Eric Brace & Peter Cooper,
Master Sessions
(Red Beet, 2010)

Peter Cooper,
The Lloyd Green Album
(Red Beet, 2010)

These discs could easily be encased in one jewelbox as a two-CD set, since the overlap in personnel is substantial The arrangements are similar, too, and the overall musical approach is largely indistinguishable. They were released, as if to underscore the foregoing, at the same time. Not that this matters as anything but detail likely to interest only the hard-core music geek. Master Sessions and The Lloyd Green Album deliver lots of superior songs in an effectively understated fashion, and that's all listeners need to care about.

Country music and folk music are older -- much older in the latter instance -- than a few decades, but a recognizable something that became the country-folk genre was invented in the mid-1960s. The line between hillbilly and traditional was blurry long before then, of course, but it took folk-revival singers and songwriters like Paul Siebel and Steve Young -- and on the Nashville side country artists Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare and Waylon Jennings -- to figure out that good music could be created out of the sensibility of Woody Guthrie and the arrangements of Hank Williams. By the 1970s, Guy Clark, James Talley, Robin & Linda Williams and others were working to fashion a fusion sound that split the difference between revivalists and Music City hillbillies. And why not? Folk and country are branches of the same tree, forks of the same road, fruits of common soil ... well, think up your own metaphor.

In Nashville, though his role in the creation of folkish country is rarely remarked upon, Tom T. Hall mastered the story song and even, for a few years, had hits with it (e.g., "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," "Ravishing Ruby," "Old Dogs, Children & Watermelon Wine"). In recent years he and his wife, Dixie Hall, have been supplying first-class material, mostly ballads in the folk sense, for bluegrass bands. I mention Hall in particular because he is manifestly an influence on Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, who freely concede as much; perhaps to prove it, they feature a Hall composition on each disc. If someone were to tell me Hall wrote "That Poor Guy" -- it's a Cooper creation -- I would have no reason to disbelieve it. And that's a compliment. And that's not the only song that comes to mind. Sometimes, too, you can sense something of the spirit of Lyle Lovett, another inspired singer and writer of American songs.

Brace and Cooper are mainstays of the East Nashville scene, not to be confused with the Nashville on the other side of the Cumberland River, where country music died some years ago. Its spirit thrives where the singers continue to sing for the sake of the song (to echo a Townes Van Zandt lyric), and these two CDs are loaded with songs, originals and covers, whose sake is worth singing for. Most tell stories and conjure up characters who feel fully alive, and whose situations, sad, wry, or amusing, are told to melodies that catch the attention, engage the head, and touch the heart.

Among the particularly felicitous choices in cover material, one counts "Tulsa Queen," an inexplicably overlooked train song of dark beauty, written by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, plus Chris Richards's "Bells of Odilia," Herb Pedersen's "Wait a Minute," John Hartford's "I Wish We Had Our Time Again" and Tom T. Hall's "I Flew Over Our House Last Night" and "Mama, Bake a Pie," the latter one of several un-preachy anti-war songs Hall has written. As writers, Brace and Cooper -- individually, together, or allied with partners such as Don Schlitz (the guy who wrote "The Gambler") and Karl Straub -- are no slouches either. A couple of standouts are Brace and Cooper's environmentally themed "Missoula Tonight" and Cooper's moving "Elmer the Dancer," but in fact there are no weak songs in the lot.

If the name Lloyd Green is unfamiliar to you, you should know that he is among the most revered living steel-guitar players. Dobro legend Mike Auldridge plays alongside him on the Brace and Cooper CD. Hearing these gorgeous, soulful sounds won't kill you, of course, but it may leave you with the sensation that you've ascended to hillbilly heaven anyway.

music review by
Jerome Clark

20 November 2010

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

Click on a cover image
to make a selection.

what's new