For more than forty years Ry Cooder has been at the forefront of American music, switching between genres, styles and influences with consummate ease. Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down sounds like a cue for a couple of characters from Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat to kick back with a jug of cheap wine. But there’s far more on offer than some slick slide guitar and paisano chivalry.
In his highly conceptual California Trilogy, Cooder spoke through the mouths of three different generations of working class Americans, telling us about their dreams, hardships and obsessions. In Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down, he’s talking directly to the US citizens of today like an elderly and world-wise uncle taking an errant nephew on one side to deliver a few home truths. In this instance the errant nephew is the US itself, or at least its population, and its mistake is allowing the politicians, industrialists, financiers and warmongers to carry on along the road to destruction. And he doesn’t pull his punches. With bleak, biting humour, Cooder rips into the greed and inhumanity that flavours the 21st Century
No Banker Left Behind sets a comic tone for the album as Cooder chastises the banking community for their smash and grab dealings with the nations economy. Then in El Corrido de Jesse James he offers up the notion (by way of a soothing waltz) that Jesse James is in Heaven watching all this and begs to be allowed to head for Wall Street with his trusty handgun.
Laying equal blame for the world’s ills at politicians, John Lee Hooker for President seems to parody the blues man himself, as well as the bankrolling and empty promises of U.S. Presidential elections. If There’s A God delivers a stark warning about the potential return of segregation following the implementation of strict immigration laws in Arizona.
As I Want My Crown grinds its way from the speakers Ry Cooder invokes the spirit of Captain Beefheart to deliver the gloating rant of a monstrous behemoth as it desecrates and destroys everything that holds the nation together. The Government and the Law have fallen, greed and conquest are the new national identity.
Anti-war rhetoric is delivered in various flavours. In the sleepy blues number, Baby Joined the Army, a father laments his child’s misguided decision to sign up for the armed forces. While Christmas Time This Year spikes a jaunty Polka with dark, savage humour:
Everybody stand up tall and cheer
Our children will be coming home in plastic bags I fear
Then we’ll know it’s Christmas time this year
God lays humanity’s failings firmly at the feet of Television in Humpty Dumpty World. But if an underlying message can be applied to the album, Simple Tools illustrates that message. Finally, in No Hard Feelings, the land itself takes a philosophical view and dismisses humanity as a passing annoyance, whose misdeeds are marked, but will soon be forgotten.
No hard feelings no offence taken
You’re just a murmur in the whispering sands of time
No bad karma no curses on ya
You go your way I’ll go mine
There’s so much to explore in Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down, the constraints of a review can only scratch the surface. The best thing to do is listen to the album, and listen again, and take in the elderly uncle’s lessons. As Ry Cooder said of the California Trilogy – anybody can make of it what they want. While we’re contemplating the sermon, we can also enjoy a masterly collection of dusty roots, blues, country and boogie that equals anything in Ry Cooder’s four decades of excellence as a musician, songwriter, producer, folklorist and political commentator.