The Prodigal Son
Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group
Ry Cooder began his recording career in 1970 with his self-titled debut. In 1972 he followed up with two widely acclaimed albums that helped develop his artistry; “Into The Purple Valley” with its movie-like cover and “Boomer’s Story”. On these albums Cooder covered older often obscure songs which he updated. Songs like “How Can You Keep on Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)” and “Rally ‘Round the Flag”; songs which do not fall within a given genre. He also covered Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, and Dan Penn; and mixed Tex Mex and Hawaiian music with his folk and blues. Cooder helped create a new genre we now call Americana. This is Cooder’s seventeenth solo album the last being 2012’s wry “Election Special”. He also recorded thirteen additional collaborations, seventeen movie soundtrack albums and four compilations.
“The Prodigal Son” is social commentary through a collection of songs including originals and covers of some of Cooder’s favorite spirituals. Cooder states “I do connect the political/economic dimensions with the inner life of people, since people are at risk and oppressed on all sides in our world today; there is some kind of reverence mood that takes hold when you play and sing these songs.” The album is co-produced by Cooder and his son Joachim who also plays drums and percussion throughout the recording.
Covered is “Straight Street” from the gospel group The Pilgrim Travelers who were a major influence on Ray Charles. This song was first recorded in 1955. Cooder plays mandolin, banjo, guitar, bass and keys and sings beautifully “well I used to live on Broadway, right next to the liar’s house…so I moved…and I’m living on straight street now.
Two songs come from Blind Willie Johnson both recorded in the late 1920’s “Everybody Ought To Treat a Stranger Right” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. “I’ll Be Rested When The Roll is Called” from Blind Roosevelt Graves and “You Must Unload” from Blind Alfred Reed are from the same time period. “Now you fashion-loving Christians sure give me the blues…you’ll never get to heaven in your jewel-encrusted high heel shoes…you must, you must unload”. This was the golden age of spirituals.
“In His Care” is from William Levi Dawson who was The Choral Director at The Tuskegee Institute and who passed in 1990. “Harbor of Love” is from Carter Stanley who along with his brother Ralph formed the bluegrass band The Stanley Brothers. Carter passed in 1966.
Cooder’s three originals include “Shrinking Man” with the lyric “sometimes I worry ‘bout clothes, ‘cause a shrinking man’s got to look good sometime, don’t need no sweatshop child puttin’ shoes on my feet …look as good as you can, but please don’t rob your fellow man”.
“Gentrification” was written with Joachim. “This building’s been sold…take the buyout, relocate, the Googlemen are coming downtown, so don’t be late”.
The third song is “Jesus and Woody” with the lyric “I don’t mean a war for oil or gold, or trivial thingsof that kind but I heard the news, the vigilante man is on the move this time, so sing me a song ‘bout this land is your land and fascists bound to lose you were a dreamer Mr. Guthrie, and I was a dreamer too”. The title track is a traditional tune re-arranged.
This album paints a mural of our ailing moral landscape. On display are our country’s heart and the soul of Ry Cooder.