Patti Smith "Banga"

Iconic rocker Patti Smith mines the world of poets, filmmakers, ancient exploreres, and pop culture for a visionary new recording.

Patti Smith is a poet, visual artist, and a rock icon. She’s dabbled in acting and won the National Book award for her memoir “Just Kids.” All of her work is informed by her intense interest in history, literature, art, and popular culture. Originally hailed as the Godmother of Punk, Smith is now viewed as a shaman of sorts, a seeker of truth, and a fearless explorer of the far reaches of rock music. Her hunger for knowledge seems limitless and has spawned a dozen new songs spun from both real and intellectual treks.

It has been five years since Smith released an album. She began plotting out the concept for Banga in 2008, finding inspiration in the works of Russian poets Mikel Bulgakov and Nikolai Gogol. But Patti Smith’s albums find muses in many places. Banga opens with the epic “Amerigo” a re-imagining of the exploits of navigator Amerigo Vespucci and his initial ventures to the continents that would later bear his name. Smith wrote the lyrics while on cruise. Back in New York Smith's bassist Tony Shanahan was recording new music. Those demos became the music for the track and features the final work of drummer Louie Appel. Banga’s first single, “April Fool,” a love ballad, found root in poet Gogol’s work.

Much of Banga was conceived while Smith and long-time collaborator Lenny Kaye were on a cruise with filmmaker Jean Luc Goddard. A lullaby, “Seneca” was written off the coast of Sicily. At sea the pair read Bulgakov’s “Heart of the Dog” which spurred the title track. The character, Banga, is a loyal dog, “the dog of dogs” writes Smith in her liner notes, and represents the loyalty of her band. “Constantine’s Dream,” inspired by a painting, is another of Smith’s epic explorations of a subject that grew out of intense research. It is a ten-minute prayer to Saint Francis for the fate of the planet. That track nicely dove-tails into the album’s final song, a cover of Neil Young’s apocalyptic vision “After the Gold Rush.”

Popular culture and current events are addressed in several songs. “Maria” pays homage to the late film actress Maria Schneider who Smith met while touring with her first album, Horses. “This is the Girl” began as a poem for Amy Winehouse, but ended up matching with a melody by Tony Shanahan. “Nine” is a birthday gift for Smith’s good friend Johnny Depp. While at sea Smith and Kaye learned of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan. “Fuji-san” is their prayerful response.

Banga was inspired by many artists and musicians and was conceived in places as far flung as New York City's Electric Ladyland, to cities of Russia, to the shores of the Mediterranean. Smith’s lyrics were married to music by Shanahan, Kaye, and Jay Dee Daugherty. People who have populated Smith’s life played roles in performing on the album including Johnny Depp, Tom Verlaine, and Smith’s children Jesse and Jackson Smith.

You may have noticed that prayer, literature, and art have been mentioned throughout this review. The eternal student has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Patti Smith converts her hunger into an artistic vision that encompasses her great love of the world and passes on the inspiration to anyone open to the experience.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Host)