Former Wall Of Voodoo singer/songwriter Stan Ridgway's eighth solo album is a glorious hard-boiled Hollywood road movie for the ears (complete with suitable sound effects) which takes the listener on a tumbleweed journey in three acts through his dark imagination. Ridgway's lyrical talent for detail, combined with a cactus spiked humor and sense of melancholy, is what gives Snakebite its fang, and his songs ripple with observation and atmosphere. The best of these are "King For A Day". a wild ride in a stolen car that ends up crashing into the side of a house. A chance meeting with Andy Warhol that develops into "Our Manhattan Moment ", and "Talkin' Wall Of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1" where Ridgway scathingly relates the rise and fall of his old band and the various record company and managerial rip offs that eventually tore them apart. If you are only familiar with Ridgway's work through, what he refers to here as "that radio song", then Snakebite is an invitation to get better acquainted. Long may he run. - The Wire (UK) Edwin Pouncey
Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs
Review by Hal Horowitz
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 Ridgeway 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.
Review: The New Yorker Magazine
Stan Ridgway has been turning out distinctive noirish rock and roll since the late seventies, first as a member of the group Wall of Voodoo and then as a solo artist. Snakebite (Redfly) is among the better outings of his long, off-kilter career. In sixteen songs, Ridgway blends together rock, jazz, and blues in the service of his always strange, but never frivolous, storytelling. Over the years, his songwriting has become more personal, and, in addition to intimately narrated songs like "Our Manhattan Moment" and "Wake Up Sally (The Cops Are Here)," there's "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1," a rollicking retelling of the rise and fall of his former band.
A Genre - Busting Sound
Stan Ridgway "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs"- Eugene Weekly
Stan Ridgway continues his remarkable history of American story telling, with this, his latest release Snakebite. A truly outstanding record that places him in the good company of Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits as songwriter and story teller. A worthy follow-up to 1999's "Anatomy" and in the same vein as 1995's "Black Diamond", Stan's "Snakebite" is surprisingly lush for such sparse instrumentation. As always, the view of our world as we may (or may not) know it is from a slightly-skewed angle with cinematic imagery and filtered through Stan's sublimely sardonic wit. Stan manages to pull the greatest performances from not only the supporting musicians, but himself also. His guitar work is clean and crisp, and his harmonica is as deeply soulful and eloquent as his lyrics. The sound issurprisingly intricate and full, but without being pretentious or overdone. While the overall tone can be categorized as Country, it is heavily inflected with smatterings of Jazz, Folk, Rock and occasionally unusual instrumentation to create the genre-busting sound that Stan's regular listeners have become familiar with. Stan strives to describe his characters and their stories with economy of words and abundance of imagery. Stan succeeds in both on "Snakebite". Once again, we get some of the most colorful characters that you could ever know. But this time, as with "Black Diamond", many of these stories are deeply personal for Stan, and in "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. I" downright autobiographical. You’ll soon find myself empathizing with fork lift operators, criminals on the run, circus freaks and a confederate soldier pining for his girl... and these are just a few of the actors in this play.
One of the most unique singer/songwriters in American music, Stan Ridgway is a true original. From his early days with L.A. art-punkers Wall Of Voodoo, to his even more intriguing solo career, Ridgway has created an impressive body of work. Some know him just as the long lost singer with the great Wall Of Voodoo, others as one of the great unsung maverick geniuses of our time. - MELODY MAKER
Stan Ridgway is equal parts Raymond Chandler and John Huston, Johnny Cash and Rod Serling. - NME
from THE SANTE FE NEW MEXICAN
by STEVE TERRELL / TERRELL"S TUNE UP
He's been making records for more than 20 years, first with his band Wall of Voodoo, then on his own.
He's just made his best record in years.
And that's saying a lot. While he isn't seen much on MTV much anymore and while he's bounced around from label to label, Ridgway has produced a steady stream of fine albums, each one containing at least one song that's a complete jaw dropper.
But the new one, Snakebite. basically is a jaw dropper from start to finish.
The album lives up to its subtitle, Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs. Many of the songs deal with people who are trying to escape -- from the police in "Wake Up Sally," from bad relationships in the black-humor blues of "King For a Day," from terrifying political realities in "Afghan/Forklift" and "Monsters of the Id", from humdrum small-town life in "Running With the Carnival," and from a Union Army firing squad in "My Rose Marie (A Soldier's Tale)."
Snakebite starts out with "Into the Sun," a breezy tune full of hope and promise. It reminds me of "Lonely Town," from Ridgway's 1989 Mosquitoes -- except while the lyrics of that song were full of foreboding, "Into the Sun" is outwardly optimistic. The singer is driving to some desert home "where the coyote walks the toad/The tumbleweeds speak in secret code ... Out where the sagebrush sings our song."
