One of my great failings as a writer is that I am not talented enough to blow smoke up the arses of every performer I review, all the while simultaneously saying absolutely nothing about the music and seeming intellectually gifted.
At least, that is the feeling I acquired shortly after starting this intermittently successful gig in 2000. I’ve read thousands of reviews in many of the magazines and on the websites- from Mojo and Uncut to Rolling Stone and No Depression, and for every review that I’ve found enlightening and helpful, there has been three that praise the latest release from some unknown as the greatest thing since Lucinda found sobriety.
Equally often, an album is trumpeted as either the artist’s best since 1979 (do a search of Neil Young reviews and see how often that phrase is used, although the year changes with each piece) or as the most accomplished of the year within some finely attuned genre, my favourite being post-Americana, indie-grungefolk. Frequently, by the end of the review I am no further ahead than I was when I started.
I hope readers don’t find that to be the case here, ’cause that would be embarrassingly ironic. Perhaps sardonically self-destructive, even.
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper The Comeback Album (Red Beet Records)
The fourth album from Nashville singer-songwriters Eric Brace and Peter Cooper may not be their best album (I continue to favour You Don’t Have to Like Them Both, their 2008 debut, but I tend to do that), and neither is it the strongest release of this calendar year. It will not change the course of music history, and it is not likely to be the subject of scholarly writing throughout the next decade.
It is a wonderful collection of music that has provided me with hours of enjoyment; I suspect it might do the same for others who appreciate thoughtful, melodic interpretations of country and roots music that owes as much to Tom T. Hall (the subject of their previous tribute album I Love…) and Jerry Jeff Walker (who gets name-checked within the album’s lead track “Ancient History”)as it does the likes of Todd Snider and Kieran Kane.
I feel quite inadequate attempting to describe music executed within such an accomplished setting. The collective musicianship contained within The Comeback Album is staggering, continually engaging, and the composition of the songs- the ebbs and flows, the changes in tempo and mood, as often as not indicated by subtle shades of acoustic and electric guitar- sometimes attributed, as in the playing of Thomm Jutz on the lead track, elsewhere not- is profound.
Lloyd Green, Cooper’s collaborator on the earlier The Lloyd Green Album, plays pedal steel on every second song, and as always (it would appear) does just enough to make each track stronger than it might have been without his efforts.
The album comes in at forty minutes, and during that time the duo examine or at least consider subjects both significant and light. From a Tennessee jail cell to the remnants of a life spent searching for ambition in a dead-end job and a never-ending bottle, and no few opportunities to examine matters of lust, love, and loss, Brace and Cooper write and perform songs that are as memorable and substantial as they are even-handed and self-aware.
Apparently unflappable, Brace and Cooper bring in the unlikely trio of Mac Wiseman, Duane Eddy, and Marty Stuart to perform one of Tom T. Hall’s earliest songwriting hits, “Mad.” Described by Phil Kaufman (related in the song notes) as ‘The Neverly Brothers,’ Cooper and Brace are that unlikely duo of (seemingly) even-minded, focused individuals who are greater for their collaboration.
As they have in the past, Brace and Cooper share material written by others, in this case Karl Straub (again) and David Halley, whose “Rain Just Falls” closes the disc.
Never shying from self-deprecation, the pair are equally adept at self-evisceration, as on the needs-to-be-a-classic “She Can’t Be Herself.” Coloured in heartache by Green’s waves of blue steel, this Brace-Cooper composition should be accompanied by the number for the local mental health helpline. Brace’s “Kissing Booth” reminds me of John Wort Hannam, and I realize that reference means little outside of Alberta…but it shouldn’t, ’cause JWH is amazing: small town life and individual perspective magnified by shared experience and universal emotion. Beautiful stuff, if anguish inducing.
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper’s The Comeback Album is eminently appealing, and should keep listeners enthralled with clever phrasing, both lyrical and melodic, accomplished lead and harmony singing, and especially impressive instrumentation.
“Ancient History” can be heard here. Watched, too. But, I’m still not sure exactly what it means. “She Can’t Be Herself” can be experienced here, thanks to the YouTube. Cooper’s “Grandma’s Batman Tattoo,” not included on The Comeback Album, is HERE. Spend an hour or so listening to their varied clips- better than watching a rerun of Storage Wars.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I very much appreciate the continued interest and support. Donald
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