Stan Ridgway Neon Mirage (A440 Records)Stan Ridgway’s unique singing style first gained fans during his time as frontman for Wall of Voodoo, but it wasn’t until the band broke up and he took center stage that his true vision could come through. He follows in the tradition of American troubadours before him like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan (in fact, he covers Dylan’s “Lenny Bruce” on Neon Mirage), but he hasn’t forgotten the synthesizer experiments of Wall of Voodoo, or his long-time fascination with movie soundtracks.His new album (the first in six years) finds Ridgway mining some dark emotions, inspired by the loss of several friends and family members in the time since 2004′s Snakebite. It starts off with “Big Green Tree,” which features traditional folk instrumentation. The third track, “Desert of Dreams,” features jaunty jazz horns, which segues into the beautiful “Halfway There”a critical favorite. Ridgway’s neo-cowboy-drawl never seems defeated, but his emotional investment is evident. No one would mistake these songs for manufactured radio hitsthey’re too honest, and too unique. The rest of the album is just as surprising.Ridgway has evolved far past the 1980s novelty hit “Mexican Radio,” although new listeners today might not even remember that song. Neon Mirage, while mining a more compassionate sound, shows even more willingness to experiment, and succeeds as a result.
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