Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone

Back in the 1990s, idly sifting through CDs in Probes Records, I stumbled across an album called A Meeting by the River that featured an Indian musician whose name was unknown to me: Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. But, drawn by Ry Cooder’s name I bought the record and once at home discovered a gem.

The Grammy award winning album is a masterclass of musical interplay, particularly outstanding considering that Cooder and Bhatt met for the first time only a half-hour before the recording. Most of all, though, it is the album’s mood of harmony and peace, a reverie of tranquillity, that enthrals the listener.

So when Vishwa Mohan Bhatt introduced his performance at the Capstone last Saturday night saying that his was as ‘music for meditation and  thepurification of the soul’ I expected a similar mood to follow. Continue reading “Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone”

Ry Cooder’s Election Special

I’ve got a bad feeling about the American Presidential election, and so has Ry Cooder.  He’s so worried that he’s rushed out a new album, Election Special, on which every track is dedicated to alerting his fellow-countrymen and the rest of the world to evil intentions of the Tea Party Republicans and their wealthy backers only interested in power, profit and war. Yes, it’s uncompromising, unapologetic, and concerned that this may be the last chance for ‘the 90 and the 9’ to hold on to their rights, their jobs, and a future for their children:

This may be the last time , I don’t know
It may be the last time for the 90 and the 9

If the Democrats don’t make it
Then I’ll have myself to blame
If we don’t raise some sand
Then our votes might slip away
And our civil rights and our equal pay
And then it’s too bad, Jim, for the 90 and the 9

They promised war was done but peace didn’t declare
Our young folks are still going there
I didn’t raise our child to go to war this time
Honey, they’re just shootin’
At the 90 and the 9

Opinion polls show Romney and Obama neck and neck.  Some say that the sane majority of Americans will remember why they voted for Obama in the first place. But, is there a sane majority in America these days? That’s what worries me.  Yesterday, The Guardian reported that an attendee at this week’s Republican party convention was removed from the conference after allegedly throwing nuts at a black camerawoman from CNN, saying ‘this is how we feed animals’.

Released in the US just in time for the Tampa Convention, Ry Cooder’s album features a cheeky ditty, ‘Going to Tampa’, voiced by a delegate who’s heading there to get ‘my ashes hauled’:

Goodbye my honey, farewell my baby
Don’t look for me around convention time
I’m bound for Tampa, in the great state of Florida
To see some distinguished friends of mine

Mitt and Rick and the pitbulls, the jolly ride and step forth
To the highest bidder each will guarantee
I’d give all my money sir if Palin calls me honey
And shakes the pizzas on my tree

‘Cause I’m goin’ to Tampa in the morning
Got my credentials in my overalls
But I can’t take you with me little darling
I’m going down to get my ashes hauled

If they can just find another Willie Horton, he opines, ‘we can petrify the nation and bring the votes from Mexico somehow’.  This guy dreams of reasserting states’ rights and Jim Crow laws.  In his sleeve notes to the album, Cooder wonders whether ‘as a mother, will Sarah Palin lead the Republican convention in a prayer for Treyvon?’

Election Special is full of folk, blues, and gospel themes brilliantly played by Cooder on guitar, mandolin and bass, with his son Joachim on drums.  Its songs draw upon old traditions of radical America reinterpreted for 2012, and in them Cooder takes direct and sometimes humorous aim at rapacious capitalists, big corporations and corrupt politicians.  An album consisting of nothing but political songs could end up an unlistenable disaster, but Election Special is entertaining, enjoyable to listen to, and musically seductive.  Many of these songs will last, like Woody Guthrie’s did.

In an interview with The Guardian, Cooder explained how these songs differ from the protest songs of the sixties:

Well, I don’t know how to write soldier music. They were soldiers’ songs so people could go out and hit the frontline. We shall overcome and so forth. And you need those types of songs. Especially in the Occupy movement. I think they’re going to want to have songs like that, it’ll be helpful. But I don’t know how to do that really. That’s a different kind of musical brain up there. So what I look at is these bleak stories: they’re narratives and they introduce you to a character and the character says something.

The album opens with the plaintive ‘Mutt Romney Blues’, voiced by the dog that Romney once strapped to the roof of his car for a long family road trip.  In his  forthright Guardian interview, Cooder explained that his loathing for Romney is fuelled as much by the way his business interests have raped the environment, as by his policies:

Romney is as bad as anyone can be. He’s a dangerous man. He’s a cruel man. He’s a perfect creation for what the Republican party is all about. And that is to say, a rapacious capitalist.  Anyone who ran Bain Capital is not your friend. All they’re going to do is rape and pillage the land.

