Friday, August 26, 2005

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: WALL OF BBQ

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 27, 2005


As a solo artist, Stan Ridgway is nothing short of an eclectic, eccentric musician.

He draws from all sorts of musical sources -- garage rock, horror movie soundtracks, crime jazz, and more. His most recent solo album, last year’s Snakebite, showed a fine knack for rootsy country and blues.

Lyrically, Ridgway has a skewed outlook and a soft spot for losers, loonies, small-time crooks and society’s dregs. Most of his songs are sympathetic to his characters. He grants them dignity and many of his songs seem to offer a ray of hope for those struggling beneath the underbelly.

But when Ridgway records as the front man of his band Drywall, all bets are off.

And, after a ridiculously long recess, Drywall is back with Barbecue Babylon, “The Third Installment of the Trilogy of Apocalyptic Documents.”

Drywall is Ridgway, his wife, keyboardist Pietra Wexstun and guitarist/bassist Rick King.

(For those keeping score, the first installment was 1995’s Work the Dumb Oracle, which contained some of Ridgway’s most intense songs -- “Police Call,” “Bel Air Blues,” “Big American Problem.” The second was The Drywall Incident which was mainly instrumental tracks.)

Like Work the Dumb Oracle, the songs on the new album are darker, harsher, more extreme both musically and lyrically than Ridgway‘s other work. Rays of hope don‘t last long in Drywall Land. And except for a few stray moments, forget about kindness or dignity.

And, yes, the world of Barbecue Babylon is apocalyptic. Corruption is everywhere. A desperate spirit of lawless has settled over the land. Thievery and murder abound, but the government has gone even more insane than the populace. To play on a few song titles here -- It‘s a “Land of Spook” run by people seemingly intent on achieving a “Wargasm.”

Life is cheap. Love is tawdry. Paranoia thrives. (“The AARP is after me," sings one sad Ridgway narrator.) Doom is always just around the corner.

Luckily, Ridgway’s twisted humor still abounds.

Not only does Ridgway make a great carnival barker at the gates of Armageddon, but the music here is some of the strongest he’s ever done.

The opening tune “Goin’ on Down to the BBQ,” is a deceptively upbeat tropical romp with shaking maracas and a happy organ that sounds like it might break into “Tequila” at any moment. The song sounds like a darker version of Joe “King” Carrasco. "Tammy Got a Knife with a razor blade/ She brought her baby with a burnt teddy bear/ Lost her finger on a midnight swinger/ Cook it up and like it medium rare.”

But after the cops break up the backyard party, Drywall goes straight for the Bizarro world with the acid jazzy “Fortune Cookies.” A honking sax soars over the techno rhythms as Ridgway declares, “Fascist state television, it’s a blast … that‘s the way the cookie crumbles.”

On “Big Weird Thing,” against a throbbing electronic sonic backdrop punctuated by sampled voices and sinister clanking bells, Ridgway goes into a berserk rant. He sounds like the celebrated crank Francis E. Dec (Google him, if you dare) or one of those frothing preachers and political crackpots that David Byrne and Brian Eno sampled from short-wave radio broadcasts on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. “It’s a whitewash! Disintegration! Surely something that just seems to rot and fester … Show me these things and I shall salute it.”

On Barbecue, Drywall sounds more like a band than they did on Dumb Oracle. Wexstun, whose voice is a proven delight on her own albums (released under the name Hecate’s Angels) gets two solo spots on this album. The most impressive is “Bold Marauder,” an old Richard & Mimi Farina song that‘s appropriately sinister and, yes, apocalyptic for a Drywall CD:.

“For I will sour the winds on high and I will soil the river/And I will burn the grain in the field and I will be your mother/And I will go to ravage and kill and I will go to plunder/And I will take a fury to wife and I will be your mother/And death will be our darling and fear will be our name …”

Pietra’s also out front on “Something’s Gonna Blow” (with Stan providing unison baritone backup.) This one, with its rolicking garage-rock backup, reminds me of the Farinas also, their more rocked-out tunes like’ “House Un-American Blues Activity Dream” (or maybe Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day.“) Drywall’s tune is a bitchen funky-chicken dance about economic decay.

There’s a secret hidden track featuring the voice of the president of the United States of America. Ridgway surely remembers The National Lampoon’'s infamous cut-and-paste manipulation of a Richard Nixon speech (“I am … a crook …”). He’s done the same shock-and-awe editing here for President Bush.

“Every year by law and by custom we meet here to threaten the world,” the president says, backed by an ominous Mid Eastern sounding Drywall instrumental track, interrupted every now and then by applause. “We must offer every child in America three nuclear missiles … We are building a culture to encourage international terrorism … I have a message for the people of Iraq: `Go home and die.’ ”


There’s one notable calm in the madness of Barbecue Babylon, a cool, almost jazzy little finger-popper called “Buried the Pope.” Ridgway released this surprising reverent tune as a free internet download just days after Pope John Paul II’s death.

“A world choked up with lies and politician doublespeak/ Nowhere to get the truth sometimes, but some will always seek/ Now you can criticize it, run it down/ Maybe religion’s not your dope/ But it’s hard to argue solid about a man of peace and hope/ That’s the day they buried the pope.”

But the funeral is just a short respite for Ridgway’s outrage. Elsewhere he has nothing but contempt for the large and in charge. In a sweet, almost western-sound waltz called “Robbers & Bandits & Bastards & Thieves,” he sings, “Hey nothing’ is new, this story is old/ Some will always steal tin and then sell it for gold …”

That’s not the case for Ridgway and Drywall. They’re selling pure gold with this record.

(Barbecue Babylon is available only at Stan Ridgway concerts and the internet. Check out CD Baby)

UDATE: This just in from International Ridgway HQs: Barbeque Babylon will be out and in record stores and at Amazon Aug. 30th.

So there ya go.

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