His voice sounds full of confidence, and a harp in the second verse gives the lyrics a grandiose veneer. But the backdrop of electronic noise, sounding like some flock of prehistoric birds, hint at some gathering inner storm that threaten the singer's scheme.
That sense of impending undefined doom -- "something in the air, moving like a southbound train" -- resurfaces in other songs. In "Afghan Forklift" a warehouse worker in Arkansas is overcome with that feeling when he notices two crates "marked Top Secret, headed for Afghanistan." We never learn exactly what's in the crates, but apparently it's serious enough to prompt the forklift operator to try (in vain) to call the president." A repeated minor-key folk lick, punctuated by Ridgway's piercing harmonica and low French horns add to the sense of dread.
"Monsters of the ID," an inspired cover of a Mose Allison song are Ridgway's main political statements on Snakebite. On "Monsters" he lets loose with the screeching, rumbling electronic noises (usually rising at the end of the verses), as well as horror movie choruses and some pretty impressive harmonica.
Singing in a lower register than usual, Ridgway moans, "The creatures from the swamp/Rewrite their own Mein Kampf/Neanderthals amuck/Just tryin' to make a buck/And goblins and their hags/Are out there waving' flags..."
While many of his characters are "fugitives" of one kind or another, Ridgway refuses to run from his own history. He sings of the band that launched his career in "Talking Wall of Voodoo Blues Part 1."
With guitars suggesting both hillbilly and Mid-eastern music relentless drums and rubbery keyboards, Ridgway recounts the band's brief history -- from the innocent days of "punk-rock fun" to signing 200-page contracts, MTV ("Labor Day in Mexico/Lots of beans and drugs and friends") the pre-destined rip-off ("We played a show for 40 grand/And the manager took every cent") and break-up, for which Ridgway shares in the responsibility.
While you can still hear the Wall of Voodoo echoes throughout the work, this is Ridgway's rootsiest album ever. There's a tasty country fiddle (played by Brantley Kearns) in "Wake Up Sally." "Crow Hollow Blues" with its sinister banjo sounds like Ridgway's been listening to Tom Waits' Mule Variations. "Your Rockin' Chair" is basically a hillbilly stomp, though the subtle keyboard counterpart in the refrain plus the bamboo flute give it an otherworldly quality. Alison Krauss could do a fine version of "Rose Marie."
But the real trick Ridgway pulls off is combining these diverse elements without it feeling forced. He makes it sound like slide guitar and bamboo flute and spook house keyboards were meant to be played together
Steve Terrell -Terrell's Tune Up
Sante Fe New Mexican
ROOTS & AMERICANA
by Kurt B. Reighley
November 4th, 2004
That voice. There's no mistaking it. The adenoidal snarl immortalized on the 1982 MTV hit "Mexican Radio." The one that challenged "Don't Box Me In" over the credits of Rumble Fish, and scaled the UK top five in 1986 with "Camouflage." It's the voice of Stan Ridgway, original singer for Wall of Voodoo. And while it's not quite the piercing bark it once was, it still has plenty of bite... even over the phone.
Ridgway makes a long-overdue Seattle appearance at the Triple Door this Wednesday, November 10, in support of his latest opus, Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs (on redFLY Records). Featuring 16 songs, Ridgway describes the disc as an exercise in "gothic folk noir." Shady characters populate cuts like the lurching "Wake Up Sally (The Cops Are Here)" and "King for a Day," a detailed account from the POV of a crack-smoking car thief. Despite his vivid descriptions of the album's disreputable cast, Ridgway claims his own criminal record is relatively clean. "I've probably ridden in a stolen car, more than once," he admits, "but not lately."
Musically, the dusty, atmospheric songs of Snakebite bristle and twitch with stringed instruments, a sharp contrast to prior, keyboard-oriented Ridgway outings like The Big Heat. "I wanted to play a mandolin and Dobro, get back out the slide guitar, and write songs with all that in mind." He coaxed his wife and sometimes-collaborator, Pietra Wexstun, to augment her arsenal of keyboards with an accordion. On "That Big 5-0," he even provides percussion on tap shoes.
The emphasis on traditional instruments like banjo and harmonica harks back to Ridgway's earliest influences, before he became fixated with film scores. (Wall of Voodoo was originally formed as a collective of movie composers, not a traditional band.) As a child in Pasadena, the singer "fell into a stack of records" that previously belonged to his aunt. "She had collected all the old folk records, from the late '50s and early to mid-'60s: The Limelighters and the Weavers, Pete Seeger and Odetta and Josh White."
Ridgway also permits himself a look back at his own history on the penultimate cut, "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1." "It's part one because the song is actually much longer than the version on the record," which already clocks in at six minutes. He rattles off the band's rise and fall, and pays homage to former bandmates Marc Moreland and Joe Nanni, both of whom passed away in recent years.
Although his voice has mellowed some with age, Ridgway says he's done nothing deliberate to achieve that. "I have trouble sounding like anything other than what I sound like," he says of his distinctive timbre. "The singers I like are the ones who have a direct, honest delivery--one which isn't that different from when they talk. I love Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash of course, and Bob Dylan. Bob gave us all permission to sing, even if we weren't singers."
TIME OUT NEW YORK
CRITICS PICKS: ROCK & POP
Sun 17, Stan Ridgway, Joe's Pub, The Public Theater, 9:30pm, $25.
On Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs (redFLY), his first new collection of songs since 1999, tart-voiced raconteur Stan Ridgway spins his most diverse collection of tales to date, setting them to Bo Diddley riffs, Tom Waits carny tunes and loungey exotica with equal aplomb. In addition to his customary cast of drifters and lowlifes, Ridgway even turns the spotlight on himself, spinning a bittersweet tale of his briefly famous former band on "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues Part 1." It's admittedly disconcerting to hear his gumshoe croon on a record this brightly mixed; the cozy surroundings of Joe's Pub should do this original voice proud.
STAN RIDGWAY SUN. & MON., OCT. 17 & 18
"DON'T YOU EVER stop to think," asks Stan Ridgway, "beyond the safe and sanctioned point of view?" He isn't talking to your father, either. He's addressing the artsy NYC denizens of "Our Manhattan Moment," one of the more beautiful tracks on the new Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs . Ridgway pioneered industrial Americana back in the days of Wall of Voodoo, and Snakebite is another sharp collection of his recent rural noir fixations. He even touches on the uniquely personal with "That Big 5-0" and "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues." Ridgway's self-styled "gothic folk trio" pulls in for two shows this week, as discussed from his California hideout.
This is your most political album, and it doesn't seem leftist to this Republican. You know, I'm not really sure what I am—Republican, Democrat, Independent—but a bit of the world is always going to work its way into what I do. I don't know if a song should ever really be a book or a pamphlet. But, you know, projection is fun to do. We all project a different thing onto something, and it all comes out different and we think we're communicating.
Of course, this is also the big mid-life crisis album. Yeah, well, you roll over in bed and say, "What? Am I old now?" It ain't no big deal. I don't have much control over the times and what I'm writing. I don't want to have much control. If I find my writing becoming too on-the-nose, I probably do enjoy moving it off-the-nose a bit. You know, you've caught me on a morning when I'm in an ambiguous mood. If this runs as a Q&A, people will wonder what the fuck I'm talking about.
"Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues" is getting some attention, but "Classic Hollywood Ending" seems more like a tribute to Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland. I would say that's partially true. When Marc died, and [WoV percussionist] Joe Nanini died before that, it put me to the side of the road for a while. "Classic Hollywood Ending" really started with me wanting to play the mandolin. Then out of those things comes something on your mind. There's no confusion about "Talkin' Wall of Voodoo Blues." I felt like Wall of Voodoo deserved a folk song on a Paul Bunyan level. The reason it's "Pt. 1" is because it's a narrative that just kept going on for way too long.
You never get much credit for your live act, which usually mixes show biz and deep bitterness. You're going to hear more older stuff now than I've played in a while. For me, a show has become just a collection of what my background is. I've really been enjoying playing live music lately, but I've always been hard to classify. It hasn't been voluntary. People just wonder, "What is Stan doing here?" and throw up their hands.
Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs
redFLY Records 84812, 68:36
Reviewed by Sam Umland
A critic for the L. A. Weekly said it best: “Stan Ridgway is the Nathanael West of rock.” The simplicity of the statement betrays a keen, insightful truth. West, an American novelist who died in a car crash at age thirty-seven, wrote four novels in his short life, his most famous being The Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts. Ridgway, like West, is not a satirist. For him, as it was for West, life is a tragic farce. Snakebite is a remarkable record. It is so musically diverse, so masterful in its arrangements, and so fully realized in its farcical despair, one is tempted to call it the definitive Stan Ridgway record.
