Ry Cooder is now 61 years old and well into his fifth decade as a performing artist. His early years included a stint in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band plus playing with Taj Mahal for a spell. He then brought his mandolin and slide guitar skills to such classic Rolling Stones albums as Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers.
Under his own name, Ry Cooder has released over thirty albums. While in his early efforts he focused on a blues/rock sound that developed his vocal skills, in his recent work he has explored Tex-Mex and even Cuban styles of music.
Through it all, Cooder has distinguished himself with his guitar virtuosity, a talent for which Rolling Stone Magazine recently ranked him the eighth best of all time. His ability to create fills and improvise within the structure of a song is among the most creative in music history.
The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO Has Landed is a double CD that showcases the best of Cooder’s extensive catalogue, comprising 34 tracks that begin with his first recorded song and conclude with some of his most recent creations.
One of the main problems with anthologies is that the songs are presented outside of their original context on their relative albums. Even with that in mind, though, just about every one of Cooder’s superior tracks are accounted for in this package. Another plus for this release is not only its tight production and clear sound, but also new liner notes in which Cooder shares his thoughts on each song. He addresses the music in the context his life and career, thus establishing an intimacy with his audience.
The album bursts out of the gate with an up-tempo, rocking version of the Johnny Cash tune, “Get Rhythm.” I've heard a lot of cover songs in my day, but this is one of the most creative, as Cooder gives this old song a rare sheen with his slide guitar. On the country/blues instrumental, “Low—Commotion,” he conclusively proves himself as one of the best slide guitarists to ever walk this Earth, playing counterpoint to the drums yet remaining loyal to the basic groove being laid down.
A tribute to Leadbelly, “On A Monday” finds Cooder retaining the song's basic approach by putting the guitar behind the vocal. “Which Came First" is another straight blues track, but with an ominous feel to it. “Let’s Work Together” is a New Orleans jazz/blues cut featuring Buckwheat Zydeco on his big piano accordion. Call it either honky-tonk or barrelhouse jazz meeting a blues slide guitar, but it all works out well. As well, on a cover of Wilson Pickett's “Teardrops Will Fall,” Cooder lays down some clean licks that remain true to the original while his vocal steers the track more towards a rock sound.
The old Josh White tune, “Tamp ‘Em Up Solid,” is given a subtle performance as he plays solo on an acoustic guitar. “Billy The Kid” features a stark vocal and some of the best mandolin work this side of Bill Monroe. And there is also a nice and light, tongue-in-cheek performance of the Billy Emerson song, “Crazy ‘Bout My Automobile (Every Woman I Know).”
The only weak songs are a couple of film soundtrack offerings that feel out of place and two tracks on which Cooder just seems to be aimlessly experimenting with his guitar beyond a firm song structure.
Overall, The Ry Cooder Anthology/The UFO Has Landed will be a delight for any fan of Ry Cooder and a must for any aficionado of the guitar sound.