Forgotten series: Patti Smith – Trampin' (2004)

Lots of people bought their first Patti Smith record back in 1978. Easter was hard to ignore. It had the hit song (“Because The Night”), the provocative cover photo, and a collection of majestic and scary rock & roll. (Maybe not as scary and majestic as the brilliant John Cale-produced Horses, but still every bit as good as the rock rags suggested.)

So then, all these years later, rock’s punk poet laureate comes out with Trampin’ — one brazen slap in the face. What was immediately noticeable was the sound. The contrast with today’s super-compressed and hermetically sealed bombast could not have been more stark. Trampin’ was constructed with all the important parts of the rock food pyramid: guitar, bass, drums, organ. All of ‘em unadorned and ready to apply full torque.

“Jubilee” grinds and stomps out of the gate, declaring the need to celebrate life and liberty (and all that that entails.) There’s a short ‘rest period’ with the passionate ode to mothers and motherhood (“Mother Rose”) before the snarling “Kick Out The Jams”-style riff of “Stride Of The Mind.” Who sez gettin’ old has to be boring?!

The scary dirge of “Cartwheels” (think “Venus In Furs” updated) bumps up to two (so far) the count of songs-about-family…and manages to disprove the notion that rockers who have a family must get all mini-van on us. The lyrics (written for Patti’s daughter Jesse Paris Smith) are tender and hopeful, but welded to some ominous sonics.

Ah, but what would a Patti Smith record be without a ‘message’ or two? In truth, much of the album is political … but I suspect that listeners will perceive it as didactic (or not) depending on their particular leanings. In any event, the searching “Gandhi” and the epic “Radio Baghdad” are intense and thought-provoking.

The title track closes the album: a simple piano and voice arrangement of the old spiritual featuring daughter Jesse at the keys. An amazing and inspiring end to a record that pulls no punches while tossing emotions at will: joy, sadness, rage, love and anger. Mix these things together, distill ‘em down and you almost come up with the essence of what it means to care about the world … no matter what side you’re on.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.