Ry Cooder: Soundtracks - review

Ry Cooder's film soundtrack albums include Paris, Texas, The Long Riders, Alamo Bay and Crossroads
Ry Cooder's film soundtrack albums include Paris, Texas, The Long Riders, Alamo Bay and Crossroads

Ry Cooder has made some of the most memorable film soundtrack music and this collection includes the wonderful Paris, Texas and The Long Riders. This review is of a compilation of his film work.


When Harry Dean Stanton wanders across the bleached southwestern wasteland in the opening to Wim Winders' masterful film Paris, Texas, this laconic and haunting scene is set to the perfect music: Ry Cooder's bottleneck guitar adaptation of a Blind Willie Johnson blues song. 

Wenders later said that he had the feeling the film was shot with a camera and a guitar, and that Cooder had created "sacred music".  The Paris, Texas album from 1985 is one of the finest film soundtracks, and is one of seven scores included in a 2014 boxed set collection Ry Cooder: Soundtracks that also includes The Long Riders’ (1980), Music From Alamo Bay (1985), Blue City (1986), Crossroads (1986), Johnny Handsome (1989) and Trespass (1993).

 The pairing with Wenders worked so well. There is a terrific version of Johnson's Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground), and a memorable six-minute instrumental called She's Leaving the Bank, co-written by Cooder with Jim Dickinson. Cooder's incredibly atmospheric music helps make the film special but is also a treat to listen to just as an album of music. 

Much of Cooder's best film score work has been done with director Walter Hill, especially on Hill’s re-invention of the Jesse James legend. Cooder said musician and director simply "understood one another", and it shows in the way Cooder provided a historically authentic score – using polkas, square dances, waltzes and other traditional tunes played by a small band that includes the peerless David Lindley on guitars and violin – to move away from the bombastic style that sometimes accompanies westerns. The soundtrack to The Long Riders is brief (36 minutes) but contains one of the most joyful tunes in Cooder's vast and distinguished repertoire: Seneca Square Dance. 

Cooder's career has been incredibly varied and has included playing with rock bands such as The Rolling Stones as well as revitalising Thirties folk, adapting Tex Mex and celebrating Cuban music. One of his finest blues albums came when he worked again with Hill on Crossroads, which is a musical tribute to Robert Johnson, and includes a contribution from the great Sonny Terry.

Ry Cooder: Soundtracks is on Rhino Records


There are fine guests, too, on Alamo Bay, including John Hiatt, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas.  Of course, some of the individual tracks on the various albums seem incongruous separated from the original film but there is plenty to enjoy on all seven records, whether with gentle instrumental tracks such as Billie and Annie from Blue City, or in the offbeat music of tracks such as Goose and Lucky from Trespass.

It is a shame that Southern Comfort and The Border are not included in the choice of album.  Cooder has done 18 soundtracks in all but the musician who was born in Los Angeles on  March 15, 1947 said in 2014 that he won't be doing any more film work. "Films make me sick now and if something makes me sick I back off," he said.

 This set is a fine reminder of his magnificent legacy of film work.