Thursday, March 05, 2015
Much to the horror of some of my contemporaries who witnessed The Great Ry Cooder Tangent of 2014, my love for his work remains undiminished. Of course, there is the theory that one starts 'getting into' the likes of Ry Cooder once a certain middle-aged banality takes hold and one starts wearing earth-coloured hiking outfits and/or yoga pants and attending 'roots' festivals. Au contraire, you young bucks: Ry Cooder's finest work - and it ebbs and flows over 4+ decades - is fine work indeed, and anyone interested in great music of many a stripe are missing out if your nose is turned up at his great body of work.
Cooder, of course, was a child prodigy who, as a 19-year-old, played on Captain Beefheart's debut longplayer, Safe As Milk, having already spent time w/ Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons. He then went onto a lifetime of session work w/ the good (lots of the good), the bad and the ugly (yes, a few of those, too), soundtracks (Southern Comfort being my fave: both as a soundtrack and film), million-selling production work on the likes of the Buena Vista Social Club, an excellent collaboration w/ Malian great, Ali Farka Toure and a lot more besides. But really, let's keep this brief...
The first Cooder LP which turned my head, surprisingly, was a more recent recording: 2012's Election Special, given to me by a friend from the label. Highly political and left of the dial, this was Cooder's ode to the US election of that year, and it's a terrific collection of mainly raw & short roots/blues songs and ballads, reconfigured a la Tom Waits but played simply and to the point (try here and here) which took me by surprise, turning into one of my fave discs of that year. In turn and in time, I went backwards and explored his best '70s recordings - discs I would see vinyl copies clogging up secondhand bins en masse in the 1990s for a ha'penny a shot, but ones which are now, thanks to the fucking 'vinyl revolution', often going for more than I can be arsed doling out for.
Anyway, I have them now, and in the unfashionable compact disc format, since such future landfill can be purchased at but a ha'penny a piece: Ry Cooder, Into The Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, Paradise & Lunch, Chicken Skin Music and Jazz. These are the goods. There are many reinterpretations of standard tunes - from Blind Willie Johnson to Woody Guthrie, Joseph Spence, Sleepy John Estes and Skip James - to covers of more recent songwriters (at the time), such as Randy Newman and Dan Penn's 'The Dark End Of The Street' (one of my favourites tunes ever); and 1978's Jazz is Cooder's tribute to/history of JAZZ as a music, covering the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Bex Beiderbecke. And a white guy pulls this all off with aplomb. Cooder is a master slidesman - such an observations seems trite - but his approach to the material, particularly on this great run of discs, is inspired.
I have been delving into, for the lack of a better term, Great American Music, the past 12+ months - and that's encompassed the likes of The Band (covered here in this blog before), Little Feat (first 2 - 3 LPs make perfect sense now), and even Los Lobos (a belated appreciation; some of those SST gents liked 'em a lot, and the one to get is 1992 'experimental' album, Kiko), but Cooder's '70s output is at the top of the pile. The self-titled debut from 1970, 1972's Boomer's Story and the aformentioned Jazz get my Hit Picks. If you've ever flipped a wig over the Meat Puppets' II - and if you haven't, you're reading the wrong blog - then particularly the former two remain essential purchases. They are desert-fried meisterwerks which deserve a home on your shelf.