Album Review: Eric Brace & Peter Cooper — The Comeback Album
For many of us, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper never went away. Wasn’t it just two years ago that they produced a stellar cast of musicians on the Grammy-nominated I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow? And it’s only three years ago that Brace and Cooper released their acclaimed Master Sessions, featuring pedal steel master Lloyd Green and dobro master Mike Auldridge. Brace is a constant presence on the Nashville music scene through his Red Beet Records label, and Cooper pens highly regarded musings and meditations on music in the Tennessean. This album is not so much about coming back as it is about going back, revisiting places and memories that haunt us.
The album’s opening track, “Ancient History,” kicks off brightly with a snare drum roll that recalls momentarily that opening rim shot on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” and gallops along, driven by jangly Byrds-like guitars, Jen Gunderman’s soaring B3 organ and pop-inflected Wurlitzer, and producer Thomm Jutz’s straight-ahead electric guitar solo. Taking a cue from the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” Brace and Cooper ponder the ways that we constantly reinvent ourselves. Of course, we’re always coming back to a defining moment in the past—ancient history—when we recognize, with Brace and Cooper, that “It is what it is/Not how it’s gotta be/From my point of obstructed view/We are who we are/Not who we’re gonna be/Every passing moment/Is ancient history.”
Like Tom T. Hall, Brace and Cooper tells expansive stories that plumb the human condition, wryly commenting on our foibles, lamenting our lack of wisdom, celebrating and grieving what we’ve lost. In “Ponzi Scheme,” the narrator bemoans his gullible character, all the while blaming the “confident girl in a confidence game” for hoodwinking him. Like all of us, we’re willing to believe a beautiful package holds promise, but we’re quick to blame someone else when the glitter fades and we’re looking at “rust and rubber/Hard concrete/That’s the view from under the bus.”
We often come back to those places that are part of our youth, and Cooper and fellow Hub City (and Wofford Terrier) musician Baker Maultsby recall a Spartanburg slum in the New Orleans jazz inflected “Thompson Street” where “You got your good fried chicken at the Woodward’s Café/Good fish at the Hamburg Delight/And the white folks come in the middle of the day but they stay away at night.” On “Johnson City,” Lloyd Green’s moaning steel underscores Brace’s mournful lament about a beautiful town with a terrible jail in which he’s spending more time than he ever intended to spend.
Duane Eddy, Mac Wiseman, and Marty Stuart join forces with Brace and Cooper on Hall’s “Mad,” and this electrifying group captures the in-the-doghouse spirit of a man whose woman is fed up with his wandering ways: “She’s sweet and she’s nice/But when she gets mad she’s got a/voice that’ll cut through ice/You shoulda heard the cussin’ I had/When she’s mad /That’s a dangerous game/In the obituary column/They’ve already printed my name.” This comic song provides the perfect segue into the painful “She Can’t Be Herself When She’s With Me,” almost a lullaby carried by Green’s crying pedal steel in which the narrator moans, “Home to me is just the town she’s always meant to leave/I dream she’s staying here each time I chance to dream/Passing of the winter’s chill is nothing she will grieve/I am just the bank along her winding stream/She can’t be herself when she’s with me.”
The album closes with a cover of David Halley’s “Rain Just Falls,” a waltz with Jen Gunderman’s breezy accordion and vocals that recall Gram Parsons on “Hickory Wind,” in which Brace and Cooper revisit the opening track: here, resignation about the nature of life lies just beneath all we do, much as we can either accept or reject our embrace of every passing moment as defining ourselves.
Through their consummate storytelling, Brace and Cooper capture our hearts, force us to examine ourselves, laugh with us at our shortcomings, and celebrate the past. On The Comeback Album, they and the musicians they’ve gathered around them weave these elements into a colorful quilt of beautiful tunes in which we can wrap ourselves.
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