Ry Cooder

By - Nov 1st, 2005 02:52 pm
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By Barry Wightman


Ry Cooder, the guitarist widely known these days for Buena Vista Social Club, in which he showcased pre-Castro era Cuban musicians, now offers the world the melodic and jumpy Chavez Ravine.

That’s CHA-vez. Just as he provided a venue for aging Cubans before they were gone and forgotten, Cooder, in 15 songs, shines a light on the unknown tale of how a dusty hillside Los Angeles Mexican neighborhood known as Chavez Ravine was razed in the 1950s in a “greasy handoff” to the newly arrived Dodgers baseball team. Think of the movie Chinatown. Crooked red-baiting right wing politicos, innocent citizens believing “it can’t happen here,” cool cats being beaten up by GIs, and a UFO-driving Space Vato (space guy) who recognizes the Ravine as the hip place to land; these are the players in Cooder’s loving 21st century concept album.

The beautifully packaged Nonesuch CD includes a booklet worthy of a very small coffee table. The record has a handmade, non-digital feel with an airy sound that hints at L.A.’s El Hoyo Club in 1955. The record’s opening track, “Poor Man’s Paradise,” is driven by Cooder’s clean guitar and jazzy harmonies; “El UFO Cayo” is a slow, dreamy, late night swirl of guitars. “Muy Fifi” rocks with a thumping bass under L.A. legend Ersi Arvizu’s gutsy vocals. “3rd Base Dodger Stadium,” a lovely lament sung beautifully by Hawaiian singer Bla Pahinui, recounts how former residents of Chavez Ravine can pinpoint where their own home plate used to be. We should all be so lucky.  VS

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