There was a time when rock and roll poet laureate Patti Smith sang of the promise of love. “Because the night belongs to lovers, because the night belongs to us,” she crowed on Easter (1978). But after her husband of 14 years, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, died of heart failure in November 1994, and, a month later, her younger brother Todd died of a heart attack, the night suddenly turned pitch-black. Gone Again, Smith’s astonishing new CD and her first in eight years, is the haunting record of a middle-aged woman ambushed by death. (Smith is 49.) This is less an album than a memorial—each song a swratch torn from a shroud.
“Farewell Reel,” which Smith dedicates to her late husband, is a four-chord folk tune that displays not only her sensational skills as a lyricist but, more important, her extraordinary courage: “I walk alone/ assaulted it seems/ by tears from heaven/ and darling I can’t help/ thinking those tears are yours.” Then, two verses later, she assures, “So darling farewell/ all will be well/ and then all will be fine/ the children will rise/ strong and happy be sure.” In the end, Gone Again is more poignant than depressing. And while its stripped-down melodies are as naked as Smith’s own emotions, the music is an entertaining jumble of folk and the raunchy rock that marked much of her early canon. Smith invites us into her chapel of pain, but we leave feeling uplifted. (Arista)