Listening to Saints, it's hard not to recall James "Blood" Ulmer, David S. Ware or any number of ragged experimentalists who put out uncompromising stuff on major labels only to find themselves booted. This may be a gift from Atlantic for delivering a pair of listener-friendly albums (with his garage/Cuban band Los Cubanos Postizos), but you have to think the guy's Atlantic days are numbered.
Saints delivers Ribot in all his pre-Postizos glory. This creaky, unrushed, all-solo guitar recital finds Ribot scratching his strings ragged, beating out blunt and wobbly notes with his bludgeon/pick, strangling the holy hell out of pop and jazz tunes alike, and making tremendously delicate music in the process. Once again, Ribot revisits the work of Albert Ayler-the title track and "Witches and Devils" bookend the recital and serve as a handy key to Ribot's approach. Much like Ayler, Ribot is a noisy radical who keeps melody close to his heart. He may warp it, pound it or twist it until it's practically worried through, but with each tune on Saints, the melody survives.
Ribot takes his distorting prism to an oddball set of tunes, including a flame-licked "St. James Infirmary," a disorientingly beautiful reworking of John Zorn's "Book of Heads #13" and an oddly faithful, and surprisingly jaunty, "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)." Only on "Empty," does Ribot choose heavy processing and effects over the intimate, stripped down vibe that stretches from one end of this disc to the other.