Serious music for serious times
No ads on the ABC? Don’t believe it for a minute. Last Sunday’s Insiders was chockers with ads.
The political interview guy, Graig Emerson, was plugging his book, Vital Signs, Vibrant Society, even offering to sign copies for an extra buck.
Then host Barrie Cassidy gave a big leg up to sometime Insiders couch buddy George Megalogenis’s new volume of thoughts, facts and analysis, The Australian Moment.
And the show closed with yours truly throwing in a “do yourself a favour” minute by suggesting people wrap their ears around Bruce Springsteen’s new disc, Wrecking Ball, a political shout into the daylight out this week.
We’ll have a bit to say about the Springsteen opus later but straight after the show one of the floor crew whispered in my ear.
“Have you heard Ry Cooder’s Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down?” he asked. “You betcha,” I shot back and we exchanged hurried views.
Anyone who saw Cooder when he toured early last year with his mate Nick Lowe will have seen how angry he is about the plight of his fellow Americans.
He finished that show with a bitter version of the old Blind Alfred Reed tune from 1929, How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live, a blistering spit penned in the depths of the Great Depression.
“There’s bodies a floatin’ on Canal and the levees gone to Hell/Martha, get me my sixteen gauge and some dry shells,” sang Cooder, after lamenting the greed and social destruction bringing his homeland to its knees.
His Pull Up Some Dust record kicks off with a rollicking little Woody Guthrie-ish tune, No Banker Left Behind in which he accuses the Wall Street finance houses of having “robbed the nation blind”.
The record is done in Cooder’s majestic style with that easy as pie, almost slack guitar and some train ride chugging rhythms. Humpty Dumpty World – a middle finger to television and its corrosive impact on society – has guitar chucks thick enough to make gumbo.
It wouldn’t be a Cooder record without a border song or two and none stands out as brilliantly as Christmas Time This Year which features the genius of Flaco Jimenez on accordion.
“Now Johnny ain’t got no legs and Bill ain’t got no face/Do they know it’s Christmas this year/Tommy looks about the same but his mind is gone/Does he know it’s Christmas time this year,” he sings.
After wishing for a mouth so he can kiss his honey on the lips, he has a simple message for ex-President George W. Bush: “Take this war and shove it up your Crawford Texas ass/And then you’ll know it’s Christmas time year.”
Lord Tell Me Why is an old fashioned song in the style of the chain gang. You can hear the jingle jangle of the ankle bracelets and the hammer of the pick hitting open rock.
“When the riots tore our city/I stood watch outside our home/My kids crying daddy/Why can’t they leave us alone,” says Cooder. Shudder as you listen.
Like a Sunday feast, there’s everything here on offer – folk, rock, blues, poetry and even a Tom Waits style stomp (a truly fist shaker called I Want My Crown).
The cherry on top is a genuine delta blues epic called John Lee Hooker For President in which he burns your brain with images like “I want nine fine lookin’ women sittin’ on the Supreme Court.
Their big legs, their tight skirts drive me out of my mind” and has suggestions that will curl your toes – such as Jimmy Reed for vice-president and Little Johnny Taylor as Secretary of State. Oh, lordy, pass the bourbon.
Throughout, Cooder plays like a man possessed – moving from guitar to mandolin and banjo and then over to bass and keys. His son Joachim is on drums and such maestros as Arturo Gallardo (clarinet), Erasto Robies (‘bone), Carlos Gonzales (trumpet), Pablo Molina (sax and alto horn) and Edgar Castro on varied percussion fill out the orchestra now and then.
Go out and buy this record. It is seriously good music and a seriously important essay on our times.
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