The folks at Raven Records in Australia must have a blast assembling projects. This pairing of two 1980s Ry Cooder soundtracks is a case in point. The Border, composed and released in 1982, was the soundtrack to Tony Richardson's film The Border, and 1985's Alamo Bay was directed by Louis Malle. The interesting thing about these soundtracks is that they come immediately after Cooder's successful collaboration with Walter Hill on The Long Riders and Southern Comfort, and as the before-and-after bookends to his enigmatic score for Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas. The score for The Border is perfectly balanced. Cooder's slide work is always touted, but also noteworthy is his ability to virtually disappear in the mix when collaborating with Flaco Jimenez, Freddy Fender, Jim Dickinson, Jim Keltner, and Sam "The Sham" Samudio. The haunting title track, "Across the Borderline," sung by Fender, is among the most beautiful and literate cuts Cooder has ever written. The cantina music by Jimenez and Samudio is utterly evocative. Check the tunes with Samudio on vocals, such as "Palomita" and "No Quiero," to get the laid-back, sun-up feel. Then there's John Hiatt. Hiatt was at the beginning of his association with Cooder. He helped to pen some of the better cuts on the set, including the aforementioned "Across the Borderline" and the bluesy garage rock jam "Skin Game." His high-whine vocals are perfect for the tension between cultures and reflect the conflict of Jack Nicholson's character as a principled U.S. border guard. Alamo Bay, Malle's picture that pits American shrimpers against refugee Vietnamese on the south coast of Texas, is another study in contrasts. Once more, Cooder assembles an all-star band that includes Hiatt, Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo, Lee Ving, Van Dyke Parks, David Lindley, Keltner, Chris Ethridge, David Mansfield, and Dickinson. The theme features Cooder's acoustic slide amidst strings (including Gayle Levant's harp), piano, and ambient sounds. The ethereal airy feel is swallowed whole by the raunchy electric roadhouse blues of "Gooks on Main Street," and dislocated once more on the country ballad "Too Close," performed by Hiatt with actress Amy Madigan, only to shift again with the sinister slide guitar and harmonica Eastern modal blues of "Klan Meeting," an instrumental. The score weaves and wends through barroom shouters, panoramic instrumentals, ballads, Tex Mex, and conjunto. Placing both recordings on a single disc is a rare and exotic treat, and gives great insight into the complex yet visionary artist Cooder is, and just how his music is the perfect accompaniment to visuals yet stands completely on its own.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek