Ry Cooder’s new album hits the right notes
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.