Ry Cooder Chavez Ravine

Since creating his own mini-world music industry with the Buena Vista Social Club in 1998, Ry Cooder’s own solo career has almost been forgotten. Of course, Cooder has never been an artist known to put out albums for their own sake, choosing instead to use them as opportunities to explore his far-flung musical interests. Thus is the case with Chavez Ravine, although instead of focusing on a specific sound, as he did on prior masterpieces like Chicken Skin Music and Jazz, it is a story-based concept reflecting Cooder’s youth in early 1950s L.A., and the street life he observed in the poor Mexican neighbourhood that inspired the title. For those not familiar with the time and place, it may take some effort to grasp the subculture and political references, not to mention the Spanish lyrics, but the glorious music provides more than enough incentive. Although he has long been a pioneer in bringing Latin forms to mainstream rock, Chavez Ravine provides proof — if there wasn’t enough already — that Cooder is a master of the various genres. From beginning to end, the album exudes the steamy, dangerous underbelly of post-war L.A. that has enchanted artists ever since. But Cooder may be the first to create an authentic soundtrack through his mix of original songs and covers of lost regional hits like "Chinito Chinito” and "3 Cool Cats.” Although the overall theme of Chavez Ravine is slightly romanticised at the outset, as the album unfolds, it is impossible not to be seduced by this world that, thanks to Cooder, is brought to life once again. (Warner)