Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Ry Cooder Primer"
Start here. Because you know this one, most probably in its Linda Ronstadt incarnation from "Hasten Down The Wind," the album with the Karla Bonoff covers.
Ry and his producer Russ Titelman take credit for writing it...along with Washington Phillips, whose version I've also included, it's quite the blueprint.
Anyway, the soul of the guitar playing will immediately infatuate you, it's like sitting down in an overstuffed chair.
This is from "Paradise and Lunch," Ry's fourth solo album, quite the comeback from the disappointing "Boomer's Story." But it was the second record that broke Ry through, "Into The Purple Valley."
TEARDROPS WILL FALL
We bought these albums on recommendation, usually in the rock press, we had no idea what they sounded like until we broke the shrinkwrap and dropped the needle. Oftentimes we were surprised.
And this was the case with "Into The Purple Valley." Yes, they told us the songs were from the Dust Bowl era, truly ancient, but we were not prepared for the sound.
But this was back when everything didn't have to sound the same, when it was a badge of honor to have your own sound.
And I'm starting here with "Teardrops Will Fall," because like "Tattler," it's easily digestible.
It's reflective, and it will make you so too.
A story song. About the power of cash.
The mandolin, the electric guitar and the female vocals..."Money Honey" is a tour de force, you'll find yourself singing it at the strangest moments. It enters your brain and it stays there.
F.D.R. IN TRINIDAD
There are so many words, Ry can barely squeeze them in. As a result, you end up knowing them. Cordell Hull is famous in my world because he was mentioned in this song.
Yes, Ry Cooder was looking back in an era when everybody else was looking forward. He was imploring us to slow down and see what had happened as opposed to what was coming down the pike.
BILLY THE KID
Not the only song about the outlaw, but the best.
Once again, the mandolin is what hooks you.
ON A MONDAY
It's all about the picking.
And the slide guitar.
And the hypnotic groove.
And the story that follows the days of the week.
It's so SAD!
Written by Johnny Cash after exiting the armed forces, you can hear the anticipation for a return to regular life.
A Woody Guthrie tune, it sounds like there's no one else around. As if Ry is playing and singing by himself on a porch in Oklahoma.
Listening to "Into The Purple Valley" is like falling down a rabbit hole, you get so deep you want more. So you go back and buy the initial LP, "Ry Cooder," which is a bit too slick and not as good, but contains gems nonetheless, like this.
Yes, sometimes it takes a while to get it right. Or to put it another way, you've got to get it wrong to get it right. After making his first album, Ry knew what he wanted on his second. He stripped it down, it got more authentic. Or maybe it's as simple as adding Jim Dickinson into the Van Dyke Parks/Lenny Waronker production stew.
"Look at this one, look at that one Tell me, do they look like me?"
Ry isn't afraid to play the scumbag. He doesn't want to PAY!
DO RE MI
A famous Woody Guthrie song that I didn't discover until I heard Ry Cooder's rendition.
The truth is you need that do re mi, now more than ever. Even if you want to stay home as opposed to moving to California.
"California's a Garden of Eden It's a paradise to live in or see But believe it or not You won't find it so hot If you ain't got that do re mi"
ONE MEAT BALL
That's all he could afford!
Not simple to get into, you'll find this one running through your brain endlessly.
COMIN' IN ON A WING AND A PRAYER
The one true keeper off "Boomer's Story," I was so enraptured with Ry that I bought the album and kept playing it over and over trying to get into it, but I couldn't. Sometimes you miss.
But not on this one cut.
JESUS ON THE MAINLINE
Like I said, "Paradise and Lunch" was a complete return to form. It's probably Ry's best album.
Hear this track a few times and you'll find yourself running around saying...
CALL HIM UP!
TAMP 'EM UP SOLID
A train song that opens "Paradise and Lunch," it starts off quietly and gets louder, as if the train has come over the horizon to pick you up to take you on a ride.
Its magic is its understatedness. Subtle, when done right, eclipses in-your-face.
DITTY WAH DITTY
As if you entered a roadhouse and there was a rollicking piano player and a guy picking and singing this song, in love with the mood they're in. You feel privileged just to be INCLUDED!
FOOL FOR A CIGARETTE/FEELIN' GOOD
From back when smoking was still reasonable, before it became the scourge of the lower class.
I GOT MINE
"Chicken Skin Music" was much better than "Boomer's Story," but it was kind of a treading water move, it seemed too similar in tone to "Paradise and Lunch," however it is very good. Start here.
DOWN IN HOLLYWOOD
From "Bop till You Drop," which was endlessly promoted as the first digitally recorded pop album, if only as much time had been spent on the music.
But this track, cowritten by Ry and Tim Drummond, actually got scads of airplay, it made Ry a known quantity.
Not a revelatory version of the Elvis hit, but worth hearing.
And from here it was downhill...
It's almost as if Ry had paid so many dues that when others were paying attention he no longer cared about delivering.
But Ry did get his moment in the movies, his soundtrack work eclipsed and then replaced his solo work.
And eventually there came the Buena Vista Social Club and more solo records, but really it's Ry's early work that stands the test of time.
Start with his slide work on "Memo From Turner" and play the above. There's more than that, but it's a good place to start.