Recorded over two nights in San Francisco in 2011, Ry Cooder’s first live album since 1977 features two old friends who appeared on that last live outing, Show Time, which was recorded at the same venue, the Great American Music Hall.
The old pals are Terry Evans of those gospel-tinged vocals which added sweet heft to mid-seventies Cooder classics like Jesus on the Mainline and Little Sister. Also gracing the stage of the Great American Music Hall for this newly-released live recording was another old friend, the irrepressible Flaco Jimenez of the gloriously fluid accordeon.
Right from the off, you know you are in Cooderland when you hear that funky, diesel-dirty guitar strutting through the opening chords of Crazy ’Bout an Automobile. 'Walking women home is a thing of the past/women want to ride around in class', sings the gnarled warbler, who sounds a bit like The Band's Richard Manuel at times. Back in 2011 anyway, he was a man enjoying himself immensely, playing the crowd expertly, sharing his wryly sardonic observations between the tunes.
El Corrido de Jesse James, from the 2011 album Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down, imagines the titular outlaw in heaven, realising that “the banks have stolen all the money, and the government paid them to do it.” So he looks for his gun, and con permiso, is looking to go down to Wall Street and sort out the retribution.
What James doesn’t know, according to Cooder in his spoken introduction, is that “it’s gotten so big than one man and one gun” can’t sort it out. The song features a blast of sizzling hot brass from ten-piece Mexican brass band La Banda Juvenil, coming in out of nowhere and all the more effective for that. Cooder mixes Spanish phrases into what is essentially a fun song, albeit with a barbed message.
Boomer’s Story and Dark End of the Street are both suitably plaintive and solemn. Another recent Cooder original, Lord Tell Me Why, is a sly inversion of the race issue, turning the whole thing around with Randy Newman-like irony.
You may find yourself bopping around your tent, boudoir or pergola to the lively rendering of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ Wooly Bully. Then towards the close, backing singer Juliette Commagerie essays a very attractive version of the Latino classic, Volver.
Flaco Jimenez is a special presence on the closing Goodnight Irene, while Cooder’s spot-lit guitar borrows true loneliness out of the dark night outside the venerable old San Francisco venue.