Robber Bankers Flayed by Cooder; Kanye, Jay-Z Fail: Rock CDs

"Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down" by Ry Cooder. The album of protest songs confronts the financial system, the treatment of immigrants and the working class. Source: Shorefire Publicity via Bloomberg

The world’s bankers are escaping with as much money as they can, says Ry Cooder on his new CD.

“They robbed the nation blind,” Cooder intones on the folky opening track, “No Banker Left Behind.” He sneers at Wall Street bonuses and the champagne lifestyle in a song that sounds like a Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl ballad.

“Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down” is an old-fashioned concept album about U.S. corruption. Those City types who grew up loving Cooder’s rootsy rock shouldn’t be surprised. He has long cast himself on the side of the working man (“Bourgeois Blues,” “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”).

Rhetoric aside, this is a fine recording to file alongside Cooder’s excellent “Paradise and Lunch” 1974 LP.

Rating: *****.

“Revolution” is Jon Regen’s second straight great album. The jazz pianist, who started a U.S. tour this week, continues to broaden into pop songwriting.

After my favorable review of Regen’s “Let It Go,” he has been twittering and messaging asking for my verdict on his latest, which again has Andy Summers of the Police among the guests. Don’t worry Jon, it’s good. “She’s Not You (But Tonight She’ll Have to Do)” has strong hooks and should be a hit.

Rating: ****.

Kanye West and Jay-Z spent years battling to become the King of Rap. They now have joined to make “Watch the Throne,” which they bill as a triumph. In truth, they fail. The CD is a catalog of all that’s wrong with rap: chest-beating braggadocio, bombastic beats, foulmouthed bad rhymes.

Rating: *.

If you want to hear rap done with infinitely more style, check out “We’re New Here.” It’s U.K. producer Jamie ‘xx’ Smith’s remix of “I’m New Here” by performance poet Gil Scott-Heron, who died in May, and is a fitting homage to the man who brought us “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Rating: *****.

Seasick Steve is another veteran, thankfully very much in his prime. The bluesman chose the cover shot of an elderly cross Labrador-collie because he says it looks like him (true). He goes on to disprove the title “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks,” making some of the most innovative music of his career. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin joins the party on “Back in the Doghouse.”

Rating: ***.

Two names to watch from Canada: Daniel Isaiah and Ron Sexsmith. Isaiah, from Montreal, mixes Leonard Cohenesque lyrics with dizzily ambitious music on “High Twilight.”

Sexsmith has been making music for three decades, gradually building a following and perfecting his songcraft. Now 47, he has just about succeeded with the aptly named “Long Player Late Bloomer.”

Rating for both: ***.

Jamie Woon, 27, is a U.K. singer-songwriter with a much shorter story. He graduated from the BRIT School after Amy Winehouse, and supported her in concerts. His debut, “Mirrorwriting,” has a restrained dubstep feel that recalls James Blake and the xx. The soulful voice on “Street” suggests that he will go far.

Rating: **.

Samuel Beam from South Carolina, better known as Iron & Wine, released “Kiss Each Other Clean” back in January. Underwhelming at first listen, it’s a grower and with perspective sounds better than some other 2011 releases: King Creosote, Gregg Allman and Moby among them.

Rating: ***½.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Cooder is on Nonesuch Records, Regen on CDBaby, Scott-Heron on XL, Daniel Isaiah on Secret City, Ron Sexsmith on Thirty Tigers, and Iron & Wine on Warner. Prices from $12. Kanye West and Jay-Z, on Roc-A-Fella, is also available in a deluxe edition for $14. Seasick Steve is on Third Man and Jamie Woon is on Verve, both on import to the U.S. for $20. All are available in the U.K. for about 9 pounds. Download fees vary across services.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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