The targets in ‘Brother Is Gone’ are the Koch Brothers who head up Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the United States and who liberally fund a bewildering range of conservative, free market and libertarian policy groups, lobbying organisations and right-wing foundations in the United States.

In an article a couple of years ago in New Yorker, Jane Mayer wrote:

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry – especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests…. Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a ‘kingpin of climate science denial’.  The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program – that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In his sleeve notes, Ry Cooder observes, ‘The only logical explanation for the Brothers I could come up with is, they made their deal at the crossroads with Satan. Satan will need to get paid, but in the meantime, they are doing everything in their power to hurt you and me. The big hurt’.

Oil spills and cancer towns was our stepping stones
Immigration bills and foreclosure homes
States’ rights we proclaimed
Like in the good old Jim Crow days
Our highest aim was to take your vote away

So, in the manner of Robert Johnson’s encounter with the devil at the crossroads, and decorated with a lovely mandolin arrangement, ‘Brother is Gone’ imagines the Koch brothers owing the devil, as Cooder explained in a New York Times interview:

I thought how could you – in a song phrase – explain them? Then I thought the crossroads. Everybody understands that. I thought, That’s how I’ll start: “We made the deal, and Satan’s deal was good, ’cause he said we could have all that horrible power and do anything we want.” But Satan’s price is he’ll come for one of the Koch brothers and take him back down. He won’t say which one. He won’t say when.

‘The Wall Street Part of Town’ was clearly inspired by the spirit of solidarity invoked by the Occupy movement:

I’m in trouble again but this time I’m not the only one
I was hurtin’ before but this time I’m not a lonely one
Divide and rule, that’s always been their plan
We’re in trouble again but this time we’ve got friends

So I’ll keep walkin’ if it takes all night
Hopin’ we gonna make things right
I’m lookin’ for the Wall Street part of town

‘Is there a Wall Street part of town in your town?’ Ry asks in his sleeve note. ‘Start your own, it’s easy. When the police come, remind them that you pay their salary, such as it may be’.  Or, as he put it more bluntly in the New York Times:

The only way we are going to save the country from these bastards is unity and solidarity, and the conservatives went after unity and solidarity when they started to dismantle the labor force under Reagan.

‘Guantanamo’ is not the lilting Cuban song about a country girl from Guantanamo, but a thunderous attack on prisons everywhere, and one notorious one in particular: ‘You can’t come back from Guantanamo’.

The striking thing about this election is the lack of any of the fervour that surrounded the Obama campaign in 2008, and there’s certainly no ‘Yes We Can’ video this time. Then, youth voter turnout was the highest it had been in 35 years, and it helped propel Obama to the White House. Now, according to an article in The Guardian earlier this month, as Obama strikes a centrist tone in order to reach crucial swing voters and conditions on the ground worsen, rappers see him as ‘part of the very political establishment rappers have long held in contempt’.

But Cooder will have none of this: at the heart of this collection of songs is his belief that Americans who want to preserve their liberties, defend jobs, health care and public services must stand up for Obama.  In ‘Cold Cold Feeling’  he imagines the president, alone in the dark, walking the Oval Office floor. ‘Before you criticize and accuse, walk a mile in his shoes’, he says on the album’s sleeve.  In the Guardian interview, Cooder was asked whether he saw Obama as a good man trapped in an impossible situation:

Yes, 110%. He’s set upon by dogs. He’s prevented from doing anything because the Republicans ensured that no president and no Democrat president can ever do good again. That’s what Bush was sent in there to do: destroy the presidency, and that’s what I think he did. How do you come back from that? How do you make the presidency good again? They talk about bi-partisanship but that’s an empty word, doesn’t mean a thing. So what is Obama supposed to do? How can he operate? This healthcare thing is really quite something, if it lives. They’re going to go after it and try to destroy it, that’s the leading end of the Republican effort right now, that’s going to sink the Titanic, you know?  I mean, I think he’s a good man. He’s a smart man. He understands the constitution, therefore he must respect it. They don’t. I believe that he does.

‘Kool-Aid’ is a fearsome blues enhanced by some classic Cooder slide guitar that gives voice to a poor man who swallowed conservative arguments. Too late, he realises that the rich have given the the poor gun rights and ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws – but  defaulted on the promise of well-paid jobs and a secure future. He drank the Kool-Aid, they really drank it down.

