Grayson Capps,
If You Knew My Mind
(Hyena, 2005)

At first introduction, the delights of If You Knew My Mind may not find you. Don't worry. They're bound to get there on second or third hearing. Born and bred in Alabama, brought to adulthood in New Orleans streets and bars, Grayson Capps is not the sort of insecure performer who feels compelled to draw your attention via vigorous thumping on the bean. Stick with him, though, and at some point not long into the proceedings, the grace and soul afloat inside will come rollin' down to wash over you.

Though the disc consists solely of his own material, Capps has, no mistaking it, an intimate relationship with Southern traditional music. Its accent, sometimes thick, sometimes soft, is never absent, nor would one want it to be. Even so, it passes through Capps' own unique voice. If the songs don't hide where they come from, they feel modern even when, as on some cuts, set in arrangements echoing ones that resounded on small-town street corners and country juke joints a century or more ago. As an artist Capps lives in the early 21st century even as, like so many notable Southern writers, he bears within heart and memory gifts and burdens from before him. Not many younger musicians sound convincingly like that.

Not surprisingly, blues is the template for much that is happening here, whether it's spare folk-shaded sounds or rambunctious, fat, urban r&b or ecstatic rock 'n' roll. In contrast, "Slidell" and "Lorraine's Song" call to mind the sorts of anthems -- think Stephen Foster filtered through Hoagy Carmichael -- that Randy Newman writes when his thoughts turn to old family ties in Louisiana. If he's heard them, I'll bet Newman wishes he'd written them.

Capps, from a family of readers, writers and teachers, has a way with words that, while littered with downhome images and references, are unmistakably the thoughts of an educated man. But as an old cowboy song sagely observes, "Every educated feller ain't a plumb greenhorn." Personally, I'm a sucker for stuff that's funky and smart. Let's hope that Capps has a whole lot more of that in him.

by Jerome Clark
4 March 2006

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