BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Ry Cooder is, by any and every definition, an American icon. Revered as much for the indelible impression he’s made on modern music — he’s performed with everyone from Taj Mahal, with whom he co-helmed the legendary band the Rising Sons, to such notables as the Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, the Doobie Brothers and dozens more for whom he’s offered his support — he’s consistently made a point of stretching his musical boundaries without regard as to where he’s been either before or since. Granted, his music is based in the blues and other vintage variations of purely American music, but he’s never hesitated to venture out in new and different directions when it befits his muse.
In a very real sense then, The Prodigal Son lives up to its title, a return to his earliest archival sounds. “Gentrification” retraces the jaunty whimsy of his work with Taj Mahal (although the carefree rhythms and well-heeled brass also bring to mind the multicultural excursions of Paul Simon as well), while the age old blues standards “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Straight Street” provide apt reminders of just how adept Cooder always is when indulging in traditional standards. Mostly though, these are songs that reflect reverence and reflection, and so it’s not surprising that “The Prodigal Son,” “Harbor of Love” “You Must Unload” and “I’ll Be Rested When the Roll is Called” temper their sentiments with a sincere sense of revival, making them songs that are celebratory even in the subtlest sense. Indeed, the faith and fervor are contagious.
That then is why Cooder is so much more than a master musician. He’s an artist who takes pride in furthering the sounds that are so essential to the broader scope of American music. (Simply listen to his stirring original “Jesus and Woody” for all the evidence neededThat in itself is well enough reason to welcome the prodigal son home.
DOWNLOAD: “Straight Street,” :Gentrification,” “I’ll Be Rested When the Roll Is Called”