April 18, 2015

Grab the Gab

 Cut the Gab, Dennis Driscoll (Upstate Manhattan Recordings)

Inwood may be the last legit neighborhood in Manhattan, way up on the northern tip of the island and relatively untouched by gentrification. Spoken word wizard Dennis Driscoll is the poet laureate of Inwood. He’s well known as an opening act for Television, the seminal rock band, spinning vignettes of dope and degradation to set up the audience for Tom Verlaine and company. His new album Cut the Gab paints a drop-dead-funny, etched-in-acid portrait of New York City street life, a stinging follow-up to his superb first CD, the uptown classic Inwood Stories.

Dennis Driscol at the mic, with Glenn Hansard ("Once") kneeling beside him on the guitar.

Dennis Driscoll at the mic, with Glen Hansard (“Once”) kneeling beside him on the guitar, at The Scratcher in NYC.

The tales Driscoll tells come out of the delightfully seamy tradition of Jim Carroll, Hubert Selby, Jr., John “Gringo” Spacely and Lenny Bruce. “First Shot” is an account of the artist’s introduction to the glories of heroin at a very early age, as a member of the “junior junkies” in the neighborhood. “It’s not easy to cop when you’re thirteen,” observes Driscoll. The drug of choice switches to LSD on “Saturday Afternoon,” wherein the listener meets scabrous (and scabby) characters on a jaunt to Central Park. Curtis “used to drop acid and play roller hockey—he was a goalie,” an image that effectively foxes the mind. Another lysergic soul, George, “thought he was a tree: he used to stand at the entrance of Fort Tryon Park with his arms raised, like branches.” No one who has experienced “Red on the Noodle” will forget the picture of a lice-infested “clinker” street pigeon flying through the air on fire. Other Cut the Gab tracks represent precise slices of urban reality, like “Chinese Rocks,” which opens, “In 1972 the face of heroin changed in New York City.” On “The Wrong Bum,” Driscoll reports that in the early Eighties, the last car on the A-train subway line served as a sort of club car, where the transit cops never ventured. “There’d be gigantic parties, people smoking weed, people from all over the City… playing boom boxes, just partying and really enjoying the ride.”

All the readings are helped along by dreamy trance riffs by a crack group of musicians, composed by the author and produced by Masters of Reality veteran (and Queens of the Stone Age producer) Chris Goss. Behind his relaxed, dead-pan voice, Driscoll plays bass on all but one track. Though much of the CD was recorded in the California desert, at the famed Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, Cut the Gab is a New York City creation all the way. With it, Dennis Driscoll assumes his place as one of the great clear-eyed chroniclers of the Manhattan underbelly. 

Available on iTunes and through Amazon.