Home' Rhythms Magazine : November-December 2018 Contents LEADING THE
‘Bella Ciao’ features vocals by Tom Waits whose recordings have been
sparse over recent years. How did Ribot get him into the studio?
“Well, I suggested a bunch of tunes to him but he bonded with that
one right away,” he explains,“and I was very glad that he did because it's
a great tune. Or a great piece. I was out in San Francisco playing and I
went down to a Hardly Strictly Bluegrass [the free festival in Golden
Gate Park] and played there with the Prime Time Band, it was the
Ornette Coleman tribute, the Ornette Coleman band now headed by
Denardo Coleman. Man, if there was ever anything that was ‘hardly
strictly, hardly bluegrass’ at that festival, we were it, man!
“So I drove up the next day and I recorded up at Tom's place. He's got
his own studio in what I think is a former antique store. It's a great
place. It's still has tons of antiques lying around. It's exactly like you
would imagine a Tom Waits recording studio to be. Just this house
with a few wires running through it with microphones on the end of
them. I always loved recording with Tom and playing music with Tom.”
One of the other highlights of the album is a moving song titled
‘Srinivas,’ sung by Steve Earle and Tift Merritt, with a powerful story
about a hate crime behind it. (One of the lines in the song observes ‘A
madman pulled the trigger/Donald Trump loaded the gun’).
“I was kind of channelling a lot of things,” says Ribot.“There's cover
tunes and originals and that was an original. But I was, in the originals,
trying to channel some of the deep currents of American music. The
melody on that comes from a very old hymn,‘Dark the Night, Cold the
Ground’. The original words are‘When they laid our saviour down.’
And it was covered. There was a famous instrumental version by Blind
Willie Johnson – and any guitarist who has dealt with the history of
guitar would know that version.
“So, I referenced that in both the lyric and the music of that tune. The
lyric begins ‘Dark the night cold the ground. Now when they shot
Srinivas Kuchibhotla down.’ The song is about an immigrant who was
actually Hindu I believe, but this racist who was all fired up about
foreigners just came into a bar where he and a friend were sitting and
shot them for no reason. I saw his mom on TV being interviewed and
crying and I felt like, well, at the least, I felt like we owed her a song.”
Songs of Resistance ends defiantly on another beautiful song,‘We’ll
Never Turn Back’, featuring Justin Vivian Bond and Domenica Fossati.
“I did a lot of thinking while I was making this,” says Ribot.“The period
when this was coming together was between March and September
of 2017. The reason it took so long to come out was because, basically,
everything business-wise that could possibly go wrong in the making of
the record did go wrong.
“So it took a long time to come out, but anyways, this was during the
same period as the dispute, over the painting of Emmett Till at the
Whitney Museum of American Art was going on. So I was paying a lot
of attention to that and it really made me think of who gets to perform
what and why. I don't have the answer to any of those questions but I'd
been performing that song myself. I'd always found it beautiful and I've
been performing it in one way or the other for probably 20 years.
I think artistically, it matters and ethically it matters who is doing
something, how they're doing it and why they're doing it. I wouldn't
consider it good if I did an archival version of one of the songs for
the Civil Rights movement. I didn't want to do archival versions of
anything. I want it to take things from the past and make them live
now, to reinterpret them to make them fit this situation.”
“In other words, I don't think that this record is [just] a collection of
tunes,” he adds.“I hope it's the beginning of a process where people go
back to the past and study it and take what's useful and use it now.”
Songs of Resistance 1942 – 2018 is available in Australia through
Cooking Vinyl. Portions of the album’s proceeds will be donated to The
Indivisible Project, an organisation that helps individuals resist the
Trump agenda via grassroots movements in their local communities.
By Brian Wise
Photos by Barbara Rigon.
Marc Ribot might have been a last-minute addition to the Americana
Music Festival in September but he provided one of the undoubted
highlights for me and prompted the question, ‘ Isn’t jazz Americana
Playing a midnight show in the High Watt, one of four venues at The
Cannery, Ribot’s trio – that also included drummer Chez Smith and
local bassist Brad Jones (both amazing musicians in their own right)
blew everyone away with a powerful performance that combined
songs from Ribot’s latest album Songs of Resistance 1942 – 2018 and
selections from the album with his avant-garde outfit Ceramic Dog, Y
R U Still Here? I am not sure I’ll ever see a better guitarist.
