Personnel: Stan Ridgway (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, keyboards, electronics); Pietra Wexstun (vocals, melodica, piano, Farfisa, keyboards, electronics); Rick King (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, electric bass); Tommy Arizona (pedal steel guitar); Lazlo Vickers (violin); Enrico Deiro (accordion); Ralph Carney (woodwinds, saxophone); Bruce Zelesnik (vibraphone, drums, percussion, electronics); Bill Blatt (acoustic bass).
Recording information: Impala Studios, Venice, CA (02/2012-03/2012); The Mountain Stage, WV (02/2012-03/2012); Impala Studios, Venice, CA (11/2010); The Mountain Stage, WV (11/2010).
Stan Ridgway is an artist defined in the eyes of many by his quirks -- the rubbery twang of his voice, the dark and angular tone of his melodies, and the herky-jerky attack of his best-known performances. Listen past the eccentricities of Ridgway's surfaces and you'll know he's one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, and Mr. Trouble suggests that he's trying to make it just a bit easier for folks to dig into the core of his work. Mr. Trouble opens with six new studio tracks that find Ridgway in noticeably different voice these days; his instrument is deeper and craggier, sounding dry and worn on "We Never Close," and his phrasing is by his standards subdued, with less yelp and more plainspoken resonance. The melodies are also a few shades less sharp this time out, with vintage jazz and R&B as obvious reference points on tunes like "The Drowning Man," "All Too Much," and the title cut. The arrangements present Ridgway's melodies in a more organic and straightforward fashion than one might expect, though "Mr. Trouble" and "Gone Deep Underground" give the players plenty of room to stretch out and explore the outer reaches of the music. (It helps that Ridgway's band is in excellent form here, especially keyboardist Pietra Wexstun, percussionist Bruce Zelesnik, and guitarist Rick King.) And Ridgway's songs are typically splendid while subtly reflecting the malaise of post-millennial America, particularly on "The Drowning Man," "Across the Border," and "Gone Deep Underground." If Mr. Trouble has a flaw, it's that there isn't enough of it; the six new recordings are accompanied by four songs from a 2010 performance by Ridgway on the public radio series Mountain Stage, and while he's in great form on the live cuts, none of them quite top their original studio recordings, and in this context they sound more like padding than anything else. Mr. Trouble feels like an ambitious and well-executed 26-minute EP from Stan Ridgway, with four bonus tracks tacked onto stretch the playing time to 45 minutes; this may be an effort to offer better value for money, but the two halves on this album would probably each fare better on their own. ~ Mark Deming