Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine is-a post-World War II-era American narrative of "cool cats," radios, UFO sightings, J.Edgar Hoover, red scares, and baseball.Using real and imagined historical characters, Cooder and friends crea... more »tes an album that recollects various aspects of the poor but vibrant hillside Chicano cummunity, which was bulldozed by developed in the interest of "progress."« less
Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine is-a post-World War II-era American narrative of "cool cats," radios, UFO sightings, J.Edgar Hoover, red scares, and baseball.Using real and imagined historical characters, Cooder and friends creates an album that recollects various aspects of the poor but vibrant hillside Chicano cummunity, which was bulldozed by developed in the interest of "progress."
Paul F. Starrs | El Cerrito, CA, and Reno, NV USA | 06/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's not just that Ry Cooder has been producing albums for more than 35 years -- many of them solidly thematic, like the 1971 "Into the Purple Valley." He's more than a terrific guitarist (slide, originally, but now almost anything within the guitar world, and including, now, at least a dozen other instruments). He's done fine film soundtracks, some of his most sonorous work, and some earnest vocals, which he's better at than John Fahey or Leo Kottke and various other virtuoso guitarists, and he's improving still more. And he's a genius in popularizing and producing other sounds, which we all know of, and attained a degree of controversy with the *Buena Vista* albums and his assistance lent to an ascendancy of Caribbean, and especially Cuban, music.
But why buy THIS album? How about 'cause it's stone-cold brilliant, capturing the late 1940s and 50s when the polyglot but predominantly Hispanic neighborhood at Chávez Ravine was displaced to allow what would become "Dodger Stadium" and orderly rows of suburban housing to replace the slightly hectic disorder previously there. But understand that this isn't a rabble-rousing album, or a call to arms; it's a reminder of what's gone by, hearkening to Don Normark's photographic study (also called *Chavez Ravine*, 1999), and it recognizes the fanatically purposeful energy that channelized and paved the L.A. River (see Blake Gumprecht's *L.A. River*, now in paperback). I'll take this musical treatment (with plenty of voices in it, though, and an astounding variety of themes) over the blunt muckraking of a Mike Davis anyday -- this is inspired stuff, in a huge assortment of styles, bringing in a number of the musical lights of Chávez Ravine in the era. They're mixed together, elegantly, and very nicely produced.
Favorites? The album's a mix of contemporary songs and current-day compositions by Cooder. But I'm a big time fan, on ninth or ten listening, of "Poor Man's Shangri-la," "Onda Callejera," "El U.F.O. Cayó," "Ejercito Militar," and "3rd Base, Dodger Stadium," but it's a "you pick 'em" kind of album -- not one for casual listening, by and large (though there are some that'll be heard as singles). It's to sit down, work to, with part of your brain reserved for the passing of events -- and the exile of residents and importation of the Anglo suburbanites.
The music is a beautiful thing, and having it tied to a story which has a venality we're all familiar with (just look around wherever you live; you'll see) brings the poignancy home -- without any sappy sadness; this is stand-up stuff."
Master Cooder's Latest Gem of American Music
Juan Mobili | Valley Cottage, NY USA | 06/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ever since Chicken Skin Music -ironically, another beauty honoring the Mexican influence on American music- Cooder has been one of the "saints of my devotion," as my father used to say. In Chavez Ravine, an album he's been working on for about three years, Cooder researched the disappearance of an area of Los Angeles, and long-standing Mexican community, that was erased to make way for what would become Dodgers Stadium. The album that has resulted from his interest is, then, a political statement about the legacy of Joe McCarthy, an elegy about old neighborhoods paved over by a twisted sense of progress, and an amazing group of songs showing the deep gift of Mexican-American music. With the same cool touch and deep affection that Cooder already demonstrated for Malian music (Talkin' Timbuktu) and Cuban grooves (Mambo Sinuendo and Buena Vista Social Club), Ry gathered a host of incredible Mexican-American musicians from the Fifties, to invoke the spirit of this story. Ersi Arbizu, Lalo Guerrero, Don Tosti and Little Willie G. -all great performers, most of which may be unknowns to most of us- take turns singing songs that conjure up the longings, loves and betrayals from the Chavez Ravine odyssey. Now, let's be clear, do not think this is ethnographic research for the Smithsonian archives or a dry document of music gone by. This album grooves ("Poor Man's Shangri-La" or "Onda Callejera") and gets down ("Muy Fifi" and "3 Cool Cats") as well as it will move you with some slow burners ("It's Just Work For Me") and beautiful ballads ("In My Town," "3rd Base, Dodgers Stadium" and "Soy Luz Y Sombra"). In conclusion, this is some of the most soulful music you may come across this year. It proves, too, that you can move your body with abandon and reflect on serious issues at once. Meaning and grooving, with passion and concern, master Cooder takes us for another ride through the real America, where great and forgotten voices get to sing aloud again."
