Friday, July 18, 2008

I, Flathead. I, Love it.

Ry Cooder brings his Cal Trilogy to a close with late June's CD release I, Flathead. The guy's simply amazin'. The first album, 2005's Chavez Ravine, revolved around Mexicans, Los Angeles, Urban Growth, and the victims of the latter. Buddy, a cat and center piece of 2007's My Name is Buddy was another California based background concept album delving into the downtrodden, the homeless, and unions and strikes. Both albums were strong on those folks most affected by politics and least likely to affect politics.
In "I, Flathead", Mr. Cooder gets a bit more personal, less global. Some reviews thought this album to be lighter in weight than the preceding two reflecting that a lighter touch is a less affecting one. I beg to differ. This is simply another strong outing with songs that will stay with you long after you leave your car. And this CD is a Car CD, meant to be played loud while wasting expensive gasoline. Mr. Cooder has taken the price of gas into the song equations. The 14 songs are short, dense, and sweet. Averaging 3:47 minutes, that's about 3 3/4 miles of traveling while doing 60 mph. Four songs, maximum five should be enough to get you to most of your daily excursions.

Personal favorites are "Waitin' for Some Girl"
I was robbed I was framed
What ever happens now ain't no fault of mine
I got Born I got blamed
Guess I should have read that detour sign
I took off I hid out
Jesus promised me he'd show me a sign
Take your little world and shove it up you're askin' me buddy I'm tellin' you friend
You ain't gonna pin that rap on me this time

'Cause I'm waitin' for some girl to pick me up on her way down
She'll know me in the suspect book in the show-up line in the lost and found..

to pick me up on her way down. A great loser's clip.
Mr. Cooder, as the Singer/salt flats racer Kash Buk, is excellent in "Drive Like I Never Been Hurt" and "5000 Country Music Songs".
As Mr. Buk writes in the liner notes, "Get in the vehicle and play this damn thing looud and drive, where to I don't much care".

Two versions are available, CD with very short story and lyrics or DELUXE edition with a novella (that would fill in holes in the lyrics where supposition trumps intention). As is usual, Nonesuch's production, design and enclosures are excellent, save for two segments in "Waitin' for Some Girl" that sound as if the CD is skipping. Otherwise, like all Nonesuch releases, it just seems this company is incapable of producing a dud.

Reviews have been mixed. I found The Independent's take on the album closest to my own. The Guardian quipped that "It's a classy album, but by Cooder's standards it sounds just a little too effortless." A bit snarky, I thought. The Rolling Stone's David Fricke saw I, Flathead as the movie score of a film not yet existing.

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Did you get/have you seen the deluxe edition? I'm wondering whether the novella contributes to or detracts from the music? Is Cooder the novella's author?

Some years back, I bought a "novel in musical form" by a band I was following. I thought the 45 minute CD was the best thing these guys had done. The lyrics and liner notes were suggestive, but left large gaps for the listener to fill in with images and impressions of his own.

Five years later the songwriter returned to the material. He wrote a novella to accompany the music, and re-recorded the entire thing, this time in a church basement with just one other musician. I hesitated, but finally bought the deluxe version, only to have all my fears confirmed. The previous work of art was now diminished by lengthy explanations and all the blanks were filled in with plain mortar. And the re-recording seemed self-indulgent. I desperately wish I hadn't bought that: I can't listen to the original without feeling great regret.
Hey, WP,
Rather than commenting on your comment, you've given me material for a whole entry. Thanks! Hopefully, I'll be posting that shortly. The short answer to your q. is that I have the novella version of the CD.
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