Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Ry Cooder Anthology

There has been a lot of talk on the Rylanders discussion group about this new anthology from Rhino Records.  Ry Cooder has already had 2 different "best of" collections Why Don't You Try Me and River Rescue (and the movie music set Music By...) and the hungry Cooder collector has been dying for a collection that presented rare and hard to get tracks.  Rhino had a project in the works a few years ago called Slide Ruler, which was to be a double disc which included obscure session work and more.  So when The UFO Has Landed was announced people looked at the tracklist and said, "got it, got it, got it..." and then "ONE NEW TRACK!  I'm s'posed to shell out for ONE NEW TRACK!"  Well folks, today's release day, and last night my review copy came in the mail.  I immediately slapped it onto my iPod and gave it a listen, and I have to say..."Yep!  Shell out, because this is a fine album!"

Part of my reason for saying this is that the songs sound so good!  But there are other reasons too. I received a link to a 40 minute interview Joachim Cooder did on KPFK's Global Village last week.  In this interview Joachim explained his choices, his approach, and gave some back story to the whole project.  In this context the album makes sense.  Joachim's memory of his father's work really starts with 1982's The Slide Area (an album Joachim loves, but which many Rylanders found to be Ry's weakest).  So what is it about this album that rocks Joachim's socks? It's the sound, the feel, the vibe.  And when you listen to the tracks he's included here you get that.  

The first disc starts with "Get Rhythm" the title track from Ry's 1987 album.  This Johnny Cash tune just plain rocks out.  If you think Cooder is just a guitar player, you are missing out on his vision of rhythm, his arranging skills, his ideas of harmony.  That's right vocals!  Maybe Ry is no Pavarotti but he surrounds himself with tip-top singers and the vocals tracks become as deep as the guitar tracks.  And that's what Joachim was looking for.  Music that was deep and greasy, with a groove.  This anthology is full of just that.  Even the thinner recordings done on acoustic guitar, Ry's bottleneck floating over the strings, seem heavier and more intense on this album. One of the things I always loved about Cooder's playing was that you could hear his fingers on the strings, you could hear the glass rub against the windings on the strings.  It just sounded real. Years ago, maybe 30, I played an album for a guitar playing friend who said, "Oh, that's Ry Cooder...I can't stand him his records sound so sloppy.  You don't need to have all that extraneous noise!"  What one man's noise is another man's music, I guess.

"Available Space," "On a Monday," Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi," and more tracks from early albums find themselves juxtaposed with soundtrack music like "Smells Like Money" from the film Johnny Handsome.  And that rolls into the new track "Let's Work Together" recorded with Buckwheat Zydeco.  And it all just works.  Cooder's obsession with cars and girls reappears over and over, "Crazy 'bout an Automobile" leads into "Drive Like I Never Been Hurt (from this year's I, Flathead) .  

There are 34 tracks (17 per disc), and if it was up to me, this would have been a four disc set, with session tracks and obscurities, but as it stands...it's a darn good cross section of work. Instrumentals, blues, rock, lots of guitar, some mandolin, great drumming from Keltner (and others) and those dandy vocals from Terry Evans, Bobby King and associates.  All wrapped up in a nifty package.  The cover design is a bit goofy to be sure.  It's a cartoon done by an unknown artist (take a look, maybe you can identify who drew it) but inside there a hefty booklet with photos by Susan Titelman from early days on.  My favourite?  The picture on the roof of Sound City Studios, Ry and guitar in front of an Airstream trailer (just like on the first album) that seems imprisoned behind barbed wire!  

An introductory essay by Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, and notes on each track by Cooder himself fleshes out the package.  I recommend the set, not just for newcomers but for anyone who calls himself (or herself) a Rylander!   

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