Review: Jack Foley
RY Cooder's Chávez Ravine is a concept album
that's designed as a tribute to the long-gone Los Angeles Latino
enclave known as Chávez Ravine.
It uses real and imagined characters to create an album that
recollects various aspects of the poor but vibrant hillside Chicano
community, which was bulldozed by developers in the 1950s in the
interest of 'progress' (it has since become home to the Dodgers
As a result, a warm Latino vibe runs through it, drawing in elements
of conjunto, corrido, R&B, Latin pop, and jazz that mostly
succeeds in creating a richly diverse listening experience - albeit
one that occasionally strays into surreal territory.
Hence, the laidback, hispanic vibe of opening track, Poor
Man's Shangri-La, with its lazy guitars and Latin flavours,
can quickly be undone by the irritating mess of sound that is
Don't Call Me Red (a warped mish-mash of frenetic percussion,
unintrusive guitar and television narration).
It is during moments such as this that the concept nature of
the album threatens to take over, falling prey to many of the
artistic lapses that bedevil most 'concept' work.
For Cooder enthusiasts, or anyone in search of something a little
different, however, there is still plenty to enjoy - especially
since Chávez Ravine extends to an almighty 70
And there is an array of talent on board, from East LA legends
like Chicano music patriarch, Lalo Guerrero, to Pachuco boogie
king, Don Tosti, and Thee Midniters front man, Little Willie G.
Highlights include the upbeat funk of Muy Fifi, with
its foot-shuffling beats and mariachi-style; the Cuban jazz of
Los Chucos Suaves, which runs rife with piano;
the slinky vibe of Three Cool Cats, and best of all,
the sultry El U.F.O. Cayó, which contains a vocal
performance reminiscent of Bjork.
As Cooder himself states: "Here is some music for a place
you don't know, up a road you don't go. Chávez Ravine,
where the sidewalk ends."
For the musically inquisitive, it's well worth the detour.
1. Poor Man's Shangri-La
2. Onda Callejera
3. Don't Call Me Red
4. Corrido de Boxeo
5. Muy Fifí
6. Los Chucos Suaves
7. Chinito Chinito
8. 3 Cool Cats
9. El U.F.O. Cayó
10. It's Just Work for Me
11. In My Town