Ry Cooder Chavez Ravine Nonesuch 0 7559 79877-2 0
Any new release by Ry Cooder comes with an endemic problem. That is the creator’s track record, or perhaps I should say his Pedigree. Ry started out 40 (yes 40!) years ago alongside Taj Mahal in Rising Sons and Captain Beefheart in the Magic Band. For any normal artist this would probably have been accomplishment enough. But not for Ry. To be brief, he went on to revolutionise Country Rock (perhaps even inventing New Country along the way), add new dimensions to Jazz, create countless highly original film sound tracks, including the seminal ‘Paris Texas’, and single-handedly draw the world’s attention to the sublime sounds of Cuban music in all its voluptuous variety.
It’s therefore totally out of order for a mere hack to question the great man’s musical integrity but I guess he becomes an easy target when one of his discs is somewhat less than perfect. Not that this one would not be highly acclaimed if released under the name of any other artist! The problem is that Ry is expected to be innovative and exploring new territory with each and every issue. And for me this just not meet those criteria. This is a man resting (albeit briefly, probably) on his laurels and cashing in on his popularity for providing soundtracks for films with a Tex-Mex flavour, which this would ostensibly seem to be.
Surprisingly however I find it is not. Rather it’s one of these multi-media projects which seem to be flavour of the month following recent output from the likes of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Apparently the story tracks the problems of an LA Hispanic community. The neighbourhood comes up against a variety of problematic events including a brush with The Unamerican Activities Committee, a UFO visitation, Boxing turf wars and being bull-dozed to make way for the new Dodgers Stadium.
This all sounds highly intriguing but I have to say that the album certainly doesn’t stand up as a straightforward music album as the story isn’t self evident if you’re not proficiently bi-lingual and it totally lacks in any kind of musical edge. OK - a couple of tracks would sound quite good as single releases or for radio airplay as fillers, but the continuity on the album is jagged and needs to be seen in the context of the story.
The man is entitled to follow his personal agenda of course and consolidate his catalogue in favoured areas. But I’d go as far as to say this is a thoroughly average release for Ry Cooder. It will only be of particular interest to aficionados of either the man or the genre. Possibly anyone who hasn’t got any records of this type might find it interesting enough to want to explore the area further. For the rest of it, I’m sorry to suggest we might as well ignore this one and look forward to something more exciting from Ry which I’m sure is lurking not very far just over the horizon!