Saturday, August 10, 2013

East Nashville keeps 'em coming: The Coal Men

I grew up in Donelson, Tennessee - a suburb of Nashville. Its east OF Nashville, but its hardly what folks know as East Nashville. Yet with the seemingly endless supply of great musical talent that flows from that side of the river, I sometimes wonder if I should play the poser and brag "Yeah, I'm from East (of) Nashville."

Nah, I won't go that far. But I really enjoy hearing one quality release after another from artists that reside in the area of town that somewhat romantically brags "we'll steal your heart ... and your lawnmower."

Another fine upcoming release (August 27) is Escalator by The Coal Men. The release will be the band's fourth album but their first on Todd Snider's label, Aimless Records. Unless I'm mistaken, I think The Coal Men's new one will be the label's first release by an artist other than Todd. He released Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables and Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker in 2012. And Live: The Storyteller recorded at Nashville's TPAC was released in 2011.

The core of the band is guitarist / vocalist Dave Coleman and drummer Dave Ray. Coleman's vocals even have a Todd sound from time to time during the album though clearly the record is not a Todd Snider sounding one. Coleman has built a solid music network within Music City. Among others who contributed, Will Kimbrough added his guitar gifts to the recording.

You'll get your dollar's worth with this one. The album has 13 full-length and quality songs. One thing that really caught my ear in the first couple of listens was the diversity of song styles, instruments used and vocal inflections.
  • Last Goodbye - the lead-off track is a strong one. I'm admittedly not the best on picking up on specific instrument types, chord progressions, lyric composition, etc. But I do know what I like. Goodbye has a bit of what I'd call a Marshall Crenshaw vibe - and you can enable "repeat track" without worry.
  • Stuck - The band made a great choice by slotting Stuck behind the upbeat opener. A strong song that's certainly "thicker" than Goodbye. And the chucka-chucka-chucka guitar riff? Ohh yeaahh, berry, berry nice.

  • Role Model - This song was initially my favorite track or certainly the one I've found myself cranking the loudest because of Coleman's thrashing guitar work and Ray's solid drumming with a healthy dose of cymbals. Bonus points for the horn accompaniment!
  • Tennessee - Sure, I freely admit I'm a homer and that I'm partial to the song title. So sue me. But this song is truly an enjoyable one - though one of the more contemplative songs on the album. Just as Stuck was appropriately slotted behind Last Goodbye, I think another solid decision was made with the Role Model - Tennessee sequencing.
Put my wings to the wind / Leave the rest to the sky
Keep on painting on my pictures / Until the day I die
in Tennessee.

  • Sanity - This is one of the tunes where I sense some of Todd's influence in the lyrics and even in the vocals. I have no idea if he contributed to the composition or production - but I could see it.
I drive a car that a bank really owns
 To a job where I work for hours on the phone
No sir, I'm not a very good salesman ya see
I try to smile for a little bit of sanity
  • One Thing At A Time - Though Role Model was initially my favorite track, One Thing has quickly closed the gap and ranks among my top 2 or 3 favorites. I really enjoyed the subtle opening sounds of the upright bass, the rim shot echoes of Ray's snare and his tanging the hump before the rocking, distorted guitar arrives.
I wanna take her home / Give her a little piece of my mind
I don't wanna know everything / One thing at a time 
  • Old Friends - Over the years, I've met up with different folks over a cold one to chat about music, life, NASCAR racing, politics, families, whatever. Sometimes for happy hour after work - sometimes at a show on a late Thursday night - sometimes after yard work on a Saturday afternoon. More often than, my wife asks "And you know him from where?" I always have to explain my axiom: If I can share a beer with you, I can develop a bit of a friendship with you. Are those numerous friendships shallow and sometimes fleeting? Sure, but they're valid. Yet in the end, the greatest friendships are the core group of folks I've known for years - probably no more than 2 to 3 guys tops.
Old friends, old friends
They'll put up with you / They'll shut up for you
Old friends
They're in the pictures that you own
And all your memories when you're alone
Part of them / piece by piece
They're part of you
  • Lonoke, Arkansas - I've heard more than my share of albums where the band seemingly ran out of good material. The producer likely knew it though I've never been sure if the band ever did or not. The weakest tune is shoved to the end of the album. That situation is not the case with Escalator. The closing instrumental Lonoke, Arkansas needs to be heard. Guitar slides and vibratos. Supporting yet subdued percussion - with what sounds a bit like a mallet in one hand and a brush in the other. Understated upright bass. Then fade out.

    Lonoke reminds me of those long stretches of highway I've driven with many complex thoughts in my head. They're tumbling up there like a simmering jambalaya - yet with nothing to verbalize. The window is down - elbow rested on the door - eyes visually on the road - but my mind wanders as it works through whatever issues are rattling about up there.
Though The Coal Men are new to me, they are not a new band having formed about 15 years ago. In digging back through some earlier material, I found they were booked about 4 years ago on the fantastic live / webcast Music City Roots (web | Twitter) performed each Wednesday night at The Loveless Cafe west of Nashville.

Also, if you are a fan - as I am - of the show Deadliest Catch, you may have heard a song from The Coal Men without realizing it. Their song, Farther Find Me Now, was played over the the closing scene of the episode titled Bitter Tears. Deckhand Jake Anderson was at sea aboard the Northwestern when he learned of the death of his young sister. A genuinely sad moment - and handled dramatically but respectfully with the use of The Coal Men's song.


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