Ry Cooder, the American session guitarist best known for his role in producing the Buena Vista Social Club, has been steadily extending his catalogue of original material since 2005.
His latest album, Election Special, picks up where he left off with 2011’s banker-bashing gem Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down. This new record does exactly what it says on the sleeve: it’s an incisive concept album looking at the US election battle between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. The album depicts the election from the point of view of characters ranging from Mitt Romney’s dog to a disillusioned, out of work Republican voter.
Musically the album takes in a host of influences, channelling Depression-era blues and folk and bringing them together with elements of world music and Bruce Springsteen style rock sounds. The production is typically high-end from Cooder, with a richly layered depth to many of the pieces. More experimental tracks like “Kool-Aid” add further interest beyond the accomplished reworkings of classic sounds.
The wry humour is apparent from the get-go with opening track Mutt Romney – a shuffling blues reminiscent of Leadbelly – lampooning the rabidly right wing Republican as the sort of man who likes to tie the family dog to the roof of the car “like a cotton sack”.
While the record is pitched squarely against the Republican candidate, Obama doesn’t escape from the sharp wit that runs through the album. The footstomping Guantanamo with its refrain, “You can’t come back from Guantanamo”, is a bitter reminder that nothing has been done to reverse one of the most ugly legacies of the Bush years – the detention and torture facility now open for over a decade.
In addition to its commentary on the presidential race the album also embodies a celebration of resistance. The Wall Street Part of Town tells of a would-be occupier making their way to the financial district to throw off their chains.
This is a solid, exciting and diverse record and while it strays briefly into the territory of “radical constitutionalism” that has long been a problem for the American left, this is tempered by Cooder’s obvious affinity with the resurgence of working class protest in the US. Election Special is well worth a listen both for existing fans of American roots music and those looking for some light relief from the US election race.
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