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£13.99

Rock - Released May 29, 2005 | Nonesuch

Three years in the making, Chavez Ravine: A Record by Ry Cooder, is his first "solo" offering since 1987's Get Rhythm. In addition, it is a concept album; but don't be afraid. It documents in mythical style the disappeared Los Angeles neighborhood of Chavez Ravine, a Mexican-American district that fought over by real etate developers, urban planning activists and city government. It was bulldozed in a sleazy deal was cut and it was razed order to erect a stadium that woiuld lure Walter O'Malley's Brooklyn Dodgers to L.A. Cooder's work has almost always concerned itself with what has been left out, marginalized, or relegated to the place of memory; it was inspired by a book of black-and-white photographs of the area by Don Normark. Over the course of its 15 songs Cooder poignantly, yet warmly, sets out to portray the flavor of the place, times, culture, chaos, and corruption of post-war Los Angeles. Here UFOs, the Red Scare, the Pachuco Scare, boxers, cops, hipster "cool cats," ordinary folks, race politics, class war, the radio, J. Edgar Hoover, baseball, and of course musicians, slip in and out of this steamy, dreamy, seamless mix that evokes an emotional palette rich and complex. The tunes range from boxy corridos, Latin swing numbers, guarachas, Afro-Cuban sons, smoky polkas, moody atmospheric pieces, riotous good-time Pachuco boogie, rootsy rock, Costa Rican folk songs, and R&B tunes. Heroes and villains come and go in this panorama, all winding around in the little neighborhood where people hang out, sing, dance, make love, struggle and sweat for a better life in the American Dream. Sung in Spanish and English, Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, the late legendary Lalo Guerrero (the guiding force and spirit of the album who also passed away after contributing), Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. "Poor Man's Shangri-La," is a finger-popping rhumba where the extraterrestrial Space Vato beams down in a UFO to check out the 'hood to the sounds of Little Julian Herrera on the radio. Little Willie G. and the Commagere Sisters offer the lilting "Onda Calljera," a folk song documenting a war between locally stationed military and pachucos. Chavez Ravine is an intricately woven web of covers including "3 Cool Cats," by Leiber & Stoller, Guerrero's "Corrido de Boxeo" and "Barrio Viejo," and originals like the cinematic "Don't Call Me Red" (where the taped voices of Frank Wilkinson, Jack Webb, and Raymond Burr all dialogue intensely about the FBI and communist activities) and "3rd Base, Dodger Stadium," sung by longtime Cooder mate James Bla Pahinui -- who plays the part of a stadium car parker whose home was covered over by the hot corner in the ballpark. Chavez Ravine is sad and beautiful, funny, quirky and funky; it's got dirt under its nails and keeps listeners engaged from the jump with history and its colorful ghosts. Cooder sends it all off with solace, and perhaps with some hope, in a version of "Soy Luz y Sombra," a gorgeous a cappella Costa Rican folk tune with original music. Chavez Ravine is easily the most ambitious thing in Cooder's catalog, and it just may be the grand opus of his career. ~Thom Jurek
£15.49

