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Stan Ridgway "Holiday In Dirt" New, Rare, Unreleased
Stan Ridgway is a songwriter. Now before that creates visions for you of some sad eyed coffee shop romeo acoustic guitar slinger, mournfully wailing about the loss of their favorite plaid shirt to a long lost girlfriend... realize first that Stan is nothing like that. More along the lines of Jimmy Webb, Mose Allison or Lee Hazlewood, or for that mater Bob Dylan, Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen. Of course it's best if you just think of him as Stan.
Ridgway is by no means a new name on the music scene. In Europe, you might have heard of him from his hits "Camouflage" or " Drive She Said" or in the U.S., the albums Mosquitoes or The Big Heat, frequently heralded has two of the greatest records of the 80's by lots of folks who get paid to say stuff like that.
Then of course, there was that band he started and sang with for several years. Evolving from a Hollywood Blvd. office dive “soundtrack company” for trashy. explotive drive - in flicks and sci-fi movies, Stan’s group sprang full blown from the punk days of the late seventies, all neo-nanderthal, Carl Orffian harmonies and electronics, married to twangy western guitars, and stories from the underbelly of America’s promise. One of their records “Call Of The West” produced a hit and an oft played MTV video about Mexico or somethin’... played to death some say. People still seem to like that Wall of…what? err.. something or other… I forget…anyway, let’s continue, shall we? That was then. This is now.
When you break it down to it's core level Stan is a storyteller and always has been. His songs read like movie plots. His characters are deep and developed, and of course they’re conflicted and have plenty of contradictions. There’s also an ironic element to these folks that Stan conjures up that seems to get missed by some. You probably wouldn't want to hang out with too many of them . Then again, pain loves company.
Stan Ridgway songs seem to hold almost a detective’s flashlight to the darker sides of human existence, hitting character’s flaws, and sympathies, but also their secret joys and compassions, and well,...the ambivalence and contradiction.
“My songs come from a folk and blues music tradition, and a country/ western place first, really,” he explains. “That’s where I got hooked on songwriting. The music came from all kinds of places. I’m a mess of eclectic things I grew up with and brought to what I do now. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, Top 40 radio from the sixties, Bob Dylan, Joan Beaz, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. There’s so many I could name that gave me the link to what a song could be. And I love that sound — that lonesome individual, telling his story with a guitar and a mike. A personal story. Telling a horrific tale over a simple, beautiful melody or a declaration of the self. There's a lot of horrific things in folk songs, and blues and country music. People get cut up, lovers kill each other, people get robbed and not with a gun but a with a fountain pen. It’s all a mask and metaphor sometimes for things the subconscious is sorting through. At least that’s the way I look at it. But it’s also entertaining and like a movie or a poem, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Ridgway gets compared to film noir, and Raymond Chandler, David Lynch and Orson Welles in particular. I'll grant you it's a fair comparison as far as setting and scene, and keying in on life’s little ironic tradedgies, but to leave it at that would be missing a part of what makes him such a unique player in the field.
Not only does he write extremely vivid character and story, but he uses the music itself to set the atmosphere.With a keen ear for color and mood, Stan creates musical settings so vivid that they’re tactile. Pop the CD in and a dry desert wind blows across your face, a long stretch of highway opens before you, or maybe a dark alley winds its way through the inner city — all painted with a broad pallet of styles. Listen to his catalog and you’ll pull out strains of jazz, folk, country, rock, and even hints of exotica. “It's all about setting the right tone and atmosphere to tell a story,” Stan explains. "There’s a lot of musical alchemy going on with what my ear goes for. Sometimes it’s setting a location, but other times it’s finding a sound that contradicts the story — maybe an uplifting sound that accompanies a murder. It’s about revealing and concealing, painting a picture and the devil is in the details.”
The new records is "Holiday in Dirt" . Well new record is a bit of a misnomer. Dirt is a superior collection of new, rare and unreleased materials that have amassed over the years, and more that a few in the last couple. Think of it as an anthology of short stories teemed to make it hang together tightly. A few of the tracks are from some soundtracks, others are European release B-Sides, but most are tracks that just didn't fit on one album or another.
