(The above audio piece is my four minute reveiw of Banga with song samples aired on KUSP on July 25th.)
Patti Smith’s new album Banga was well worth the seven year wait since she last released an album of practically all original material. It’s her strongest recording since Radio Ethiopia.
Banga – by the way, is the name of Eastern Europe author’s dog and the title track - is a healthy bowl of mixed nuts. There are two songs of mourning paying homage to the passing of the late singer Amy Winehouse and Euro actress Maria Schneider. Then there’s the light heartedness- almost frisky feel of April Fool which is a nod to Russian author Nikolai Gogol and features a solo by Television guitarist, Tom Velaine as well as Smith’s son, Jackson on second guitar. Even Smith’s pal, actor Johnny Depp, gets into the action playing guitar and drums on the the album.
Smith harkens back to the Easter and Ethiopia albums with the ten plus minute chant raga of an apocalyptic vision she had one restless night called Constantine’s Dream, one of the highlights of the album. Years ago, Smith received a postcard featuring an uncredited painting depicting a sleeping conquistador king guarded by his armoured soldiers. A few years ago Smith and her forever guitarist Lenny Kaye visited Italy. Smith had a relsess night dreaming about the painting and imagining the king as Constaintine who makes the trip across the Atlantic to discover the Americas just like Columbus.. The morning after the dream, Kaye and Smith head off to a basilica and low and behold – there is the actual painting and all is revealed.
The album closes with her cover of Neil Young’s classic After the Gold Rush also spotlighting her guitarist son Jackson and daughter Jess on piano. A choir of young childen round out the ending.
Banga is available in two formats – a regular cd and for slightly more money, a superb and very classy jacketed book with pages of black and white photos Smith and Kaye took on their travels, including one of Mr. Depp. Smith’ thoroughly entertaining liner notes s recounts how Banga came to fruition. The special edition cd has a bonus track called Just Kids –also the title of Smith’s acclaimed book from a couple of years ago. The song is a four minute synopsis of her youthful relationship with the late photographer, Robert Maplethorpe.
Highly recommended from beginning to end. As Patti Smith says “Believe or Explode!”