A celebratory lament for what we have all lost
David E. Rogers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 06/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm just old enough to remember the Dodgers playing in L.A.'s Coliseum--and my first look at the new Dodger Stadium, shining like a giant multicolored jewel in the hillsides of Chavez Ravine.
It's still one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world, but it was years before I learned that it rests on the site (in some cases, even on the ruins) of what was once a "Poor Man's Shangri-La," the three Mexican-American communities of Chavez Ravine. Spanning more than a decade, it's a sad tale, one of idealism twisted by red-baiting, racism, corrupt city officials, rampant deception and the power of Big Money.
In "Chavez Ravine," Ry Cooder (perhaps best known for "Buena Vista Social Club") tells the story of Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop as no one has before. Inspired by the photos of Don Normark, Cooder reignites the soul of Chavez Ravine in a marvelous blend of musical genre, lyrics and language. You'll hear voices since stilled by the years (Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti), lost songs rediscovered ("Chinito, Chinito"), the visit and plea of a Space Vato ("El U.F.O. Cayo) and the memories of a 94-year-old hero ("Don't Call Me Red").
It's clear from Cooder's introduction in the excellent booklet that accompanies the CD that "Chavez Ravine" is not only a lament for the loss of a the Ravine's communities, but also for the urbanization of what once made Los Angeles so special. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I remember orange groves, unexpected old villages and semi-rural adventurelands--all now covered by big box retailers and faceless tract homes.
Indeed, in much of the U.S. West, we have all lived the sad tale of Chavez Ravine. The power of Cooder's "Chavez Ravine" is how it remembers, retells, celebrates and mourns what we once had in plenty and now is slipping away."
palealien | Butte Creek Canyon, Ca United States | 09/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There's really not much one can say in a new review that hasn't already been written here, and in many cases far more eloquently than I would have managed. But this is why we do this, after all, to share an experience like "Chavez Ravine".
I am usually not at a loss for words, but when it comes to trying to explain how I feel about "Chavez", I simply to not have the vocabulary to adequately express in how many different ways this masterpiece is not merely the best CD of 2006, but a landmark album that should be listened to and appreciated on so many different levels for a long time to come.
Anyone who grew up buying vinyl LP's should remember a sticker that used to be slapped on the shrink wrap of many titles, it informed us that "RECORDS are your best ENTERTAINMENT VALUE!".
I have had the album since it was released and never took the time to listen with the care it deserves until a few days ago and I began to realize I have never seen anything with quite the "entertainment value" of this astonishing CD.
It took an out of context radio experience to realize this. I was driving and heard on the radio a smooth supple simple Latin rhythm oozing from the speakers, reminding me of places I have never been, mesmerizing.. When a voice more lovely and lyrical and hypnotic than any in recent memory wove into the mix I had to pull over and listen and be completely transported. Who was this woman? Her voice made me feel as a cat must when it is being stroked. And the narration? ""Bueno la estubo, cara de tubo!" ("Well, that's it, tube face!")
I was embarrassed to learn at the backlist that it was "El UFO Cayo" from "Chavez Ravine", sitting on the rack unplayed for six months. The track reminded me of a weird cross between Martin Denny, Fred Neill, and maybe the Cowboy Junkies. I'd love to take the time to write track by track comments to point out some of the best exaltations, but there are just too many.
When I returned home, naturally after searching all I could find about the vocalist, Juliette Commagere, I pulled out the CD and resisted the temptation to skip to Track 9 and just hit the "repeat" button. I re-explored the entire album with great attention, and it is nearly flawless. As a whole, the best CD purchase I have made in a long time, the booklet is as exquisite as the music.
This is a record that commands your attention and earns your respect. A session with headphones is hearing it again for the first time, the absolute perfection with which it has been assembled becomes even more apparent when you slap on the cans and hear things in the mix that completely fill the canvas. As I continue to update this review I still find new favorites, currently it is "Ejercito Militar". I can't get over the flavor and texture of the amazing drum fills Joachim Cooder supplies between verses in the true Ranchera style, with the delicate overlay of Ry's snarling guitar providing just the right accent.
It's hard not to comment on other reviews here, people seem to either get it totally or, not. (i.e. "A Masterpiece" vs. "Lousy Music".) Reading things like this helps me to understand why things are the way they are in the country today. " A Boring History Lesson"?
"You're mistaken, sir, we have rights. It can't happen here" I never knew about the Ravine or saw such a brutal enforcement of eminent domain and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn. We're all entitled to our opinions, naturally, but in this case the 5 star voters have it.
If you take an hour or so and immerse yourself in this masterful effort you will be entertained yes, but you may be transported to another time as well."