Ry Cooder doesn't just make music, he documents disappearing worlds. When he produced and played on the Buena Vista Social Club's breakthrough record, he revitalised a generation of Cuba's forgotten maestros. More recently, his album Chávez Ravine was inspired by a lost Latino district of LA, bulldozed in the 1950s to make way for the Dodger Stadium.
With My Name is Buddy, Cooder sets out to reinvigorate the musical traditions of the American left - an endangered species if ever there was one. The lyrics trace the journey of a feline hobo called Buddy Red Cat (the name refers to his political leanings, rather than his tabby coat) and the friends he meets on the road, Lefty Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad. Crossing the country, the trio encounter unionists, strikes, police brutality and a greedy, selfish pig named J Edgar Hoover.
Their story is set to music that recalls the protest folk of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger - and in fact, Seeger and his brother Mike are among Cooder's collaborators here. Songs such as "Strike" ("Union miners stand together, heed no operator's tale/Keep your hand upon the dollar and your eye upon the scale") have simple, timeless melodies, with Cooder's back-to-basics vocals accompanied by guitar, drums, fiddle and jaw harp. Innovative it ain't, but upbeat tracks such as "J Edgar" and "Red Cat Till I Die" are foot-tapping fun.
The real value of the album, however, is not musical but political. Like Bruce Springsteen, who released his own "Seeger Sessions" last year, Cooder is attempting to reawake memories of an America in which values such as simplicity and solidarity were prized. "There's a bright side somewhere," he sings on the final track. "I ain't gonna rest until I find it."