Review by Steve Hoy.
‘The joy for the listener is discovering the pleasures hidden within.’
RY COODER & CORRIDOS FAMOSOS – LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO (NONESUCH)
For a certain listenership the records of Ry Cooder constitute consistent high water marks of joyousness. Cooder’s explorations into the various corners and by-ways of American and near-American music, have described subtle and earthy connections between often disparate styles and Cooder’s love of Tex-Mex music is the stylistic starting point for this collection.
After the state of the nation addresses of his last two records, where Cooder articulated with humour and pathos the disgust, he and his audience felt at the state of US politics and finance, post-GFC, this live record is a state of the heart address. And, for this listener of over thirty years, the joy continues. It is a testament to a singular talent who has undergone a late-career rebirth since 2005’s Chavez Ravine.
Recorded on August 31and September 1, 2011, at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the performance employs Corridos Famosos, Cooder’s seven-piece band, augmented by La Banda Juvenil, a horn section of extraordinary energy, which lends the record sizzling Mexicali spice throughout.
The set begins with ‘Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile’ refurbished, streamlined and re-upholstered from 1981’s Borderline, building to Cooder’s grinding, wicked solo – the first of many. This moves into ‘Why Don’t You Try Me?’ also from Borderline, supple and funky, dirty and joyful in generous doses. The horn section delivers energized stabs while Cooder has great fun with his guitar solo as do the appreciative audience.
One of the enduring pleasures of Ry Cooder’s music is the refinement of his playing, here adapting his original recording’s funky, amusing pattern and extending it to funkier gladness. ‘Boomer’s Story’ follows and shows that Cooder’s dislike for bankers and politicians is ongoing, traceable to his earliest records.
Superb readings then, are the starting point. The ongoing fun, of course, is in the delightful detail. In the possible centerpiece, Cooder’s oft recorded meditation on James Carr’s ‘Dark End Of The Street,’ the detail includes: Cooder’s gravitas laden guitar playing; his asides requesting Flaco Jimenez to solo; the interplay between Cooder’s guitar and son Joachim’s drums – listen to the guitar and rim shot exchanges hovering under the rest of the band’s percolations and the fun singers Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller have during the whole song. Flaco Jimenez’ contributions are superb throughout and Cooder’s affectionate introduction speaks volumes for the regard the bandleader has for his accordionist.
On this record the exhilarating bursts of La Banda Juvenil’s horns during ‘El Corrido de Jesse James’ and ‘Volver Volver’ with Juliette Commagere singing, are moments of Cooder-orchestrated joy that, when they arrive, cement the sheer happiness within this record.
The final tunes, the menacing ‘Vigilante Man,’ with its brutal slide guitar and uplifting ‘Goodnight Irene’ complete a concert with enough dynamic range to satisfy all comers. So much of this record is about repaid listening; you know the band isn’t playing tropes and regurgitations so each listen reveals another subtlety.
Ry Cooder takes the audience through a collection of his ‘greatest hits’ with arrangements specifically for this ensemble and its horn section, and the joy for the listener is discovering the pleasures hidden within.