Your poor white people — conservatives want to split them off and say, “We are going to engineer it so these people will vote against their own self-interest.” But this character in the “Kool-Aid” song says I did everything that was asked of me but I’m still losing my job and I’m going to lose my house. Finally, it occurs to him at 3 o’clock in the morning, what my friend Jim Dickinson used to call the moment of the horrible hillbilly reality, as his wife’s asleep and he’s smoking Chesterfields, and he says: “Wait a minute — this didn’t work at all. I’m hung out to dry. I’m twisting in the wind. I drank the Kool-Aid.”

Perhaps the best tracks on the album are the two with which it closes – the aforementioned ‘The 90 and the 9’ and ‘ Take Your Hands off It’, an out-and-out rocker co-written with his son Joachim.  They see this as a re-working of Woody Guthrie’s, ‘This Land is Your Land’. In it the Cooders storm, ‘take your hands off my Constitution, my Bill of Rights, my polling rights, my reproductive rights’. ‘Take your hands of it, you know it don’t belong to you’.

Get your bloody hands off the peoples of the world
And your war machine and your corporation thieves
That lets you keep your job and pays your dirty salary
Take your hands off us, you know we don’t belong to you

This isn’t the first time that Cooder has gone overtly political: his last album, Pull Up Some Dust opened with ‘No Banker Left Behind’ and may prove to be the record that future generations look to in order to understand this recession. And, of course, throughout his lengthy musical career Cooder has immersed himself in Dustbowl era music and social history, always seeing the parallels to the modern-day situation.

Ry Cooder first surfaced in 1964, at the age of 17, playing in the blues-rock band Rising Sons with Taj Mahal. They recorded an album’s worth of material that was not released until 1992.  After that, Cooder was in demand as a studio musician, working with everyone from Captain Beefheart to the Monkees, and making classic contributions to Rolling Stones recordings, including the mandolin break on their cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Love in Vain’ (on Gimme Shelter) and the slide guitar solo on Sticky Fingers‘ ‘Sister Morphine’.

His first solo record came out in 1970 and largely consisted of old folk and blues covers, including radical classics like Woody Guthrie’s ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and Blind Alfred Reed’s ‘How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?’. That began a pattern of albums early in his career that had at their centre classics of the Dust Bowl era, with songs by by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and others.

More recently he produced two concept albums that documented social change in America in the years before and after the Second World War.  His 2005 masterpiece Chavez Ravine, dealt with the true story of destruction of a Latino neighbourhood in Los Angeles, a land grab to build Dodger Stadium. It was a heartfelt work about the forgotten victims of political and corporate shenanigans, built around the Hispanic sounds that permeated that displaced community. He followed that with My Name Is Buddy, a collection of songs imbued with socialist values about unions in the Depression as seen through the eyes of a cat named Buddy and his friends Lefty Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad.

A Ry Cooder radical America playlist

No Bankers Left Behind (from Pull Up Some Dust)

Do Re Mi (from Ry Cooder, 1970)

Strike! (from My Name Is Buddy, 2007)

One Cat, One Vote, One Beer (from My Name Is Buddy, 2007)

The Bourgeois Blues (from Chicken Skin Music, 1976)

Vigilante Man (from Into The Purple Valley, 1972)

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? (from Ry Cooder, 1970)

Take Your Hands Off It (from Election Special, 2012)

Ry Cooder: songs for grubby, grabbing times

‘These times call for a very different kind of protest song. ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ We’re way down the road from that’.
– Ry Cooder

Which album released this year speaks most plainly to the times in which we live?  No contest: it’s Ry Cooder’s latest, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, an overtly political work which opens with ‘No Banker Left Behind’, a stomping old-time, jug-band tune that paints an image of bankers fleeing the country after ‘they robbed the nation blind’.  It was inspired by a news headline about the bailout of the America’s big banks.  Reviewing the album on the BBC website, Andy Fyfe concluded:

This is about as good and sustained a riposte to the grubby, grabbing times we live in as any artist has mustered, which makes it essential listening.

The songs on the album are angry, regretful, impassioned. Cooder is angry about the financial collapse, the bailout of the banks, despoilation of the environment and senseless wars. Embracing just about every musical style in the Americana bag – blues, folk, ragtime, Tex-Mex, conjunto, rock, and country – he has produced a set of scathing protest songs aimed at Wall Street bankers, Republican politicians, George W. Bush, anti-immigrant vigilantes and war profiteers.  Uncut magazine has called this ‘one of his best albums ever … an impassioned portrait of 21st century America and its injustices’ in which Cooder is ‘remade as a modern-day Woody Guthrie, fearless and funny, for like Guthrie he nails his targets with droll humour while empathising with society’s underdogs’.

