Ry Cooder – Prodigal Son

Album Review | Fantasy | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5

I can actually remember a time when we used to look forward to the new Ry Cooder album, just to see where this man’s impeccable taste would take him next. Questions would invariably arise, such as, would there be any trademark bottleneck guitar wizardry, or any mandolin driven spirituals? Would Flaco Jiminez be there with the frills and thrills of his Cajun accordion or would Bobby King and Terry Evans be around to deliver their soulful harmonies? For a good while it seemed to be nothing but soundtracks and collaborations with world musicians, devoid of the core sound that made us listen to Cooder’s music in the first place. Well, some of that seems to have been revisited, reorganised and revitalised on Prodigal Son, Cooder’s first album in six years. Incredibly, we seem to be hearing the voice of a youthful Ry Cooder once again, not the voice of the 71 year-old we fully expected. Even on the haunting “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Cooder’s voice is weathered but strong. The slide accompaniment is reminiscent of the familiar Paris Texas motif, once a Cooder staple and certainly great to hear once again. The famous Cooder eclecticism is evident here once again, much the same as during his Into the Purple Valley period, dipping into Chuck Berry during the album’s lead track, the funky “Shrinking Man”. It’s also rewarding to hear Cooder revisit the Woody Guthrie legend with the gorgeous “Jesus and Woody”, one of the album highlights, with echoes of “Vigilante Man” back to haunt us. Cooder’s chief collaborator on these songs is Joachim Cooder, his son, whose flair for drums and percussion is evident throughout. There’s a relaxed atmosphere on this album, which is both refreshing and delightful to hear. Although there’s no Flaco, there is the slide guitar, the voice, the mature taste in songs and yes, we also get a bit of Bobby King and Terry Evans, doing what they do best.