Ry Cooder: ‘The Prodigal Son’ review - Balm over brute force

Fri, May 11, 2018, 05:15

   
 

Album:
The Prodigal Son

Artist:
Ry Cooder

Label:
Fantasy

Genre:
Alternative

“The struggle for workers, the hope for things to get better, our music’s good for that, it tells those stories really well …” Ry Cooder hasn’t lost the activist voice that drove Election Special, his last new album, just before Obama’s re-election, but The Prodigal Son is a softer shade of his political self, more balm than brute force.

To achieve this album’s often mesmeric effect, Cooder, now 71, returns to the intimacy of a small gritty band and what he terms the “reverence” of gospel music, black and white, colouring it with his shivering sinewy bottleneck guitar over his drummer son Joachim’s moody underlays.

While there are three fine Cooder originals, the anti-globalisation Shrinking Man, the humorous protest of Gentrification and the subdued call to arms of Jesus and Woody, the other eight tracks allow him to explore hopes and fears of earlier times in a current context.

His version of songs such as Blind Willie Johnson’s Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right and Carter Stanley’s Harbour of Love reveal gospel songs as a “search, a quest”, and, not least, a real treat for those who love roots music.