My telephone rang one evening, my buddy called for me
Said the bankers are all leavin’, you better come round and see
It started revelation, they robbed the nation blind,
They’re all down at the station, no banker left behind.
No banker, no banker, no banker could I find.
They were all down at the station, no banker left behind

Well the bankers called a meetin’, to the White House they went one day
They was going to call one the president, in a quiet and a sociable way
The afternoon was sunny and the weather it was fine
They counted all our money and no banker was left behind
No banker, no banker, no banker could I find.
They were all down at the White House, no banker was left behind

Well I hear the whistle blowin, it plays a happy tune
The conductor is calling  ‘all aboard’, we’ll be leavin soon
With champagne and shrimp cocktails and that’s not all you’ll find
There’s a billion dollar bonus and no banker left behind.

A couple of weeks ago, Ry Cooder hammered the message home with a brand new song about the Occupy Wall Street movement, ‘Wall Street Part of Town’.  Listen to it here:

Back with Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, Cooder pulls no punches, laying into greed and inhumanity.  After ‘No Banker Left Behind’ with its bleak humour, ‘El Corrido de Jesse James’ offers up, in waltz time, the notion that Jesse James is so disgusted watching the bankers rip us all off that begs to be allowed to visit some Old West justice on Wall Street with his ‘trusty 44’.

The outlaw Jesse James was up in heaven
With old friends around the kingdom throne
Boys I was branded as a bandit and bank robber
But I never turned a family from their home

We’re sworn to pass no judgments here in heaven
But there’s goings on a man can’t stand no more
There’s no open carry up in heaven
But please give me back my trusty .44

‘Quicksand’  is a pounding electric rocker concerned with the plight of illegal immigrants crossing into Arizona, the state with the strictest immigration law that makes failure to carry immigration documents a crime and gives the police power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally:

Thought we was getting close to Yuma
I heard it’s an unfriendly town
We just need a cool drink of water
Even Yuma can’t turn a poor boy down
Then a Dodge Ram truck drove down on us
Saying I’m your Arizona vigilante man
I’m here to say you ain’t welcome in Yuma
I’m taking you out just as hard as I can

From Pull Up's back cover

The very next track, ‘Dirty Chateau’, condemns the hypocrisy surrounding Mexican immigration in a song in which two voices weave around each other: that of a rich man in a Hollywood chateau and his Mexican maid.

I had a maid she used to come in days
Made the bed and mopped the fIoor
She didn’t like my rowdy ways
And she ain’t coming back no more:

‘You waste all your precious time
Italian movies and Portuguese wine
Little round bottles all in a row
You’re an unclean man in a dirty chateau’

She started life in the lettuce fields
Up in Salinas where the farm work is done

‘You go streaking by in your automobiles
You don’t even know where your lettuce comes from
The short handled hoe it scarred my hands
Tell me why do they love it so
It broke mama down daddy too
Now I work for you in your dirty chateau’

My friends are coming and they’d like to hear
A real sad Mexican song or two
They’ve been drinking and they don’t care
Just what you been goin’ through
How about Paloma Sin Nido
Pa Que Me Sirve la Vida
What about Pobre del Pobre
Also Lamento de un Prisionero

She used to call me borracho y perdido
Said I was loco y jodido
Buena para nada
Nunca quiero ver tu cara
But she’s gone in the world somewhere
Turlock somewhere, Stockton somewhere,
Salinas somewhere, Los Angeles somewhere, I just don’t know

‘If There’s A God’ also lays into Arizona’s immigration laws, with God driven from heaven by laws that herald a return to Jim Crow segregation. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joe’ all hit the road for Mexico. The anti-war message is delivered in various flavours: in the sleepy blues number, ‘Baby Joined the Army’, a father laments his child’s misguided decision to sign up for the armed forces, while ‘Christmas Time This Year’ laces a jaunty Polka with dark, savage humour:

Everybody stand up tall and cheer
Our children will be coming home in plastic bags I fear
Then we’ll know it’s Christmas time this year

Cooder provides a hilarious and convincing impersonation of the blues singer on ‘John Lee Hooker for President’, which imagines Hooker’s manifesto for the White House:

I want everybody to know I’m strictly copastatic, I ain’t Republican or Democratic. I got a new program for the nation. It’s gonna be groove time, a big sensation. Every man and woman gets one scotch, one bourbon and one beer, three times a day if they stay cool. Little chillens gets milk, cream and alcohol, two times a day if they stay involved in school. Now boogie chillen.

