Trampin' (Columbia) is Patti Smith's first album in four years, and it's also the best and most consistently powerful one since her 1996 comeback, Gone Again. Whereas Gone Again was a grueling but soaring study--up close and from the inside--of death, loss, and the flight of the individual soul, and a deeply personal statement catalyzed by Smith's sudden losses of her brother and husband, the centerpiece of Trampin', the 12-minute "Radio Baghdad," invokes the protean chaos of her earlier "Radio Ethiopia" to depict an ancient, nearly Atlantean civilization pillaged by a younger and much more recklessly ignorant one for the sake of a petty grudge. No one could sanely accuse Smith, who worships Whitman, Dylan, and Coltrane, of across-the-board anti-Americanism: when she cuts loose with a "shock and awe" of her own, she's channeling something much larger than personal bias. In fact, her tendency to paint with a broad brush has detracted from the effectiveness of her work in the past. Not here. If "Gandhi" isn't quite as riveting as the culminating piece on her last album, 2000's Gung Ho, it might just be because the Indian revolutionary isn't as ambiguous a hero as Ho Chi Minh. That doesn't diminish the fervor of Smith's writing--or her delivery--one bit. Back in Spades, her son Jackson's band, opens. $35, 18+. Thursday, June 24, 8 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 312-595-7437 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump.