10th Best Album of 2008: Ry Cooder’ s “I, Flathead”

Late in the year, Ry Cooder released the dandy I, Flathead, in which, by God, he plays certified rock’n’roll music, or something close to it.  He’s come full circle, if you think about it, in that his mature singing voice sounds like Don Van Vliet’s, and damned if Cooder wasn’t one of the guitarists on Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk more than 40 years ago.  If American roots music has shifted with the population from the Mississippi River watershed to the Colorado’s — Calexico is the 21st century American soul band — then Cooder’s California desert rock reveals new truths about the nation, sounds great, and is a welcome reminder of how delightful a virtuoso he is, whether jamming with Indian sitarists, Cuban bar bands, or what sounds like John Hiatt and Los Lobos.

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