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A few words about the eclectic stylings of Stan Ridgway , with Stan Ridgway

Michael Upchurch
The Seattle Times (MCT)

Stan Ridgway is one of the great eccentrics of West Coast rock — though "rock" doesn't begin to cover it

The former frontman for the 1980s cult band Wall of Voodoo ("Mexican Radio") blends country-blues twang, a lounge-music vibe, movie-score kitsch and hard-driving theatrical psychedelia on his records.

His latest show is titled "Songs of Love, Murder, Ghosts & Natural Disaster." Joining him in this American-gothic adventure are keyboardist Pietra Wexstun (his wife) and guitarist Rick King. The trio, which also records as Drywall, is covering tunes from Ridgway's solo career and Wall of Voodoo years, as well as ditties from Ridgway/Wexstun's new children's album, "Silly Songs for Kids."

A couple of songs go overboard with "chipmunk" vocals, but the best are great fun. (Sample lyrics: "Have you ever wondered what'd be like / To shave off your dolly's hair? / Glue it all back all over place, / Turn her into a teddy bear.")

If you haven't kept up with Ridgway, his latest solo album, "Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs," and Drywall's most recent CD, "Barbeque Babylon," find him in more eclectic form than ever. "King for a Day" (from "Snakebite") is a slinky 12-bar-blues satire detailing the misadventures of a crack-addicted car thief. "Abandon Ship" (from "Barbeque Babylon") somehow manages to be a sea chantey, march and Latin number rolled into one as it tells a tale of maritime disaster.

Ridgway gamely answered some questions by e-mail last week:

Q: From the earliest Wall of Voodoo days you seem to have enjoyed writing "in character": I'm thinking of "Factory" (off "Call of the West") about a disgruntled factory worker, and "King for a Day" from the more recent "Snakebite," about a crack-addicted car thief. Do you think of yourself as a storyteller as much as a songwriter?

A: Mixing music and words are an obsession for me. And I think all songs are stories even when they are kind of vague or not a straight narrative. Stories of the soul, really. That's what music can do when words are framed in such a way by the sounds that lift them.

Q: Will the "Songs of Love, Murder, Ghosts & Natural Disaster" show include anything off the new children's album?

A: This show highlights a number of songs that I would say are "folk favorites" of mine. And we'll of course also be playing songs from my entire career — if you can call it that! — and, yes, from (the new children's disc) "Silly Songs for Kids," too.

Q: Did you think of yourself as some kind of "folk singer" even when you were with Wall of Voodoo? It seems like you were a Johnny Cash fan from the start, with that cover of "Ring of Fire."

A: I think we're all playing folk music really. My friend Dave Alvin says some of it's loud and some of it's soft but it's all "folk music" when the day is done.... The tradition of the troubadour coming to town to bring the news of day is one way I look at it.

Q: You do some great covers of 1960s songs. I'm thinking of Mose Allison's "Monsters of the Id" (on "Snakebite") and Richard and Mimi Farina's "Bold Marauder" (on "Barbeque Babylon"). Any particular story behind choosing to do those? They certainly seem to apply to this decade as aptly as they do to the 1960s.

A: I look for songs to cover that say something about our times now, yes. And also songs that say something to me personally that maybe the audience doesn't know about ... If you can put a familiar song in a new rhythm or a new context, (that's) an art in itself.

Q: What brought about the children's album?

A: Pietra and I have plenty of nieces and nephews and this was really for them.... Writing from a perspective of a child's-eye view is liberating and surreal. To put yourself in the mind of a fly or a pixie or a blade of grass? Hey, who wouldn't want to do that! Hopefully it's a collection that all ages can enjoy because even though it's aimed at kids, I sometimes feel it's really maybe an "art" record just masquerading as a kids record.

Q: Any plans to cover any Wall of Voodoo songs other than "Mexican Radio"?

A: There's always a few Wall Of Voodoo songs we choose to do and not just the "hits," of course. It's all part of the story and I never leave it out. When I wrote them back then, I sang most from the perspective and outlook of an old man. And now it seems I'm even better at singing 'em that way! Every show we do — we mix it up. The last thing I'd want to be is predictable, ya know?

(Interviewer's footnote: Ridgway recently turned 55 and one of the songs on Drywall's "Barbeque Babylon" CD is titled "The AARP Is After Me." The man does have a sense of humor.)

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