The Magic Numbers, Ry Cooder
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The Magic Numbers/
Ry Cooder

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]

AS SUMMERS VARY from year to year, so do summer records. One June may bring us drought, potato blight and Dodgy. Another delivers The Magic Numbers (Heavenly)****, a debut album so winsome you could easily end up hating it if it wasn't so damn loveable.
 Two pairs of brother-sister siblings from Bag End (or, so they claim, Hanwell), The Magic Numbers bring a deceptive lightness to everything they touch. This may sound like summer pop, distilling as it does the sunniest moments of the early Seventies (with particular emphasis on T.Rex's earlier, folkier tunes.) You can happily let it frolic past you on hairy little feet. But pay closer heed to the bright and sprightly likes of Long Legs (“One more drink and I'll be fine/One more girl to take you off my mind”) or Love Me Like You, and you'll notice that these deftly sculpted songs are invariably concerned with heartbreak.
 The quartet betray few influences dating after 1975. Yet the band they most closely resemble peaked in the Eighties. The craft, the refinement, the vocal arrangements and the bitter-sweet philosophising combine to persuasively whisper the name of Prefab Sprout. Forever Lost, the single, is a kissing cousin to Goodbye Lucille #1.
  The Magic Numbers may yet have a Steve McQueen in them. This album, dissipating into wispiness towards the end, isn't it; but the first half will do very nicely, to be going on with.
 Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch)**** is not only a lavish compendium of America's Latino music, it's also an impressive evocation of a time and place. The time is WWII and its aftermath, the place is Los Angeles (the title refers to a neighbourhood knocked down in the 1950s to accommodate a baseball stadium.)
 Where Neil Young's Greendale fell short, Chavez Ravine lives up to its novelistic aspirations (Philip Roth's I Married A Communist, set on the country's far seaboard, might make a more pertinent comparison.) It touches either directly or obliquely on the Zoot Suit Riots, the McCarthy witch-hunts, the piratical exploits of LA's robber barons. Even more than The Magic Numbers, this is a record that forgives the distracted listener, but rewards the attentive one.

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