Archive for March 16th, 2010

Chavez Ravine to Churubusco: American history through song

16 March 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Ry Cooder, to turn a phrase, has previous. In 2005 he released an album entitled Chavez Ravine that told the history of a Mexican-American neighbourhood of Los Angeles, bulldozed to the ground in the 1950s to make way for a housing development that was never built and a baseball stadium that was. On ‘Don’t Call Me Red’ he took on the role of Frank Wilkinson, the public architect who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was condemned to prison as a result. On ‘Chinito Chinito’ he offered a colourful snapshot of inter-race relations in 1940s LA: ‘Washes my shirts, irons my pants/Then he takes his maraca home’. The tale had it all: McCarthyism, cool cats, UFOs, conspiracy, and injustice, with a dash of the boogie-woogie and the jitterbug thrown in for good measure.

No surprise then to hear him return to the album-as-history theme for his new record, San Patricio, recorded with The Chieftains and a troupe of Mexican musicians. The yarn on this occasion: a group of ‘disaffected’ Irish-Americans led by Captain John Riley, who deserted to fight with the Mexicans in the war of the 1840s under the command of General Antonio López de Santa Ana. Read More