After the occasionally rewarding, but hard, haul through his concept albums Chavez Ravine, My Name is Buddy and I Flathead, Cooder re-enters the present by taking a hot poker to Wall St greed and the bail-out (No Banker Left Behind), has Jesse James come back to Earth to mete out justice to the corrupt, and address Americans in foreign wars ("our children will be coming in plastic bags") and the plight of Mexican migrants. Cooder has God considering how Man and his creation have turned out on Humpty Dumpty World: "Television was the worst of all."
However he couches these pointed lyrics in music which refers to the dustbowl era, rural blues, Tex-Mex (with accordionist Flaco Jimenez) and old-time folk.
Dirty Chateau is a beautiful bittersweet ballad with an old man reflecting on better days, Baby Joined the Army is back-porch acoustic blues (a woman signs up to escape dead-end America), which refers to Robert Johnson but sounds contemporary, and John Lee Hooker for President calls up the spirit and moan of Hook.
Cooder delivers songs steeped in lacerating humour, wisdom, anger, the long traditions of American music and closes with the weary, almost forgiving No Hard Feelings, a nod to Woody Guthrie ("this land should have been our land, you took it for your land"). Exceptional.
Verdict: Wry Ry brings old styles and politics to America in crisis
- TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz