As good a riposte to the grubby, grabbing times we live in as any artist has mustered.
Andy Fyfe 2011-08-30
When Ry Cooder recorded his first two albums, collections of songs by the likes of Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie that evoked the desperate times of the Great Depression, he could scarcely have imagined that 40 years later he’d be singing of the same old problems, but relating them to modern times.
In the intervening years since that eponymous 1970 debut and the following year’s Into the Purple Valley, Cooder has learned to trust his own songwriting rather than relying on his encyclopaedic folk and blues knowledge, and few of his nearly 30 albums and soundtracks have been as strong as this.
His last album, I, Flathead in 2008, told the story of beatnik salt flats racer Kash Buk, and although one theme similarly emerges from Pull Up Some Dust…, here Cooder delivers numerous desperate, broken, bloodied and disenfranchised folk left to rot by those who put greed before humanity. Individually they are studies in blues, country, dustbowl folk and boogie, but collectively they add up to a powerful state of the nation address.
Bleak humour streaks most of Pull Up Some Dust…, whether it’s the hard-done-by financiers dragging up the ladders on No Banker Left Behind, maimed soldiers returning home in the anti-war polka Christmas Time This Year, or his hilarious impersonation on John Lee Hooker for President, which imagines The Hook’s manifesto for the White House ("Everyone gets one bourbon, one scotch, one beer / Three times a day if they stay cool / And little chill’uns get milk, cream and alcohol / Two times a day if they stay involved in school").
Elsewhere, Jesse James contemplates returning from Heaven to visit some Old West justice on Wall Street in the Tennessee waltzing El Corrido de Jesse James, the pleasures of an uncomplicated life are extolled in Tex-Mex ballad Simple Tools and The Almighty is lambasted for His negligence in If There’s a God. In the end, however, on parting shot No Hard Feelings Cooder dismisses the rich and powerful as ripples in history welcome to go their way if they let him travel his own path.
Good luck with that, Ry, but this is about as good and sustained a riposte to the grubby, grabbing times we live in as any artist has mustered, which makes it essential listening.