...Mambo Sinuendo doesn't exactly redress the balance, but he's back in full electric...
Chris Jones 2003
Whither Ryland Cooder? The world's foremost slide guitarist, über-sessioneer and general guardian of music with authenticity has, for the last few years, subsumed his profile under projects that threw the spotlight onto musicians that the Western world had yet to 'discover'. The Buena Vista Social Club and Ali Farka Touré etc. all benefited from from Ry's commitment to educating, enlightening and entertaining. But where's the man that made Into The Purple Valley, Chicken Skin Music or Paris, Texas? Well, Mambo Sinuendo doesn't exactly redress the balance, but he's back in full electric form, and world music this ain't.
Cooder's not the first to attempt to conjure up his childhood years in the form of musical nostalgia. Many artists from Billy Joel to Neil Young have recalled their post-war years, emerging at the cusp of jazz's transformation into rock 'n' roll. Donald Fagen's Nightfly erred on the side of smooth sophistication with its evocation of 50s optimism, but Mambo Sinuendo remains closer to Tom Verlaine's underrated Warm And Cool, with retro-reverbed guitars and whammy bar whooziness.
Joining forces with Manuel Galban, former member of Cuba's premier vocal group of the 50s and 60s, Los Zafiros, Mambo... plays homage to the Perez Prado school of cha-cha rock 'n' roll (there's a delightfully cheesy version of Prado's ''Patricia'' here). Sinuous rhythmscourtesy of old pal Jim Keltner, collide with girly choruses -all Duane Eddy holidaying in Havana. Remember the seedy Cuban club Fredo took Michael to in The Godfather Part 2? This is the soundtrack.
Galban's grit and twang (one track is even called ''Los Twangueros'' A result of Ry's inability to find a suitably descriptive term in Spanish!) is more than matched by Cooder's trademark growl, especially on "Monte A Dentro". It's a welcome return to a sound unheard since Get Rhythm and perfectly showcased in such a warm and humorously danceable setting. However it's the penultimate track, a slow extemporised version of the jazz standard ''Secret Love'' that really stands out here. Cooder's twitches, flourishes and tentative pickings all put one in mind of the only other man to approach the guitar with such a breadth of vision- Marc Ribot.
So he's still in love with Castro's Caribbean hideaway and this is an exquisite tropical jewel of an album. In these uncertain times he's a lucky man to have been granted a special dispensation (courtesy of Bill Clinton) to visit Cuba at all. But maybe the signs are here that he's turning his eyes homeward at last. Not before time...