The songs on this disc loosely relate the saga of three Mexican-American neighborhoods collectively nestled in Chavez Ravine that were bulldozed into oblivion in the late ’50s to clear the space that was eventually filled by Dodger Stadium. The story is replete with Big Money politics, cool cats and chicks, corrupt cops, culture clashes, forced evacuations, Red baiting, and even a flying saucer. Cooder tells the tale in a series of cameos that combine original compositions with period music, and his own vocals with those of contemporary singers—one of whom is no longer living. Clever touches, such as the excerpts from Dragnet that grace “Don’t Call Me Red,” provide additional color.
Woven throughout this sonic mélange is Cooder’s understated, yet often brilliant guitar playing (he also plays organ, tres, laud, and bajo sexto), which is in turns bright and bouncy, and dark and menacing. There aren’t any guitar solos—unless you count the deconstruction of “Patricia” on “El UFO Cayó”—but Cooder’s rhythmic phrasing and timbral colorings are spectacular, as are the song arrangements and performances by the other musicians and vocalists. Another cross-cultural masterpiece from “Mr. Grumpy.” Nonesuch/Perro Verde.