Ry Cooder‘s new album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down ranks up there with the best of his work, which is passionately praised by a significant audience of connoisseurs and musicians. His blend of brilliant guitar playing and somewhat quirky mix of rock and roll, Tex-Mex, off the wall lyrics and superb backing doesn’t fit into any genre but his own. He’s dead serious in the guise of a smile and a knowing wink. He’s also a pioneer and a true innovator in melding world music with blues, black, Mexican, country, rock, film soundtracks: you name it, Ry Cooder has been involved. His current release focuses on the economic state of America and the mess that politics, war and big business has foisted on the average man. Sounds like protest music, but hot damn, the infectious beat and the masterful playing get you to third base long before you realize the potency of the lyric. The man is known as a guitar player, but he’s highly underrated both as a songwriter and as a vocalist: his smooth, deep and calculating contributions in the vocal arena place him as one of the best in all of roots music. In fact, his rendition of “John Lee Hooker For President” on the new record is note-perfect, in guitar styling and the stammering, mannered blues for which Hooker is known.
Way back more than three decades ago Ry Cooder issued Bop Till You Drop,the first digitally-recorded album, featuring one of the finest assemblage of backup musicians and singers ever to hit one studio.The album included a brilliant cover of Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister”, as well as a work of such tasty marital misery entitled “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich Makes Me Poor”. Any man who has ever endured a spendthrift wife owes it to himself to audition this tune. And his take on “Go Home Girl” may be the best tune ever recorded about falling in love with the wife of one’s best friend. Cooder’s splendid guitar work on this record, as well as the engaging digital sound quality, made this album a mainstay in hi-fi demo rooms for the next ten years. It’s still worth the search if you can find a vinyl copy. Further, his soundtrack of Borderline is more than good; it’s great. His experimental work with Ali Farka Toure on the Must Have soundtrack of Besieged was a highlight of the movie, assuming one can get beyond the smouldering beauty of Thandie Newton.
Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down in many ways equals, if not exceeds the most familiar work in Cooder’s catalogue. Standout tracks include “No Banker Left Behind”, Cooder’s assessment of banker greed, as well as the blistering indictment of American war involvement entitled “Christmas Time This Year”. And don’t miss “Quicksand”, about Mexicans fleeing their country for a better life. None of this material is preachy, ponderous or boring. Here’s Ry’s own take on his new material:
It took me a long time to get to where I had a handle on songwriting. You know, the old populist music of the ’30s, which was invented and written by working-class people, was used to describe their lives and what they were going through, whether you were on strike at the cotton mill or westward-bound on the road. But since I didn’t migrate west with the Dust Bowl guys like Woody Guthrie or see this first hand, I had to creep up on it more. It took time to absorb that kind of songwriting. It’s taken me … well, a lifetime.
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high performance audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: email@example.com