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Ry Cooder understands that a great song is a great song, whether it was written before the Depression or last week. Still, at the same time he isn’t afraid to explore new avenues and possibilities for the material. Like his three previous records, Paradise and Lunch is filled with treasures which become part of a world where eras and styles converge without ever sounding forced or contrived. One may think that an album that contains a traditional railroad song, tunes by assorted blues greats, and a Negro spiritual alongside selections by the likes of Bobby Womack, Burt Bacharach, and Little Milton may lack cohesiveness or merely come across as a history lesson, but to Cooder this music is all part of the same fabric and is as relevant and accessible as anything else that may be happening at the time.
No matter when it was written or how it may have been done in the past, the tracks, led by Cooder’s brilliant guitar, are taken to new territory where they can coexist. It’s as if Washington Phillips’ “Tattler” could have shared a place on the charts with Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” or Little Milton’s “If Walls Could Talk.” That he’s successful on these, as well as the Salvation Army march of “Jesus on the Mainline” or the funky, gospel feel of Blind Willie McTell’s “Married Man’s a Fool,” is not only a credit to Cooder’s talent and ingenuity as an arranger and bandleader, but also to the songs themselves.
The album closes with its most stripped-down track, an acoustic guitar and piano duet with jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines on the Blind Blake classic “Ditty Wah Ditty.” Here both musicians are given plenty of room to showcase their instrumental prowess, and the results are nothing short of stunning. Eclectic, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining, Paradise and Lunch remains Ry Cooder’s masterpiece.
Mastered from the original master tapes and strictly limited to 2000 numbered copies, this audiophile reissue boasts dead-quiet surfaces, superb transient response, front-to-back soundstaging, and an organic immediacy that heightens the enjoyment, character, and craft of the arrangements.