Rock - Released August 29, 2011 | Nonesuch

Booklet
Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, issued between two national election cycles, is the most overtly political album Ry Cooder has ever released, and one of his funniest, most musically compelling ones, too. Cooder looks deeply into his musical past using his entire Americana musical arsenal: blues, folk, ragtime, norteño, rock, and country here. Opener "No Banker Left Behind" updates Civil War-era marching music. Cooder's guitar, banjo, bass, and mandola lead drummer (and son) Joachim through a scathing indictment of the the financial bailout in 2007. The marching rhythms are punched through with sharp banjo and mandola riffs as Cooder's signature electric guitar sound frames them. "El Corrido Jesse James" has the outlaw speaking from heaven in waltz time. Accompanied by Flaco Jimenez's accordion and a horn section, James claims that while he was a bank robber, he never "turned a family from their house," and asks God for his trusty .44 to "put that bonus money back where it belongs." "Quick Sand" is a shuffling electric rocker that addresses the plight of illegal immigrants crossing into Arizona. "Christmas Time This Year" is the most incendiary anti-war song in a decade, presented innocently as a Mexican polka. "Lord Tell Me Why" borrows production techniques from Tom Waits, with co-writer and drummer Jim Keltner who assists in getting across this biting, ironic gospel tune: "Lord tell me why a white man/Ain't worth nothin' in this world no more...." An 11-piece band assists in "I Want My Crown," a scorching, growling blues with Cooder's nasty guitar leading the charge. It's followed by the album's finest moment, "John Lee Hooker for President," where Cooder does a shockingly accurate impression of the late bluesman, in fine boogie mode, paying a visit to the White House, not liking what he sees, and deciding to run for office: "I'm compastatic. I ain't Republican or Democratic." He names Jimmy Reed as Veep and Johnny Taylor Secretary of State. His campaign promises swift retribution for injustice and a "groove time" for the nation. If only. The depth of Cooder's rage is quieter but more direct as the album draws to a close. In "If There Is a God," God's been driven from heaven by redistricting; he, "Jesus, Mary and Joe" all hit the road for Mexico. God goes so far as to say he thinks the "Republiklan" legislature wants to bring back Jim Crow laws. Cooder's sorrow about the environment is pervasive in the final corrido, though he, like the Buddha, leaves room for tolerance, wishing his enemies "No Hard Feelings." Those who've followed Cooder from the beginning will find much to love on Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down. Those music fans unfamiliar with his work but looking for a comrade in arms will find one here. That said, this is revolution music; worthy of dancing to, learning from, and singing along with: who says topical music has to be boring? ~ Thom Jurek
£13.99

