results. Or the hard won values of his generation and what they'd sacrificed to achieve for a greater good. All the great adventures he'd had, the global travel and work, the grand victories he'd experienced along the way were never lost to him. And he recalled them all in great detail with pride and a singular sense of humor. And us there with him." Ridgway's father passed in December 2009.
But while Ridgway had long girded himself for his father's passing, he admits the suicidal death of brilliant violinist Amy Farris in the midst of Neon Mirage's sessions felt "abrupt and brutal." When Amy phoned him to cancel an upcoming appearance with his band because she wasn't feeling well, Ridgway assured her it was no problem, saying, "'health is everything.' But that weekend she took her life," he recalls sadly. "Possibly even the night we were on stage at McCabe's. Dave (Alvin) called me Monday morning with the news and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. But mental illness and depression are like any other illness, and Amy struggled from childhood with them."
Despite the troubled times it was recorded in, Ridgway insists Neon Mirage represents something even more personal than the sum of its songs to him. "It's as much a journey as a destination," Stan says of his music. "If I don't try and create something of my own, I just feel that I'm hangin' on a corner waiting for someone to tell me what to think and do. It's a mad society. But the best therapy for me is always creativity and invention. And a dedication to the people and things you love. Most people live their lives upside down and backwards, only jumping in when the consensus says it's safe. That's just human nature -- who doesn't want to be safe? But is that really possible?"
"At the end of the day I really consider myself just an inventor, or like a link in a chain to a tradition of song and art," the artist says. Music and songs and recording are an obsession for me -- sound and art. It's all in there, the ideas and things that influenced me. To see it and tell it your own way is the challenge. That's the last true, honest place to be. It might even be the new frontier right now."
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Stan Ridgway Website: http://www.stanridgway.com
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Recent early reviews on "Neon Mirage"
DETROIT FREE PRESS
Stan Ridgway "Neon Mirage " 4 stars **** out of 4
Ex-Wall of Voodoo leader Stan Ridgway is in a reflective mood on "Neon Mirage" (****, out Aug. 24 on A440), one of the finest outings in his idiosyncratic career. Featuring the outstanding roots rocker Dave Alvin and prized session violinist Amy Farris, Ridgway looks for permanence in a forever-changing world (just like Arcade Fire) on "Big Green Tree" and "Behind The Mask," while pondering mortality on "Halfway There."
Ridgway persevered through a lot of loss during the recording of this album, including the deaths of both his father and Farris, making this project all the more poignant. Call this one a tender and much-deserved triumph over adversity.
Music Review: Stan Ridgway - Neon Mirage
By DAVID BOWLING
I had not thought about Stan Ridgway for quite a while. He first came to the public and my attention as a member of the L.A. New Wave band Wall Of Voodoo. He was a member from 1977-1983 before leaving for a solo career. The band continued until 1988.
He has traveled an eclectic path over the course of the last two-plus decades, producing alternative rock, electronic music, industrial rock, and even some country music along the way. He has also provided the music or contributed to sixteen soundtracks including such films as Rumble Fish and Pump Up The Volume.
Ridgway has now returned with a new album, Neon Mirage. It is an interesting career turn as he emerges primarily as a modern day troubadour. The songs are very personal, dealing with life and loss. The press release cites his parent’s record collection as a big influence for this release. While Dean Martin, Ernest Tubb, Frank Sinatra, Allan Sherman, Charlie Rich, and Patsy Cline are mentioned, it is Marty Robbins that seems to be the best match for a lot of the music. It reminds me of the stories which Robbins told on his Gunfighter series of albums. Even some of Ridgeway’s vocals channel Robbins' style.
Ridgway resurrects “Big Green Tree,” re-working it from his Black Diamond album. It still asks questions about life and belonging but is presented much more gently, emerging as a modern-day folk song.
“Like A Wanderin’ Star” is a poignant eulogy for a friend. “Behind The Mask” is Ridgway at his most introspective. “Flag Up On A Pole” talks about the cost of patriotism. “Halfway There” reveals a man, now 56, contemplating life’s passing.
In addition to being a fine vocalist and songwriter, he is also proficient on the guitar, harmonica, piano, and synthesizer. Other key musicians on this release are his wife and long time band mate, Pietra Wexstun (who is a competent keyboardist in her own right), guitarist Rick King, and sax, flute, and woodwind player Ralph Carney.
Stan Ridgway’s journey has taken him far from his Wall Of Voodoo days. And with Neon Mirage he has created a musically mature, lyrically complex, and overall interesting album. He has managed to tap into his life’s stories and experiences which will hopefully continue to be a part of his music.
Stan Ridgway's Neon Mirage - A Solid Vision
Classic Rock Examiner
Singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway used to head up the quirky, colorful Wall of Voodoo, an 80s signature new wave group. Ridgway's unique, warbling voice shaped their synth/Western image and popularized such hits as "Mexican Radio," an MTV favorite, and "Call Of The West." For various reasons, Ridgway left the band and went solo in '83. He did quite well on his own, too, contributing to the Rumble Fish soundtrack and churning out numerous successful solo albums. In 2005 he released Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs, an album that held a lot of meaning for Stan because it followed the death of two of his bandmates, guitarist Marc Moreland and drummer Joe Nanini, who he'd immortalised on one of the album's songs.
Ridgway's current album Neon Mirage, to be released on August 24, 2010, is wrapped in poignancy, too. With the passage of time comes change and Ridgway's style is now an even more eclectic mixture of raw emotion, Tex-Mex jazzy beats and outlaw guitar rhythms. His uncle, one of his biggest influences, passed during the making of this album, as well as violinist/session musician Amy Farris, who committed suicide. "Day Up in the Sun" and "Halfway There" have even more resonance because of these unfortunate events. The twelve tracks range from introspective ("Behind the Mask") to patriotic ("Flag Up a Pole'). This is a winning combination of grit and grease, a buffer and a salve. A clear vision by an artist who's focused, complex and sincere. Definitely something to add to you end-of-summer music collection.
August 11th, 2010 LimeWire Music
Wall Of Voodoo’s Stan Ridgway Unveils ‘Neon Mirage’
All things considered, it seems somehow strangely fitting that the tour supporting erstwhile Wall Of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgway’s upcoming Neon Mirage album should find him performing in New York City on September 11th. Ridgway’s latest solo outing is, after all, a document of a tragic time that saw some key people in the L.A. singer/songwriter’s life depart this mortal vale. On his first solo album since 2004’s Snakebite, Ridgway maintains the same sardonic outlook and colorful style that’s been a part of his m.o. from the beginning of his career, but the losses that occurred during Neon Mirage’s making add an extra quotient of gravitas to the whole affair.
Not only did Ridgway’s father and uncle pass away during the album sessions, but Neon Mirage violinist Amy Farris committed suicide in the midst of recording. While Ridgway’s characteristic black humor — a trait he says he learned from his father — keeps the record from getting too morose, some of the songs are meditations on the Big Issues, like fate and mortality. Renowned roots-rock troubadour Dave Alvin, who came up alongside Ridgway on the ’80s L.A. scene as a member of The Blasters, is on hand to help realize Ridgway’s vision, as is longtime keyboardist/collaborator Pietra Wexstun, and former Tin Huey member/Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney. And for those who want a more personal experience of Ridgway’s new batch of tunes, he’ll be crossing the country to bring them to the stage from late August through mid-September.