Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#771 in the Series) is Ry Cooder, Election Special (Nonesuch)
Ry Cooder’s on a roll!
After an extended 18 year break from solo work, during which he was extremely busy on soundtracks and collaborations of course, he made a remarkable return to the fray with Chavez Ravine in 2005, a well-received release which was followed fairly quickly by My Name Is Buddy and then I, Flathead, completing what he dubbed his “Southern California” trilogy.
Just last year he was at it again when he released the wonderful Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down, making four great albums in six years, a tremendous work rate in this day and age really. At which point he could surely have been forgiven for taking some well-earned time out.
What was really significant for long term Cooder watchers about those albums however was that they marked the real emergence (incredibly after 35 years as a recording artist) of Ry Cooder, the songwriter. He had built up a fantastic back catalogue over the years (including classic albums like Into The Purple Valley , Paradise And Lunch and Bop Til You Drop) but they mostly consisted of older material, written by other people, he contributed very few songs(or at least lyrics) that he’d actually written himself. Recent releases had changed all that and his writing has gone from strength to strength in these years culminating now, a mere 12 months after the last album, with Election Special which can simply be summed up thus : All Killer, No Filler !
After, and during, sessions for Pull Up Some Dust……… Cooder realized that he had at least one great song that didn’t quite fit the album, ideas for 2/3 others and a burning desire to have his next album out in time for a looming momentous day in American history, the 2012 election. So he simply kept on going, why not!
Now, the reason he wanted this album out in time for the election is because there’s a lot of things annoying him about the state of America leading up to it and, specifically, some of the people trying to influence its outcome, amongst other things of course. This is a very political album, every song in fact. It’s also a pretty one-sided album as well and it’s easy to see how that could be a problem. I really hope people will give it a fair listen though and judge it on its many musical merits rather than whether or not they agree with what he’s saying in the songs. 9 songs on, roughly, the same subjects could be a bitter pill to swallow but Ry has taken great care to sweeten it with some fantastic tunes and marvelous arrangements, it’s no dirge that’s for certain.
“Mutt Romney Blues” kicks us off, an acoustic stomp told from the perspective of Mitt’s poor mutt, forced to travel the country “not in front, neither in back, up on the roof like a cotton sack”. The wee fella manages to retain his sense of humour, against the odds!
Speaking of which, humour is high in content throughout this full album, there’s a good few here which that legendarily caustic chap Randy Newman would have been proud to pen I’m sure.
The mandolin’s out next for “Brother Is Gone” wherein one of the Koch brothers (David in fact) spills the beans all about the deal he and his brother made with the Devil to ensure they would one day rule America, by talking people’s votes away. Easy when you know how!
“The Wall Street Part Of Town” is classic Cooder, a wonderfully upbeat tune, almost pop, and catchy as hell. A real early highlight, destined to be a firm favourite with the fans I’d suggest.
There’s a garage blues feel to the fairly self-explanatory “Guantanamo” (“what would Jesus say”).
“Cold Cold Feeling” features the President as an old withered bluesman telling us about his worries and woes, a deft turnaround from the last album’s superb “John Lee Hooker For President”, a song which would maybe even have worked better in the context of this album in fact.
There’s a strong old-fashioned country feel to the next one, “Going To Tampa”, a hilarious tale of the strange goings on at a political convention, special mention reserved for those lovely people of The Tea Party and their strange ambitions:
“I’ll give all my money / If Sarah Palin calls me honey / And shakes the peaches from my tree”
And he’s actually saved the best for last, I feel, with two beauties still to come; “Kool Aid” which is a dark, spooky haunted blues, a cautionary tale for us all about those who were foolish enough to believe politician’s promises and learned, to their cost, that it’s seldom a good idea. It also sounds like The Black Keys a little bit.
Finally, gloriously, we have “Take Your Hands Off It” a superb closing track on which the Right gets it with both barrels. He nails a few of their main policies but its best summed up with:
“YOU don’t speak for God / he don’t belong to you / You ain’t talking to him / he don’t belong to you”
It’s righteous and it’s angry and it’s set to possibly the very best tune on the full album, a soulful strut with Gospel tinges that would have been absolutely perfect for The Staple Singers in their heyday. Just imagine Mavis and Co, getting their voices into this one with Pops’ famous guitar chiming away in the background, sublime. If you’ve heard them sing “When Will We Be Paid” you’ll know what I mean.
I can’t leave you without mention of Ry’s voice which is a revelation these days; can he ever have sung better? Here it is now, a deep growl in places, like a grizzled old blues veteran. Now crooning like Tom Waits at the piano in his early days. It’s raw, rough, ragged and yet sweet and tender also and it fits these songs and various styles to perfection.
I for one would love the chance to see him in concert but I’ve no idea if that’s on his agenda at all, I’ll settle for another new album NEXT year!
Possibly not but no matter, the man’s built a fine body of work for us to enjoy and this latest installment is one of his very best.
– Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland
All tracks were produced by Ry Cooder.
- “Mutt Romney Blues” (Ry Cooder) 3:45
- “Brother Is Gone” ( R. Cooder) 5:03
- “The Wall Street Part of Town” (R. Cooder) 3:43
- “Guantanamo” (R. Cooder) 3:29
- “Cold Cold Feelings” (R. Cooder) 5:26
- “Going to Tampa” (R. Cooder) 3:58
- “Kool-Aid” (R. Cooder) 4:10
- “The 90 and the 9″ (R. Cooder) 5:16
- “Take Your Hands off It” (J.Cooder, R. Cooder) 3:48
- Ry Cooder – bass, guitar, mandolin, vocals
- Joachim Cooder – drums
- Arnold McCuller – harmony vocals
Check out some of the album’s highlights below.