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Marc Ribot Saints Review

Album. Released 18 September 2001.  

BBC Review

...intensely frivolous faux-Cuban and serious avant-radicalism...

Dan Hill 2002

Here, a solo Marc Ribot delivers a typically idiosyncratic and typically brilliant performance of tunes, mostly covers, ranging from Ayler to Zorn, via thirties standards, fifties rock'n'roll, and even noughties layered abstraction.

Recorded in honest, naked detail, warts and all, Ribot reveals once again just how good a guitarist he is - an instantly recognisable character on this most-overplayed of instruments, largely thanks to his instincts for pushing the guitar around a bit (despite an innate ability to play his ass off).

He often sounds most un-guitar-like indeed, particularly on John Zorn's "Book of Heads #13"; a beautiful collage of koto-like shivers and slack-tuned slides. Yet "St. James Infirmary" is pure electric raunch; a distorto twangathong false-memory from Franks Wild Years (it seems odd without ol' Tom galumphing around in the background). John Lurie's "It Could Have Been Very Very Beautiful" is a wonderfully gumshoe, Badalamenti-like piece, perfect for Ribot's darkside cool-school pastiche.

Ayler's tunes unfurl their great melodies, particularly the vaulting, leaping virtuoso piece "Holy Holy Holy". Ribot revels in melodically-strong pieces such as these, delighting in thinking out loud, almost plotting the tune's downfall at his hands. Hearing him get artfully entangled in the riff of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" actually reminds how smart Lennon & McCartney's writing could be (and although not intended as such, it's also a far more eloquent tribute to George Harrison than any number of pre-prepared, hand-wringing obits have been).

Likewise, he utterly decontructs "I'm Confessin (That I Love You)" from within, abruptly halting and examining the melody, quizzically toying with it as if he's just noticed how beautiful it is, a butterfly wriggling in his tweezers. Otherwise, it's respectfully sepia-toned songbook perfection, as if found nestling in Woody Allen's record collection. Ribot's ability to play inside and outside in the course of the same song is astonishing. In "Empty", he goes outside traditional form itself, layering sheets of post-processed feedback.

Even "Somewhere" is wonderfully fractured, featuring his penchant, often witnessed in live shows, for switching between amplified and unamplified playing across the changes, even mid-phrase. The melody is strong enough to remain intact, and Ribot knows it.

For this writer, Ribot touches all the right buttons, plotting a wonderfully wayward course between Rain Dogs and the Knitting Factory; intensely frivolous faux-Cuban and serious avant-radicalism. Ribot has his cake, and eats it too, every time.

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