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Clap hands for the meltdown

John Bell

November 23, 2011

Pull up some dust and sit down By Ry Cooder

Reviewed by John Bell

If anybody was going to write the soundtrack for the new depression, it was bound to be Ry Cooder.

Cooder has been equal parts slide guitar virtuoso and musical historian since the mid 1960s. Through the 1970s he released a string of recordings featuring sly and satirical reinventions of gems from blues, gospel and the Latino tradition of his native Los Angeles–roots music before there was a term for it.

From the start he was drawn to music created by and for the working class. His takes on tunes like “How Can You Keep On Moving (Unless You Migrate Too),” “Ballad of Billy the Kid,” Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues” and Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” rediscovered and celebrated the spirit of rebellion that grew in America through the Great Depression.

In 2007 he produced My Name is Buddy, an original homage to the struggles of the Great Depression, told by Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad. It was (according to the album artwork which featured an illustration of the Communist Manifesto) a “Journey through time and space in days of labor, big bosses, farm failures, strikes, company cops, sundown towns, hobos, and trains… the America of yesteryear.” The music was a glorious blend of bluegrass, jazz, polka, Tex-Mex, blues and rock and roll.

That brings us to Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, Cooder’s response to today’s imperial wars and Wall Street greed. From the raucous opening strains of “No Banker Left Behind,” you know you’re in for smart ideas wrapped in eclectic but always appropriate musical styles.

“Christmas Time This Year” and “Baby Joined the Army” are unflinching anti-war songs. “Dirty Chateau” details the abuse of migrant workers. “Dreamer” returns to the disappointments and dignity of life in the LA barrios. “I Want My Crown” savages a legal system stacked against the working class, as Cooder growls “The working man has been cast down” to a solid rock beat.

“Lord Tell Me Why (a white man ain’t worth nothing in the world today)” is Cooder’s take on the Tea Party movement, at once satirical and sympathetic.

While this all sounds pretty down, the whole is fired up, just like the best work of the Depression troubadours Cooder admires. It is as if he is nominating himself as the Woody Guthrie of the new depression. He just might be.

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