Ry Cooder Election Special Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Cooder comes out fighting on this presidential election-themed collection.

Colin Irwin 2012

Even by Ry Cooder’s characteristically rarefied standards, this is a noble curiosity. After inspirational adventures with Cuban, Mexican and many other musical styles – not to mention a series of blissfully evocative movie soundtracks – Cooder gathers up his considerable roots in blues and R&B and steams into Barack Obama’s corner to help him hang on to the US presidency.

America does have a tradition of campaigning songwriting, though it has rarely been as overt as Cooder’s approach here. He plays a variety of instruments, with son Joachim on drums, on a snarling succession of songs aimed right at jugular of the 2012 election.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney is mercilessly lampooned in a shuffling blues written from the viewpoint of his pet dog, while the likes of Wall Street, Guantanamo, the Koch brothers and Sarah Palin are savaged by an artist sounding more animated than he’s done for years.

Amongst this incendiary fare is a Robert Johnson deal-with-the-devil crossroads moment on Brother is Gone, highlighted by a wonderful mandolin arrangement. Elsewhere, more general attacks are made on Republican values with Kool-Aid – blistering electric guitar and jagged production disguising an updated Cocaine Blues – and the stomping The Wall Street Part of Town.

Nods to America’s heritage abound, both lyrically and musically, in the strident R&B of Take Your Hands Off It, while The 90 and the 9, which references The Rolling Stones’ The Last Time, is a rather touching homage to Woody Guthrie, who knew something about political observation.

Obama is vigorously defended on an impassioned Cold Cold Feeling, though its sympathetic tone is distorted by Cooder’s weirdly strangulated vocals on a desperate blues depicting a slightly manic, paranoid figure, wilting under the pressures of office as he paces the White House floor.

The album’s long-term problem is whether it have any meaning or relevance once the election is done and dusted. Well, no, probably not in thematic terms; but the scathing humour of Going to Tampa is timeless and the thunderous Guantanamo, the sort of song Springsteen must wish he’d written, will remain a classic, whoever’s in the Oval Office.

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