musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Ry Cooder’

Politics and Lunch … with Ry and Ian

One of the many great albums that Ry Cooder recorded in the 1970s was Paradise and Lunch. That album included inspired covers of jazz, blues, and country standards such as “Mexican Divorce,” “If Walls Could Talk,” and “Ditty Wah Ditty,” along with some pop and R&B tunes such as Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.”


Since his early, more folk-influenced recordings in the 1970s, Ry Cooder has veered all over the musical map; witness his various soundtrack projects and world music albums such as his recordings with the Buena Vista Social Club in Cuba. But in recent years he has returned to his roots, recording original material, many of the songs focused on politics and social issues. In fact, he has just released a new album of originals that is his boldest political statement yet. It would have been appropriate to call it Politics and Lunch, but instead Ry settled for Election Special. The album includes tracks such as “Guantanamo”, “The Wall Street Part of Town,” and “Mutt Romney Blues” (yes, that’s “Mutt” not “Mitt” in the song title!). Cooder is an unabashed Democrat and proudly affirms his allegience, along with his views on the state of the nation over the course of this lively album.


Naturally, Cooder has alienated any right-wing fans that he might have had with these politically-charged tunes, but I doubt that he’s losing any sleep over it. Instead, he’s doing interviews to both plug the album and wake up the voting public. He’s pulling no punches, urging voters to choose Barack Obama and not to put up with the crooks on Wall Street, or the creepsters behind these nefarious PAC funds. In a recent issue of Mojo magazine, Cooder urged Obama to “give up the idea of bipartisanship and kick ass now.” In the same interview he declared that “the foundations of society are being dismantled before our very eyes, brought about by four years of think-tank fascism funded by the Koch Brothers.” The Koch Brothers, for those out of the US political loop, are described by the magazine as “billionaire industrialists and right wing propagandists.”

No matter how you feel about Ry Cooder’s music, you have to admire him for speaking his mind and using his music to illuminate various social, financial, and political issues. To my ears, Ry Cooder is a throwback to folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, musicians with a strong social conscience and equally strong backbone, guys who were not afraid to take a stance on matters of importance to them. I wish there were more artists like that in this me-my-mine age. Too many of them play it down the middle, wary of voicing an opinion for fear of a backlash from fans with opposing views. Some people seem to think that it’s wrong, or a mistake, for musicians to get involved in politics, but I think such a view is balderdash. Musicians should not only feel free to voice their opinions without getting slammed for it, they should be encouraged to do so.


Meanwhile, at the age of 73, Ian Hunter still continues to amaze with his boundless energy and the high quality of the music he is recording. Hot on the heels of the amazing Man Overboard album, he has released another yet strong group of songs, some with a decidedly political slant, on his new album, When I’m President. Ian, being a Brit, won’t be able to vote in the US election (unless, of course, he managed to become a US citizen in between tours and recording sessions), but he still feels strongly about what’s going on in this crazy world, and ain’t afraid to speak up. In the fist-pumping title track to the album, he sings:

I’m gonna lean on the one percent — when I’m president

I want a 28th amendment — when I’m president

No more bargains in the basement — when I’m president

Everything’s gonna be different — when I’m president

Veto this, veto that — when I’m president I’ll stick it to the fat cats


Politics and music have always been awkward bedfellows but each election year, countless artists either play benefit concerts to help the candidate of their choice or publicly declare their support. I’m reminded of another Ian Hunter venture into American politics, when he toured with Todd Rundgren in 1980, raising money forthe campaign of  John B. Anderson, an independent candidate for president that year. I was fortunate to see the Ian Hunter-Todd Rundgren tour when they stopped in Tampa, Florida for two shows at a small club called the Agora. Ronald Reagan, of course, defeated Jimmy Carter in the November election. Anderson finished far behind with less than 7% of the national vote. I didn’t vote for either Reagan or Carter in that election, but I can’t recall voting for Anderson either. Most likely I stuck to my usual stubborn habit of voting for a write-in candidate such as Bill the Cat.


I forget where on the net last week that I saw the retouched photo above, but it’s just so brilliant, that I had to post it! Kudos to whoever actually created it.  Don’t know what it is, my friend, but something odd is blowing in that wind!


John Hiatt

A topic that’s guaranteed to stimulate heated discussion among music fans would be: Who is the greatest songwriter of the Rock and R&B era? Bob Dylan is probably the first name that would pop into many minds, or perhaps Lennon & McCartney — as a duo or individually — would be the choice of many. You can also toss around the likes of Neil Young, Curtis Mayfield, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Pete Townsend, Burt Bacharach, Townes Van Zandt, Brian Wilson, Dan Penn, Randy Newman, Leiber & Stoller, Carole King, Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Richard Thompson, Laura Nyro, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and countless others. But one guy who ranks among the greatest in any genre yet never gets proper props is John Hiatt. If you just said “Who?” then my point is made. John Hiatt is a music legend who remains criminally under the public radar.

