Music review: Ry Cooder

For decades, Ry Cooder has spoken truth to power through his songs and channelled his righteous anger into simmering guitar soundscapes, understanding that sometimes the best counter to the evil that men do is to create something beautiful. And so he arrived in Glasgow pouring the healing balm of his new album The Prodigal Son over times of uncertainty.

Ry Cooder's set had blues, gospel and spiritual music at its heart

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow ****

This collection of early 20th century blues, gospel and spiritual standards formed the musical and moral backbone of his set. The atmospheric combination of Sam Gendel’s distorted sax and his own slide guitar summoned up a brooding parched backdrop for Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine, while another Johnson track, Everybody Ought To Teach A Stranger Right, and Blind Alfred Reed’s How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? told it like it was and is.

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These old blind guys definitely had their eyes open, inspiring Cooder’s own The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor), while Woody Guthrie’s prescient Vigilante Man, updated to pay tribute to vigilante victim Trayvon Martin, gave rise to another Cooder original in which he pictured a celestial conversation between Woody and Jesus.

Flawless vocal trio The Hamiltones only enhanced such empathy with the 
softer soulful tones of Straight Street, a powerful, cathartic Jesus on the Mainline, the testifying boogie of 99½ Won’t Do and a Californian roots rocking version of Elvis Presley’s Little Sister, while their own acid blues ballad 74 could well be the most soulful song ever about being stuck in a traffic jam.