Grayson Capps,
Wail & Ride
(Hyena, 2006)

Lots of things come together satisfyingly in Grayson Capps' singing and writing. I enjoyed his previous (and first) solo CD, If You Knew My Mind, which I reviewed in this space on 4 March 2006, and I like this one, too.

It's much of the same sound, except this time leaning more (albeit not entirely) to the spare and acoustic, but it's recognizably the sort of music that, adapted from older folk and rural blues songs, got put together in Greenwich Village broadly around the time Capps was busy being born (in 1967). Then that approach got wedded to the Alabama country music of Capps' early years and the Southern rock and New Orleans r&b rhythms of his later youth and adulthood. After Katrina drove him and his family out of New Orleans, Capps settled in Nashville, though so far little of that city's influence, either benign or baleful, is detectable. One does not anticipate that Nashville's hat acts will be digging into his catalogue hoping to unearth Hot Country hits. That may not do much for Capps' bank account, but it ought to encourage those of us who are looking for well-conceived, meaningful music.

Only one piece is directly country. Capps credits it to Fred Stokes, whom he knew in his Alabama childhood. "Jukebox" is so disarmingly simple, using an unadorned if sweet melody to carry well-worn sentiments about sad songs and faded love, that the listener is unprepared for its power. I suspect Capps has been singing it long enough to know precisely how to deliver a familiar message disguised as fresh revelation.

Capps' own material is -- one infers -- at least partially autobiographical, but it's too literate and witty to be irritatingly introspective, and Capps is a keen observer, not a tiresome narcissist, who is as drawn to the social as to the personal. "New Orleans Waltz" is an old-fashioned protest song, framed in fond memory and furious umbrage. Pay attention to what the chorus behind Capps is chanting: "FEMA, FEMA, FEMA...." You don't have to listen as carefully to hear Capps' "George Bush, George Bush, you're a lying hypocrite."

Other songs recall New Orleans people, streets and scenes almost as if -- one imagines -- legends from lost Atlantis. It may take all of us a long time to comprehend just what we lost when that old city -- not to be confused with the smaller, more middle-class and American-mainstream one that is being built on its ruins -- was destroyed, as much by official malfeasance as by natural disaster.

Capps accompanies himself on acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, backed by small, tight roots-rockin' bands assembled in studios in Franklin, Tennessee, and New Orleans. Capps and Trina Shoemaker co-produce.

by Jerome Clark
10 March 2007

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