Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Eric Brace singles with an RBI double by Cooper

Get some popcorn and peanuts folks. This review is a long one that may go into extra innings.

This past spring, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper released their third record as a duo: The Comeback Album on Brace's Redbeet Records label.

Cooper's performing skills first hit my radar when Todd Snider brought him to the stage during a show at the Belcourt Theater eight years ago. Peter sang two numbers before turning the mic back to Todd. First up was "Nirvana is Better Than Pearl Jam" that had the entire audience in stitches. He then followed with "What's The Use?" which then quieted all of us. I recall thinking: Did he just do that? Did he take us from laughing to pondering in 3 minutes?

I met Peter in the lobby that night along with Hayes Carll who I'd also just heard for the first time. I still remember fumbling a confused intro to Peter something along the lines of Wait. There's a guy named Peter Cooper who writes for The Tennessean and No Depression. Are you...? I mean... You sing too? He laughed and politely agreed he was the one-and-the-same.

Over the years, I've enjoyed the music of Tommy Womack (who was also on the bill that night), Will Kimbrough, Snider and then Cooper after hearing those two songs. Branching forward, I naturally was intrigued when I heard of Peter's release with a guy named Eric Brace.

The previous two releases by the two of them are simply wonderful. Each has fantastic guitar skills. Their vocals complement one another to a T. Lyrics written individually or together range from wry humor to great storytelling. And even when they choose to cover a song, they pick one from deep in a another artist's catalog making it new for contemporary listeners.

Eric and Peter also surround themselves with great Nashville musicians when they hit the studio. The production of their two previous albums - and their third, The Comeback Album - includes a nice balance of the traditional "Nashville Sound" with an addition of their own unique musical styles.
  • Ancient History - the video for the lead track debuted on Couch By Couchwest last March. When they chose to submit it to CXCW, the YouTube views went off the chart! Well, I mean on a chart scaled to 1,000 views. But still. One of the individuals mentioned in the song - race car driver Dick Trickle - tragically passed away in May. Yet part of his memory will live on by being included in Ancient History.

  • Johnson City - I blog elsewhere regularly about my interests in NASCAR racing. Several weekends have been enjoyed in and around Bristol Motor Speedway. Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City, are referred to as the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee. Brace wrote this song about his fondness [/sarcasm] for the JC Jail. Not only do I genuinely enjoy the song - but I also appreciate the fact others spent a few hours in a cold East Tennessee cell where I likely merited a stay myself during one of those race trips. Eric, thanks for serving time so folks like me didn't have to.

  • Mad - This Tom T. Hall-penned song is one of the fun sing-alongs of the album. I've kinda thought about adopting it as my own theme song. Perhaps if my wife and I ever decide to renew vows, I'll ask to have this song played at the ceremony. Having the legendary Mac Wiseman and Marty Stuart sing stanzas on the album was a nice surprise and added tremendous aged insights. Musically, Dave Jacques' prominent and rock-steady bass rhythms really puts the bow on the package.

  • Kissing Booth - My favorite track from the album. Reflective lyrics; upbeat tempo; piano, harmonica and banjo - none of them overpowering.
Where did the summer go
I’m still waiting on the afterglow
Time is a train on an endless track
With the baggage coach painted black
Memory leans on a window sill
Looking for a little more time to kill
  • Boxcars - When I travel, it seems regardless wherever I am that the city's strongest, clearest radio station has a country music format. Yet even I can find it, I generally don't listen because I know what will be played...and it likely won't be good. But if every country station included Boxcars in its playlist... well, I'd likely stay on the frequency a bit longer.
The job is just a job / This bar just a bar
I caught a pass ten years ago / Here I'm a star
This star’s been dimming now these nine years and more
Since the only thing I wanted walked out the door

If you don't yet have The Comeback Album, jump over to Red Beet Records and sample each song from it.

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Not one to rest on his laurels, Cooper is following up his record with Brace with another solo record in the same year. Opening Day is scheduled for release on September 10th. Umm, yeah, three weeks before the 2013 MLB playoffs begin. On the other hand, Peter may be getting an 8-month jump on spring training and 2014 Opening Day.
Overall, Comeback is a fun album - great harmonies between Brace and Cooper, witty lyrics, unexpected guest appearances, ballads that still giddy-up and go, etc. Opening Day is quite the opposite. The picture of Peter absorbing his first baseball game in 1978 is a good visual metaphor for how I've listened to this album. Contemplative - observing - absorbing - very little sing-along (well, except for Tattoo as you'll read in a moment).

Cooper fits a lot of words into each song. Each could almost be considered a short story...with several words that rhyme...and set to music. The pedal steel sounds of Lloyd Green add immensely to just about every track.

If I had to submit a line-up card, I believe these tracks would be my starters.
  • Opening Day - I've never been a big baseball fan (though I do love being at ballparks). But I do know the feeling of unfulfilled potential or things just generally going off the rails unexpectedly. Cubs fans hang their heads each year resigned that a World Series title still isn't imminent. As a fan of Richard Petty's NASCAR teams, I gin up my hopes each February as the new season begins. Within a few weeks, however, I retreat to what I've known for the past 20-25 years. The potential unravels year after year, and all one can do is hope the following February arrives quickly. Cooper's song isn't exactly one of optimism. Instead, it seems to center on themes of fate, bad breaks, luck, unforeseen circumstances, acceptance and yet one also of resilience.
the fall breaks kind for the lucky ones
winter comes even to the champions

  • Jenny Died At 25 - Earlier this year, Uncle Leon & The Alibis released Wild Ways. One of my favorite tracks from it was All My Crazy Friends Got Old And Lame. It was a direct, in-your-face commentary for your friends who didn't follow the challenge of Pete Townsend.  (Though you could infer from the lyrics that the song may apply to YOU ... or me). Jenny follows the same line of thinking - a song of resignation and sorrow for those folks who back down from a fun life long before their prime is done. The big difference: Peter's song is a bit more cerebral, and he wrote it after sitting next to John Prine on a flight. I'm guessing Leon may have written All My Crazy Friends when a friend bailed on him after sharing only one shot at Hank's in Brooklyn. Could be, dunno.
  • Grandma's Batman Tattoo - Tattoo is the antithetical complement to Jenny. Peter and Tommy Womack contrived this completely believable (but assumed untrue) song following their 2006 appearance as part of Todd Snider's band on The Tonight Show ...

  • The song simply has to be heard live to fully appreciate its nuances and the audience's reactions.

  • Part Time - My understanding is this song was influenced by a John Hartford number. I wonder, however, if its a bit more autobiographical. I've always enjoyed his coverage of the Nashville music scene in The Tennessean. In recent years, the newspaper like many others has pared back its staff and coverage. Rather than write for the paper full-time as he once did, he now submits periodic columns. In turn, he seems to have had more time to spend on songwriting, recording and performing. That balance has become a home run for me as a reader and a listener. His columns are deeper than before, and I've heard and seen growth in his lyrics, vocals and guitar playing. I've already listened to this song multiple times - alternating between listening to what PC is singing and on Lloyd Green's pedal steel work.
So long, on the bar room grindstone now
And more fun than the law allows
You won't hear me disavow
The charms of the neon night

I must admit that I hate to quit
I'd been crazy for the benefits
Its a good gig on the face of it
But I been getting just a little uptight 

40 hours a week
Howling past my peak
That's hard work even for a man in his prime
So I'm thinking about going part time, part time
Probably gonna go part time
  • Birches - The album's closing song about communication and romance between an aged married couple is one of only two covers on the album. Though I'm not in a position to share Peter's version here, I've included a video of the original version by the late Bill Morrissey. Let's just say Lloyd Green's steel guitar talents and Cooper's vocals cover this song tremendously. This song takes repeated, close listens to absorb the relationship described in the words - both in the moment and over the span of years.

As I stated, I'm not much of a baseball fan. If I was, I'd likely have reviewed nine songs from Opening Day vs. five. But... I did turn the double-play with a review of two records. Plus, I included a few obligatory, predictable baseball terms. So that counts for some sort of pepper, right?

Want to sample the reviewed songs and the remaining ones from Opening Day? If so, find a quiet place to listen (such as at a Miami Marlins game heyyy ohhh) ... return to Red Beet Records ... and laugh and ponder.

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If you are already a fan of Eric and Peter, I'm likely preaching to the choir. You may already have Comeback. But if you don't have either or both, open your ears and your PayPal and add both of these to your collection. From there, work your way through the rest of the batting order of Eric's and Peter's music - individually and collectively.

Deputy Mayor, Couch By Couchwest

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