Ry Cooder’s new al­bum hits the right notes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Tony Hil­lier

Live in San Fran­cisco Ry Cooder and Cor­ri­dos Famosos None­such/Warner

★★★★★

LONG-TIME Ry Cooder fol­low­ers will re­joice in their hero’s de­ci­sion to re­lease his first live al­bum in more than 30 years. Live in San Fran­cisco pro­vides fans with a front row seat at a clas­sic home-city Cooder con­cert. It would be hard to imag­ine a more ap­pro­pri­ately named or bet­ter-sound­ing set­ting than the Great Amer­i­can Mu­sic Hall in which to take a timely trawl through a back cat­a­logue so re­plete with roots mu­sic trea­sures. The Amer­i­cana guru re­sponds with a com­mand­ing per­for­mance as gui­tarist, vo­cal­ist and mu­si­cal di­rec­tor, as he cov­ers the span of his in­flu­en­tial ca­reer in a dozen well-se­lected songs with the back­ing of a hand-picked band, Cor­ri­dos Famosos. The taste­ful and pur­pose­ful elec­tric gui­tar play­ing for which Cooder is renowned is ev­i­dent in a cou­ple of im­pec­ca­bly con­structed so­los that sand­wich a bass sax­o­phone break in the open­ing re­vamped ren­di­tion of Crazy ’ Bout an Au­to­mo­bile, from 1980’s Bor­der­line al­bum. At the other end of the set is a blis­ter­ing blues-drenched read­ing of Vig­i­lante Man from 1972’s Into the Pur­ple Val­ley that fea­tures some trade­mark slide magic. An equally bril­liant reprise of an­other Woody Guthrie clas­sic, Do Re Mi, recorded on Cooder’s self­ti­tled 1970 de­but al­bum, is led by a wel­come blast of Tex-Mex ac­cor­dion from long-time as­so­ciate Flaco Jimenez, backed by thud­ding tuba. Later, the pair’s exquisitely Mex­i­can­ised ver­sion of the Lead­belly waltz Good­night Irene, orig­i­nally heard on 1976’s Chicken Skin Mu­sic, is a per­fect en­core num­ber. Else­where, the rum­bus­tious brass and clat­ter­ing per­cus­sion of the 10-piece La Banda Ju­ve­nil adds a Mex­i­cana punch to Cooder’s res­ur­rec­tions of other old faves Volver Volver, well sung by daugh­ter-in­law Juli­ette Com­magere, and Sam the Sham’s Wooly Bully, and a clever new song in waltz­time, El Cor­rido de Jesse James, that imag­ines what the fa­mous out­law would have made of mod­ern-day Wall Street cow­boys and cor­po­rate crooks. An­other re­cent Cooder com­po­si­tion, Lord Tell Me Why, high­lights the qual­ity of the four-time Grammy Award-win­ner’s singing and the drum­ming acu­men of his son, Joachim. On an­other equally emo­tive gospel study, The Dark End of the Street, from 1972’s Boomer’s Story, Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller duet mag­nif­i­cently while Cooder and Jimenez solo sub­limely on gui­tar and squeeze­box. As the pro­ducer of the al­bum, Cooder de­cided wisely against edit­ing out the en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause of an ob­vi­ously elated par­ti­san au­di­ence or in­deed omit­ting short re­tun­ing in­ter­ludes and ban­ter with the band. The record’s am­bi­ence is richer for those in­clu­sions and the in­sights they pro­vide, such as the cheer from the crowd dur­ing the ti­tle track from Boomer’s Story, when he sings: ‘‘ Met a lit­tle gal in Frisco, asked her to be my wife’’; or the inference in his in­tro to School is Out that Santa Mon­ica High robbed him of valu­able gui­tar prac­tice. Thank­fully, Ry­land Cooder has more than made up for lost time.

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