But don't let that throw you. It provides us with some of Mr. Ridgway’s best work. Standout tracks like " My Beloved Movie Star", " Act of Faith" and "Operator Help Me " function more like a 3'30 musical novel, the kind you can't put down.
This year also marks the re-release of his standout 1995 record "Black Diamond". Released through a distribution company that went belly up soon after it's release, it made this gem near impossible to find. Now it’s out again and there are more stories from the America’s dark corners to haunt us.
Mr. Ridgway lives and works in Los Angeles with his wife and musical partner Pietra Wexstun, of the band Hecate’s Angels. Besides his work in popular music, he has also composed soundtracks for several films.
Stan Ridgway -"Holiday In Dirt" New, Rare, Unreleased (New West / UltraModern (NW6033 )
All Music Guide (Barnes and Noble): ***** 5 STARS
Stan Ridgway's lyrical voice is every bit as distinctive as the way he sings, and that's saying something -- the unmistakably dry but rubbery Southwestern twang of Ridgway's voice is the perfect instrument for his tales of lost souls and puzzled losers, and his songs chart a path that suggests a midway point between aural film noir and Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western scores. A clearly underrated talent, Ridgway's post-Wall 0f Voodoo solo work has never attracted the audience it deserved (partly due to a long string of bad luck with record companies both large and small), but anyone who doubts the strength of the music he's been making since the late '80s only needs to give a listen to Holiday in Dirt, a collection of B-sides, rare tracks, and outtakes that have been gathering dust in Ridgway's closet. While odds-and-ends compilations like this are usually made up of stuff that didn't make the cut because it wasn't up to snuff, that's not the case with Holiday in Dirt -- as a matter of fact, this is as strong a set as anything Ridgway has released since Mosquitos in 1989. Whether he's writing about teenage guitar manglers ("Garage Band '69"), low-level mob leg-breakers ("Bing Can't Walk"), or a washed-up long-in-the-tooth actress ("Beloved Movie Star"), Ridgway makes his characters human and worthy of compassion even at their most ugly and pathetic, and the dry Southwestern clatter of the music is both bracing and the perfect fit. And even though these tracks were assembled from material recorded over the space of a dozen years,these 12 tunes (one appearing in two versions) fit together beautifully, which says a lot about the consistency of Ridgeway's vision. While Stan Ridgeway already has a strong career overview compilation (The Best of Stan Ridgway: Songs That Made This Country Great), Holiday in Dirt shows that he's left more than a few gems behind as well, and this album is a treat for fans and not a bad introduction to his body of work. ~ Mark Deming, All Music Guide
Though Stan Ridgway first made his mark in the early 1980s with new wave synth-rockers Wall of Voodoo (one of the most distinctive bands of their era), his subsequent solo career has continually shown that his talents extend far beyond his former band's lone hit (the semi-novelty "Mexican Radio"). Over the years Ridgway's recordings have marked him as a crafty songwriter with a gift for exploring the dark side of America via sardonic narratives that nod to Randy Newman and Donald Fagen. HOLIDAY IN DIRT is a collection of b-sides and other rarities from the extensive Ridgway oeuvre, but Ridgway's songwriting knack is such that none of these tunes feel like castoffs. As always, Ridgway's melodic invention transcends genre in an often-successful search for original-sounding, distinctive musical frameworks nevertheless bound to conventional rock hardware. Though his penchant for film-noir creepiness and his sui generis voice will strike a familiar chord with Wall of Voodoo admirers, this eclectic, ambitious batch of songs is as worthy a part of Ridgway's canon as any of his "proper" releases. - TOWER RECORDS
Roaming a psychedelic no-man's land where Tom Waits and Jack Kerouac might converge, Stan Ridgway is an inimitable singer and precision essayist whose song characters wear life's grit under their fingernails. It's doubtful Ridgway ever broke the legs of a no-goodnik named Bing, but gosh darn if you're not thoroughly convinced of it by the end of "Bing Can't Walk," one of a handful of creaky, ramshackle gems gathered together on the odds-and-sods Holiday in Dirt. He may scribble outside the lines musically, but Ridgway's harp-goosed, art-rock vignettes are enormously detailed--witness the bloopy, futuristic "After the Storm," the eerily straight-faced midtempo rocker "Whatever Happened to You?" or the unlisted cover of Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," cheekily delivered in a character that might have been crafted by Bill Murray circa Caddyshack. Admittedly an acquired taste, Ridgway repays diligence with cartwheeling, consistently unexpected, possibly true parables sucked straight out of the twilight zone that is contemporary America. If Jackson Pollack paintings had sound, they'd probably sound a lot like this. KIM HUGHES - AMAZON.COM
Stan Ridgway's lone brush with stardom occurred in 1983, when his band Wall of Voodoo had an unexpected hit with "Mexican Radio."
