Ry Cooder ‘Election special’ (Nonesuch) 3/5

As US presidential election night looms, musical personalities of the calibre of Jay Z and Bruce Springsteen have lent their support to candidates and previously in the world of rock Neil Young has been just one of many musicians to wear his political convictions on his musical sleeve. World and American roots pioneer Ry Cooder has decided to devote an entire album to various aspects of the political process and the result is a qualified success. Of direct interest to the current contest, Cooder sets out in the opener his own preference on ‘Mutt Romney blues’ which, it is safe to say, has not been played repeatedly on the Republican candidate’s tour bus. This album works best with the rootsier numbers where Ry Cooder’s genius for simple melodies is all too apparent. Thus ‘Goin’ to Tampa’ with Sarah Palin as its principal subject matter has all the feel of a dustbowl blues while equally folksy is the father-child discussion of politics on ‘The 90 and the 9’. Arguably the most melodic song of all is ‘Brother is gone which has a fictional meeting with Satan’ and featuring some neat banjo licks. Where the album falls down slightly is in the overuse of rock-tinged songs that are really a pretext for Cooder to express his views which might just as easily have been conveyed in printed or web form. Of these probably the most convincing and universal in message is ‘Take your hands off it’. The dissonant guitar soloing à la Marc Ribot on ‘Kool aid’ impresses and the accompanying instrumentation, particularly the heavy bassline, is downright moody. More songs in this vein would have enhanced the album as a whole significantly. It is left to the outright rocker ‘The Wall Street part of town’ (Steve Earle would have been in his element here and maybe a potential duet between the two will possible in the future. Tim Stenhouse

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