I had not thought about Stan Ridgway for quite a while. He first came to the public and my attention as a member of the L.A. New Wave band Wall Of Voodoo. He was a member from 1977-1983 before leaving for a solo career. The band continued until 1988.
He has traveled an eclectic path over the course of the last two-plus decades, producing alternative rock, electronic music, industrial rock, and even some country music along the way. He has also provided the music or contributed to sixteen soundtracks including such films as Rumble Fish and Pump Up The Volume.
Ridgway has now returned with a new album, Neon Mirage. It is an interesting career turn as he emerges primarily as a modern day troubadour. The songs are very personal, dealing with life and loss. The press release cites his parent’s record collection as a big influence for this release. While Dean Martin, Ernest Tubb, Frank Sinatra, Allan Sherman, Charlie Rich, and Patsy Cline are mentioned, it is Marty Robbins that seems to be the best match for a lot of the music. It reminds me of the stories which Robbins told on his Gunfighter series of albums. Even some of Ridgeway’s vocals channel Robbins’ style.
Ridgway resurrects “Big Green Tree,” re-working it from his Black Diamond album. It still asks questions about life and belonging but is presented much more gently, emerging as a modern-day folk song.
“Like A Wanderin’ Star” is a poignant eulogy for a friend. “Behind The Mask” is Ridgway at his most introspective. “Flag Up On A Pole” talks about the cost of patriotism. “Halfway There” reveals a man, now 56, contemplating life’s passing.
In addition to being a fine vocalist and songwriter, he is also proficient on the guitar, harmonica, piano, and synthesizer. Other key musicians on this release are his wife and long time band mate, Pietra Wexstun (who is a competent keyboardist in her own right), guitarist Rick King, and sax, flute, and woodwind player Ralph Carney.
Stan Ridgway’s journey has taken him far from his Wall Of Voodoo days. And with Neon Mirage he has created a musically mature, lyrically complex, and overall interesting album. He has managed to tap into his life’s stories and experiences which will hopefully continue to be a part of his music.