Ribot had been scheduled to visit Australia in August but had to
cancel due to a family emergency. This gig offered a brief chance to
see him in full flight and it was awesome. Challenging – and not to
everybody’s taste – but awesome. Buddy Miller, who had just finished
a gig at the downstairs venue, was in the audience and transfixed.
That’s high praise in itself.
“ It was a fun gig. It was a little bit past my bed time,” says Ribot who
notes that the gig was added because he was in town to play with up-
and-coming star Logan Ledger. “ It was kind of an afterthought to add
the Songs of Resistance g i g .”
“ Buddy Miller is a good friend and has always been very supportive
of what I've done,” adds Ribot. “ He’s a good friend and an amazing
guitarist, simply amazing guitarist. Studio musicians get that Buddy
is an amazing guitarist because [he is] someone who could just walk
in and play exactly what the record needs in the first or second take
and whose sound is beautiful. But in my opinion, he should have a
higher profile. He can play his ass off, but he's not flashy. But in my
opinion he's simply a great guitarist. We recorded a record together
called The Majestic Silver Strings.....and Buddy, also since he's friends
with basically every singer in Nashville, he got some amazing singers
to sing on it. The record didn't get around much because the band,
everybody's schedule was too busy to tour, but it's one of the records
I'm most proud of having played on.”
Ribot is probably best known for his work as a sideman with
musicians such as Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull,
Diana Krall and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss but he is building
a profile for his own work and the latest, provocative solo album is
bound to help. ( Just to show how versatile he is, one of his other
recent projects includes a recording of Philly soul numbers with an
outfit called The Young Philadelphians).
Songs of Resistance features guest spots from Waits (in one of his rare
recent recordings), bassist/singer Meshell Ndegeocello, Steve Earle,
Tift Merritt and Syd Straw along with an array of other lesser-known
but compelling singers.
The eleven songs include some original compositions as well as
traditional songs drawn from World War II anti-Fascist Italian
partisans, the U.S . civil rights movement and Mexican protest ballads.
It’s the sort of album that guarantees that Ribot will definitely not get a
Christmas card from the current occupant of the White House.
“There's a tune on the Songs of Resistance record called ‘Knock That
Statue Down’,” explains Ribot when I allude to the political situation
in the South where we have both just been. “ I nearly didn't put it on
the record, not because I think it's not true, not because I think that
every last statue of a Confederate, that celebrates in a public space
someone who fought for the confederacy or someone who was a hero
of white supremacy shouldn't be taken down. I absolutely do believe
that. But I think that that fight is most effectively fought by people
from those communities. I don't think it's ideal that it came from me,
“ But then the reason I wound up putting it on the record in spite of
that, and again I have no problem with saying that every last one of
those statues should be knocked down (and I'd have no problem with
helping). I like best to speak to my own community...and the reason I
did put it on there is because I started thinking about it and I realised
I've toured Germany and Italy and Austria for most of my adult life.
“ I've walked down streets in every major city and a whole lot of towns,
large and small and I've never once seen a statue of a fascist soldier
or celebrating a fascist soldier or representing a leader in the fascist
governments or Third Reich.
“And it’s not because no-one in Germany or Italy or Austria mourns
their relatives who died in those wars. Plenty died. And like families
everywhere, those who survived and their communities mourn them
just like in every war, everywhere. But they understand that that's not
something to be celebrated. Fascism is not something to be celebrated.”
Songs of Resistance is all about politics and it's a very interesting time to
release such an album in America, with the country so polarised.
“ I have other albums that I could have released, but I felt it would be a
bad time not to release such an album. We need to deal with this. I 'm a
musician, so I started with music.
“Some of the songs I've known for years. For example, I've been
interested in songs of the Civil Rights movement for many years and
I've done them sometimes as instrumentals, sometimes in all kinds of
different versions. One of my guitar teachers’ was Frantz Casseus and
his recordings are on Folkways and are now at the Smithsonian. I 've
always been interested in the political stuff and civil rights stuff.
More recently, the Italian resistance and songs such as ‘ Bella Ciao’.
I mean, I 'd kind of heard them, but I started to focus, and a friend
brought them to my attention.”
Guitarist Marc Ribot releases an album that rails powerfully against the
current political situation in America and the agenda of its current President.
“I have other albums that
I could have released, but I felt
it be a bad time not to release
such an album.”
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