To solely refer to Patti Smith as "the godmother of punk rock," as she's often called, is to sell her short. The street urchin/poetess who was a major player and a focal point of the gritty New York City musical uprising in the mid-1970's has created a body of work in her nearly 40-year career that far extends beyond the microcosm of Manhattan's Lower East Side circa 1975.
Smith has just added another sparkling entry to her vast resumé; her 11th studio album, Banga. Patti's gift for writing and poetic prowess have remained sharp and pointed throughout her long tenure and are clearly alive and well on her latest offering. Smith is one of the few artists who is as effective and poignant on an introspective ballad as she is on a ragged rocker. The gorgeous gentle melody of the waltzing "This Is The Girl" (a memorial to the late Amy Winehouse) is followed by the chugging, primal hysteria of the title track, a perfect juxtaposition that splendidly exhibits the two sides of Patti Smith.
Although the quieter, laid-back moments are more abundant on Banga than what might be expected, the album is by all means another worthy and respectable collection of compositions in Patti's prolific canon. The 10-minute opus "Constantine's Dream," replete with religious and literary overtones, is as gracious a nod to the poetic heroism of Smith's mentor Jim Morrison (and The Doors) as she's ever recorded.
"April Fool," the album's lead single, is a pure slice of catchy pop that would fit in splendidly in any radio format. Smith sounds downright joyous as she eagerly croons her way through this buoyant gem.
The album winds down with another tribute, a cover version of Neil Young's stellar "After the Gold Rush." The chorus of children who lend their innocent, whimsical vocal talents to the song's refrain adds a magical aura to the well-known song and gives it a totally new spin.
Patti's backed again by her longtime band comprised of Tony Shanahan, Jay Dee Daugherty and Lenny Kaye, and children Jackson and Jesse also make appearances on her new album, as does her longtime contemporary, Television guitarist and vocalist Tom Verlaine.
Patti Smith is one of the few artists who has broken out of the artistic constraints she was seemingly once bound by. She's outlived the titles and monikers she was once plagued with and continued to evolve and record relevant, thought-provoking music. Banga seems worlds apart from Patti Smith's genre-bending debut masterwork, 1975's Horses, but in essence, it only shows the evolution and growth of a now older, wiser and more savvy artist.
Patti Smith is many things: she's an artist, a mom, a writer, a photographer and an author. She's a survivor, a fighter and a continued inspiration. Banga is glaring proof of her strongest suit of all, though. Patti Smith is first and foremost a rock 'n' roll singer. And a damn fine one at that.
3 1/2 out of 5 Stars
(Out now on Columbia)