Though this release carries the deceptive subtitle Another Record by Ry Cooder, the virtuosic guitarist and ethnomusicological adventurer has never released another album quite like this.
And neither has anyone else. After brilliant side trips into the music of pre-Castro Cuba and pre-baseball Chavez Ravine, Cooder returns to the Depression-era and Dust Bowl ballads that marked his earliest solo releases of the 1970s.
Yet most of this material is original, offering a populist parable of three fellow travelers: Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse, and the Reverend Tom Toad.
The tradition of putting pointed social commentary in the mouths of animals extends from Animal Farm to Pogo, and Buddy seems like a feline cross between Woody Guthrie and Joe Hill--a troubadour of union solidarity, interspecies brotherhood, and radical populism.
Though Cooder’s cartoon vocals occasionally sound a little mannered, the music throughout ranks with his best, as he reunites with conjunto accordion master Flaco Jimenez and soul singers Terry Evans and Bobby King, enlists banjo brothers Pete and Mike Seeger, and receives inspired support from the Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney, pianist Van Dyke Parks, and drummers Jim Keltner and (his son) Joachim Cooder.
Whether he’s channeling his inner Chet Baker on ˝Green Dog˝ or closing with the utopian vision of ˝There’s a Bright Side Somewhere,˝ Cooder shows more sides of his multifaceted music than he has on any previous release