Since the early 1970 John Hiatt has been writing songs, lots of songs. He’s written clever songs, funny songs, wistful songs, tenderly beautiful songs, and foot-stomping numbers that leave a smile on your face. Rock, Country, Folk, R&B, Blues; he can do it all, and do it all well. Hiatt has a wicked sense of humor, but he’s also a compassionate and tender writer. Really, there is no style of song or type of music that this guy can’t write. Many of Hiatt’s songs have been covered by artists such as Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King and Eric Clapton, Jeff Healey, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Delbert McClinton, Nick Lowe, Patty Griffin, and even some fellow named Bob Dylan. Not surprisingly, there is a tribute album of artists covering Hiatt songs; It’ll Come to You: the Songs of John Hiatt.

In addition to being a superlative songwriter, John Hiatt has recorded twenty most memorable solo albums. His songwriting has always been of the highest quality and he has gained the reputation for being a vibrant live performer (I was lucky to see him perform with a band one time in Florida), but over the years he has also developed into a fine singer too. Check out his powerful 1994 live album, Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan for a dose of his energetic and electric side. No, this album wasn’t really recorded at the famed Japanese venue where Cheap Trick also experienced concert success, but the title – not to mention the hilarious cover — does serve as proof that John Hiatt has a definite sense of humor.

Hiatt began his career as a songwriter for a publishing company in the early 1970s. His first brush with success came in 1974 when Three Dog Night scored a hit with one of the songs he had written, “Sure As I’m Sitting Here.” That same year he recorded his debut album, Hangin’ Around the Observatory for Epic Records. That album and the next year’s Overcoats, sunk like molten bricks, and Hiatt was promptly released from his contract. He signed with MCA and made two even more impressive albums, Slug Line and Two Bit Monsters, before finding himself out of a contract once again. Next came a stint with Geffen Records, where he made three more wonderful albums; All of a Sudden, Riding with the King, and Warming Up to the Ice Age.

But those records also failed to sell as well as hoped, and Hiatt went label shopping once again, eventually signing with A&M. That led to a nearly decade-long streak (from the mid 80 to the mid 90s) of wonderful albums such as Bring the Family, Slow Turning, Stolen Moments, Perfectly Good Guitar,  and Walk On (the later two with yet another different label, Capitol). While Hiatt didn’t turn into a Michael Jackson hit-making machine during those years, his albums did finally start selling better and cemented his reputation as a top-notch songwriter and recording artist. Hiatt was part of super-group Little Village, an ensemble that also featured Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner. Those same musicians played on Hiatt’s perfectly crafted Bring the Family album in 1987, but as Little Village they only recorded the one album in 1992.

Hiatt eventually abandoned the major label ship and has continued to steadily release consistently fine new albums on smaller labels such as Vanguard and New West. His latest offering, 2011’s Dirty Jeans & Mudslide Hymns is a particularly outstanding collection of tunes. Songs like “Damn This Town,” “Train to Birmingham,” and “Adios to California” rank as some of the best he’s ever written. Considering the wealth of gems in his back catalog, that is saying a lot.

December 2011 Listening List

Here are the CDs (yes, real legitimate discs and NOT downloads) that I’m listening to this month, just the sonic tonic to keep my spirits high amidst the depressing seasonal onslaught of Christmas nonsense.

Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down

Coldplay – Mylo Xloto

The Winstons – Color Him Father

Tony Joe White – The Heroines

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Swamp Dogg – It’s All Good

Lindsey Buckingham – Seeds We Sow

Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

Jackie McLean – Bluesnik

Daryl Hall – Laughing Down Crying

Various Artists – Nigeria 70

Dan Fogelberg – Live: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, … and Some Blues

Art Farmer – Brass Shout/The Aztec Suite

Grant Green – Iron City

Lonnie Liston Smith – Cosmic Funk

Eddi Reader – The Songs of Robert Burns (Deluxe Edition)

Tony Rice – Sings Gordon Lightfoot

Blue Rodeo – Casino

Bob Mould – Body of Song

Ben Webster & Joe Zawinul – Soulmates

Various Artists – Carolina Funk: First in Funk 1968-1977

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

The Black Keys – Attack & Release

The Coral – Singles Collection

Ray LaMontagne – Gossip in the Grain

Jim Ford – The Sounds of our Time

Danny and the Champions of the World – Streets of our Time

Tommy Stinson – One Man Mutiny

Kelley Stoltz – Circular Sounds

The Grid – Four Five Six

Dusty Springfield – The Complete BBC Sessions

The Red Button – As Far as Yesterday Goes

Booker T and the MGs – Play the Hip Hits

June Tabor and Oysterband – Ragged Kingdom

Hurrah! – The Sound of Philadelphia

Tinariwen – Tassili

Mekons – Fear and Whiskey

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

Boston Spaceships – Let it Beard

The Originals – California Sunset

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