BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Ry Cooder is one of those lucky few who never had to give up his day job as a much sought after session player in order to pursue a consistent career as a celebrated solo artist. Although he started releasing albums on his own well over 45 years ago, it’s his slew of recent offerings over the last few years that has boosted his reputation as a leading purveyor of world music and traditional fare. Surprisingly though, Cooder’s efforts have never been consolidated into a concert recording, which finds Live at San Francisco finally fitting the bill.
In truth, the album doesn’t just capture a concert, but rather an entire revue. Guests wander in and out. Singers Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller share the spotlight on a moving version of the venerable standard “The Dark End of the Street.” Accordionist Flaco Jimenez, a long time Cooder collaborator, takes a turn towards south of the border with a lively version of Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi.” Likewise, singer La Banda Juvenil, turns in a stirring Spanish ballad, “Volver Volver.” Still, this Cooder’s show, and the rowdy response of the audience affirms appreciation for his sassy, tongue-in-cheek repartee along with his lively choice of material. Among the highlights — the rocking boogie of “Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile,” the uptown R&B of “Why Don’t You Try Me,” a boisterous “Wooly Bully,” and the Tejano take on a popular outlaw legend, “El Corrido de Jesse James.” It seems to suggest a spontaneous set, especially given the between-song patter. Indeed, it’s that free-flowing vibe that helps make this seem more like an overdue reunion for the home town crowd as much as any attempt at a polished performance.
Therein lies the charm. Cooder’s journeyman status has finally comes full circle, and he’s sounding more essential than ever.
DOWNLOAD: “El Corrido de Jesse James.” “Dark End of the Street,” “Do Re Mi”