Marc Ribot-Saints

August 23, 2008

Marc Ribot

Saints (Atlantic 2001)

http://www.mediafire.com/?s5uawdkaipt

As a bored and lonely teenager, I tended to search for any free or all-ages concerts to fill in the many blanks in my life. There was a series of free concerts at Penns Landing in Philadelphia where I got to see Billy Bragg and Roger Mcguinn as well as lesser lights like Suddenly Tammy. I had never heard of T-Bone Burnett since this was before his work with the Coen Brothers on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. However, the concert was free and my dance card was empty, so what the hell. To be honest, Burnett was kind of a drag, but his guitarist had so much charisma and his playing was electrifying and eye-opening to my young soul. His name was Marc Ribot and I did some research and found that he played on one of my favorite albums, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. From that moment, I decided that I would always keep an eye out for any record on which he played.

Sadly, my obsession was never fully rewarded as he hadn’t released any solo records at that point. A few years later, I shelled out a bunch of money for Shrek, a Japanese import on John Zorn’s Avant label, and was kind of disappointed. I plowed through Yo! I Killed Your God and Shoe String Symphonettes and I appreciated and enjoyed some of it, but they didn’t inspire me like those life-affirming moments of his live performance. His work was challenging, but it didn’t speak to me. I put my fascination with Ribot on the back burner and this hiatus lasted for many years until I encountered his Saints album in 2001.

Maybe it is due to the fact that most of the album consists of covers of Albert Ayler, the Beatles, Stephen Sondheim, John Lurie and John Zorn, but Saints was an entirely different beast than anything else I had heard him play. Maybe it is because Ribot is the only ingredient here. It is just a brilliant guitarist paying tribute to his favorite compositions while reinventing them in a new light. Saints is such an intimate listen and he creates a noirish atmosphere that is so minimal and moody. In fact, it is one of the few solo guitar records where I really feel every note that the musician is playing. I want to hear every twist and turn he takes with the source material. To be honest, it’s kind of a sensual record to me because he takes his sweet time mining every ounce of emotion from each composition. I love Albert Ayler and his versions of “Saints” and “Witches and Devils” outdo the master as Ribot replaces the fire of the originals with some meditative, expansive shit. I always say this, but I am shocked that more folks haven’t embraced Saints because it is such an evocative piece of work. The man even takes “Happiness is a Warm Gun” into some languorous, meditative place that Lennon and McCartney never intended. Definitely one of the best instrumental albums of the past decade and possibly one of the first records I reach for when I want to zone out and ponder life.

The Breeders

Pod Demos

http://www.mediafire.com/?xkeytnkyt0i

At the time, The Pixies were my favorite band in the universe. The Smiths and Cocteau Twins were runners-up. My teenage mind latched onto Frank Black’s primal screams on Surfer Rosa and loved the eclectic smorgasbord of Doolittle. This teenage mind liked Bossanova and told Trompe Le Monde to talk to the hand. I saw them with the Ciure and Love and Rockets and my heart swooned at the possibilities of music. Now I am much older and calloused and I look back and wonder why I thought their first two albums were a door to all that was new. I still view Loveless, Queen is Dead, Heaven or Las Vegas and Viva Hate as impeccable gems, but the Pixies just haven’t aged well with me.

The Breeders’ debut, Pod, is a horse of a different color. It still gets played regularly and it grows more loved with each listen. I like First Splash a lot and find something to love on the other two, but the overall legacy is weak except for Pod. I used the term “supergroup” already today, but here we go on our hackneyed path again. In my mind, the Breeders were much more than Kim Deal. The band included Tanya Donnely of Throwing Muses, Josephine Wiggins of The Perfect Disaster and Britt Walford of Slint, who recorded under the alias of Shannon Doughton to preserve the all-girl flair. When you listen to the demos for Pod, it becomes apparent that they had a lot more to do with its success than you may think.

Pod was produced and engineered by Steve Albini. Known for his work with  Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac as well as production credits on albums by Nirvana, Superchunk Page and Plant and Pj Harvey. It was always obvious that he beefed up the sound of Pod, but one listen to the demos and it points to how Albini and Britt Walford made this album a great one instead of a good one. The demos include all of the Kim Deal tracks and excludes the Beatles cover as well as a few others. The demos are a great insight into the creation of the album and stand on their own as an album, but it lacks the forboding, metallic guitars and creepy atmosphere of the finished product. Yes, this is the case with most demos, but the contrast is schocking.

In the finished product, Walford’s drumming is pushed to the forefront and is recorded higher in the mix than than Deal’s vocals at times. In addition, Deal and Donnely’s guitars sounds more abrasive and harsh while Wiggs’ bass is prominent and drives each track with an air of aggression. The finished product is genius while the demos sounds almost twee. There is no Pod as wel know it without the pounding drums of Walford and Albini’s raw reconstruction of these songs. You may say this is unfair since these are demos. However, the band’s direction after Pod shows that they were always a catchy pop band with rough edges instead of the infinitely more interesting band which recorded Pod.