In the same way that Neil Young gave a vitriolic state of the nation report to America with 2006's "Living with war" we now have another veteran guitarist and giant of real music making a similar declaration. Like Young, the Californian master musician Ry Cooder doesn't like very much of what he sees at the present time whether it be greedy bankers, embezzling landlords, lamentable television, rabble rousing politicians and the prospect of young men being sent into early graves. The great news is that he wraps up all this social comment in "Pull up some dust and sit down" in some of the finest songs he has recorded in years. This album sees a return to the funky preoccupations of "Bop til you drop" with an excellent gospel base, a nice Mexican tinge and a reverential nod to the folk protest of Woody Guthrie. Throughout the musicianship is so good its almost criminal and its worth stressing that as a protest album Cooder's latest is jam packed with sly humour and repeated listens will leave you with a very broad grin.
The whole album sets out its stall with "No Banker left behind" inspired by a Robert Scheer column in the Huffington Post where Cooder arraigns these vile creatures and comments "Well the bankers called a meetin', to the Whitehouse they went one day/They was going to call on the president, in a quiet and a sociable way/The afternoon was sunny and the weather it was fine/They counted all our money and no banker was left behind". It is very funny but also very cutting, a national anthem for a new depression which could be adopted by the US and a dozen other countries, Next is the excellent Mexican flavoured "El Corrida de Jesse James" which is followed by two of the albums massive highlights. First up is the atmospheric and lovely "Dirty Chateau" a song about the trials and tribulations of Latino immigration where his haunting guitar skills are at a premium. "Humpty Dumpty World" alternatively is the song on the album where Cooder imagines the Lord looking down from heaven with despair and just about indicts the gamut of modern creation. Although special ire is reserved for politicians who are cast as "Craven minions sent from down below/occupy the highest portals of the land/as swift is their climb as sure is their decline/Straight back to hell from whence they came". Superb stuff delivered with the kind of funky panache which is Cooder's special calling card.
The most deceptive song on the album is "Christmas time this year" which on the surface sounds like a jolly Tex Mex romp but was clearly written as an anti Bush war protest song firmly in the tradition of Country Joe McDonald's "Feel Like I'm Fixing To Die Rag". These themes are powerfully reprised on the six minute deep blues tour de force "Baby joined the army" where Cooder regrets the conscription of a beloved son. In addition Cooder even manages to perform a brilliant passing impersonation of the old Crawling King Snake "John Lee Hooker for President" and in "I want my crown" produces one of the most swampy blues songs since Dylan's "Cold Irons Bound". The whole thing is rounded off by the stunningly beautiful "No hard feelings" where the ghost of Woody Guthrie is summoned in the opening line where Cooder intones "That this land should have been our land" and proves that as a emotive songwriter he has few peers.
Ultimately all leads you to question why is it that only seasoned veterans like Young, Springsteen or Cooder currently have the confidence and verve to take on the big themes and deliver works which are musically sublime but also have something important to say? As it stands "Pull up some dust and sit down" is one of Cooder's best albums period and is simply magnificent.
on 6 September 2011
After completing his epic California Trilogy, with its stories of life in his home state in the 40s and 50s, Ry Cooder returns with a solo project that is as refreshing, brave and original as his early recordings in the 70s.
This time round there are no elaborate narratives, but there is a common theme: these are songs of a broken, divided society and the gap between rich and poor, but with the anger matched against humour. He's a master at setting bleak or thoughtful lyrics against jaunty melodies.
"No Banker Left Behind" is the story of bankers on a spree after they "robbed the nation blind", set to a romping, country-edged tune, while "Christmas Time This Year" places a horrific story of war casualties against a cheerful Mexican dance melody, with accordion from Flaco Jiménez.
Ry Cooder plays guitar, mandola, banjo, bass and keyboards, and constantly changes direction from the evocative portrait of a rich man and his maid in "Dirty Chateau" to the gospel-edged stomp of "Lord Tell Me Why ("a white man ain't worth nothing in this land no more"), which is quickly followed by the witty blues of "John Lee Hooker for President".
