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Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine


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 Stadium).

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 minutes.

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.

Track listing:
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

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