Vintage Guitar - September 2018 - Open - 104

HIT LIST

R E V I E W S

Ry Cooder with
his Ralph Trotto
Martin D-18.

PRAYERFUL MUSIC

I

n guitar circles, a new
album by Ry Cooder is
cause to set aside one's axe
to take a listen. And his latest
may be one of his best.
For his first album in six
years, Cooder embellishes
vintage tunes from Blind Willie
Johnson, the Stanley Brothers, Blind Alfred Reed, Blind
Roosevelt Graves (of the
Mississippi Jook Band), and
others. These renditions are
spiced by three new originals.
Many songs have a gospel

tilt, yet Cooder makes the
tunes his own, with stylish guitar work and his wry
sense of humor. And the
album's message is a prayer
for sanity in this world
amidst economic, political,
and cultural uncertainty.
The album opens with
"Straight Street" by the Pilgrim
Travelers, a classic of '50s
California gospel. Cooder's
version starts with subdued
acoustic guitar that builds in
emotion, backed by luscious

VINTAGE GUITAR

Ry Cooder

The Prodigal Son

104

harmony vocals. One only
wishes the stylish outro solo
was allowed to continue.
"Shrinking Man" is pure
Ry. It rides atop a bopping,
off-kilter beat with lyrics
rife with humor but masking
a serious voice. And who
thought a song about "Gentrification" could work? But,
Cooder creates a swinging
blues with sultry, slinky riffs
that would've brought high
praise from Jerry Garcia.
Blind Willie Johnson may
be Cooder's doppelgänger,
as evidenced by his classic
Paris, Texas soundtrack.
Cooder's version of "Everybody Ought To Treat
A Stranger Right" here is
reverential, inspired, and
played to a funky beat.
He's backed by a basic,
tight quartet that's imminently musical. Cooder's percussionist son, Joachim, lays
down serious beats along
with the mbira thumb piano.
The ensemble is rounded
out by Sam Gendel on sax,
and bassist Robert Francis.
Throughout, though,
Cooder's guitar leads the
proceedings. He tosses
off seemingly simple slide
licks played with complex,
idiosyncratic rhythms that
sounds like no one else.
And whether he's using his
famed Coodercaster with
its stellar gutbucket tone, or
his array of vintage acoustics, his work is stunning.
The title track is the crown
jewel. Twisting around a
traditional tune and adding
his own verses, Cooder's
prodigal son finds solace not
in religion, but in Bakersfield
and its famed country music,
accented by its unique brand
of pickers. As Cooder sings,
he asks a waitress if this is
a new teaching: "She said,
'There is no God but God, and
Ralph Mooney is his name.'"
Hallelujah. - Michael Dregni


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