Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
You Don’t Have to Like Them Both
Red Beet Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)
Okay, let’s get the clichéd opening out of the way right off the top: Eric Brace and Peter Cooper- You Don’t Have to Like Them Both…But You Will!
I feel better now.
The truth is, I can’t imagine anyone with a soft spot for easy Americana sounds not enjoying this first album from the Nashville-based duo. While the two music writers- Brace has worked for The Washington Post and Cooper writes for The Tennessean-have several advantages over other country-folk duos- namely PDAs that contain contacts for Kenny Vaughan, Tim O’Brien, Lloyd Green, Tim Carroll, Jim Lauderdale, and Todd Snider, all of whom either have songs placed on this disc or appear instrumentally- they also have the innate and hard-earned talents necessary to pull off an album.
There are a whole lot of good vibes on this dozen-track album. It is easy going but not MOR, relaxed and comfortable but not overly familiar or lazy. One writer compared the album to a mix-tape of favorite music, and while I understand the sentiment I think it sells short the talents of Brace and Cooper.
You may be familiar with Brace from his work with Last Train Home, or even a one-off project called the Skylighters with Mike Auldridge and Jimmy Gaudreau. Perhaps Cooper’s music hasn’t been as widely heard, but he has written with and produced Todd Snider.
When you choose to include songs from songwriting monsters such as Kris Kristofferson , David Olney, Paul Kennerley, Lauderdale, and Snider, it makes full sense to kick-off the album with an original. If you’re going to run with the big dogs, you might as well get a head start.
At first blush, Brace’s “I Know a Bird” appears to be simply a mournful meditation of being separated from a lover. Within a couple stanzas it becomes clear that the protagonist is serving overseas where he feels he has been “counting every grain of sand, every grain in the desert where I’m quickly growing old.” Within a few dozen lines, one realizes that Eric Brace requires no false advantage.
By the time Peter Cooper hits us mid-set with “The Man Who Loves to Hate” one wonders why the pair decided to stop at only four originals. Yes, the songs chosen from those mentioned- as well as Kevin Gordon, Colin Linden, and Karl Straub- are rendered in a manner that will keep listeners returning, but I wanted to hear more from the main pair. Hell, anyone who who rhymes ‘vacillate’ with ‘hate’ in a country song- as does Cooper in this song- deserves a serious listen.
Brace has a more traditional folk-country voice, and on a two-stepper such as “The First In Line” he demonstrates his silky-smooth yet masculine approach to fine effect. Cooper reminds one of Kevin Welch, providing a lovely counter to Brace. When their voices come together- as on the baseball themed “Omar’s Blues #2” or “Denali, Not McKinley”- it is very much like listening to Guy Clark singing with anyone; it shouldn’t work, but it does! Neither dominates the other, a true pairing of talents without ego.
The album’s standout performance is contained within “Down to the Well,” a Gordon/Linden song. With the pair exchanging verses, this one song encapsulates everything You Don’t Have to Like Them Both is perhaps intended to be; two friends who share a musical vision collaborating on a wonderfully written song to make it even greater.
As an added bonus, Brace and Cooper have not scrimped on the album packaging. The tri-fold digipak is artfully arranged to provide song notes- an increasing rarity in these times of downloads- and illustrations.
You Don’t Have to Like Them Both is a solid reminder, as if we needed it, that not everything that originates in Nashville is fodder for the machine. If one looks hard enough or at least pays attention, gems continue to emerge from the center of the country music world. Thankfully, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper met up there and found their common ground.
For those looking for more, Peter Cooper’s debut recording Mission Door (entitled Cautionary Tales on eMusic) provides additional outstanding performances while Eric Brace’s album with Last Train Home Live at IOTA is equally strong.
by Donald Teplyske