Ry Cooder I, Flathead

Ry Cooder I, Flathead
With this album completing a trilogy of recent narrative-driven releases — preceded by Chavez Ravine and My Name Is Buddy — Cooder has likewise reached a new peak in his already remarkably diverse career. In many ways, I, Flathead is the most ambitious of the three, largely due to the inclusion of a 50-page novella that fully illustrates the album’s primary themes of California’s automobile and country music culture of the ’50s. While this might not seem unusual territory for Cooder, it surprisingly is right in line with the previous albums’ musings on that era of California’s history. But what sets it apart is less an emphasis on making a political statement and more Cooder simply indulging in the various American musical styles he has always been preoccupied with. Apart from the car-themed songs that provide the narrative thread, "Johnny Cash” is a clever and thoroughly fitting tribute to the Man In Black, as is "Spayed Kooley,” inspired by the notorious Western swing bandleader. But what comes across most is not really sentimentality but an almost unimaginable sense that the culture Cooder describes is rapidly vanishing in this new age of self-preservation for inhabitants of the Earth. For an artist who always had a gift for blending past and present, I, Flathead sounds like the album Cooder has been waiting to make his entire life. (Nonesuch/Warner)