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Ry Cooder’s ‘The Prodigal Son’ instills reverence within blues

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A new blues album produced by father and son.

Legendary blues guitarist Ry Cooder has broken his 6 years of silence with a new album, The Prodigal Son, scheduled for release on May 11. The aging blues man, best known for his slide guitar, has put together a set of new interpretations of blues standards by Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Roosevelt Graves, and the Stanley Brothers, as well as a few original tracks.

The title tune, of course, is referencing the Parable of the Prodigal Son, from Luke 15:11-32. Each verse tells a little more of the story, while the chorus is sung from the perspective of the wandering son, who is weary of travel and wishes to return home.

Fittingly enough, Cooder co-produced The Prodigal Son with his own son, Joachim, who also handles the drum work on the album, and the above video. Both Ry and Joachim are proficient on several instruments, but Ry’s guitar work has previously led him to be named #8 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

Of the album, Ry commented:

“I do connect the political/economic dimensions with the inner life of people, since people are at risk and oppressed on all sides in our world today,” Cooder said in a statement. “There’s some kind of reverence mood that takes hold when you play and sing these songs. ‘Reverence’ is a word I heard my granddaughter’s nursery school teacher use, a Kashmiri woman. She said, ‘We don’t want to teach religion, but instill reverence.’ I thought that was a good word for the feeling of this music.”

Cooder’s new arrangement of this old blues standard features just a four-piece band: guitar, bass, drums, and saxophone. The use of the saxophone is particularly interesting because it’s hooked up to an effects pedal so that it can play full chords as opposed to just single notes. This effect makes the woodwind sound like it’s an old wavery organ.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tune, it was popularized in the mid-20th century by The Sensational Nightingales. Here’s what their Gospel version sounds like:

BONUS

If you’re interested in hearing Ry’s profound skill at the slide guitar, this track is a prime example:

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