Cooder takes his anger to the bank
Ry Cooder Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Nonesuch)
Back in the day before 'back in the day' was an expression in regular use, musicians would enthuse knowingly about a Californian called Cooder.
He'd played with Taj Mahal, Captain Beefheart, Jackie DeShannon and Little Feat. He'd learned his guitar trade from revered rural bluesmen.
Rock's consummate session man, he had the chops, an effortless mastery of styles and he played with feeling.
A debut solo album in 1971 was followed by two more the next year. We heard how he'd revolutionised The Rolling Stones by showing them a few tuning tricks and riffs that would give them the hits Honky Tonk Women and Jumping Jack Flash.
Some know Cooder from his Paris, Texas soundtrack. Others from his splendid Get Rhythm or Chicken Skin Music albums. Still more came to him through his work with the Buena Vista Social Club or Mali musician Ali Farka Toure.
His work is rock music's gold standard. But, as you read in the small print these days, the value of your investment can go up or down.
The man's last three albums have the feel of a triology about them. Chavez Ravine, songs inspired by a Latino area of Los Angeles that was bulldozed for development by the city council, being the stand-out.
Recently I was complaining that too few musicians had bothered to engage with the scandalous banking corruption, business sleaze and political gangsterism that has the world teetering on the brink of a cataclysmic financial meltdown that is already ruining millions of lives. Loudon Wainwright III hit the motherlode with his splendid 10 Songs for the New Depression.
When I'd heard Cooder had made a record that sounded as angry as anything heard since the day's of Woody Guthrie, I worried that he'd allow polemic to overshadow the roots cadences that have informed his best work.
The headline news is that Ry Cooder has made yet another of his trademark, cornerstone collections, dragging in the wide span of his American music influences, from foot-stomping boogie (John Lee Hooker for President) to Tex-Mex hoedown (Christmas Time This Year) and late night juke-joint blues (Baby Joined the Army).
The opening hilariously satirical No Banker Left Behind, played with mandolin, banjo and jaunty snare drum, hits the bullseye and could grace any of Cooder's early acclaimed albums. The gravy train has left town. The best thing about it is that you can sing along. "With champagne and shrimp cocktails and that's not all you find. There's a billion dollar bonus and no banker left behind."
The borderland-sounding El Corrido de Jesse James has the outlaw lamenting that he'd like to sort out the crooked bankers.
The ensemble playing is impeccable throughout and the subtly varied styles will be familiar to Cooder fans. But the tricksy rhythm and muted slide haven't sounded better than they do on If There's A God ("he'd better bottle up and go!"). HHHHH