Has Ry Cooder gone all Woody Guthrie? With his “California trilogy,” begun in 2005, he took on the state’s ugly treatment of immigrant farm laborers, among other thorny subjects; on last year’s Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, he called fat-cat bankers on the carpet. And now, with campaign season in full swing, Cooder girds himself to tackle all the hot-button issues of 2012 — and he hits them hard at the knees.
“Mutt Romney Blues” is a scathing portrait of the GOP presidential candidate, set to an acoustic juke-joint stomp and told from the point of view, naturally, of the family dog. On the flip side, “Cold Cold Morning” is a gutbucket down-tempo blues that gets in the head of Barack Obama, set upon by “stray dog Republicans, always snapping at my heels.” To put it mildly, Cooder sounds riled up — his guttural rasp on “Kool-Aid,” a swirling nightmare of distorted slide guitar and big-footed drums (played throughout the album by his son Joachim), seethes with anger and despair. But he can also have fun with the exercise: “Going to Tampa” is an airy, countrified boogie that joyfully lampoons Tea Party delegates, while “Guantanamo” grooves like a late-’60s Rolling Stones studio jam. If Guthrie — or, for that matter, John Lee Hooker, who hovers in spirit over cuts like “Kool-Aid” — were alive today, he might just pick up his guitar and join in.