Ravine (Nonesuch/Perro Verde)
subtitled “A Re- cord by Ry Cooder,” this CD, as much fantasy
as documentary, is a record in the many senses of that word.
It’s Cooder’s attempt to deconstruct and reconstruct a Latino
neighborhood in Los Angeles that the city razed in the early
’50s to make way for Dodger Stadium.
Infused with news bites from the period highlighting the Red
Scare and UFOs, this is colored by contributions from legendary
L.A. musicians like Thee Midniters’ Little Willie G., and
the last recording of Don Tosti, creator of the zoot-suited
Pachuco sound (Tosti died last August). Chavez Ravine
is one of the most original and heartfelt records master musician-cultural
catalyst Cooder has ever released. It also signals his ambivalent,
complex reentry into U.S. culture after spending most of the
’90s resurrecting pre-Castro Cuban music in the Buena Vista
Social Club and its numerous spinoffs.
Some tracks are disturbing, many are sad; some rock hard,
particularly the sly “Muy Fifi” and “Chinito Chinito,” the
churning re-creation of a single Tosti recorded in 1949.
Like In the Shadow of No Towers, Art Spiegelman’s brilliant
graphic novel about 9/11, history and commentary swirl here,
creating a unique brew. May Cooder continue to mix past and
present into even more stirring homages.
Italian Story (Rhino)
A whistled melody commences after the first eight bars of
“Fashion Party,” the opening number of this instrumental set.
The whistler is none other than Alessandro Alessandroni, who
provided the high and lonesome signature element in the Ennio
Morricone soundtracks for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns.
Musician and composer Daniele Luppi lives in Los Angeles,
but grew up in Italy, where he heard a steady stream of movie
and television scores in the ’60s and ’70s. An Italian
Story is his celebration of that music. He returned to
his homeland and enlisted many of the same players, recording
the album at the same studio in Rome where they’d originally
worked. Telecinesound still had the same analog equipment,
perfectly maintained and surrounded by a decor that hadn’t
changed since the facility’s ’70s heyday. The 12 songs are
a bracing pastiche of jazzy riffs, rock propulsion, and lush
atmospherics. Luppi’s half-dozen musicians were the equivalent
of Los Angeles’ famed Wrecking Crew, the faceless studio players
who were on hundreds of radio hits 30 and 40 years ago.
The disc plays like a soundtrack to myriad aspects of life.
It’s the sound of driving down a tree-lined highway or seeing
the sun set over the ocean; it’s also the sound of a party
winding down or a rainy night. The arrangements evoke an earlier
era, but also underscore the compellingly modernist instincts
of the day. No museum piece or nostalgia-fest, this is a perfectly
agreeable soundtrack for today. Sure, fuzz guitars sprung
forth from the ’60s, but in service to the right music, they’re
just another delightful possibility in the palette of a smart
arranger and composer.
and the Girl-Faced Boys
Wildly surreal, gorgeous and irritating, Git ultimately
wins you over with its originality and daring. It’s a hell
of a pop record.
Formed at Oberlin College by Matt Mehlan, this cerebral collective
known as Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys are determinedly
electronic and rhythmic. At the same time, Mehlan writes beautiful
melodies, like “See the Way,” the jittery, hypnotic title
track and the psychedelic, churchy “While We Were at the Movies”
(Mehlan knows his Beach Boys).
Sparked by the amazing synthesizer of Peter Blasser and the
daring percussion of Severiano Martinez, this feels cybernetic.
No matter how electronic it gets, nature is always lurking;
even the final track, the archly titled “Do You Feel Any Better?,”
settles into pastorale following fevered synthesizer throbs
and twitterings and Mehlan’s phased vocals. The first experience
might drive you crazy. But you’ll want to revisit it just
to hear (or is it see?) it through.
The iconoclastic, sharp-minded Git is in the tradition
of early Pere Ubu recordings, when mystical keyboardist Allen
Ravenstine balanced David Thomas’ otherworldly bleats. It
also evokes Human Switchboard, a daring Kent alternapop group
of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Pop so startling deserves
a wide audience.