Vinyl Frontier: Into The Purple Valley by Ry Cooder

Oh, this one’s a classic from the stack of shiny black discs with free clicks and crackles.

Cooder has been and done many things, from introducing slide guitar to the Rolling Stones when he featured on Sister Morphine from the album Sticky Fingers, to acting as saviour to Cuban music – at some risk to himself. He also wrote one of the most noted film soundtracks, for the Wim Wenders film, Paris, Texas.

His music has stirred the dust for the best part of 50 years now.

Into The Purple Valley is a Cooder classic from 1971 on which he resurrects classic American songs. The album has a handsome fold-out cover featuring Cooder and his wife Susan sitting in a Buick convertible, with mocked-up rainfall. The back shot shows the couple and the car against a blue sky on a sunny day, while the centrefold has them standing next to the Buick on a film set.

“We didn’t have video back then,” Cooder has said. “You had to suggest an alternative environment on the cover of your album. I used to think about ways to do this, mainly to please myself, and this one turned out pretty well.”

Cooder is a modest sort of guitar hero, a musicologist who shuffles through the past in search of diamond tunes. Here, there are 11 such songs, starting with How Can You Keep On Moving, credited to Agnes ‘Sis’ Cunningham, known for folk and protest songs.

Billy The Kid is credited on the disc as ‘traditional arranged by Cooder’, although the song is actually by Woody Guthrie. The sleeve contains scant information, unless an inner sheet has been lost over the years.

The great old songs roll on – Money Honey, FDR In Trinidad, Teardrops Will Fall and Denomination Blues. Side two opens with On A Monday, followed by the Johnny Cash song Hey Porter. The remaining three old musical tales are Great Dreams From Heaven, Taxes on the Farmer Feeds Us All and Vigilante Man, another Guthrie song.

The playing is lively, respectful of the music’s roots, but mostly it’s great fun – Cooder always is, as a spirit of joyous discovery slides in with his notes.

Into The Purple Valley always lifts my mood, and Cooder has been doing that since I first discovered his music back in 1066 or something. He’s still playing, about to start his first major US tour in ten years, and has a new album out, The Prodigal Son; one to buy.

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