Catholic Boy

Jim Carroll / Jim Carroll Band

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Catholic Boy Review

by Mark Deming

It's generally imagined that the highest praise one can bestow on a rock songwriter is to say their words read like poetry, but the truth is no more than a handful of notable poets have distinguished themselves as rock songwriters (supposedly a less demanding form), and several have displayed a embarrassing lack of understanding of the popular song form. Jim Carroll is one of the very few authors who convincingly brought his work from the printed word to the rock & roll stage, growing into a passionate and commanding rock singer as well as a tough, intelligent songwriter, and his first album, Catholic Boy, best captures his strengths. Carroll's memoir The Basketball Diaries made clear he had an uncanny knack for capturing the dark and gritty rhythms of the New York streets, while his poetry collections such as Living at the Movies recorded the edgy grace of his verse, and Carroll was able to merge both of those qualities on his songs for Catholic Boy. Of course, this being rock & roll, it's the gritty stuff that's stands out best, especially the unrelenting "People Who Died" and the pained and bitter title cut. But Carroll is also able to find something beautiful as well as troubling in the demimonde he chronicles on "Wicked Gravity" and "Day and Night," and if he's a better writer than a singer, he brings his songs across with a passion and dramatic intensity that more than compensates for his narrow range, and the lean, guitar-led attack of his band makes a good backdrop for these songs. On Catholic Boy, Carroll doesn't come off as a poet slumming in pop music, but like a born rock & roller baring his soul, and that's a lot more than you can say for anything Allen Ginsberg put on vinyl.

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