Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Coal Men - Pushed To The Side

Dave Coleman and Dave Ray - two of East Nashville's nicest gentlemen - are also two of the most talented. Along with bassist Paul Slivka (another nice and talented guy by the way), the trio as The Coal Men (web | Twitter) will release their new album Pushed To The Side Friday, August 19th.

Though Dave squared have played together for over 15 years, I was introduced to their music only three years ago with the release of their previous album, 2013's Escalator. For Pushed To The Side, Coleman leveraged the talents (and niceness) of other East Nashville songwriters and friends including Stephen Simmons and Bob Delevante.

The title of the album's opener - Depreciate - may catch the eye of many CPAs. If so, they will likely be disappointed as the song has nothing to do with accounting. An aging, tour van serves as the metaphoric, contemplative vehicle. “It’s really about growing older gracefully and trying to find your self worth,” Coleman admits. “That’s part of what this band has tried to do. We’ve always been committed to being who we are and not chasing trends.”

I'm nearly ready for the junkyard
Counting down the miles
I can't remember all my travels
But boy I rode 'em out in style

All the luster and the shine
It's bound to chip and fade
The day you roll it off that line
You depreciate

Coleman co-wrote a trio of songs with West Virginia-to-Nashville transplant Jeff Wickland. The pair wrote three compelling "story" songs. In a pleasantly-paced 3/4 time, Willy Jett seems to be a hard-working coal man who enjoys partying harder. During one of his weekend adventures, the listener is introduced to Lilly, a one-night stand for Willy.

Willy came down from the coal camp
dreaming of a woman on his arm
And he found one down at the corner
Lilly took him with all of her charms

Two songs later, Lilly Hurst gets her own song. After perhaps getting dismissed as a rent-by-the-trick quickie for Willy, the listener learns of Lilly's much tougher ... and violent reality.

Nix came back one night needing his comfort and rest
He walked in on Lilly Hurst doing what she did best
Which man she was with, I guess I never did hear
Nix drew a line, left Lilly bleeding ear to ear

The trio of the Coleman-Wickland songs is completed with Travis. I've not heard The Coal Men play the song live yet - and I suppose it'll be a tough one to include in a set list. C'mon y'all, get up and dance! - nah, that's not gonna work with this one. Travis is one of the saddest, loneliest, searching, songs of loss you'll hear. I can only hope the song represents a truly fictional character rather than a true life experience of Coleman or Strickland. Unfortunately, however, Travis' story is an all too real one for many struggling young folks and those around them.

Travis lived across town by the railroad track
Just him and his dad and four dying walls of a shotgun shack
His mind was restless, it ached and it groaned
He walked this town, head hung down, most days he stayed stoned
He walked out alone deep into the black
Travis and a .38, the night he never came back

How could it happen to one of our own?
How did Travis live and die alone?

Though the aforementioned three songs are pretty deep, Speeding Like A Demon lightens the mood a lot. A co-write between Coleman and Simmons, Speeding is a fun, upbeat song about criss-crossing the state of Florida trying to make one gig after another. With Luther Perkins-ish guitar picking, I could imagine the song being championed by someone like Jerry Reed back in the day.

Pounding rain, orange cones, engine whines, the engine moans
Speeding like a demon to get to the show

Dotted lines, yellow lines, highway signs, and power lines
Speeding like a demon to get to the show

Coleman's guitar strumming and Ray's continual rim shot back beat give Faithless Eyes a bit of a Tell Tale Heart vibe - albeit with a false relationship commitment rather than a murder at the core. Careful when listening to this one though as to not self-incriminate!

Faithless eyes do not cry tears
Faithless eyes just mark the years
Of all the burdens brought on by lustful desires

Faithless eyes are not blind
They all see things that remind
The man that sees through them his love cast aside

The next-to-last song is Stones River. Co-written with Delevante, the structure of it reminds me a bit of Tennessee from the previous album. For me personally, Stones River hits even closer to home. Tennessee has been my life-long home. I grew up specifically in the suburb of Donelson - east of East Nashville. The Stones River separates Donelson from Hermitage to the east.

  • I permanently separated from several friends in junior high who lived on the other side of the river and were zoned to a different high school.
  • The Stones feeds Percy Priest Lake - a site of many fun times during my teen years.
  • The river is fed by McCrory Creek - a creek that ran behind the small Methodist church I attended as a kid. I spent many summer camp weeks splashing in that creek - waters that carried our sweat and laughter to the Stones.

The Singer (from Louisville) closes the album. Through the previous 11 songs of the album, Coleman's seemingly effortless guitar work, Ray's varied and generally subtle percussion, and Slivka's steady bass lines are ever present. But their consistency allows you to center in on the lyrics - to ponder and contemplate. A couple of seconds after Stones River ends, guitar feedback, Slivka's bass riff, and Ray's snare rim clicks throat punch you to realize it's time to wake up. The song is completely different musically than all others on the album yet tells another story.

The song features a local singer getting regularly heckled by his audience and is based loosely on a Tommy Womack short story. It's also possible this lyric from Womack's incredible Alpha Male and the Canine Mystery Blood may be embodied in Womack's story and Singer:

I'm singing all the songs I've sang for years
And when it's a band gigging, it's rocking
And when it's solo, the people talking while I'm singing
Make me depressed, you think I could take a hint

With Singer being so different from the rest of the album and slotted as the closing song, I'll still state the obvious pun by noting it was ... pushed to the side ... as far as it could go.

From start to finish - the eight songs noted here and another four - are compelling listens and make Pushed To The Side a must-get.