Folk - Released September 1, 2006 | Nonesuch

Booklet
During the present era, as the Iraq war grinds on, Americans are trying belly-button gazing, trying to remember a history where America regarded itself as world citizen, and came to the aid of many nations in trouble and nearing despair. It is true that this is part of our national heritage and America as a whole is, or at least used to be, known the globe over for the generosity of its people. Like any story, there are multiple narrative threads at work in defining such a history, and at least one has been all but forgotten and virtually erased by numerous politicos since the 1980s. Ry Cooder's My Name Is Buddy offers a view of an America in deep trouble with itself during the Great Depression when it either couldn't -- or wouldn't? -- feed its own people. Cooder's narrative is told in his own versions of folk tales through the voices of Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse, and the Reverend Tom Toad. They are set during the Dust Bowl era of the '30s when many people were economically forced to relocate or become ramblers and hoboes, roaming listlessly over the continental terrain. The truth behind these stories is an official part of American history, yet they were all but absent in "popular culture" during the last two decades with few exceptions. Music has recently -- in the mid-'90s tribute to Woody Guthrie, and in the music of Bruce Springsteen, Michael Franti, Mike Ness, and Bob Dylan -- addressed this period and on occasion gotten into the charts. The politics here are unapologetically left of center: J. Edgar Hoover is portrayed in a song about a pig bearing his name, a copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital adorns the inside cover (one of the beautiful illustrations by Vincent Valdes), the songs are chock-full of unions and strikes, labor and hobo camps, big bosses, sundown towns, bigotry, and corruption. The lyrics have their fair share of real anger in them, though there is no political sloganeering or sermonizing -- just check out "One Cat, One Vote, One Beer" -- Cooder uses humor instead. He introduces each of the 17 tunes with prosaic vignettes (one for each track) in the CD booklet; these provide the context of each song. Old-timey string band music, blues, bluegrass, country, polka, jazz, corridos, and more are the musical vehicles these tunes travel the rails and roads in, and Cooder has again chosen his collaborators well. While Mike Seeger, now a king of the traditional American music scene, is a mainstay on fiddle and other instruments, his brother Pete, an actual warrior of the time period portrayed, is also present , as are Ry's son Joachim, bassist Mike Elizondo, Juliette Commagere, Stefon Harris, Flaco Jimenez, Van Dyke Parks, Roland White, Jim Keltner, Jon Hassell, the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney, and others. Here is a supergroup arranged in various conglomerations to play simple tunes that tell hard stories, funny though they may be on the surface. Singling out tracks is mostly futile, because all 17 are solid, noteworthy in their own merit making the whole virtually unassailable. Besides, the contextual framing of this concept work is important enough to warrant notice as an "unofficial" history--as if the official version were any more accurate; music has a way of making folk tales true, and when informed by the perspective of history, becomes part and parcel of the thing itself. What can be said is that My Name Is Buddy sounds like another restless Ry Cooder album, though rooted as it is in the very music he was playing when he began his recording career some 17 albums ago (the subtitle of the album is "Another Record by Ry Cooder.") After resurrecting the Buena Vista Social Club, his last outing, Chavez Ravne, was a look at one of the last working class L.A. neighborhoods of the past, from the street and from outer space, through social narrative toward the future of its ruins. My Name Is Buddy is an offering where time and space are erased too; so much so that the past is looking at the future looking back at itself as in some dirty mirror uncovered in a corner of a forgotten closet. All of this said, the set is actually great fun to listen to; it is ever shifting musically, friendly, full of the kind of warmth that folk tales generate. The main characters may be mythological, but these days, when anyone remembers or even speaks of Joe Hill, Paul Robeson, Emma Goldman, Guthrie, C.L.R. James, Stokely Carmichael, David Harris, Marcus Garvey, Fred Hampton or even Phil Ochs, it's as if they were mythic creatures who passed through social history to instruct not as real people, but as voices from an ether we can't quite tune in anymore. At least one of these men is alive in the simple, sage-like persona of Pete Seeger, who continues the struggle that his late fellow myths had to hand down. Fans of Cooder's will flip over this; fans of freak folk might get a mighty charge out of it as well and find a way to dig deeper into the subjects addressed. Certainly the NPR crowd will find it an all but obligatory-to-own CD, but in so many ways, My Name Is Buddy isn't really for any of them: it's for those who are encountering these kinds of stories for the first time. It's a record of an era, but it's also an introduction to a way of looking at America from inside that hasn't been represented in "popular" music for quite some time. Instrumentally and lyrically brilliant, sociologically intelligent, and anthropologically astute, My Name Is Buddy stands tall against Cooder's best work from the '70s; whether it be his self-titled debut, Paradise and Lunch, Into the Purple Valley or Boomer's Story. My Name Is Buddy is an equal among greats, and may prove to be as enduring, but it's more than that, too: it's a re-telling; a reclaiming of history in the grand treasure trove of the folk tradition. ~ Thom Jurek
£13.99

