Every week, Take Two brings you the latest releases from some of SoCal's best artists. This week, Steve Hochman shares his picks.
Artist: Ry Cooder
Album: “The Prodigal Son”
“The Prodigal Son”
“Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right”
Steve Hochman says:
A couple of months ago, we heard from Joachim Cooder on Tuesday Reviewsday. Now it’s his dad’s turn — not that dad hasn’t had plenty of turns in his long career. His career has taken us on a musical journey around the globe (producing Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club, a duo album with Mali’s Ali Farka Touré, among many projects). In recent years he’s told tales of Southern California’s colorful history, including “Chavez Ravine” about the displacement of a community to make way for Dodger Stadium.
Now he turns, well, home, as the title “The Prodigal Son” suggests.
The music and approach here reaches back to the music Ry made before Joachim was born. This is a return dive into the American folk and blues of the early 20th century, marked by Cooder’s distinctive and informed perspective and his supreme guitar and slide playing.
Blind Willie Johnson, Alfred Reed, Carter Stanley and the good ol’ “Traditional” are all represented here. And, in the prodigal mode, it’s illuminated by lessons learned along the way, as encapsulated in the title song, a traditional tune arranged vibrantly by both Cooders.
As the title also suggests, there’s a lot of the Bible here, gospel songs explicitly evoking Jesus, God and the promise of heaven. But for him, it’s not a matter of religion but reverence. It’s also a matter of relevance. In “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right,” learned from Blind Willie Johnson’s recording, Ry makes specific references to the immigrant issues of right now.
There are also some original compositions, including “Gentrification,” tackling the newer rounds of cultural displacement, and “Jesus and Woody,” imagining Jesus welcoming Woody Guthrie to heaven as a kindred spirit: “So sing me a song about this land is your land, and fascists bound to lose, you were a dreamer Mr. Guthrie, and I was a dreamer too.”
“I’ve Been Fine”
Steve Hochman says:
The first sound on the first solo album by Theresa Wayman of the L.A. band Warpaint is a steely intake of breath, a metallic sigh. It’s both intimate and isolating, both an invitation and a warning. In some ways, it’s the ultimate distillation of Warpaint’s music. And on what follows here, Wayman builds on that, with layers upon layers of lush sounds, at once comforting and smothering.
That simultaneous pull and push is up front on “I’ve Been Fine,” portraying desperate loneliness. “Why can’t you be next to me?” she sings, repeatedly, the desperation for closeness becoming distancing.
The album overall seems to draw on the pushes and pulls in her own life, balancing both the joys and demands of being in an acclaimed band and those of being a single mom.
It’s also a compelling look into her world, honest and in-the-moment, as recorded in her home studio, on the road, wherever she could get some time and space to work. It’s probably no accident that one song is titled “Safe.” Even in “The Dream,” a wish for the ultimate surrender to and of love, sounds both wonderful and suffocating.
Perhaps her ultimate dream is in one of the song’s lines: “Wish I could be quiet for one little minute and stop with all the thinking.”
Artist: La Luz
Album: “Floating Features”
It was probably inevitable that La Luz, having originated in Seattle, would relocate to L.A. Where else would a band that has the sounds of surf music at its core want to live? With two previous albums under its belt, the group (guitarist Shana Cleveland, drummer Marian Li Pino, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, and bassist Lena Simon) makes its full recording debut as a SoCal force with “Floating Features,” adding its own stamp to a tradition that runs through Dick Dale, the Ventures and, yes, an earlier all-women L.A. outfit, the Go-Gos.
At the core is Cleveland’s echo-drenched six-string twang, right from the opening title track instrumental. And while that gets things going with a bit of mysterioso-drama tone, the other key ingredient is another surf-rock tradition: fun. This is a band that clearly enjoys making its music.
(See the mini-movie parodies of its videos, notably the Tarantino-esque grindhouse clips for “Cicada” and the chain-letter mystery “The Creature.")
You don’t need the videos to love the mix of spirit and chops, whether on the dreamy “Walking Into the Sunset” or the churning “Loose Teeth.” Beach party!