The Jim Carroll Band “Catholic Boy”

Atco 1980

I have always been reluctant to listen to this album. I thought The Basketball Diaries movie was OK back in high school, but I was never really a fan of the song “People Who Died”. In college, I discovered Carroll’s poetry and was moved by it, but for some reason, I have always expected that “Catholic Boy” would be a pretty unexciting affair. I was wrong, but I am not sure I could have stomached it as a younger music listener.

First of all, the songs are all basically styled after tunes by the likes of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. They are New York through and through, and even Carroll’s vocals suggest a less-polished Lou Reed. This is more or less what I expected, being familiar with “People Who Died”, and a partial reason for why I have avoided this album. I just always expected it to be a big Lou Reed rip-off-fest, and that nothing original would be found in “Catholic Boy”. However, now understanding the depth and themes of Carroll’s poetry, I find the lyrics to these songs more than compelling. Furthermore, his band is really incredible. The guitar workings of Stephen Linsley and Terrell Winn just flat out rock, especially on the opening anthem “Wicked Gravity” and the punchy “Three Sisters”.

Some of the production sounds really dated, like on the otherwise really cool “Day and Night”, which suffers from a little too much 80’s gleam. But Carroll’s spoken word style of delivery (another aspect of the album that I originally dreaded sitting through) oozes with personality on every track, and always provides a point of interest. A heroin addict by age thirteen and recovered by twenty, he has the distinction of sounding quite a bit older than his age, in terms of his actual voice and his thematic material. But the fact that it’s all set to really fun, raunchy New York guitar rock makes the whole thing so gloriously CBGB’s that, even when it sounds a bit too obvious, the heart of “Catholic Boy” is always in the right place. ***1/2

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One Response to “The Jim Carroll Band “Catholic Boy””

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