Eric Brace & Peter Cooper with Lloyd Green & Mike Auldridge
Red Beet Records
5 out of 5
The Lloyd Green Album
Red Beet Records
5 out of 5
By Donald Teplyske
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, as talented singers, musicians, and writers as they are, obviously know nothing about the music business. How else can one explain their continued inability to play by the rules governing their industry?
Their superb 2008 release You Don’t Have to Like Them Both featured the partnership collaborating on songs of their own creation while bringing diverse tunes from some of their favorite writers and performers. The idea of running dual, parallel careers—Brace with Last Train Home, Cooper as his own dang self—as distinct performers and as an engrained partnership runs counter to conventional thought in a business where a consistent identity is paramount.
Add to this their series of East Nashville: Music from the Other Side compilations, featuring artists who don’t even record for their label and the extravagance of their album packaging, which is as accomplished as anything one expects from a major label release, and you have a pair of fellows who run contrary to convention.
No surprise then that their latest, simultaneously released projects prominently feature an instrument that is heard less significantly within today’s country music, the pedal steel.
Master Sessions brings the finest purveyor of the bluegrass resophonic guitar Mike Auldridge (Seldom Scene, Darren Beachley, John Starling) together with the pedal steel legend that inspired him, Lloyd Green. What on paper may appear initially terribly inefficient—Why have pedal steel and reso playing off each other?—works exceptionally well within this balanced representation of artistry and performance.
Contemporary country music seldom sounds this inspired. Master Sessions seldom progresses beyond a mid-tempo shuffle, but rarely does such gentle music inspire such intense listening. This is music rooted in the sounds of Nashville of the 60s and 70s, times often disparaged today but which proved to be extremely popular at the time. Under the vigilant guidance of Brace and Cooper, the bevy of stringed instruments find a tasteful balance, with the overt lonesomeness of the Green’s pedal steel playing against the rhythmic mournfulness of Auldridge’s resophonic.
Classics from the country field (a staggering version of Herb Pedersen’s “Wait a Minute” and an equally impressive reading of Tom T. Hall’s “Í Flew Over Our House Last Night”) complement contemporary interpretations of similarly themed songs, including Jon Byrd’s song for all seasons, “Silent Night.” Every song is stronger for the contributions of Green and Auldridge.
Certainly no Brace and Cooper project would be complete without a handful of modern wonders from these always inspiring artists, and Master Sessions is no exception. “Suffer a Fool” out-Crowells Rodney as Cooper, working with Don Schlitz, captures the wonder many men feel for their partners. Brace (with Karl Straub) takes a different tract with “It Won’t Be Me,” as the singer realizes his woman will be better off with someone else.
Cooper’s “Nice Old Man” and John Hartford’s “I Wish We Had Our Time Again” mark the passage of time in entirely different ways and each is a wonder. In its own way, each of the album’s eleven songs—like each delicately placed instrumental nuance—is a memorable and essential component of the greater project.
With ‘life on the road’ an overarching theme, Master Sessions is a fully realized hallmark of country music recording.
If Master Sessions sounds like something you need to check out, you are certain to appreciate Peter Cooper’s latest The Lloyd Green Album. If anything, the focus of this album is magnified due to the interplay of Cooper and Green.
In the album’s liner notes, Cooper writes, “I presented each of these songs to my favorite musician, steel guitar maestro Lloyd Green, as nearly blank canvases, shaded only by acoustic guitar and vocal. He drew the paintings, and then some of our friends came by and framed the whole deal.”
Like Kevin Welch (and his partner Kieran Kane, for that matter) one imagines that it takes a lot to get a rise out of Cooper. He approaches his singing and playing with such calm confidence and cool composure that the majesty of his music is magnified by this unassuming rectitude.
It is this artistic maturity and vision that allows Cooper to impose insightful heft to the lyrical hijinks composed by he and Todd Snider in “The Last Laugh.” In “Gospel Song” Cooper sings of staring at long-ago pictures while “living in penance for the sins I always denied.” “Champion of the World” balances things out a bit with an appreciation that much comes down to the vagaries of the dealt hand.
It isn’t enough for Cooper to be a master at his craft. He knows that those who came before him—be they Tom T. Hall or John Hiatt—crafted songs that capture emotions and images perhaps even better than he can. So when Cooper wants to explore the fate of the returning veteran or rambler, he turns to “Mama, Bake a Pie” and “Train to Birmingham,” songs that capture truth and honesty with unembellished lyrical richness.
As a partner in this creation, Green provides evocative support and emotional augmentation. At his disposal, the pedal steel is just that little more emotive, that slight touch more sincere in its contribution to the landscape created by Cooper.
By the way, those friends Cooper mentions in his notes include Richard Bennett (guitar), Jen Gunderman (keyboards and accordion), Pat McInerney (drums and percussion), and Julie Lee (harmony)—all of whom also show up on Master Sessions—as well as Kim Carnes, Pam Rose, Eric Brace, Fayssoux Starling McLean (all harmony vocals) and Rodney Crowell, who adds vocals to his own “Tulsa Queen.”
Peter Cooper is an underrated singer and songwriter. His proficiency is such that one hopes that the day is near when he is mentioned in the same conversations as those he some obviously admires. The Lloyd Green Album contains much which should, in a just world, move things in that direction.
But we know that fate and a multitude of other factors often gets in the way of recognition of capacity. Rather than worrying about the injustice of under-rewarded art, one should appreciate that which is so apparent. Both Master Sessions and The Lloyd Green Album are outstanding collections of contemporary Americana and stand as testament to the power and veracity of independence.