For the generation that came
of age with MTV, the name Stan Ridgway is sure to remind people of one image:
Mr. Ridgway’s face pushing its way out of a giant vat of baked beans in the
video for Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.” I know people who can’t help but
shiver when they hear the words, “I feel a hot wind on my shoulder …. “
It’s apt that Mr. Ridgway’s music is so closely associated with
such a memorable visual. He’s always paid heavy homage to the movies, especially
the silents and film noir; many critics have compared Mr. Ridgway’s sad-sack
sketches to Raymond Chandler stories, and the singer’s first solo effort was
titled The Big Heat .
His latest album, Holiday in Dirt (New West Records),
continues to mine this vein, although it’s more reminiscent of the twisted,
paranoid fantasies of Jim Thompson than the sleek, hard-boiled work of Mr.
Mr. Ridgway’s voice has mellowed a bit, but retains its ranting,
metallic edge. “Operator, Help Me,” set to a minimalist mellotron and ominously
persistent piano chords, feels as if it could be the soundtrack to a serial
killer’s internal monologue: “Operator, help me / There’s a sound out in the
street and it just keeps getting louder as we speak …. Operator, help me / I
can hear them by the door / And they’re laughing at me, stuck in here / I can’t
hold out anymore.”
Not all of Holiday in Dirt is as evocative as
this. The album is a collection of B-sides and previously unreleased songs, and
when the singer strays from the knife-edged pop he’s best at, he tends to
flounder. But there are enough small morsels here to make the whole meal worth
trying. “Garage Band ’69” sounds like They Might Be Giants, and both versions
of “Silent Movie Star”-there are Billy Wilder and C.B. DeMille mixes-display a
genuine affection for the type of actress portrayed in Sunset Boulevard . Holiday in
Dirt is not a great album; Mr. Ridgway probably doesn’t have one of those
in him at this point. But it is the latest worthwhile chapter in a consistently
eccentric, engaging career.
There’s a small number of singers whose voices evoke a certain
delicious weariness-an ever-gnawing realization that life is hard and painful.
Billie Holiday had such a voice.SodidJohnny Hartman.
NorahJones may someday be countedamongthisgroup. Thoughshe
doesn’t have the vocal authorityofHoliday, she’sagorgeous singer, and it’s easy
Twenty-two years old and too infusedwith aching to be precious,
Ms. Jones has been one of the mosthypedjazz artists to come along in the last
decade. Blue Note Records has been pushing her for months, even though her
debut album, Come Away with Me , won’t
be out until late February.
Last month, Ms. Jones’ label unveiled her at two press showcases
at the Bottom Line. And at the Nov. 26 concert, it was clear that the singer
has a ways to go before she fulfills the expectations that have been placed in
her. Although her voice was as languorous and beautiful as it is on her
upcoming disc, she did not always seem in charge of her performance, and there
were moments when she seemed downright listless.
The same is sometimes true on
Come Away with Me . The CD is being
positioned as a pop album, but it’s rather subtle-too Joan Armatrading, not
enough J. Lo-for that playing field. It should, however, succeed as a
remarkably sophisticated album by a gifted cabaret singer. “Don’t Know Why,”
the album’s opener, sets the tone perfectly, as Ms. Jones wades into the song
with a disarming innocence while purring through lines like “I don’t know why I
didn’t come.” “Shoot the Moon,” with its unrushed accompaniment and
behind-the-beat phrasing, is just waiting to be reborn as a tearjerker of a car
commercial. And though Ms. Jones’ reach exceeds her grasp on “The Nearness of
You,” she leaves no doubt that we’ll be paying attention to her in the near
Royal Tenenbaums :
Great soundtracks are a lot harder to pull off than great films;
they must remind the listener of the film towhich they’re attached as well as
stand on their own. There needs to be both a narrativearcand a musical payoff. TheBig Chill wasa greatsoundtrack.Sowas Pulp Fiction .
Many people think that the
soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s last film,
Rushmore , was a great soundtrack. They’re wrong. Though I’d love to bestow
plaudits on anything that highlights the Kinks and the Faces, the Rushmore soundtrack, like the movie
itself, was too precious. There were too many Mark Mothersbaugh interludes and
one too many Cat Stevens songs. But Mr. Anderson, who compiled the soundtrack
in addition to directing the film, left the distinct impression that he had a
great soundtrack in him, not to mention a great film.
Now I’m beginning to wonder. The soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums has its moments,
prime among them being Nico’s ice-cold cover of Jackson Browne’s heart-stopping
“These Days.” “I don’t do that much talking these days,” Nico sings in that
singular voice that makes you wonder if she has any idea what she’s talking
about. “Don’t confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them.” It’s
the type of song that makes you want to get in an old car with a shitty heater
and cue it up again and again as you drive home through the icy December night
to your dysfunctional family. It’s beautiful.
But that song, the first on the disc, is the high point. A little
of Nico goes a long way, but Mr. Anderson includes another of her tunes, the far inferior “The Fairest of the
Seasons.” He also goes way overboard with Mr. Mothersbaugh’s work again,
including nine of the former Devo member’s compositions. (Separated from the
movie, these tracks sound like nothing so much as the music to over-caffeinated
toy commercials.) At the same time, the Rolling Stones’ woefully obscure “She
Smiles Brightly,” which functions as a real showstopper in the film, isn’t
included. The Velvet Underground’s “Stephanie Says” and Nick Drake’s “Fly” are,
which makes for a noxiously wistful and winsome affair. Enough already.
Rolling on The River
It’s fashionable to wonder where avant-garde jazz has to go these
days. And indeed, the didactic, tendentious “experiments” that are often passed
off for music leaves the non-academic listener wondering if he needs an
advanced degree to enjoy what’s being made to the left of the Lincoln Center
Then there are discs like
Borah Bergman’s new trio recording, The
River of Sounds (Boxholder Records). Here, Mr. Bergman-the John Coltrane of
the piano, according to Down Beat
magazine-teams up with the phenomenal German trombonist Conny Bauer and
Brooklyn-based violinist Mat Maneri. I know, I know: A bass-less, drum-less
trio recording sounds dicey. But Mr. Bergman is a visceral musician, and Mr.
Bauer can produce such ribald delights that fans of the trombone would be well
served by buying everything he plays on.
“Jim,” the album’s first track, opens with lots of room, with
single piano notes spaced out over a dirge-like cry from the trombone while Mr.
Maneri’s violin evokes shtetl weepers
rather than Grappelli arpeggios. When the trio does pick up the pace, Mr.
Bergman’s outpouring of notes-with pounded declamations and frenetic
chordings-lead what sounds like a marching band from an insane asylum.
Some of the songs on The
River of Sounds do sound like soundtracks to experimental art-house movies,
but for the most part, Mr. Bergman and his band infuse their songs with an
emotionality and tenderness that’s still too rare in the avant garde.