He ends with "No Hard Feelings", a finely sung ballad that first rewrites Woody Guthrie ("this land should have been our land") and ends in despair and resignation.
Magnificent. R. Denselow
on 30 November 2011
I've listened to Cooder for thirty years and to my ears he's had some driftings and dead ends with some of the albums along the way - this isn't one of them. He's right where he needs to be with the lyrics and his playing is so restrained, well-judged and sweet I can't imagine anyone doing it better. Music that speaks straight to your heart.
on 5 September 2011
His California Trilogy behind him, Ry Cooder now turns his attention to the state of the nation. No spoiler alert needed, but it isn't exactly a favourable report on the Land of the Free.
Starting with 2005's `Chavez Ravine', Cooder's music has become increasingly politicised and there are few holds barred here, with the banking crisis, the war in Iraq, immigration and the environment just a few of his targets.
All Cooder's traditional musical styles are amply represented here, from dustbowl-style acoustic blues through Tex-Mex, rock `n' roll, gospel, doo-wop, old-time crooners and then some.
There are welcome cameos from a number of familiar Cooder stalwarts: Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Terry Evans, Arnold McCuller and Willie Green all make appearances, alongside son Joachim Cooder and vocalist Juliette Commagere, an ever-present since `Chavez Ravine'.
"Baby Joined The Army" is a long, bleak, raw, stripped down and primal blues, in which the protagonist chillingly and tellingly observes "They told me if I get killed in battle, I still get paid". Bet that was a winning line down at the recruitment stations.
"Humpty Dumpty World" and "Lord Tell Me Why" are musical throwbacks to such albums as "Bop Till You Drop" and "Borderline", the latter interesting for its paradoxical use of a blatantly Afro-American vocal arrangement to bemoan the fact that "A white man ain't worth nothing in this world no more". Along with the rocking "I Want My Crown" it's arguably the best thing on the album.
Despite the pervading seriousness, there's still much fun to be had. "John Lee Hooker for President" imagines the late great bluesman running for the White House, Cooder capturing his idiosyncratic style (and voice) to a tee whilst peppering the lyrics with as many of Hooker's iconic phrases as can feasibly be squeezed into six minutes. Somewhere up in boogie heaven that big old deep brown voice must be chortling away at the very idea.
Almost as bizarrely, "El Corrido De Jesse James" has the infamous outlaw itching for the opportunity to come back and relieve his `banking brothers' of their ill-gotten bonuses. Honour among thieves, presumably the message here.
On the gentler side, "No Hard Feelings" brings to mind the likes of "That's The Way Love Turned Out For Me" (from `The Slide Area') whilst "Dirty Chateau", featuring Commagere's dusky harmony vocals along with some rare but oh so tasteful strings, glides effortlessly all the way home.
Protest songs have clearly come an awful long way since Seeger and Dylan.
on 18 October 2011
I think Ry Cooder is an acquired taste. I have had to work on it over the years, but he is a great guitar player and this is a fine album. Why-o-why do more artists not write good honest songs and express their anger like Ry Cooder does here? We all know that things are wrong in the world, but just lay down and take it, because we don't really know what to do about it. But when someone stands up to be counted like this, well, I can only congratulate him!
on 5 October 2011
Ry's latest carries on from the previous social commentary albums he has released - but this time, he comes bang up to date telling the truth about bankers, politicians and others who have screwed the world to it's current economic meltdown state.
There will be some who long to hear the Ry Cooder of the 70's and 80's - but this guy feels he has a comment to make, and the best way is through his music.
It's still Ry Cooder - fantastic voice, brilliant guitar - and the incorporation of 'world music' from his guest artistes.
One standout track for me is 'John Lee Hooker for President'. You have to pinch yourself to believe this isn't Hooker singing and playing - it's Ry doing a fine and flattering version of the great man's voice and style.
Listen to this in conjunction with Cooder's last few albums - and you'll see where he is coming from. It's good stuff.