The song and its accompanying video were inspired examples of avant-garde loopiness. MTV put it in rotation, and it was the kind of video you'd eagerly wait for -- it had the bizarre kick of something like Un ChienAandalou, Buñuel's and Dali's classic surrealist film.
The promo sheet that accompanied my review copy of Ridgway's new disc, Holiday In Dirt, puts some distance between him and Wall of Voodoo. "That was then. This is now," the sheet tells us. Fair enough. If Wall of Voodoo was bracing and strange
fun, the music Ridgway has recorded on his own has been much more than that. Beginning with 1985's The Big Heat, Ridgway has produced a series of records of almost indescribable depth and strange beauty. He's retained the sense of fun that he exhibited in Wall of Voodoo, but added to it uncanny storytelling ability. Critics often compare him to Raymond Chandler, but his stories remind me more of Raymond Carver or Tobias Wolfe.
Holiday In Dirt is a collection of rare and unreleased tracks, but it hangs together well. While there's no unifying concept to the disc, it's cohesive and has a strong sense of place. Ridgway is to Los Angeles as Lou Reed is to New York -- no place else could have produced him. He mixes the traditional with the new and has an openness to music as pure sound that comes, I think, from growing up in a city whose major industry is movies. Working in that atmosphere (at least one website indicates that Wall of Voodoo was formed to write music for low-budget movies) may have suggested to him the dramatic possibilities of sound -- a particularly important discovery for someone whose narratives are so complex.
Whatever his influences, the salient feature of Ridgway's discs is their sonic richness. The quality of his recordings is especially impressive given that the last three have been independent releases produced, one assumes, on limited budgets. His discs have a lot going on in them, but everything's spread out across a wide soundstage in a kind of aural Cinemascope. For all the sonic detail Ridgway puts into his music, it rarely feels crowded. When a song does seem densely packed, as does "End of the Line" here, it sounds intentionally so.
Holiday In Dirt contains two versions of "Beloved Movie Star" that shed some light on how Ridgway works. The first version, which opens the disc, is a lush arrangement that features a Duane Eddy-like guitar, drenched in reverb and tremolo, and a strummed harp. Synthesizers and other keyboards create a wash of sound that carries Ridgway's voice along. The second version is an earlier, demo recording of the track. It's much more spare. The harp still plays a prominent role and some of the keyboard touches that made their way to the finished track are hinted at in this version, but, overall, it's less focused.
Ridgway says in the liner notes that he prefers the demo, which is a little longer. I disagree; his instincts were correct when he revised the lyrics and altered his
approach. He changed one verse and removed another altogether and sings in a less-inflected voice. The result is not just a tighter recording, but a stronger, more compassionate story. The vocals on the demo feel condescending, and the original verses needlessly restate some harsh observations about the perils of the movie business.
