The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO Has Landed
REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/28/2008
Ry Cooder is now 61 years old and a couple years into his fifth decade as a performing artist. His early years included a stint in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, and he also played with Taj Mahal for a spell. He then brought his mandolin and slide guitar skills to such classic Rolling Stones albums as Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers.
Ry Cooder has released over thirty albums during his career. His early releases focused on a blues/rock sound, on which he developed his vocal skills. In recent years, he has moved toward explorations of a Tex-Mex sound and has even delved into the music of
The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO Has Landed is a double CD that presents and explores the best of Cooder’s extensive catalogue. Collected here are thirty-four tracks that begin with his first recorded song and conclude with some of his most recent efforts.
One of the main problems with anthologies is that the songs are presented outside of their original context, pulled from their albums of origin. Balancing this fact, at least in this case, is that you receive just about every one of Cooder’s superior tracks in one package. Another plus for this release is not only the tight production and clear sound but the booklet which contains his thoughts and comments about each song. It places each track in context to him as an artist and human being and establishes an intimacy with the listener.
The album bursts out of the gate with an up-tempo, rocking version of the old Johnny Cash tune, “Get Rhythm.” I have heard a lot of cover songs in my day, but this is one of the most creative as his slide guitar gives this old song a sheen that is rarely present. “Low -- Commotion” is an instrumental that contains a country/blues feel and proves conclusively that Ry Cooder is one of the best slide guitarists to ever walk this Earth. He plays counterpoint to the drums yet remains loyal to the basic groove being laid down.
“On A Monday” is a tribute to Leadbelly. Cooder retains the basic approach to the song by putting the guitar behind the vocal. “Which Came First’ is another straight blues track but with an ominous feel to it.
“Let’s Work Together” is a song of New Orleans jazz/blues featuring Buckwheat Zydeco on his big piano accordion. It is honky tonk or barrelhouse jazz meeting a blues slide guitar, and it all works out very well.
“Teardrops Will Fall” is a Wilson Pickett cut. Cooder lays some clean guitar licks that remain true to the original, but the vocal takes the track in a more rock direction. The old Josh White tune, “Tamp ‘Em Up Solid,” is given a subtle performance here, with Cooder accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar. “Billy The Kid” features a stark vocal and some of the best mandolin work this side of an old Bill Monroe recording. There is also a nice light, tongue-in-cheek performance of the Billy Emerson song, “Crazy ‘Bout My Automobile (Every Woman I Know)” And so it goes.
The only weak songs are a couple from his movie soundtrack work, which seem lost, and two tracks where he is just exploring his guitar sound outside of a firm song structure.
The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO Has Landed will be a delight for any fan of Ry Cooder and a must for any aficionado of the guitar sound.