Eric Brace & Peter Cooper,
The Comeback Album
(Red Beet, 2013)

"It took Bluegrass Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman 87 years," the liner notes to The Comeback Album helpfully inform us, "but he finally realized his dream of singing with us." Or: "Phil 'The Road Mangler' Kaufman sometimes calls us 'The Neverly Brothers,' which stings a little, but it's better than having him dump us in the desert and set fire to us like he's done some of his other friends."

If the above doesn't elicit cascading laughter from you, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper, doyens of the East Nashville sound, probably aren't for you. Or anyway you'll be missing a good part of their appeal, actual musical chops aside. Even the title of their current disc, their first together in three years (I reviewed Master Sessions here on 20 November 2010), betrays their humor, usually self-deprecating. Though some of their songs address serious social issues and do not generate the inference that they're Tea Party regulars when they're not out on the road, they don't seem to hate anybody. Beneath the jokes is an admirably benign view of their fellow humans. They suffer fools gladly. Indeed, they have a special fondness for the foolish, perhaps because, at least in their performance personas, they count themselves among them.

There is nobody quite like them, though they're hardly the first to mash up country and folk with a touch of rock 'n' roll. In some ways they do bring to mind and ear a kind of 21st-century Everly Brothers. In others, they could be representatives of a mid-1960s folk revival had that movement been centered in Nashville, not up north in Greenwich Village.

I like it that they know who Pink Anderson was and that they mention him in a song ("Thompson Street"). I like their unabashed passion for Tom T. Hall's music; no album of theirs is complete without a Hall composition ("Mad" this time), here done up splendidly with the above-mentioned Wiseman, Duane Eddy and Marty Stuart, three all-American musical heroes. I like their own songs, both the jokey ones ("Ancient History") and the somber ones ("Boxcars"), and I like it that they're willing to take up other writers' songs, too (Karl Straub's "Carolina" and David Halley's "Rain Just Falls," which closes the disc, perfectly to me on this rainy Midwestern spring afternoon). I like their melodies, and their harmonies delight me.

As usual Brace & Cooper surround themselves with first-rate pickers, not least steel-guitar master Lloyd Green and multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin. The arrangements feel modestly fuller than last time around, but still uncluttered and to the point. The emphasis is on the stories of affable, hapless souls not quite defeated by a big and confusing world. Persons who answer to that description have no more affectionate champions than Brace & Cooper.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 May 2013

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