Recorded with a full band over two nights in 2011, this Ry Cooder & Corridos Famosos concert offering marks the guitarist's first live recording under his own name since 1988. His band is, as one would expect, full of killer musicians, many of them old friends. The vocalists include Juliette Commagere, Terry Evans, and Arnold McCuller. Son Joachim holds down the drum chair while Robert Francis plays bass and Flaco Jiménez appears intermittently on accordion. In addition, Cooder recruited the ten-piece brass ensemble La Banda Juvenil from Mexico. The program consists of 12 tunes. While only two are originals -- live readings of tunes from Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down -- many of these selections are Cooder heritage favorites. The opener is a snarling, soul-blues read of "Crazy 'Bout an Automobile," with a mean slide solo and Arturo Gallardo's bass sax burping in tandem. It's followed by a fine, gospelized reading of "Why Dont You Try Me?" (from 1980's Borderline) that gets not only all three vocalists in on the action, but the entire horn section as well. The big surprises are the inclusion of "Boomer's Story" -- with excellent martial shuffling by Joachim -- and the "The Dark End of the Street," with Evans and McCuller in duet, and Jiménez's accordion adding a lonesome sweetness to the proceedings. Cooder's stage banter is in fine form as well, as evidenced by his introduction to the smoking "El Corrido de Jesse James." The other original, "Lord Tell Me Why," with Evans singing the ironic "racial" lyric, underscores its intentional absurdity. Cooder remains a master of traditional and cover material. There are two Woody Guthrie tunes here and both are radically reworked. "Do Re Mi" is a polka in which Pablo Molina's Sousaphone and Jiménez's accordion duel for dominance, and "Vigilante Man" is nasty, moaning, grimy blues driven by the slide guitar. Sam "The Sham" Samudio's "Wooly Bully" is given a full-on boogie treatment by the whole band, and there is a reprise of Gene Barge's "School Is Out," that first appeared on the live album Show Time in 1976. Commagere takes center stage on the Fernando Maldonado classic "Volver Volver," with Le Banda Juvenil in full mariachi mode. She delivers the tune with stirring, soulful commitment. The set closes with a loose, beautifully performed "Goodnight Irene," with Jiménez coloring in the edges with his deft squeeze box, and Cooder's guitar answering with one of his most tender solos on record. For those who've longed for the return of his immediate, loose, warm, live recordings, Live at the Great American Music Hall is where it's at.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek