Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine

This latest album from Ry Cooder finds him following his own very individual path. In a career that has now spanned four decades starting with a brief period as a member of Captain Beefhearts Magic Band and in demand as a session player for many acts who required slide guitar or mandolin, including The Rolling Stones, Cooder embarked on a series of albums that paid tribute to different types of American Music that were in danger of being forgotten as rock music began to take on a corporate identity. His recordings put the spotlight on blues, folk, country, soul, dustball music from the depression, to mention just a few categories. If the 1980s Cooder, unsatisfied with the workings of the music business which demanded a routine or record-tour-record-tour and so on, decided to concentrate his talents on producing film scores, most notably The Long Riders and Paris Texas. In 1996 Cooder was invited to take part in the documentary about the ageing singers and musicians from Cuba - The Buena Vista Social Club, and CD featuring Cooder playing with the musicians, which has turned out to be an international best seller and Grammy Winner. That project kept Cooder busy for the best part of 10 years as he was involved in various members solo projects.

Although the new album, to give it's full title "Chavez Ravine - a record by Ry Cooder", it is by no means a solo performance. Native Los Angelean, Cooder tells the story of the long gone enclave known as Chavez Ravine, home to the Mexican community of the city, which was demolished in the 1950s to build a stadium for the Dodgers Ball Club. It features Mexican musicians and singers with performances in Spanish and English. Across the albums fifteen tracks we hear of flying saucers, Communist witch hunts, Chinese laundry men and corrupt town hall officials using singers with exotic names like Tosi Arviza or Halo Guerrero who unfortunately passed away earlier this year.

The music conjures up many moods, apart from the Mexican-Spanish flavour of most of the tracks, "El UFO O Cayo" has a contemporary ambient feel featuring samples supplied by Ry Cooders son Joachin, fifties R&B is visited in a version of Leiber & Stollers "Three Cool Cats" and "Muy Fifi" could pass as a contemporary dance track. Do not be put off this album if you think world music is not for you. At a running time of 70 mins there is no surplus. Despite being something of an academic, Cooder does not produce dry scholarly works, his music is always vibrant and feel good, and "Chavez Ravine" is another highlight of a long and individual career and if there is any justice in the music world should earn him another grammy.

Derek McCann

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