Live In San Francisco
Ry Cooder’s first official live album in over 30 years returns him to San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the scene of, among so many other musical triumphs, Cooder’s previous live album, Show Time.
Returning also – longstanding musical chum Flaco Jimenez (accordion maestro) and vocalist Terry Evans. The rest of the band – Corridos Famosos – features Cooder’s son Joachim on drums, his daughter-in-law Juliette Commagere on vocals (she takes the lead here on Volver Volver), wonderful backing vocalist Arnold McCuller and the ten-piece Mexican brass band La Banda Juvenil.
Right, that’s the formal stuff out of the way – oh, and also this was recorded in 2011, so after Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down but before last year’s Election Special. But it’s a brand new September release, 2013.
So now we know about the background I can tell you that this record fairly fucking hums!
It’s beautiful. Glorious. For a start the crowd is so on side, energetic, spirited. And, wisely, this sounds like a good old fashioned live recording – the crowd up in the mix. They give you indications instantly that it’s going to be good. I mean, Ry starting with old favourite, Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile (Every Woman I Know) is certainly a clue that things are going to be (very) good but the crowd is so on by the time Why Don’t You Try Me arrives to follow. Plenty of old favourites (Boomer’s Story) and in fact a small handful of these songs were on 1977’s Show Time – and have probably appeared almost every time that Cooder has performed live in-between these concert documents. But the new songs are superb too.
Check out Lord Tell Me Why from Pull Up Some Dust. Man, this version absolutely cranks. And El Corrido de Jesse James, another of Cooder’s “bitter little ballads” smokes along just find too.
There’s a lovely version of Dark End of The Street and an impassioned Vigilante Man. There’s a fun sidestep cover of Wooly Bully and the closer is Goodnight Irene.
Jimenez is wonderful; Evans, McCuller and Commagere blend beautifully and savour their leads. Ry too is in good-gravel voice. And that guitar – of course – it’s snake-winding and heat-evoking, it’s the desert, it’s the history of guitar music, it’s raw and always ready.
But it’s about the passion of this performance and the reception, indeed the passion in the reception. It’s about this band – a stunning amalgam of mariachi and blues and little moments of Cooder playing solo, just flawless and ethereal and so full of emotion.
And it is still about a one-of-a-kind musician that harnesses all of this.
He remains a class act. In fact he’s (almost) getting better. A book of short stories, a handful of very strong albums since returning from the wilderness of soundtrack guy, sideman and development officer for the discovery of underappreciated Cuban musicians – he’s on a roll. A major roll. You’d almost call it career-high. And then you remember all that amazing stuff that came before it, that informs this – that incredible run of albums across the 1970s.
This sits comfortably alongside those.
A total class act. And a wonderful set too – the hits, sure. But a few surprises. A few new ways into the old songs; a musician always seeking and always finding the truth of a song; the truth in a song.
This is a must-hear/must-have record. The best live record I’ve heard in a very long time. A live record for fans of live records. A live record for fans of Ry Cooder. A decent enough introduction to the man (though I doubt there’s anyone still reading that hasn’t heard a Cooder album or two already) and a live album that I reckon would appeal even to those so sure they don’t dig on concert recordings.
A spirited set of performances from 2011. I’m glad they made it to tape. For this is now easily one of my favourite releases from 2013