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Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog: Hope (Northern Spy)

Review of third album by the guitarist's trio with Shahzad Ismaily and Ches Smith

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Cover of Hope album by Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog
Cover of Hope album by Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog

Last heard from in a pro-protest folkish setting on Songs of Resistance 1942-2018, guitarist Marc Ribot was appalled by the Trump presidency from the start and stayed sadly stupefied right through a raging pandemic. Titling a new album Hope, then, could either be a caustic joke (Ribot’s a funny guy) or an honest expression of light and desire for better days to come. Actually it’s both, since his Ceramic Dog trio with bassist/multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and percussionist/drummer Ches Smith is as much of a sonic vehicle for Ribot’s dry, wry lyrics and sandpaper-y vocals as it is for his reverberating skronk and fuzztoned twang-bar noodlings. The angular lounge blues of “The Activist,” for example, is filled with needling guitars and Ismaily’s muzzy reeds, but it’s Ribot’s satirical rapid-fire rhetoric that’s most impressive: a mix of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” William S. Burroughs, and Groucho Marx’s “I’m Against It” from Horse Feathers

“B Flat Ontology” also takes its cue from Dylan’s namedropping, only this time it’s the Dylan of 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways; the roll call includes Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, a thousand postmodernist philosophers, and Thelonious Monk. When Ribot insists his subjects are amazing, you’re not quite sure if it’s in praise or world-weary ennui. He and his wah-wah are more upbeat—even hinting at a Grateful Dead jam, complete with fluid Jerry-like solo—on “Nickelodeon.” Here Smith’s soft rhythms and Ismaily’s fizzy organs rise up to meet Ribot’s shakedown street shuffle, a sly groove that the C-Dogs maintain on the sexily soulful (and humorously named) “Bertha the Cool.” And while “Wanna” is rooted in the No Wave noise we first heard from Ribot in his days backing Johns Zorn and Lurie, the long, spacious “Maple Leaf Rage” offers a possible view to his future with its staccato guitars and storming rhythms. 

Crabby yet touching, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog has found a way to have its cake, step on it, and make a few sweet wishes.

Marc Ribot’s New York Stories