by Eleni P. Austin
Patti Smith, the High Priestess of Punk is back.
“Banga” is her first album of new material since 2004’s “Trampin.”
It’s not as though Smith has been hibernating the last 8 years. She recorded
an album of rock & roll covers, “Twelve” in 2007, participated in Jean Luc Goddard’s film, “Socialism,” and even appeared on and episode of “Law & Order, Criminal Intent!”
Most importantly she wrote and published “Just Kids,” her magnificent memoir of her
years with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, which won the National Book Award.
“Banga” kicks off with the jaunty travelogue, “Amerigo.” The song was inspired
by a journey Smith took with Lenny Kaye, Goddard and his associates on the
MS Costa Concordia.
Shifting between spoken word and singing, “Amerigo” manages to be both
poignant and contemplative.
The album offers up a couple of playful tributes:
“This Is The Girl” is a loving elegy to Amy Winehouse. The melody and arrangement
of the song are cloaked in the sort of languid Doo-Wop that Winehouse successfully
re-invented before she passed away last year. Smith positively croons
This is the girl for whom all the tears fall/This is the girl who was having a ball.
It’s both tender and bittersweet.
“Maria” is a fierce homage to the actress Maria Schneider. Smith and Schneider
met in 1976 when both were experiencing their first success. Sadly, Schneider also passed
away in 2011.
The track opens with intertwining piano and Hammond B3 chords. The mood is
sad and mournful, but shot through with hope. The melody is propelled by a soaring guitar solo from Jackson Smith, Patti’s son.
“Banga’s” most ambitious tracks are “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter)”
and “Constantine’s Dream.” The moody textures of the former recall the Doors’
“Horse Latitudes.” Delicate percussion and fluid guitar underpinnings cushion Smith’s
mostly spoken words that honor Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
“Constantine’s Dream” is positively haunting. The song was inspired by a postcard
Smith received back in 1988. The picture detailed a Conquistador and a Page. Smith traveled to Italy
to find the original painting. She located it in the Basilica of St. Francis.
The melody is droning and dirge-like, weaving strings, keyboards and menacing
guitar parts. The lyrics re-imagine the postcard’s intriguing tableau.
Smith is joined on “Banga” by her longtime collaborators ;
Lenny Kaye on guitar, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums and Tony Shanahan on bass and
keyboards. Not only do they play on the songs, they also collaborated with Smith on
the melodies.
There are also a few guest musicians on “Banga” that should be singled out.
Tom Verlaine, lead guitarist from the seminal NYC punk band Television, provides the
snaking guitar lines that dart through “April Fool.” He’s also featured on “Nine,” a song
that Smith offered up to Johnny Depp as a birthday present. Depp’s birthday is June 9th.
Depp himself pops up playing drums and guitar on the tribal title track.
Smith’s son Jackson and daughter Jesse are all over “Banga” offering guitar, piano and vocals
making it a true family affair. Jackson even offers up some impressive dog howls on the
title track.
“Fuji San” is a quiet meditation on the earthquake that rocked Japan last year.
“Mosaic” floats on a Middle Eastern groove, exploring themes of love and rapture. It also
iIncludes some oblique references to the “Hunger Games” book!
“Seneca” is a soothing lullabye that Smith wrote for her young godson, Seneca Sebring.
Following the dark apocalyptic vision of “Constantine’s Dream,”
“Banga” closes with a cover of Neil Young’s melancholy “After The Gold Rush.”
Smith is joined by her adult kids as well as an ad hoc chorus of young children.
She slightly updates Neil’s lyrics: Look at Mother Nature on the run/
In the 21st century. It’s a simple and beautiful way to end an amazing album.
This is Patti Smith’s best effort since her 1996 release, “Gone Again.”
She is truly Rock & Roll’s Renaissance woman.

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