Ry Cooder

River Rescue: The Very Best of Ry Cooder

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Guitarist Ry Cooder is probably best known for his moody film soundtracks and his collaborations with world musicians V.M. Bhatt and Ali Farka Toure, which get frequent airplay on National Public Radio, or perhaps his performance and production work with Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club. But between these higher-profile gigs and his debut as a teenage guitar whiz alongside the eccentric Captain Beefheart, Cooder recorded a series of solo albums for Warner Bros.. Some were better than others, owing to their star's reedy voice and spotty writing talents, but all had their share of good moments. A European import, River Rescue: The Very Best of Ry Cooder is a generous collection of highlights from those albums, with one new tune, "River Come Down (PKA Bamboo)," that reflects his interests in cross-cultural collaboration. The older album tunes tend to fall into one of two categories: R&B ("Dark End of the Street" and "Money Honey") or weird experiments, such as George Clinton-inspired funk ("UFO Has Landed in the Ghetto") and Hawaiian swing ("Chloe"). Sometimes Cooder sounds as if he would give anything to be Little Feat's Lowell George; sometimes he sounds as if he might disappear with his guitar into the song he's playing. An interesting introduction to an earnest musician whose chameleon-like qualities work against him just about as often as they work.

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