Archive for Ry Cooder

Review: “San Patricio,” The Chieftains & Ry Cooder

Posted in Review with tags , , , on March 11, 2010 by 30daysout

The first few songs on the brilliant new album San Patricio are the musical equivalent of opening a surprise gift on Christmas Day.  A delicate Mexican flavored tune happily strummed on guitars suddenly takes on the flavor of an Irish reel, and singers in Spanish begin this unique musical journey.

This album is by the revered Irish band the Chieftains, known for their evocative instrumentals and all-star collaborations (The Long Black Veil, and the Christmas album The Bells of Dublin), and roots music curator and stellar guitarist Ry Cooder.  San Patricio tells the musical story of Irish immigrants who left their homeland during the Potato Famine of 1845 to begin a new life in America.  Some were drafted into the U.S. Army, fighting in the Mexican-American War only to encounter the same sort of injustices they left behind in Ireland.  Thus was born the San Patricio Battalion — Irishmen fighting alongside Mexicans against Americans.

The music on San Patricio (Spanish for “St. Patrick”) is continually astounding and engaging – guest singer Linda Ronstadt lends her tequila-clear voice to “A la Orilla de una Palmar,” to contrast the husky bolero “Luz de Luna” sung by 91-year-old ranchera singer Chavela Vargas.  Cooder’s weathered voice and shimmering guitar enhance “The Sands Of Mexico,” and even Oscar-nominated Irish actor Liam Neeson turns up, talk-singing on the stirring “March To Battle (Across The Rio Grande).”  The cast of guest performers includes legendary arranger Van Dyke Parks, Mexican singer Lila Downs, Moya Brennan from Clannad and Latin Grammy winners Los Tigres del Norte.

San Patricio is more than a musical history lesson or a curiosity for the NPR crowd.  It’s a treasure chest of surprising and engaging music and a tribute to the brilliance of Chieftains leader Paddy Moloney, who came up with the idea for this project more than 15 years ago.  It’s a great album, also perfect for St. Paddy’s day.

MP3: “La Iguana” (featuring Lila Downs)

MP3: “The Sands of Mexico” (featuring Ry Cooder)

The Chieftains official website

Ry Cooder fan page

The Hell With Christmas

Posted in Christmas with tags , , , , , , on December 4, 2009 by 30daysout

This year we have a bad attitude going into the holidays.  It’s been a rough economic year, we got this war overseas, Tiger Woods – it’s tough all over.  Maybe it’s time for some Christmas music.  I hope this crummy attitude doesn’t spill over into the song selection (you know it will).  Ho, ho.  Ho.

MP3: “Christmas For Everyone” by Rob Halford

MP3: Rob Halford Holiday Greeting

Tiger Woods family Christmas card, 2009

MP3: “Santa Claus Is A Black Man” by Akim

MP3: “O Holy Night/Cha Cha Cha” by Brave Combo

MP3: Elvis’ Christmas Message

MP3: “Frosty The Snowman” by Jan & Dean

MP3: “Christmas Blues” by Bob Dylan

MP3: “Christmas In Southgate” by Ry Cooder

MP3: “Christmas Time (Is Here Again) by the Beatles

MP3: “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” by Julian Casablancas

MP3: “Celebrate Christmas” by Billy Bob Thornton (from Bad Santa)

MP3: “Mistress For Christmas” by AC/DC

MP3: “Boogaloo Santa Claus” by J.D. McDonald

MP3: “Snowflakes” by the Ventures

MP3: “Jingle Bell Hustle” by Wayne Newton

MP3: “I’m A Christmas Tree” by Wild Man Fischer

MP3: “Christmas Day” by Green Day

Sampler Daze: A Last Look at the Loss Leaders

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2009 by 30daysout


When The 1969 Warner/Reprise Songbook appeared in early 1969, the liner notes said, by way of explanation, the sampler’s goal was “hopefully to win new friends for some very creative people.”  People like Jethro Tull, the Pentangle, Frank Zappa, Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, even Tiny Tim.  Warner Bros. Records, founded in 1958, was just beginning to hoist its freak flag, and in just a few years the label’s roster would be the cream of the crop.

And so the ride began: with L.A. street freak Wild Man Fischer’s “Songs For Sale” introducing “My Sunday Feeling” by Jethro Tull.  Eleven years later, the Warner Bros./Reprise Loss Leaders series ended on the sampler Troublemakers with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols snarling, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Well, no.  The 34 Loss Leaders samplers that appeared between 1969 and 1980 formed my musical tastes and exposed me to artists I would never have dreamed of seeking out, to people who may have been just a little too adventurous even for early-Seventies radio.  I remember calling up my local AM pop station and smugly asking the DJ to play some Zappa and the Mothers, or that flip side by the Beach Boys, only to get the response, “What?”  The Loss Leaders made me cooler than the disc jockey!

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Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders, Part 11

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by 30daysout

cookbook limo

By 1977 Warner Bros. had quite a stable of artists producing R&B, soul, funk and dance music – or disco, in the parlance of the time.  That is what sold and what managed to get on the radio, but in truth the Warner R&B artists were as varied as the label’s underground acts just eight years before.  Cook Book, a two-LP sampler focusing mainly on the WB/Reprise R&B acts (“black” music, in the parlance of radio programmers) had a little bit of everything: pop artists (Dionne Warwick), jazz artists (George Benson), gospel soul shouters (Candi Staton), Motown alumni (Undisputed Truth, Lamont Dozier) – all put into duty in service of the Great and Powerful Disco.

I must admit, I do not own Cook Book so I cannot judge its worthiness or faults.  The four cuts included here did appear on the sampler, however.  You know, I’m not sure how these Loss Leaders samplers were marketed in the mid-1970s.  I did see ads for some of the earlier albums in comic books and in Rolling Stone;  and truth to be told, I spotted an ad for one of the later Loss Leaders and after purchasing that one I filled in the missing back copies in my collection from a coupon printed on an inside sleeve of the record.

So let’s move on to Limo, also from 1977.  Ostensibly a return to the diversity of the earlier Loss Leaders, Limo transported the usual suspects (Ry Cooder, Van Morrison, Jesse Winchester, Jesse Colin Young, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris), chart-topping singles (“Tonight’s The Night” by Rod Stewart; “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer; “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac) as well as a collection of oddities and novelties (The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band).  Another novelty was the sprightly British group Deaf School, brought to Burbank by the Beatles’ faithful press agent Derek Taylor.  Gary Wright followed his big hit “Dream Weaver” here with “Phantom Writer,” which to my ears sounds a little like “Love Is Alive.”

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Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders All-Star Team

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2009 by 30daysout

Arlo Guthrie

We take a short break from our exhaustive, year-by-year look at the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders to cite a few of the artists who appeared throughout this series with great music.  We could call it our Loss Leaders All-Star Team.  Between 1969 and 1980, the label issued 35 samplers that were available to the public, and these artists were perennials.

Arlo Guthrie – Woody’s son made 13 appearances in the Loss Leaders series, appearing on the very first sampler in 1969 with “The Pause Of Mr. Claus,” a performance that features one of his trademark comedic rap/song combinations.  The best known of these is of course “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” the nearly-19-minute-long song that made Guthrie famous in 1967 and is played on hip radio stations every Thanksgiving.  Arlo hit the top 40 in 1972 with his version of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” and he cut 14 albums for Warner Bros. before the label dropped him in 1983.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman

Randy Newman – Like Guthrie, Newman was one of those hard-to-market artists but he nevertheless earned a critical following when he first appeared in 1968.  Known for writing satiric songs (often from the point of view of a reprehensible character) with beautiful melodies, Newman actually penned hit songs for other artists (“Mama Told Me Not To Come” was a hit for Three Dog Night) and had a few hits of his own, including “Short People” (1977) and “I Love L.A.” (1983).  Newman is a runner-up to Arlo, with 12 appearances in the Loss Leaders series.

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention – Zappa and/or his band made 11 total appearances in the Loss Leaders, they even gave him his own one-disc sampler in 1970 (Zapped) to showcase all the artists on his Bizarre/Straight labels.

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Lost Classics! Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , on March 4, 2009 by 30daysout


For a short time in the mid-1970s, this album by Hawaiian musician Gabby Pahinui and his band was a stoner’s delight.  Produced by ace guitarist/producer/musical historian Ry Cooder, The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band Vol. 1 was the highlight of Pahuini’s long career.

Gabby Pahinui started recording in 1946.  Pahinui played guitar, in the slack-key style found in a lot of Hawaiian music.  In fact, his record “Hi’ilawe” may be the first recording of the slack-key guitar (“slack key” is a form of tuning achieved by detuning or “slacking” guitar strings).  Gabby was a huge star in the Hawaiian islands in the 1950s, and in the early 1960s Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio produced a record on Gabby but mainland audiences didn’t bite.

Despite his success as a regional performer, 3169918152_49358c4cfbPahinui didn’t make that much money.  In fact, he worked a shovel for city and county crews around Honolulu to make extra cash.  In the early 1970s Americans started to rediscover their indigenous music (Cajun music went through a similar renaissance) and Gabby’s music was at the forefront again.  Ry Cooder joined the “Gabby Band” for four albums, one of which appeared on the Warner Bros. label in 1975.  The music, sung in the language of the islands, was instantly more authentic than the Don Ho nightclub stuff we were so accustomed to hearing.  The guitar work on this album is excellent – Gabby had taken up the more modern Hawaiian steel guitar and with Ry Cooder on board, as you can imagine this album featured some guitar playing that is absolutely breathtaking, sort of an aural version of Hawaiian scenery.  I always loved the photo of the band members on the back of the record – it gives the impression that no man in Hawaii ever wears a shirt. 

Health problems (and a lifetime of hitting the booze) caught up with Gabby Pahinui in the late 1970s, and he retired from the road repair crew and started teaching cultural programs to kids.  He died in 1980 at age 59, and his music is still played around the Hawaiian islands.  He was a big influence to many musicians who followed him, including Israel Kamakawiwo’le, who can be heard dedicating his song to Gabby at the beginning of his oft-played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World.”

MP3: “Aloha Ka Manini”

MP3: “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight”

MP3: “Moani Ke’Ala”

MP3: “Oli Komo (Chant)”

MP3: “Ipo Le Manu”

MP3: “Moonlight Lady”

MP3: “Hawaiian Love”

Ry Cooder page at Nonesuch Records

Stevo’s Hawaiian Music Guide website

Review: Ry Cooder, Graham Nash boxed

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2009 by 30daysout

front                cover

A couple of new box sets attempt to take in-depth looks at the career output of two rock artists who may not be A-list famous, but are vital nonetheless. 

Ry Cooder’s 2-CD set The UFO Has Landed reviews the work of the incredible guitarist who’s played with the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, scored a number of movies and as a solo artist released one of the most eclectic catalogs in recorded music.  This anthology, assembled by Cooder’s son and musical partner Joachim, doesn’t tackle Ry’s work in a chronological order so you have early covers of Woody Guthrie and Willie Dixon next to some of his moody, swirling film instrumentals. 

Less than half of the 34 tracks on this anthology are Cooder originals; the rest are interpretations of traditional music.  But if you aren’t familiar with Ry Cooder’s work, don’t let that stop you: this stuff rocks, sometimes unbelievably so.  “Get Rhythm,” the Johnny Cash cover that kicks off Disc 1, mixes some nasty slide guitar work with a tropical beat that’s instantly infectious.  A cover of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” has guest performances from Zydeco accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco and Memphis legend Jim Dickinson on keyboards – and of course, it rocks. 

I don’t have enough time or space to riffle through all the tracks, this is all great listening.  Hats off the boys at Rhino Records for this great compilation!  One track they missed though – Cooder’s version of “Across The Borderline,” a song he wrote (along with Dickinson and John Hiatt) for the 1982 Jack Nicholson flick The Border.  The song has been done by Freddy Fender, Dwight Yoakam, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, but Cooder’s version is the best – it guest stars cult movie fave Harry Dean Stanton!

MP3: “Let’s Work Together”

MP3: “Across The Borderline” (with Harry Dean Stanton)

Graham Nash is, of course, the guy we all loved in the Hollies, the dude we were OK with in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the solo artist who went from charming to irritating to “American Idol” over a 30-year span.  And that’s sort of how the retrospective Reflections plays out over three discs. 

Disc One is easily the most indispensable, the curtain rising on three Nash-written classics from the Hollies (in mono!) and rolling right into the monumental songs he did with CSN and Y: “Marrakesh Express,” “Teach Your Children” and “Our House,” among others.  His navel gazer “Right Between The Eyes” (heard previously only as a live version) pops up here as a studio demo.  The first CD winds down with early solo work that’s pretty good; many of these songs (like the wimpy protest songs “Chicago” and “Military Madness’) feature many of the crowned heads of the late ’60s hippie kingdom like members of the Dead, the Airplane and whomever. 

But after that first disc you get two platters’ worth of plodding piano plunkers and hilariously dated synthesizer screamers, interrupted only occasionally by a really listenable moment.  “Wasted On The Way,” a chart hit for CSN, is OK, and buried on the third disc there’s a charming “Two Hearts” which teams Nash and Carole King for some truly impressive harmony work.  The historians at Rhino did some great work for Graham Nash (as they did with the Crosby box set last year, and presumably with the upcoming Stephen Stills set), but I wish they would’a tossed in “The War Song,” the 45 single Nash and Neil Young cut in 1972 to support George McGovern’s presidential bid.

MP3: “Carrie Anne” by the Hollies

MP3: “The War Song” by Neil Young and Graham Nash

Rhino Records official website