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Music Review: Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Party Intellectuals

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I consider Marc Ribot to be the ultimate guitar renaissance man. Just consider a small portion of his resume: Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, The Lounge Lizards, John Zorn, T Bone Burnett, Patti Scialfa, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Rob Wasserman, Ellery Eskelin, Marianne Faithfull, Mike Patton, Cibo Matto, Dave Douglas, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss.

Crazy, is what that list is.

The music that Ribot has produced in the last year or so provides a concentrated look at his career. He's put out an album of guitar solo material (Exercises in Futility) that flows from pensive to skronk. Then there's his more rootsy work with Allison Kraus and Robert plant on their phenomenal Raising Sand.

With Ceramic Dog, Ribot has put together his avant-garde power trio. That might seem like an overused description but it's a little more compact than Ribot's own "free/punk/funk/experimental/psychedelic/post electronica collective." More important is that Party Intellectuals plays like a distillation of Ribot's restless career. With Ches Smith on drums and Shahzad Ismaily on bass, Ribot and his free-spirited guitar let loose with songs ranging from classic rock to inside-out sorta-jazz.

Highlights are many, taking a trip through Ceramic Dog's expansive musical landscape. There's the hilarious and loping "Girlfriend," where the main character admits to having designs on his girlfriend's best friend. "Break On Through" is a snotty and punkish take on the Doors classic. "Digital Handshake" sounds like Eno's "Ambient: Music For Airports" if sped up by a factor of 10. "ShSh ShSh" finds the band getting truly dark and ambient, a nice contrast to the crazy lounge-on-acid of tunes like "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch" as well as the title track.

What's really interesting (and rare!) about Ceramic Dog is that the players' obvious instrumental skill is only employed in service of the song. It's an egoless kind of music-making: the guys play their collective asses off on the burning "Midost" but are content to lay back on "Bateau"…because that's what makes perfect sense. It's the kind of thing Ribot has been doing over his entire career.

One listen to Party Intellectuals will give the Marc Ribot rookie good reason to check out the rest of the man's catalog. The rest of us will just keep nodding our heads, that crazy grin spreading across our faces.

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About Mark Saleski

  • “Break On Through” is a snotty and punkish take on the Doors classic.

    I love Ribot’s offbeat take on old rock songs. His guitar-only rendition of the Beatles “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” endeared me with the way he managed to strip all the excess out of the song and just played the notes that counted. His brilliance is often in what he doesn’t do, rather than what he does do.

  • i totally love how he does “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on Rootless Cosmopolitans.

  • I think I’m going to have to check this out. Sounds like a good time. A weird time, but a good time nonetheless.