Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Ry Cooder's last three outings were the occasionally rewarding but often hard haul through his concept album trilogy Chavez Ravine (Mexican LA in the Forties), My Name is Buddy (Depression era America) and I Flathead (sci-fi Fifties with cool cars).
Great songs scattered throughout, but . . .
For this one however Cooder re-enters the present and it is the better for it.
On this exceptional album he takes a hot poker to Wall Street greed and the bail-out (No Banker Left Behind), has Jesse James comes back to Earth to mete out justice to the corrupt, and addresses Americans in foreign wars (“our children will be coming in plastic bags”) and the plight of Mexican migrants.
He has God considering how Man and his creation has turned out on Humpty Dumpty World: “Television was the worst of all.”
However this being Cooder, from the album title inward he couches these pointed lyrics in music which refers to the Dustbowl era, rural blues, Tex-Mex (with accordion player Flaco Jimenez) and old time folk.
Dirty Chateau is a beautiful bitter-sweet ballad with an old man reflecting on better days (you can speculate on who it might be), Baby Joined the Army is back-porch acoustic blues (a woman signs up to escape dead-end America) which refers to Robert Johnson but sounds contemporary, and John Lee Hooker for President calls up the spirit and moan of Hook.
Cooder delivers songs steeped in lacerating humour, wisdom, anger, the long traditions of American music and closes with the weary, almost forgiving No Hard Feelings, a nod to Woody Guthrie (“this land should have been our land, you took it for your land”).
Some have observed that this is a specifically American series of complaints and observations, but that shouldn't exclude anyone from recognising their universality and making the intellectual leap into that consciousness. Not so much of a leap anyway, the territory -- both musical and lyrically -- is very familiar.
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