Bob Hewitt, North Wales UK.
on 4 October 2011
Ry Cooder has become our age's Woody Guthrie. 'Pull up some dust' is an incredibly creative body of which marks Cooder out as some modern day political pamphleteer, an agit-prop singer, the work going a long way to validate popular music, a timely balance to the awfulness of radio Lady Gaga et al. 'Dust' perhaps is not as uniquely outstanding as the first of the triology, 'Chevez Ravine', but it is head and shoudlers above anything else this year from the American music industry, and sits along 'Call Me Buddy' as a product of impressively creative, controlled anger at a system where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the innocent just end up as the criminals' and big government's human shields.
on 10 September 2011
This is an angry album - a very, VERY angry album! The targets are bankers, vigilantes, politicians of all stripes, judges, television, 'backbiters and syndicators', corporations and institutions which despoil the environment and squash little people, giving nothing in return ... and George W. Bush. His concerns are the plights of immigrants, young people and the white working class. The music is as inventive, resourceful and witty as you would expect from Cooder. The backing musicians are all first class.
He tries to leaven his anger with humour but, more often than not, it simply makes things worse. It opens with greedy bankers portrayed against a backdrop of an Appalachian-tinged Irish revolutionary-style song, for example. 'Christmas Time This Year' is an up-tempo Tex-Mex polka describing the plight of mutilated servicemen returning from Iraq. Cooder, for the most part, sticks to satire, but descends into sarcasm here: 'Mr President ... Take this war and shove it up your Crawford, Texas ass'. He also mocks Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, 'No Banker Left Behind'.
Meanwhile, up in heaven, the bank robber Jesse James asks for the return of his 'trusty .44' in order to cut the bankers down to size. Even God is perplexed contemplating the works of man (and television!).
One comedic technique he uses is pastiche, especially vocally. Everyone seems to get the John Lee Hooker ('John Lee Hooker for President') imitation, but the album's full of them. Check out Lalo Guerrero (El Corrido de Jesse James), Captain Beefheart as Satan (I Want my Crown), Elvis Presley singing a samba (Dreamer), Kris Kristofferson (Simple Tools). I'm simply not qualified to point them all out, but there are many more besides these.
Musically, the album has many funny moments too. The Mariachi band on 'Jesse James' is a grotesquely compressed, macabre ghost of itself. He not only borrows Kristofferson's voice in 'Simple Tools', he uses half the verse of 'Me and Bobbie McGhee' as well. Then caps it off in the coda lifting the marimba fill from 'Spanish Harlem' and playing it himself.
The varied musical styles and the vignettes set up all manner of ironic resonances, which lend the album a characteristic richness. There are poignant moments as well: 'My Baby Joined the Army' is heartbreaking.
The beautiful final song 'No Hard Feelings' has a Guthriesque title and opens paraphrasing him. On the surface, it's a classic closer, reconciling and transcending what has come before, although it's anything but. At best, it offers a grudging co-existence, but even this is barbed: 'You go your way and I'll go mine'; presumably to hell and heaven respectively.
So, his anger remains unmitigated, and given what's happened in the last ten years or so, why not? One thing's for certain: Ry won't be voting Republican anytime soon. Don't be a mug and miss out; this is essential listening mis amigos.
It's 'copastatic' ...
on 7 September 2011
Ry Cooder has re-discovered his mojo with his latest album. After the Chavez Ravine trilogy, which I thought was less accessable than much of his material, he is back with an excoriating take on the state of 21st Century America and he has a pretty clear idea of who is responsible. Bankers and other Wall Street parasites, Politicians, the mass media all get it in the neck here.Ably assisted by not only his son Joachim, but also stalwarts from way back including Flaco Jimanez, Jim Keltner and Willie Green amongst others. Stand out tracks for me are No Hard Feelings and possibly Dirty Chateau, but it's all good. Buy it immediately
on 7 October 2011
Being a big Ry Cooder fan, at least one on my desert island disc list, was a bit dissapointed with this new release, whilst the words are amazing, not quite the boppy stuff I really like, however you can't say he ever gets boring churning out the same old stuff. Would recommend this to all fans.