In an essay on the website of Nonesuch, Ry Cooder’s record label, Lynell George writes:

A succession of world-altering events scrolled across our collective screens and our consciousness the world at war, the mortgage crisis, the rollback of immigrant rights and civil liberties, the war on the environment—more than ever, it seemed, we needed to fight back, hold some one’s feet to the fire—but whose? “Fear and isolation,” he’s learned, “are the ways you keep people under control.”

His latest album, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down grew out of this information void—and the pervasive political and corporate double-speak that began swirling in its absence. Snaking through it are familiar themes—the struggle toward real democracy, the trials of the working man, the elusive goal of equality—set against the mayhem of contemporary front page news. Paired with it is Cooder’s fluent command of the rhythms and textures of American vernacular music—but bent and reshaped for this moment: “Some of this should be vivid and intense and it should roll right at you,” he says, “but it shouldn’t tire you out so you stop paying attention. I don’t think they’ll listen to this and say: ‘Hey, I wonder what was on his mind?’”

The album is a trenchant examination of power and the abuses of it. Accordingly, it’s also a measure of Cooder’s own growing sense of disaffection. “Never have I seen the Republicans be so tight-fisted as they are now. The worst of it is the chipping away of what people, by rights, ought to have, should have … the resources they deserve, pay taxes for.” […]

These 14 songs—voices from the wreckage—work as a meditation on not just the state of the union or of the world, but really the state of our hearts and minds—our priorities and values. What happened to the concept of community? Who are we behind our fences and multi-billion dollar homes? What have we—or are poised to—become? Cooder sets these questions in motion, some as “eyewitness” soliloquies, others as allegories

There are quieter moments on the album as well.  The pleasures of an uncomplicated life are extolled in the Tex-Mex ballad ‘Simple Tools’, while ‘Dreamer’ is a an unashamedly nostalgic number that begins:

I wonder would you like to meet a dreamer
Would you share a glass or two
Of red red wine and you might find
I’m a simple one like you

The final song on ‘No Hard Feelings’ has a Buddhist sensibility, taking a philosophical view and dismissing humanity as a passing annoyance, whose misdeeds are ‘just a murmur on the whispering sands of time‘ and soon forgotten:

This land should have been our land
You took it for your land
You got a use for every stream and tree
When I go up the highway old trees are dying up that way
You pump out the water and sell it back to me
You build mansions in the city, prisons in Mojave
Bet you’re quite a pillar of high society
You call it law and order I call it dirty money
You lock the young ones down or send ’em off to war
But it’s no hard feelings, no offence taken
You’re just a ripple in the shifting sands of time
No bad karma no curses on ya
You go your way I’ll go mine

You remind me of a fellow I heard of in the city
Nervous kind of fellow he loved money like you do
He derived no satisfaction so he jumped clear out the window
They tell me that he bounced a time or two
So take in mind the credo of a jackass prospector
‘Take what you need but, please, leave the rest alone
Try and live in harmony with old Mother Nature
You’ll remain in grace after you have gone’

Don’t get many callers that little road leads nowhere
Been here 40 years, seems like yesterday
There’s an old screech owl living in my chimney
I don ‘t build no fires, he keeps the mice away
No hard feelings no offence taken

No hard feelings no offence taken
You’re just a murmur on the whispering sands of time
No bad karma no curses on you
You go your way I’ll go mine

Ry Cooder with Robert Francis (left) and Hugo Arroyo in Berkeley, February 2011

Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down is an album on which Ry Cooder has reached back to his earliest recordings for musical inspiration – those songs by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Blake and the rest.  In parts its songs sound like they came from the 1930s, but they tell topical stories about corruption and social inequality straight out of the America of 2011.  ‘No Banker Left Behind’ is an anthem for the Occupy camps, destined to become as much the Depression-era classic that Ry Cooder almost single-handedly resurrected from obscurity: Alfred Reed’s  ‘How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?’   Recorded on 4 December 1929 in New York City, the song told of hard times in the last Great Depression.

