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Dodger Blues
By Carlo Wolff

Ry Cooder

Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch/Perro Verde)

Pointedly 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.

Daniele Luppi

An 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.

—David Greenberger

Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys

Git (Ghostly)

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.

—Carlo Wolff


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