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Chavez Ravine

Chavez Ravine

by Ry Cooder
Ry Cooder has an ear for both fascinating music and a good story -- something he proved years ago by bringing Stateside attention to Cuba's languishing Buena Vista Social Club. He puts both of those to good use on Chavez Ravine, a concept album about the government-driven destruction of a Los Angeles community some 50


Ry Cooder has an ear for both fascinating music and a good story -- something he proved years ago by bringing Stateside attention to Cuba's languishing Buena Vista Social Club. He puts both of those to good use on Chavez Ravine, a concept album about the government-driven destruction of a Los Angeles community some 50 years ago. The disc is made all the more poignant by the fact that Cooder witnessed the story's unfolding -- and heard the sounds of the era -- firsthand. Sonically, the disc recreates an early-'50s vibe, from the zoot-suit playfulness of "Chinito Chinito" (one of several Spanish-language tunes on the set) to the McCarthy-decrying folk foray "Don't Call Me Red." As in the Buena Vista project, Cooder called on plenty of folks who were there from the beginning -- from Frank Wilkinson, a 90-something union organizer who provided lyrics to the album's more charged songs, to Little Willie G., frontman for long-running Chicano-soul purveyors Thee Midnighters. The latter pours it on with particular fervor on "Muy Fifi," a West Side Story–esque tale of intrigue on the inner-city streets. Even more affecting are the contributions of Lalo Guerrero -- considered the father of Chicano music in America -- who recorded the insistent "Corrido de Boxeo" shortly before his death. The musical backing shifts gears fairly often, matching the perspective of the song's voice -- such as that of the ambivalent bulldozer operator who delivers the gruff, country-tinged "It's Just Work to Me" -- but the story line remains remarkably intact, right through the bittersweet requiem "3rd Base, Dodger Stadium." It's one of those rare projects where education and entertainment dovetail perfectly -- and a sure bet to make top ten lists come year's end.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Three years in the making, Chavez Ravine: A Record by Ry Cooder, is his first "solo" offering since 1987's Get Rhythm. In addition, it is a concept album; but don't be afraid. It documents in mythical style the disappeared Los Angeles neighborhood of Chavez Ravine, a Mexican-American district that fought over by real etate developers, urban planning activists and city government. It was bulldozed in a sleazy deal was cut and it was razed order to erect a stadium that woiuld lure Walter O'Malley's Brooklyn Dodgers to L.A. Cooder's work has almost always concerned itself with what has been left out, marginalized, or relegated to the place of memory; it was inspired by a book of black-and-white photographs of the area by Don Normark. Over the course of its 15 songs Cooder poignantly, yet warmly, sets out to portray the flavor of the place, times, culture, chaos, and corruption of post-war Los Angeles. Here UFOs, the Red Scare, the Pachuco Scare, boxers, cops, hipster "cool cats," ordinary folks, race politics, class war, the radio, J. Edgar Hoover, baseball, and of course musicians, slip in and out of this steamy, dreamy, seamless mix that evokes an emotional palette rich and complex. The tunes range from boxy corridos, Latin swing numbers, guaraches, Afro-Cuban sons, smoky polkas, moody atmospheric pieces, riotous good-time Pachuco boogie, rootsy rock, Costa Rican folk songs, and R&B tunes. Heroes and villains come and go in this panorama, all winding around in the little neighborhood where people hang out, sing, dance, make love, struggle and sweat for a better life in the American Dream. Sung in Spanish and English, Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, the late legendary Lalo Guerrero (the guiding force and spirit of the album who also passed away after contributing), Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. "Poor Man's Shangri-La," is a finger-popping rhumba where the extraterrestrial Space Vato beams down in a UFO to check out the 'hood to the sounds of Little Julian Herrera on the radio. Little Willie G. and the Commagere Sisters offer the lilting "Onda Calljera," a folk song documenting a war between locally stationed military and pachucos. Chavez Ravine is an intricately woven web of covers including "3 Cool Cats," by Leiber & Stoller, Guerrero's "Corrido de Boxeo" and "Barrio Viejo," and originals like the cinematic "Don't Call Me Red" (where the taped voices of Frank Wilkinson, Jack Webb, and Raymond Burr all dialogue intensely about the FBI and communist activities) and "3rd Base, Dodger Stadium," sung by longtime Cooder mate James Bla Pahinui -- who plays the part of a stadium car parker whose home was covered over by the hot corner in the ballpark. Chavez Ravine is sad and beautiful, funny, quirky and funky; it's got dirt under its nails and keeps listeners engaged from the jump with history and its colorful ghosts. Cooder sends it all off with solace, and perhaps with some hope, in a version of "Soy Luz y Sombra," a gorgeous a cappella Costa Rican folk tune with original music. Chavez Ravine is easily the most ambitious thing in Cooder's catalog, and it just may be the grand opus of his career.
Rolling Stone - David Wild
1/2 Like his pal Randy Newman, Cooder has found his own unique and magnificent way to say "I Love L.A."
Entertainment Weekly - Marc Weingarten
A ghostly meditation on the culture of forgetting that has destroyed so many inner-city idylls. (A-)

Product Details

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Ry Cooder   Primary Artist,Organ,Guitar,Vocals,Tres,Bajo Sexto
Jon Hassell   Trumpet
Chucho Valdés   Piano
Jim Keltner   Bongos,Drums
Gil Bernal   Tenor Saxophone
Joachim Cooder   Percussion,Drums,Timbales,Sampling
Flaco Jiménez   Accordion
David Hidalgo   Guitar
James Bla Pahinui   Guitar,Ukulele,Vocals
Jacky Terrasson   Piano
Led Kaapana   Guitar
Lalo Guerrero   Guitar,Vocals
Rudy Salas   Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Don Tosti   Vocals
Mick Bolger   Organ,Trumpet,Valve Trombone
Joe Rotondi   Piano
Ersi Arvizu   Vocals
Mike Elizondo   Bass
Little Willie G.   Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Rosella Arvizu   Vocals
Jacob Garcia   Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Carla Commagere   Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Juliette Commagere   Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Michael Guerra   Vocals,Choir, Chorus

Technical Credits

Ry Cooder   Composer,Producer,Laud
Jerry Leiber   Composer
Jerry Boys   Engineer
Joachim Cooder   Composer
David Hidalgo   Composer
Don Smith   Engineer
Mike Stoller   Composer
Gene Aguilera   Composer
Lalo Guerrero   Composer
Rail Jon Rogut   Engineer
Elena Felguérez   Composer
William Garcia   Composer,translation
Walt Kelly   Illustrations
Robert Edridge Waks   Editorial Coordinator
Juliette Commagere   Composer
Robert C. Imbrecht   Illustrations
Sunny D. Levine   Engineer,drum programming
Michael C. McMillen   Illustrations
Chuy Varela   translation

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