Of all the American cities vying for the dubious distinction of being Babylon, Los Angeles has got to be in the top five — it’s a cultural beacon and a city people either love or love to hate. LA has inspired some seminal rock albums, two of which —LA Woman by The Doors and Los Angeles by X— share a focal point, namely Ray Manzarek. He was the keyboardist (and a co-songwriter) for the Doors and producer of the first five X albums. Manzarek got together with Bay Area blues guitar wizard/producer Roy Rogers (who worked with John Lee Hooker in his later years) and the result, Translucent Blues, is a distillation of decadence and desperation in that sunshine-y Promised Land that is California.
The jazz-inspired élan of Manzarek’s keys and the earthy, keening edge of Rogers’ guitar complement each other very well. In fact, Translucent evokes the bluesy side of the Doors (i.e., Morrison Hotel, LA Woman) — urban(e) poetics meets roadhouse stomp. The production is crisp, clean, and no-frills, the songs concise, powerfully rhythmic, and after-midnight gruff. The lyrics (some penned by Warren Zevon and Jim Carroll) alternate between universal concerns (money, love), Beat surrealism (And my black and blue eyes twitch spastic toes), and Babylonian fatalism (“Another dahlia slips away,” doubtless referring to the now-mythic unsolved mutilation/murder case). The gents swap vocal leads throughout, alternating Manzarek’s Jim Morrison-like bellow with Rogers’ Buddy Guy-like, affable, barroom sagacity.
Despite the dark tone of the words, the overall vibe of Translucent Blues is not one of self-pity or facile nihilism, but of enduring defiance. It’s bloodied-but-unbowed, Bukowskiesque blues-rock, emanating from the same reserve that allows a man to peer into the abyss, then order another round anyway. (Blind Pig)