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Master Cooder's Latest Gem of American Music
on 22 June 2005
I will begin by declaring my enormous respect and love for Cooder's music. Ever since Chicken Skin Music -ironically, another beauty honoring the Mexican influence on American music- Cooder has been one of the "saints of my devotion," as my father used to say.
In Chavez Ravine, an album he's been working on for about three years, Cooder researched the disappearance of an area of Los Angeles, and long-standing Mexican community, that was erased to make way for what would become Dodgers Stadium.
The album that has resulted from his interest is, then, a political statement about the legacy of Joe McCarty, an elegy about old neighborhoods paved over by a twisted sense of progress, and an amazing group of songs showing the deep gift of Mexican-American music.
With the same cool touch and deep affection that Cooder already demonstrated for Malian music (Talkin' Timbuktu) and Cuban grooves (Mambo Sinuendo and Buena Vista Social Club), Ry gathered a host of incredible Mexican-American musicians from the Fifties, to invoke the spirit of this story.
Ersi Arbizu, Lalo Guerrero, Don Tosti and Little Willie G. -all great performers, most of which may be unknowns to most of us- take turns singing songs that conjure up the longings, loves and betrayals from the Chavez Ravine odyssey.
Now, let's be clear, do not think this is ethnographic research for the Smithsonian archives or a dry document of music gone by.
This album grooves ("Poor Man's Shangri-La" or "Onda Callejera") and gets down ("Muy Fifi" and "3 Cool Cats") as well as it will move you with some slow burners ("It's Just Work For Me") and beautiful ballads ("In My Town," "3rd Base, Dodgers Stadium" and "Soy Luz Y Sombra").
In conclusion, this is some of the most soulful music you may come across this year. It proves, too, that you can move your body with abandon and reflect on serious issues at once.
Meaning and grooving, with passion and concern, master Cooder takes us for another ride through the real America, where great and forgotten voices get to sing aloud again.