Peter Cooper,
Opening Day
(Red Beet, 2013)

Peter Cooper's name appears on a CD cover for the second time this year. A few months back, it was alongside his regular musical partner Eric Brace (The Comeback Album, reviewed here on 4 May 2013).

On Opening Day, he returns to the homey, unpretentious sound familiar to his fans. It's not really country music, though for all I know country music in a parallel universe may be like this. Not this one, however, and it's our loss. Cooper borrows at least some elements of classic country (primarily, in Lloyd Green's lyrical steel guitar), but they're mixed with modern folk and, here and there, low-key rockabilly. The result is at once broadly like what some other Americana-style singer-songwriters do, but not so -- with the sole exception noted below -- you'd notice much.

An understated wit and a quiet intelligence flow though the 11 songs, whether Cooper's originals or in the thoughtfully picked covers. Among the latter, there's yet another of Tom T. Hall's compelling creations, "A Million Miles to the City," which will lift your heart to your throat. The late Bill Morrissey's short story-set-to-music "Birches" occasions the thought that while ordinarily the story-song takes after the model of the traditional ballad, Morrissey's is more like New Yorker fiction set to music. A pop-culture journalist in his other occupation, Cooper has a writer's facility with words, and just as admirably, he appreciates their effective use in others' hands.

Cooper, who makes no secret of it, is an acolyte of Tom T. Hall, whose influence on the themes that define Opening Day isn't particularly hard to detect. Hall's tale-telling mastery is shaped by compassion for human beings who lead small lives (nearly all of us). He has a way of exposing much about his characters while expending as few words as necessary. One hears something of Hall's wry take on human foible in Cooper's amiably twisted "Grandma's Tattoo," which if it isn't a true story ought to be.

Opening's opening cut, "Much Better Now," recalls an awful job from Cooper's youth. Anyone who held an awful job in youth (and if you didn't grow up rich, you did) can only nod and sigh in rueful memory. Such things are never forgotten -- for me, it was a summer spent digging post holes in the hard, parched soil of rural Minnesota -- but they provide perverse comfort. They remind you that whatever your situation at this moment of your complicated adult life, it could always be worse.

Cooper, teller of quotidian truths, proves once again to be wise and welcome company.

music review by
Jerome Clark

21 September 2013

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