Except for a few unobtrusive overdubs, Silent Movies is a solo jazz guitar record that casts a quiet but powerful spell. The tempos are slow, the playing sparse, the mood somber. The “compulsory distortion, rude chords, and gypsy phraseology” Tom Waits once associated with Marc Ribot have been replaced with a more straightforward and intimate approach. There’s also a whiff of nostalgia to Silent Movies. On “Radio,” where the music sounds like it’s playing through a cheap old radio, the zither-like guitar recalls “The Third Man Theme.” And Ribot’s reading of the only non- original cut, “Sous Le Ciel De Paris,” will resonate with Edith Piaf fans.
Ribot’s guitar has an electric-acoustic vintage sound that fits perfectly the nostalgic theme of silent movies. Producer JD Foster went to great lengths to recreate a single-mike effect by recording the electric hollow body guitar (a Gibson ES-175) so that you hear both amp and instrument. I’m impressed by the sound of Silent Movies as well as the consistency—every composition and performance is memorable—and the fact that, although solo guitar records are plentiful, this album doesn’t remind me of any of them.