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Album review: Patti Smith, 'Banga'

Greg Kot

8:20 PM EDT, July 4, 2012

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3 stars (out of 4)

Patti Smith opens “Banga” (Columbia) with an irresistible invitation: “We are going to see the world,” she announces. For the rest of her 11th studio album she makes good on her word, drawing connections across history between cultures, generations and genres of music.

“Banga” was recorded at scattershot locations around the world with a core band that includes Lenny Kaye and Jay Lee Daugherty, who have been with Smith since her debut, the 1975 masterpiece “Horses.”

She moves freely among primitive punk in the title track, her voice gleefully emulating an insidious guitar riff; the spacy voyages of Sun Ra on “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop is Jupiter)”; Celtic folk in “Mosaic”; doo-wop and early R&B balladry in “This Girl”; tender eulogies in “Maria”; and the incantations of “Fuji San.” Neo-classical strings rub shoulders with the sound of barking dogs – anything seems possible.

Smith the vocalist has changed since she resumed her music career in the mid-‘90s after rearing her children. She used to sound possessed. Lately her wordplay has become more measured, her delivery more deliberate, even solemn at times. But she can still lose herself in a song, a moment, and that’s when she’s at her absolute best. On “Banga,” she looks out at the world and drinks it in, enraptured by the “call of art.” Her voyage begins alongside “Amerigo,” the New World explorer Amerigo Vespucci. And it winds down with the nine-minute “Constantine’s Dream,” in which being in the presence of a painting by the Renaissance artist Pierro Della Francesca fills her with awe. No wonder she’s raving again.

greg@gregkot.com