Saturday, June 24, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days # 004: Ry Cooder: Boomer’s Story

[got bumped a day because of a set of flights that somehow transformed themselves from [Leg I: 1 hour + II: 3.5 hours] to [Leg I: 3 hours-including-stackup-over-Houston-plus-reroute-to-College Station-for-gas-plus-3 hours-at-College Station-plus-delay-at-Houston-arrivals- plus-sprint-across-Houston Intercontinental-plus-2 hours-wait-plus-3.5 hours-to- Hartford=arriving-W Mass-4:30am-sans-luggage]

Cooder grew up in LA, but he sounds like he's from the South. That's a compliment.

Part of the Topanga Canyon folk mafia that gave us his contemporaries, friends, and frequent collaborators Taj Mahal and David Lindley, Cooder early made a name for himself as a slide-guitar expert, most notably through appearances on various Stones records. But he was always a scholar and an ethnomusicologist as well as a hired gun.

His solo recording career eventually ground to a halt in the ‘80s, from which he was rescued by the soundtrack work he did for Walter Hill on films like The Long Riders, followed by Paris, Texas and Crossroads. Eventually he revitalized his solo career with the boom of CD reissues.

Boomer’s Story is one of his earliest, and it has the flavor of the first Taj Mahal records: authoritatively rootsy without being solemn, funky without being blackface, and showing absolutely impeccable song selection and musical taste. I came up in the late 70s hearing a lot of older friends play these tunes, which I thought they had arranged themselves but were in fact copped from this record.

There’s hard-core Delta blues (Skip James’s Cherry Ball Blues and Sleepy John Estes’ Ax Sweet Mama), a heart-breaking version of Dark End of the Street which Richard and Linda Thompson promptly copped, beautiful versions of Civil War (Rally Round the Flag) and Tin Pan Alley (Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer) songs, and even some Norteno. Dharmonia and I played Cooder’s version of Maria Elena, in Cooder’s version, at my little brother’s wedding, and both he and the bride wept when they heard it.

Absolutely masterful.

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