Pools of Mercury

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If any fanciful identity can be thrust upon an iconic junkie poet, it must be that of the walking dead — the ghost that appears in the frame of the present, but remains psychically cocooned in some opaque dream of the past. On Pools of Mercury, Jim Carroll speaks as if one time could collide with — or even touch — the other. Then he shows that they can’t.

He begins with the blissed-out peril of “Train Surfing,” and leads the listener through tunnels of desolate guitar and soft, rambling poetry. The nostalgic “My Ruins” or “Cinco De Mayo” could have been written 20 years ago — and nobody would know the difference. From there, Carroll makes a beeline for the early 1990s, where the CD sort of collapses in the strange cul-de-sac of “8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain.”

Carroll’s meditations are metabolized slowly, and thick with culturally literate content and ingenious insights resting under the surface of old metaphors that don’t seem prepared or willing to meet the assault of future-present. Word pictures like “the Germanic cough drop dissolving on John Cage’s cautious tongue” (from “It Goes”) grab the attention, but send it back to where the poet is coming from, instead of where the rest of the world is going. On the CD cover, Carroll’s offset, skeletal face complements this ghost identity well. He’s on familiar ground, but a little foreign to its brave new nature and voracious appetite for change, which is slightly alarming, but OK too. After all, we can’t keep up with it, either.

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