All in all, 'My Name Is Buddy' is easier to admire than actually enjoy.
Jon Lusk 2007-03-08
Another rambling concept album from this serial collaborator, My Name Is Buddy is more coherent than Chavez Ravine (2005), just as lengthy and even more musically diverse, pretty well running the gamut of what Cooder calls ‘American vernacular music’. While he almost sounded like a guest on his previous effort, here he’s the lead character of a fractured, impressionistic narrative. He’s making more use of his voice than on any of his work since the late ’70s, albeit often disguised by treatments or vocal affectations, even sounding a bit like his old boss Captain Beefheart in places.
It’s a brave man who kicks off an album with the words ‘When I was still a kitten…’ but this is Cooder as Buddy Red Cat, a naïve young thing who sets out on a journey of (self) discovery with his friends Lefty Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad – a clear nod to Tom Joad of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie in this allegorical ode to long-vanished or perhaps dormant left-wing American values.
On first hearing, there’s a preponderance of nursery rhyme-like melodies, probably because (as Cooder freely acknowledges) they’re largely based on public domain material, including hymns; the rather churchy “Cat and Mouse” suggests Warren Zevon in his more pious persona. The swampy Little-Feat-meets-the-Stones boogie of “Three Chords And The Truth” is an obvious standout, and the lounge bar vibes of “Green Dog” is an intriguing extended piece. It’s also impressive the way the old-timey waltz of “The Dying Truck Driver” segues into a Tex Mex waltz (“Christmas In Southgate”, with Flaco Jiménez shining on accordion as one of many illustrious guests). Elsewhere, there’s plunking bluegrass, gospel and more, plus plenty of wry tales with contemporary resonance, such as “One Cat, One Vote, One Beer.”
It’s an album that demands patience, as well as suspension of disbelief. The trick of using animals to get a political message across saves it from being too earnest, but by the umpteenth mention of the ‘working man’, you may be wondering what it is the rest of us (including wimmin!) do all day. All in all, My Name Is Buddy is easier to admire than actually enjoy.