Of his last few albums, the only one that rivals Snakebite is Black Diamond, primarily because the earlier record is so full of self-reflection and the album in which he explored his own artistic doubts. On that record, he did something very, very hard, but something every artist inevitably must do: scrutinize himself as an artist. “Gone the Distance,” “Stranded,” “Underneath the Big Green Tree”—these are songs in which he confronted the greatest fear any artist can have: that he may be a failure. Ridgway has said “Gone the Distance” was about Kurt Cobain, but don’t believe him. The last person to trust about the meaning of a work of art is the artist himself.
Of course, Black Diamond was made several years ago, and the emotional storm that prompted that album seems to have subsided. It’s as if Ridgway is telling us, through the title of the album —Snakebite—he has lived through it, and his spirit has survived, intact. He tells us in “My Own Universe” that he’s “sitting here inside my own universe,” and he’s “lookin’ through that telescope” at the world around him, and while the world is no less tragic and farcical than it ever was, like Beckett’s Malloy, he can’t go on, but he will go on. He’s now passed “That Big 5-0” mile-marker in age, but given the exuberance of the song’s Bo Diddley-inflected rhythm, I think he’s fine with it: “No regrets, no should’ve beens/Salvation waits for those who sin.” He means that, too. Although I’d thought we’d never get the story, twenty years on he’s finally told us at least part of it, in “Talkin’ Wall of Voodoo Blues Pt. 1.” If he’s angry, he has a right to be. On the other hand, the song itself represents his own victory over time: record companies—and managers—have come and gone, but the art, and the artist, endures. “This time we won!” he sings on “Into the Sun,” and I hear that lyric without any irony. As lyrically eloquent as anything he’s ever written, “Into the Sun” is the first of the album’s superb sixteen tracks, and as I listened I felt the record could easily contain twice, three times the number of songs it does. He ought to be named a goddamned national treasure, like Aretha Franklin or Johnny Cash.
He ought to be a screenwriter, because he has a screenwriter’s gift to capture a moment, a scene, in just a few choice words. His language is deliberately colloquial, sparse, and economic. He’s like a wise old uncle you don’t see very often and you wish you could spend more time with: he doesn’t say much, but when he does, you hang on every word. He doesn’t often use quotations, but when he does, it speaks volumes. Ridgway has only covered a few songs in his long career: “Ring of Fire” and “Sixteen Tons,” for instance, or “As I Went Out One Morning.” (I set aside the highly personal album of swing and popular music covers he dedicated to his parents, titled The Way I Feel Today.) Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to see that Snakebite contained a cover of Mose Allison’s apocalyptic “Monsters Of The Id,” a song I imagine he’s wanted to put on a record for years. Although it’s Mose Allison, it’s so inimitably Ridgway. He takes over the song and makes it his. Some years ago, during an appearance on L.A.’s KCRW radio station, Stan covered Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat.” “Monsters Of The Id” has a family resemblance to Dylan’s similarly apocalyptic song. “The creatures from the swamp/Rewrite their own Mein Kampf/Neanderthals amuck/Just tryin’ to make a buck/And goblins and their hags/Are out there wavin’ flags.” Remember that the Man in the Long Black Coat freely quotes the Bible, but seems to take disaster with him wherever he goes. Sometimes the devil comes as a man of peace.
Some literary critics have lamented the death of parody, arguing that the modern world’s realities have surpassed anything the parodist can imagine. I’m not sure about that; maybe in literature, but not in rock music. Stan Ridgway is one of the few artists reporting on the modern world who doesn’t seem ever to be outstripped by reality itself. He and I are the same age; I haven’t made an exact count, but we’re sixty or seventy days apart in our age—I call that the same age. When I listen to his music, I hear the America in which I grew up. Not every scenario or vignette, to be sure, but I hear the language, I hear the rhythms of speech and the idioms of the people I remember. I hear music in his music that I remember people listening to. Consistently, he’s captured this spirit, this ambience, in every solo album he’s ever made.
The critics better heed this record, give it a serious listen, and consider it for a Grammy nomination. That’s right. I said it: it’s worthy of a Grammy nomination, and I’ll stand by my assertion. Stan Ridgway has been in the music business for over twenty-five years. He’s been a solo artist for twenty years, consistently releasing records praised by critics and treasured by his fans. People of this country say that they value such things as individuality, self-reliance, self-motivation, independence, and resilience. Stan Ridgway embodies all these values. His longevity and creative genius is a matter of record. His music is his own, and he’s made his own for decades, without slavishly adhering to trends or embracing commercial enticements; indeed, he seems blithely indifferent to them. His music is rooted in the American soil and is as diverse as the country itself, like jazz, or rock ‘n’ roll. This past March, at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Keith Richards said, “The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is about all the biggest acts who can do it good the longest.” Stan Ridgway has been doing it good for a long, long time. It’s time he’s recognized for it.