Recording of January 1989: Live and Let Live!
Rounder 2089 (LP), CD 2089 (CD). Larry Hirsch, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 44:42
If you've heard a Ry Cooder album in the last 12 years, you've heard Bobby King and Terry Evansthey're the gorgeously voiced gospel/R&B singers who've backed up Ry while he's learned to sing in publicand from whom he can't help but have learned a lot. To crib from the liner notes, King is from a Louisiana gospel background, while Evans sang R&B in Mississippi. Their music together is a seamless blend of the best of both sides of the churchyard gate, smack dab in the middle of the strongest undercurrents of American music. Virtually every tune is a gem, but "Let Love Begin," so warm and lovingly sensual it'll melt your speakers, and the best version I've ever heard of "Dark End of the Street," are instant classics. "Saturday Night" has a hint of sprung Cajun rhythm, and "Let Me Go Back to the Country" has that vital feel of a pick-up band one by one sitting down to sit in, music made for the sheer joy of singing and playing. Only "Bald Head," another misogynistic Cooder tune, falls flat, though not for lack of trying by King & Evans.
I find myself thinking of this one in the same mental breath as John Hiatt's Bring the Family, and no surprise: Ry Cooder and drummer Jim Keltner play here as well. Ry's flawless, instantly recognizable slide guitar work adds power and melancholy to all nine cuts, and drummer's drummer Keltner, with dues-all-paid-up pianists Jim Dickinson and Spooner Oldham, make up a rhythm section of all-the-way-down rhythmic integrity. This combo can lay down a simple, inevitable gospel/funk groove faster, and with more authority, than anyone I know.
The immediacy of this record's appeal is primarily due to the naked emotion of King's and Evans's voices and the raw tone quality of Cooder's guitar, but it certainly isn't hurt by the recording quality, which has enough presence to make you look behind your speakers for the band. Cooder, who produced Live and Let Live!, by now has a seemingly infallible knack for the job, audible in the first five seconds of "Just a Little Bit," the very first cut: the kick drum and snare which lay down the rhythm sound like a drumkit in a wood-floored ginmill, not the usual disembodied, 18-miked, perfect "thud." As far as I can tell, this friendly, gutsy record was recorded live in the studio, no overdubs. The sounds of LP and CD are as close as any I've heard lately, so go for the LPplease. Music this real gets rarer every day.Richard Lehnert