Ceramic Dog is the densest trio I’ve ever come across. Their polystylism covers more genres in one album than do most musicians in a lifetime. Their 2013 album, Your Turn, was released to great praise from critics, but seems to have escaped notoriety. This is somewhat of a trend for group leader, Marc Ribot (pronounced ree-boh). While I can’t grant Marc or his bandmates Shahzad Ismaily and Ches Smith a spike in record sales, I can share what they’re doing in this self-aware magazine of ours. That will have to do for now.
In an attempt to make you care a little bit more about Marc Ribot’s music right away, I’ll go ahead and name drop for a few sentences. His musical debut was in 1984 on a live album by Solomon Burke titled Soul Alive, followed by a little record named Rain Dogs by Tom Waits. Marc has remained Tom Waits’ primary session and touring guitarist ever since. Marc Ribot has also recorded for the Black Keys (and you thought they were a duo. That’s him playing the guitar solo on Lies and So He Won’t Break ). He’s recorded extensively with Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett. The list also includes Norah Jones, Robert Plant & Allison Krauss, Allen Ginsberg, The Lounge Lizards, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, and Trey Anastasio. Marc is also one of the primary session guitarists for composer John Zorn’s Avante-Garde record label, Tzadik Records. That doesn’t even begin to discuss his music. Besides fronting a Cuban dance/jazz band named los Cubanos Postizos, Marc Ribot notably performs improvised solo-guitar film scores to Charlie Chaplain films.
But this isn’t about any of that.
This article is about Ceramic Dog’s second album, Your Turn.
This is probably Marc’s most accessible, yet political release, and certainly his most fun. Drawing from their multifarious pasts, the members of Ceramic Dog mix vocal jazz, punk rock, avant-garde, and progressive noise into a fervid concoction of garage-jam glory. Your Turn holds fast to a few central themes and textures such as protest (in style and message), but, other than that, it generally runs amok doing as it pleases.
The record itself has six instrumental songs and six tracks with vocals. Of course, it comes with a download of the digital album which contains two more songs that didn’t fit onto the LP.
Marc has repeatedly described the album in interviews as a “protest record.” That idea is apparent in the opening track, Lies My Body Told Me and becomes more pronounced with repeated listens. Lies My Body Told Me is a protest song against his own body. “Who am I to argue with that logic?” We all face that on a subconscious level, and it doesn’t necessarily fade through the years.
Bread and Roses is another telling song of protest. Those familiar with American literature may recognize the title as a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim. Or not. I’d never heard of it before this song either, but it’s pretty cool. Those familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement may recognize the song’s use of the Human Microphone as an introduction.
The Kid Is Back absolutely steals the show. It’s simple-three part jazz structure is an immediate combo-breaker from the complex textures of the two instrumentals before it. Marc uses this song as a chance to show off his smoothly crystalline jazz technique. With lines like “I love you like old Nixon loves his Pat. ‘Love you like old Hitler loves his pretty little Eva,” it’s certainly a quixotic little love song, but a damn catchy one at that. This song proves more than any other on the album that Marc Ribot is still in the swing of things. “Why burn like a crazy Roman Candle when you got a hand grenade?”
This is an album for the 21st century. It is painfully aware of the social atmosphere it enters and confronts it headlong. With songs about music piracy, artists’ rights, and the consumerism which drives the higher echelons of the music industry, Your Turn provides entertainment and discourse. It’s postmodern take on genre not only blends, but pits styles against each other in an ever self-conscious way. I can’t say it enough; this should be the next album you purchase. It will satiate so many cravings you didn’t know you had.
Go out and buy Ceramic Dog’s Your Turn.