fri 03/02/2023

Albums of the Year 2018: Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2018: Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son

Albums of the Year 2018: Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son

Music that stirs the soul in a year of increasingly dangerous politics

Ry Cooder's politics and soul

Rudderless, and under the unpredictable and self-interested leadership of crazy and authoritarian populists, the world finds, as ever, some solace from music.  I’ve spent a lot of time exploring '90s Dub Techno this year, not least the work of Moritz von Oswald, Mark Ernestus and Carl Craig.

Prince’s early demos on Piano & and a Mircophone 1983 were a revelation as well. I was at a loss, however, to pick a single outstanding album, but perhaps the most timely and stirring came from Ry Cooder, whose The Prodigal Son combines soul and politics, faith and social engagement, in a way all of its own.   

I am hardly a Christian, but the white and black gospel classics he draws on with his usual impeccable taste touched me deeply. ”Harbor of Love”, one of the gems on the album,  originally sung by the Stanley Brothers, is as sweet an invocation of the miraculous energy that might bind us together as I have ever heard. I never tire of hearing it – the same goes for the Gospel Clefs' inspiring “Open Your Eyes” (1959), which I play as often as anything else, year in and year out.

These are all songs which are designed to stir in us all that is best – openness to others, generosity, vision and love. This is at the heart of what politics ought to be about – not the futile and dangerous battle of egos that we witness so often today. African music and much African-American music, I was taught by Robert Farris Thompson, is largely about inspiring a sense of ethics and community, a healing force, in the sense of binding people together and making them whole.

But this is not just true of African music: the same is true of the traditional songs and dances of Epirus in the mountains of Northern Greece. This is healing dance music that draws a community together and enables the village people of Epirus to transcend the limits of everyday life. I knew these dark and inebriating sounds a little from many compilations of Greek Demotika (folk) music, but Christopher King’s brilliant account of his research and experiences in the region, Lament from Epirus, is one of the best music books I have read in a long while. One of the musicians he brings to life is the Roma clarinettist Kitsos Harisiadis, whose rich and virtuosic playing, with its mind-expanding twists and turns, profound emotion and soulful beauty, matches anything from the greatest reed players in jazz or the Indian subcontinent. His riffs take you on a journey that sparkles with excitement and abandon. The Chris King-curated album of re-issued and remastered 78s, Lament in a Deep Style 1929 -1931, all masterpieces by Harisiadis,  stands out for me, in terms of exploring unknown territory, although it is 90 or so years old.


Two More Essential Albums from 2018

Prince - Piano & a Microphone 1983

Madeleine Peyroux - Anthem

Gig of the Year

Vishten at WOMAD

Track of the Year Ry Cooder: "Every Ought To Treat A Stranger Right"

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