Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let’s Have A Ball

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Someone told me once they didn’t like Ry Cooder, a sentiment I’d place in the same category as saying you don’t like, say, chocolate: as an attitude it’s within the bounds of possibility but it requires a considerable effort of sympathetic imagination to appreciate. Let’s Have A Ball is a 90-minute Ry Cooder concert film by the great documentary filmmaker Les Blank, better known for Burden of Dreams (1982), his chronicle of the trials of Werner Herzog and company during the making of Fitzcarraldo. Burden of Dreams is that rare thing among “making of” films, a documentary that’s as fascinating as the film whose production it depicts.

Let’s Have A Ball catches Ry Cooder and his band playing at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California, on March 25th, 1987 during their Get Rhythm tour. I’d seen this when it was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1988 but don’t have it on tape so thanks go to the Metafilter people for drawing attention to the entire concert at YouTube. The film was screened in Europe and elsewhere but not in the US, and for now remains unavailable in any official capacity for unspecified reasons; Les Blank’s site says Cooder doesn’t want it released. This is surprising since it’s a fantastic concert film, the sound quality and performances are easily as good as anything on his live albums. In addition to great renditions of Cooder’s back catalogue you get to see several of his regular collaborators in action, not least Van Dyke Parks playing some typically idiosyncratic piano. The high spot is a 16-minute version of Down In Hollywood where everyone, singers included, gets to show off their solo prowess.

The band:
Ry Cooder: guitar, vocals
Jim Keltner: drums
Van Dyke Parks: keyboards
Jorge Calderon: bass
Flaco Jiménez: accordion
Miguel Cruiz: percussion
Steve Douglas: sax
George Bohannon: trombone
Singers: Bobby King, tenor; Terry Evans, baritone; Arnold McCuller, tenor; Willie Green Jr, bass

The songs:
Let’s Have A Ball
Jesus On The Mainline
How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?
Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb
Down In Mississippi
Maria Elena
Just A Little Bit
The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)
Crazy About An Automobile
Chain Gang
Down In Hollywood
Good Night Irene

Previously on { feuilleton }
My Name Is Buddy by Ry Cooder

My Name Is Buddy by Ry Cooder

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Ry Cooder rules. New album out today sees Ry accompanied by Mike & Pete Seeger, Roland White, Van Dyke Parks, Paddy Moloney, Flaco Jiménez, Stefon Harris, Joachim Cooder and Jon Hassell. Cover drawing and interior illustrations by Vincent Valdez.

On My Name Is Buddy, Ry Cooder revisits, in a new set of original material, the sound and feeling of the “dust bowl songs” he first explored more than three decades ago on such groundbreaking albums as his self-titled 1970 debut and 1971’s Into The Purple Valley. In fact, he’s joined by old friends like pianist Van Dyke Parks and drummer Jim Keltner who were with him at the start of his extraordinary, ultimately globe-spanning musical odyssey, which has yielded him six Grammy Awards to date, several more nominations, and perennial acclaim. My Name Is Buddy is also a journey, a phantasmagorical rendering in music, words and pictures of the travels of three unlikely cohorts—Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad—as they meander through the west “in the days of labor, big bosses, farm failures, strikes, company cops, sundown towns, hobos and trains…the America of yesteryear.” For this allegorical tale, Cooder marshals all his remarkable skills as a producer, arranger, songwriter, soundtrack composer and musicologist. (The Christian Science Monitor recently dubbed him “a modern-day Alan Lomax.”) My Name Is Buddy recalls Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory—that is, if it had been enacted by the articulate animal characters of Walt Kelly’s classic comic Pogo. Cooder conjures up the dark shadows of an earlier time to wryly comment on the political and social issues of the present. As back-story to his songs, Cooder has written short stories for each one and they’re accompanied by evocative illustrations from noted San Antonio-based painter and muralist Vincent Valdez, all of which are included in a specially designed package.