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CD Review: Ry Cooder 

I, Flathead

The Deal: Final chapter in Cooder's excellent California trilogy.

The Good: Ry Cooder's musical journey has landed him in the Mississippi Delta, Hawaii, Cuba, Mali, Mexico and India, but he's never traveled anywhere without his native California. Completing his marvelous Golden State trilogy, which includes the Latin-flavored Chavez Ravine (2005) and rootsy My Name Is Buddy (2007), I, Flathead is another tribute to California's fecund history. Where its predecessors dealt with the dustbowl migrants and union struggles (Buddy) familiar to readers of Grapes of Wrath, and the Latino displacement in post-World War II Los Angeles (Chavez Ravine), these 14 songs loosely chronicle the life of the fictional Kash Buk, a hot-rod racing avatar for late '50s/early '60s California cool. Filled with Bakersfield twang, mariachi trumpet blasts, honky-tonk dance halls, trailer parks and steel guitar heroes, the record is as much a sonic throwback to Cooder's underrated '70s catalogue as it is this narrative era. "Steel Guitar Heaven" may name-check some of the greats, but its ragtime shuffle would nestle nicely on 1978's Jazz; "Waitin' for Some Girl" has the soulful vibe of Bop Til You Drop ('79); "Filipino Dance Hall Girl," with Flaco Jimenez' one-of-a-kind accordion and mariachi strings, sounds like a Chicken Skin Music ('76) cut, and the hard-rockin' "Ridin' With the Blues" even recalls Cooder's sideman era with the early '70s Stones.

The Bad: A couple of easy-to-forget spoken-word pieces fall flat, briefly interrupting the flow.

The Verdict: Cooder is a melting pot jukebox of American roots music, free of annoying orthodoxy.


Nonesuch; Release date: June 24, 2008

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