Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog

Northern Spy, 2021


REVIEW BY: Conrad Warre


Marc Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily, and drummer Ches Smith essentially improvised their new album Hope to have an excuse to play together and to support a need to play in public. (They’ll be touring the East coast in June.) If you haven't come across Marc Ribot’s guitar playing, his career was kicked into overdrive after accompanying Tom Wait’s Rain Dogs sessions in 1985 and he’s twanged, plucked, and howled along his way with John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards (between 1979 and 1985), John Zorn, Robert Plant & Alison Krause, Mike Patton, Niko Case, The Black Keys, Elton John, McCoy Tyner, Robert Quine, Elvis Costello, Allen Tousaint, and too many others to list here. If one were to distill his playing style, he’s more attracted to atmosphere than speed, precision, and polished tones. While Ribot is actually left-handed, as a guitarist he admits his technical facility is informed by playing a right-handed guitar. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album Hope slouches from style to style like a teenager’s furious mix tape, opening with the sullen blues of “B Flat Ontology” and sung with a voice channeling Leonard Cohen. The second track is a quasi reggae tune called “Nickelodeon.” “The Activist” opens up with a 21st century rant backed by a steady beat and a horn loop. Literal song title puns persist on “Bertha The Cool” and “Maple Leaf Rage,” the former implying a restrained Kenny Burrell guitar style theme and development, and the latter clocking in at over 13 minutes, challenging radio to never play it on the air. The band is really not chasing the groove in the manner of, say, Robert Hunter or Martin, Medeski & Wood, but are exploring similar moods and exposing unknown corners of the house you wouldn’t expect to find music hiding in.

If you need ear candy, open up the third track “Wanna,” which pretends to be power-pop. For some calm, the tune “The Long Goodbye” features a solo guitar instrumental introduction with abstract ornamentation lurking behind the strings, until the rhythm section crashes in, with the solo guitar eventually putting the tune to bed. Ribot uses just a little too much distortion for my taste (I like the sound of a guitar, and excessive distortion in my mind is like wearing dark sunglasses while looking at a painting), but Ribot’s playing is a satisfyingly different perspective amid a sea of copy-cat guitarists and overly technical musicians trying to one-up each other with exotic equipment and manipulative and repetitive tricks.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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