There was once a time when everything was cheap.
But now prices almost puts a man to sleep.
When we pay our grocery bill
We just feel like making our will.
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Video from Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let’s Have A Ball, a film by Les Blank recorded at The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, California on 25 March 1987 and broadcast on Channel 4.

Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe

Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe

Last night Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe gave a great concert at the Phil, the final show of their ‘They Drive By Night’ tour. Lowe, on bass, and Cooder were accompanied by Cooder’s son Joachim on drums, and, after the first few numbers, by Juliette Commagere, wife of Joachim Cooder, and Alex Lilly on vocals.

Cooder and Lowe have played together before of course – as two-thirds of Little Village with John Hiatt. That outfit didn’t quite live up to the promise of its constituent elements (at least on record) but this trio really works.  It’s all down to Nick Lowe for bringing Cooder back to live performance. When Little Village reconvened for a benefit show in San Francisco earlier this year, Cooder enjoyed the experience so much that Lowe suggested a short European tour.

On the face of it Cooder and Lowe seem an unlikely combination – Lowe so English, Cooder the epitome of California cool in his Hawaiian shirt. But this show demonstrated that what  they have  in common is deep knowledge and love of roots Americana: the blues, doo-wop, rhythm and blues, surf and rock and roll that coursed through their teenage veins.

It was notable that nearly all the songs chosen by Ry were from his early career rather than his recent trilogy, with only Chinito Chinito and El UFO Cayo, sung by Juliette Commagere at the start of the evening, from Chavez Ravine. I’ve always thought that Ry Cooder’s singing was rather diffident on his early albums were , but now his vocals are strong and expressive – and his guitar playing has gone from excellent to extraordinary.

After Nick Lowe’s opener, A Fool Such As I, Ry Cooder sat with dobro on his lap to play Vigilante Man. This was one of the highlights of the evening  – he seemed to take the song apart like an old car engine and reassemble it gleaming. Nick Lowe similarly polished up some of his old stuff: Cryin’ In My Sleep and Raining, Raining particularly shone comapared to the original album versions. He introduced Half a Boy, Half a Man by wryly drawing attention to the fact that it was his only number 1: for two weeks in Belgium!

Cooder made several acerbic comments about American politics in the last eight years: he introduced a new song, Biggest Fool Yet, with some satrirical comments on the Bush years and telling of  a dream in which Richard Nixon appeared at the foot of his bed and demanded to know why no song had been written about him.  So he wrote this for him, set to a Trini Lopez groove.

The encores were sublime: rocking versions of Chuck Berry and Elvis and then (what I’d been praying for all evening) a stunning What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding, Nick Lowe sparing and dignified with Ry Cooder’s lead guitar and vocals from Juliette Commagere and Alex Lilly lifting it into the stratosphere. Finally, Cooder wrapped things up with ‘a song by a great – but unkown – American’, How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? Like his work with the lost musicians of Buena Vista Social Club, it’s largely down to Cooder that Blind Alfred Reed is now not so unknown.

The guy in the bar selling CDs said there’s likely to be an album of  performances from the ‘They Drive By Night’ tour.  I really hope so.

Amsterdam June 2009

The set list:

  • Fool Who Knows (Lowe)
  • Fool For a Cigarette (Cooder)
  • Vigilante Man (Cooder)
  • Chinito (Juliette Commagere &  Alex Lilly)
  • Crazy ‘Bout an Automobile (Cooder)
  • Cryin’ In My Sleep (Lowe)
  • Down In Hollywood (Cooder)
  • The Very Thing That Makes You Rich Makes Me Poor (Cooder)
  • Half a Boy, Half a Man (Lowe)
  • Tears on My Pillow (Lowe)
  • Teardrops Will Fall (Cooder)
  • Biggest Fool Yet (Cooder)
  • Raining Raining (Lowe)
  • Jesus on The Mainline (Cooder)
  • He’ll Have To Go (Cooder)


  • 13 Question Method
  • What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love And Understanding?
  • Little Sister (Cooder)
  • How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe: Vigilante Man (Liverpool, 2009)

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe: Half a Boy, Half a Man (Liverpool, 2009)

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe: 13 Question Method (Liverpool, 2009)

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe: Little Sister (Liverpool, 2009)

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe: How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live (Liverpool, 2009)

Nick Lowe & Ry Cooder: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding (Antwerp, June 2009)

Ry Cooder & Nick Lowe: Fool Who Knows (Amsterdam, June 2009)

Nick Lowe with Little Village: Crying in My Sleep (audio)

13 Question Method