Ry Cooder

I, Flathead

Ry Cooder’s new album triumphs on every level: As the final piece in his ambitious and riveting “California Trilogy” (with 2005’s Chavez Ravine and last year’s My Name Is Buddy), as a “concept album,” and as a collection of individually brilliant songs, including what might be one of the top-five country songs ever penned in “5,000 Country Music Songs.” Perhaps the ultimate road-trip disk, I, Flathead includes “o-mages” (his word) to the steel guitar, to mixed-race love affairs, to car mechanics and to the Man in Black (“Johnny Cash,” which picks up where Rodney Crowell’s “I Walk the Line Revisited” left off). Imagine Gram Parsons, Flaco Jimenez (who plays on the disc), Bob Wills, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Mulligan, Bobby Bare, and girl-group/Wall-of-Sound-era Phil Spector collaborating on the soundtrack for the film On the Road. The deluxe edition comes with a novella, narrated by Kash Buk—race-car driver, struggling country singer. Like Cooder says, “Drive like you never been hurt”—preferably not, in this case, in a car whose only distinction is fuel economy.