Ry Cooder is scheduled to release his brand new solo album The Prodigal Son this Friday. The 11-song record is a nice *ahem* return for the veteran musician. It is a 50-minute collection of songs that will easily appeal not only to Cooder’s fans and those of Buena Vista Social Club, but to blues aficionados, folk music fans and music lovers in general. In other words, no doubt it will appeal to music lovers across the board. That is thanks to musical arrangements and lyrical content throughout that is more than certain to keep listeners of all ages engaged and entertained. That is clear right from the album’s outset in the album’s opener ‘Straight Street.’ It will be discussed shortly. The album’s title track, which is essentially its midway point, also serves to support the noted statements of its appeal. It will be discussed later. Cooder and company’s cover of Blind Roosevelt Graves’ gospel standard ‘I’ll Be Rested When The Roll Is Called’ is one more example of what makes this record such widely appealing offering. When it is considered along with the album’s other works, the end result is a record that is powerful both musically and lyrically and deserves without doubt to be added to any critic’s list of the year’s top new blues albums if not even the year’s top new albums overall.
Ry Cooder’s new full-length studio recording The Prodigal Son is a powerful new offering that will easily appeal to listeners of all ages and tastes. That is thanks to the pair of its musical and lyrical content alike as is evidenced right from the album’s outset in ‘Straight Street.’ The gospel standard – originally composed and recorded by Blind Roosevelt Graves – gains a powerful new life in its presentation here thanks to its arrangement. The arrangement’s foundation is formed through a gentle combination of mandolin, fiddle and percussion that is more folksy and country-esque than the simple piano and vocal arrangement used by The Pilgrim Travelers in their original 1955 take on the song. At the same time though, Cooder and company’s take on the arrangement is still entertaining with its sort of 1960s r&b sort of vibe. When that updated, gentle flowing take on the song is coupled with the song’s lyrical content, which centers on a person making some important positive changes in life, it makes the song in whole even more emotional than The Pilgrim Travelers’ original. It honestly comes across as a song that could be included in some seasonal drama’s soundtrack as Cooder sings, “Well I used to live on Broadway/Right next to a liar’s house/Well what a fool I was/My number was self righteousness/Oh don’t you know/Had very little guide amount/(I better move) so I moved/And I’m living on straight street now.” Straight Street here could be interpreted as a physical street, though odds are it is in reality a metaphor for living the straight and narrow. Keeping that in mind, that positive message of making positive changes in life, coupled with the updated, deeply emotional take on the song’s arrangement makes the song a clear example of what makes The Prodigal Son a welcome return for Cooder (after six years with no new music) and a work that boasts wide appeal. It is just one of the songs that shows what makes the album so surprisingly enjoyable. The album’s title track is another example of what makes The Prodigal Son a solid new effort from Cooder.
The Prodigal Son’s title track stands out musically because while it is another very bluesy work, it doesn’t attempt to rehash the sound created in the four songs that come ahead of itself. The percussion line and guitar that collectively make up the song’s first 30 seconds are nice touches as they do a lot to set the stage for the song. The song that follows is just as certain to keep listeners engaged with its easy comparison to songs from The Blind Boys of Alabama (and to a lesser extent, Johnny Cash). It’s a nice change of pace that in itself is more than enough reason to hear this song. When it is coupled with the song’s lyrical content, the two items clearly show why the song in whole is another key addition to Prodigal Son. The song’s lyrical content literally tells the biblical story of the Prodigal son, just with a little bit of an added kick. In other words, it’s not preachy, but still tells the story in a way that is certain to appeal to any listener. On the same level, it works directly in concert with the rest of the album’s theme of personal and spiritual revival of sorts. It’s another reminder that one can turn one’s life around and get things on track that will also entertain listeners at the same time. Keeping this thought in mind, it’s clear why this original addition to Prodigal Son is so critical to the album overall. Even with this in mind, it still is not the last of the album’s most standout entries. Cooder’s cover of Blind Roosevelt Graves’ standard ‘I’ll Be Rested When The Roll is Called’ is another key addition to the record.
Originally composed with his brother Uaroy, this composition is a simple song about that life eternal that comes after death. While Cooder and company’s arrangement builds on the original composition’s instrumentation, it also stays very close to its source material. Instead of a guitar and tambourine, which were used in Graves’ original work, Cooder and his fellow musicians here opted for a banjo, tambourine and drums. Of course there are also additional harmonies added thanks to the fact that there are more performers here; harmonies that add so much to the song. Either way, its arrangement still pays a wonderful tribute to its source material that even today’s more hardcore purist will certainly appreciate. The song’s lyrical content will impress listeners just as much because it, too sticks to its source. Cooder sings here to Graves’ original lines, “I’ll be rested when the roll is called/I’ll be rested in the kingdom of heaven/No more shoutin’ when the roll is called/I’ll be rested in the kingdom of heaven/No more sorrows when the roll is called/Meet my mother when the roll is called/Meet my elders when the roll is called.” There are plenty of refrains within each line, of course. So these lines are the core of the song. Keeping this in mind, there is so much positive here. When the positive vibes from these lines (and musical content) joins with the positive vibes in the previously discussed songs — and even those songs not noted here – the overall positive presentation in this album makes it a record that, in whole, to which any listener will want to return time and again.
When it hits store shelves and online outlets this Friday, Ry Cooder’s new album the Prodigal Son will be the veteran musician/producer’s first new album in six years. Considering that much time has passed between this forthcoming record and his last – 2012’s Election Special – this record proves it was worth the wait. That is thanks to a mix of original compositions and covers that will most certainly appeal to blues aficionados and gospel purists alike. The lyrical theme of revival and personal betterment that runs throughout the record makes it even more engaging. The pairing of those elements together throughout the album makes it a presentation in whole that is easily one of the year’s top new blues albums without a doubt, and an album to which listeners will want to return time and again. It will be available this Friday, May 11 in stores and online via Fantasy Records (the same label responsible for Prophets of Rage’s debut album). More information on The Prodigal Son is available online now along with all of Ry Cooder’s latest news and more at:
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