Jazz - Released June 20, 2008 | Nonesuch

Ry Cooder has always been a musical storyteller, from his self-titled debut album (which featured both well-known and under-recognized folk, blues, swing, and jug tunes) to Boomer's Story, his last two offerings for Nonesuch (Chavez Ravine and My Name Is Buddy), and his many film scores (including those for The Long Riders, Paris, Texas, Last Man Standing, Geronimo, and The End of Violence, just to mention a few). When his contributions as a musicologist, producer, and collaborator -- such as his contributions to the various Buena Vista Social Club recordings (including the film score) and his work with V.M. Bhatt, Pops Staples, Ersi Arvizu, and guitarist Manuel Galbán of Los Zafiros -- are included, he becomes a genuine mythmaker. I, Flathead contributes to the weight of Cooder's legend in many ways. First, there's the title, an obvious nod to the late Isaac Asimov's I, Robot; then there's the legend -- the entire story is told in a 100-page, hardbound novella that accompanies the Deluxe Edition -- about beatnik, country music nut, and salt-flats racer Kash Buk, his band the Klowns, the strange and wonderful extraterrestrial visitor called Shakey, and the Passenger who pursues him. It's even subtitled "The Songs of Kash Buk and the Klowns." Finally, there's the music; it's a set of 14 original tunes that employ everything from country rockabilly to blues; strange, shimmering exotica; and Latin-influenced rock, swing, and mariachi music. Musically, there isn't anything here you haven't heard from Cooder before, but it's shaken and stirred differently and owes a nod or two to Tom Waits' deadpan storytelling manner. This album doesn't have the futuristic Latin groove of Chavez Ravine or the traveling dust-bowl balladic country and folk that was on My Name Is Buddy, but it is simultaneously as welcoming and off-putting as both those earlier records. The songs can be enjoyed with or without the novella, as they were meant to stand apart. The story in it is directly related, but there is a story the recording tells on its own. The sound of the record is frighteningly crystalline for roots-oriented music -- the dirty-assed bottleneck slide guitar-fueled "Ridin' with the Blues," with drummer Jim Keltner and guitarist Rene Camacho, feels too clean despite its tempo and loose vibe. "Pink-O Boogie" follows with the same band -- with added percussion from Joachim Cooder -- but the groove is nastier and dirtier, and feels like it could have come from the Get Rhythm album in 1987. Near the end, Jesús Guzmán arranges some crazy string work to take it out. The rootsy rocker "Waitin' for Some Girl," where Cooder plays everything but drums (courtesy of Martin Pradler) sounds like a lost John Hiatt tune from Ry's Slide Area period (it's also better than anything that Hiatt has come up with himself in ages). Old pal Flaco Jiménez lends his accordion to "Filipino Dancehall Girl," a beautiful norteño tune that is kissed by cha-cha in Joachim's rhythms. "Spayed Kooley" is, as one might expect, a humorous Western swing jam, but played by a basic rock trio. And then there's the beautifully articulated swing ballad "My Dwarf Is Getting Tired," one of the more beautifully warm broken love songs Cooder has ever written -- and the string touches by Guzmán make it a shuffling lounge fave. Ultimately, "quirky" doesn't begin to describe I, Flathead, but it doesn't have to: this disc is simultaneously both vintage and futuristic Cooder doing what he does best, offering listeners ghost traces of the past as they materialize on the dusty desert horizon like a mirage. ~ Thom Jurek
£13.99

Pop - Released August 17, 2012 | Nonesuch

Booklet
The risk in writing political songs, especially about specific issues and historical periods, is that over time, those that are run of the mill become dated. Not everyone can write timeless tunes like Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, and Bob Marley. Given the content of Election Special, Ry Cooder knew the risks going in and welcomed them. Using American traditional musics -- raw blues, folk, and roots rock -- Cooder's songs express what he considers to be, as both an artist and a pissed-off citizen, the high-stakes historical gamble of the 2012 presidential and congressional contest. He wrote and recorded this album as a witness to the era. Other than drums (played by his son Joachim) and some backing vocals, Cooder plays everything here. He uses foreboding acoustic blues in "Mutt Romney Blues" (written from the point of view of the candidate Mitt Romney's dog). The more poignant "Brother Is Gone" is at first blush a seemingly heart-wrenching folk tale fueled by Cooder's mandolin. Yet it slowly and purposely relates a deal-with-the-devil fantasy about conservatives Charles and David Koch. It's among the finest songs he's written. But Cooder rocks up his anger too: "Guantanamo" is a raucous barroom strut. "Cold Cold Feeling" is a deep, slow garage blues that's chilling in its effectiveness. His screed is a link in a chain of political blues tunes that date back to the Delta. "Going to Tampa" is a cut-time string band country tune. It's a farce about the 2012 Republican National Convention as hijacked by the Tea Party. He accuses both of outright racism and social engineering, with scathing humor. The album's finest cut is the dark, Delta-style electric blues of "Kool-Aid," which recalls Junior Kimbrough musically. Guthrie's own spirit is evoked in the antiwar narrative "The 90 and the 9," with its singalong choruses. Election Special closes with a scorching, rocking blues entitled "Take Your Hands Off It." It's a militant anthem that demands that the Constitution and Bill of Rights be returned to their rightful place at the heart of mainstream American life. Sure enough, because of its soapbox style, Election Special is the most overtly political album of Cooder's career. As such, it serves two purposes: one is that it is the most organic record he's issued in almost two decades; and, more importantly, it restores topical protest music to a bona fide place in American cultural life. ~ Thom Jurek