Ry Cooder – Chicken Skin Music

More Ry Cooder

Side two of this Reprise pressing is OUT OF THIS WORLD. From the moment the needle hit the groove we were blown away by the huge soundfield, the unbelievable presence and the massive amount of energy. It sounded like Ry and his crew were right there in the room with us, playing their hearts out. The two tracks featuring Hawaiian musicians (steel guitarist and singer Gabby Pahinui and slack key guitar master Atta Isaacs) are both on side two and they sound AMAZING on this copy.

The sound is musical, super transparent, lively and tonally correct from top to bottom. There’s lots of deep, well-defined bass and the vocals are breathy and full-bodied. The stringed instruments all sound natural, correct, and wonderful, and the accordion sounds just right. The overall sound is rich, full, warm, and sweet with silky, delicate highs. There’s lots of extension up top and the bottom end is punchy and powerful. We rate side two A+++ — As Good As It Gets (AGAIG). Folks, it sure doesn’t get any better than this!

Side one is excellent but not quite in the same ballpark. The sound is very open and transparent, free from the veiled quality that you suffer through on most pressings. The top end is extended and sweet and Ry’s vocals sound just right. The accordion sounds particularly good here — you can really hear the instrument moving some air. We rated side one between A+ and A++.

For me, this clearly one of Cooder’s two or three best LPs. The two cuts with Hawaiian great Gabby Pahinui are superb! What kind of cold-hearted person couldn’t love this music?

Much like our best copies of Jazz, this pressing really conveys the live-in-the-studio performance qualities of the music. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

Absolutely crucial to this album is the sound of the various stringed instruments. Over the course of the two sides you’ll be treated to many different styles of guitar — electric, slack-key, Hawaiian, bottleneck, steel, and acoustic — plus mandolin, mandola, tiple, and more. You’ll need an open and spacious copy with superb transparency and clarity to fully appreciate the lovely and unusual sounds of these instruments.

Like we’ve said about Ry Cooder’s Jazz, rounding up a panoply of relatively exotic instruments for an album doesn’t make it especially noteworthy. Thankfully Cooder’s up to more than that. Using an ensemble of seriously talented musicians, as well as studio engineers who really understand how to capture these instruments, Cooder again succeeds in giving the audiophile public a full course spread of lovely and uncommon sounds.


Side One

The Bourgeois Blues 
I Got Mine 
Always Lift Him Up/Kanaka Wai Wai 
He’ll Have to Go

Side Two

Smack Dab in the Middle 
Stand By Me 
Yellow Roses 
Goodnight Irene

AMG Review

If Cooder’s approach to the music is stylistically diverse, his choice of material certainly follows suit. Bookended by a couple of Leadbelly compositions, Chicken Skin Music sports a collection of songs ranging from the aforementioned tracks to the charming old minstrel/medicine show number “I Got Mine” and the syncopated R&B of “Smack Dab in the Middle.” Also included is Appalachian songwriter Blind Alfred Reed’s “Always Lift Him Up,” complete with a Hawaiian gospel tune, “Kanaka Wai Wai,” woven into the instrumental section.

As he explains in the album’s liner notes, Cooder understands the connection between these seemingly disparate styles. This is not merely eclecticism for its own sake. Chicken Skin Music is probably Ry Cooder’s most eccentric record since his first, but it’s also one of his most entertaining.