What I found striking when I played the two versions side by side is how, even in a demo, Ridgway knows sonically what he wants to achieve. Certainly there are musical elements that are more developed in the final recording and details are added, but the overall feel is there at the beginning. As the music became more clearly defined, Ridgway toned down the vocals and cut some lyrics, in effect streamlining the story and allowing the music to evoke a deeper story than the words tell.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Ridgway's music is his willingness to bring in ideas from sources far and wide. If a surf guitar is what will put his idea across, he'll use it. A particularly strong influence appears to be film composer Ennio Morricone -- listen to the way Ridgway uses harmonica in a tune like "Time Inside." He doesn't recycle ideas, though. He borrows techniques in order to create an atmosphere for the story he's telling. In that sense, there's an almost cinematic quality to his work.
The recordings for Holiday In Dirt come from several sources and they vary in quality from very good to DIY. Ridgway is so sure of his goals that he isn't going to let our notions of audiophile sound get in his way of creating an effect. For instance, one of the tunes, "Amnesia," was "sung through a three-inch, battery-powered speaker from Radio Shack. I really liked the sound." He's right; it sounds great. So goes the rest of the disc.
SOUNDSTAGE - JOESEPH TAYLOR
Holiday In Dirt
"I wish I was in Tijuana/Eating barbecued iguana." Stan Ridgway could have had no idea when he penned those lines twenty years ago that they would be some of the most enduring lyrics from the New Wave era. Unfortunately, "Mexican Radio," the song from which they are taken, remains most folks' only exposure to one of modern rock music's most unique and underrated talents. First as the leader of Wall Of Voodoo and, since departing that act in 1983, as a solo artist (with infrequent outings with the outfit Drywall), Ridgway has compiled a body of work that defies category, garnering a cult following while only on occasion earning much airplay ("Drive She Said," "Don't Box Me In"). You don't so much listen to a Stan Ridgway album as "watch" it, full of four-minute film noirs.
It's like stumbling into some remote cantina south of the border and striking up a conversation with some mysterious Harry Dean Stanton-type with stories to tell, and on Holiday In Dirt there's no shortage of tales.
The twelve-song collection is actually B-sides and unreleased tracks that hadn't made the cut for previous releases not because they lack merit but because, according to the liner notes (which, by the way, are more clever than the music on most albums), they didn't fit. Despite this cut and paste approach, it's a surprisingly seamless set that's bookended by two different versions of "Beloved Movie Star," a lazy, loping saga of vanishing dreams, punctuated (or perhaps mocked) by wife Pietra Wexstun's flourishes on harp.
There's a lot of desperation and paranoia here (no surprise to anyone familiar with Ridgway's work). The jittery, sparse "Operator Help Me" is an eavesdropping session on a cowering
urbanite facing home invasion and "End Of The Line" (which, musically, recalls Wall Of Voodoo's "Call Of The West") certainly sounds like it with the foreboding warning, "You'll have to even up with me at the end of the line." Meanwhile, on the cryptically titled "Bing Can't Walk" (consult the liner notes) he assumes the guise of a leg breaker, singing the words with gusto over a spastic melody which sounds almost gleeful.
Although the material on Holiday In Dirt is darkly-tinged, it's not all dark. Much of it is delivered with wry bemusement as on "Whatever Happened To You?" (inspired by someone asking Ridgway the titular question). He captures innocence and hope on "Garage Band '69," with the grand dreams "powered up by love and electricity," and is heartbreakingly poignant on "Amnesia," one of two tracks featuring ex-Circle Jerk Zander Schloss. As for the lovely "Act Of Faith," it would seem a natural fit to be covered by Johnny Cash. Of course, be sure to stick around for the hidden track, a hysterical send-up of Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors."
Like some troubadour of old, Stan Ridgway has bounced from label to label, never quite earning the widespread appreciation or recognition for his considerable talents. Perhaps that more than anything gives the songs on Holiday In Dirt such an authentic, well-worn feel. It's also reassuring to note that Ridgway always seems to surface again, and that's a comforting notion. Few contemporary artists do lonely as well as he does, while still leaving the listener feeling less alone. Tom Demalon