"Between the Times and the Tides" by Lee Ranaldo
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: September 17, 2012
CD REVIEW: Lee Ranaldo – Between the Times and the Tides (Matador Records) 2012
Released earlier this year, Sonic Youth guitarist and sometime singer, artist, writer and man-about-town Lee Ranaldo stunned SY fans with a straight-forward record of fully-realized songs that are the best side project by a member of this band that has been around for over three decades.
Yes, Between the Times and the Tides than all of Thurston Moore’s solo projects (although we really dug Demolished Thoughts from last year). I suspect Moore is at his best when he is writing and recording with Sonic Youth. Lee Ranaldo – an excellent guitarist, I should add – shows off his best work as a solo artist. It’s a balance.
Reading David Browne’s 2008 bio on the band, Goodbye 20th Cenutry: A Biography of Sonic Youth, there is a segment on the recording of 1990’s Goo. Ranaldo had put forth some original songs to be included on the album but the “main” members, husband-wife team Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon had nixed the idea.
Writes Browne: “For his part, Ranaldo felt his songs weren’t taken as serious as the others’: ‘It was the George Harrison syndrome. George’s songs never got as much time and energy from the rest of the band. I was sort of feeling that sometimes. Thurston and Kim tend to favor the songs with their vocals on them.” And example of this was the song “Genetic,” which was put on the flipside of the “100%” single. But, he would get “Mote,” a song that is among his best vocal performances as a member of Sonic Youth. (We always dug the poetic “Skip Tracer” from 1995’s Washing Machine and the ending line: “Hello 2015! Hello 2015!” Only three years off, Lee!)
Indeed. Thurston and Kim are the John and Paul of Sonic Youth, while Lee was the third singer-songwriter, as it was for George Harrison in The Beatles. Funny that Ranaldo sang lead on Sonic Youth’s 1988 cover of Harrison’s Sgt. Pepper track “Within You Without You” (check it out here). Very appropriate and psychedelic. The guitars wash over you.
But when Ranaldo was given the opportunity to have his songs heard (regardless of what Thurston and Kim thought), just as it was with George Harrison, it was a real treat. Look at how well-received All Things Must Pass was in 1970. George was brimming with songs and ideas. And it was awesome. Is this Lee’s All Things Must Pass? I guess it depends on who you ask. We are in the camp that Lee Ranaldo has released one of the best rock releases of 2012.
So, with the 10 songs on Between the Times and the Tides. long-time fans of Ranaldo get to hear fully fleshed-out, bona-fide songs! These aren’t experimental songs. Just take a listen to the opening song “Waiting on a Dream.”
While it has that foreboding, minor key menace, it has slight pop elements and captivating lyrics, as with the topical chorus: “They say time always runs like a river / tell me then, kindly, how come I ain’t got no time? / Risks and illusions tempt me to hold on, how brother, can you spare a dime?”
“Off The Wall” has a melancholic-pop element that seems to reflect Ranaldo’s nostalgic soul. He is clearly channeling the radio-friendly guitar-pop of his youth, but framed in the edgy adult existence he now inhabits.
Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley joins Ranaldo on songs like “Xtina As I Knew Her.” In fact, One-time SY multi-instrumentalist Jim O’Rourke is on board along with one-time SY drummer Bob Bert, as is Wilco’s Nels Cline and jazz-n-jam keyboardist John Medeski (Medseki, Martin & Wood), who shines on “Angles.”
The mid-tempo, sweet guitar pop songs continue while he throws in the acoustic “Hammer Blows” with the classic line: “Like a good citizen, I wait for it all to explode.” Another acoustic track, that has a dreamy Western flavor, is “Stranded.” Lyrically it’s a little pedestrian, but the musical palette is worth it.
Ranaldo’s “Fire Island (Phases)” mixes Blue Oyster Cult and the country-rock phase of The Byrds while adding a dollop of electric chaos in a manner that he is certainly familiar with. The coda is particularly charming. In fact, this suggests that Ranaldo, now in his late fifties, is comfortable with his position in the rock music world and the avant-garde cul-de-sacs he has occupied over the decades.
A particular highlight is the bittersweet, autumnal “Lost,” a slice of R.E.M.-esque jangle-pop that is straightforward enough in structure and melody to have been a single with hit potential (in an alternate universe, of course - *sigh!*). Listen closely to the lyrics. Ranaldo’s insight and empathy come through loud and clear. This is a good guy.
And he’s also a guy who is interested in the Occupy movement, as noted on “Shouts.” Living in Manhattan, one suspects he has witnessed quite a bit of the activity at OWS – the spoken-word portion by Ranaldo’s partner Leah Singer, describing the riotous chaos is engaging, as Ranaldo and company keep the music deftly afloat.
And ever the Beatle fan, Ranaldo closes with the Lennon-esque (and Ringo-esque drumming) “Tomorrow Never Comes.” A fitting conclusion to a fine album from Lee Ranaldo.
Here is a link featuring the Lee Ranaldo Band performing at the Mercy Lounge back in May. They are performing “Xtina As I Knew Her.”
And for those who think the 56-year-old Ranaldo is not down with the current counterculture (and the 99%), check out this video where he appears this past weekend at an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York, along with Michelle Shocked, The Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello who performs Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
And just so you know, Ranaldo told FasterLouder.com that even though Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have separated after 27 years, “I have no doubt that we’re all going to continue.” That’s great to hear.
Copyright 2012 Red Dirt Report