Thomas Porter & Copper River Band
4 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
If you Google Thomas Porter you’ll find a lot of material on the Internet, but you don’t find much that tells much about who he is. He’s based in Arizona and wrote (or co-wrote) all the songs on this CD. Going to his personal website reveals some things about him and I’ve never seen an artist’s website like his. He certainly has some varied interests.
Doyle Lawson recorded one of his songs on a recent project and it’s not clear if this CD is on the market for him as an artist or to primarily pitch his music. (From his website: This album has an all-star lineup and it’s all original tunes of mine that I’m trying to pitch to bluegrass greats.) There are no appearances listed on his website and no band info. Included with his multi-song CD is a single CD, “Simple Box of Pine” that’s dedicated to Vincent Collin Beach, though it’s not clear what their relationship was. Porter’s website shows he has been performing with the Providence Bluegrass Band in Arizona and X Train, although their website doesn’t mention him.
“Simple Box of Pine” features some great musicians. Besides Porter (lead vocal, guitar, bass) there’s Dan Tyminski (mandolin, harmony) and Ron Block (banjo) from Union Station and Molly Cherryholmes on fiddle. Porter proves adept with a pen and a tune, giving us a good song. The music is, of course, excellent (look at the lineup!) and it was co-produced by Anni Beach, Vincent’s wife. The end of the song features the Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band and their website hints at the connection between Porter and Beach. Unlike some background groups making an appearance this one adds to the song instead of leaving you shaking your head.
The Trolley Days CD features Porter on guitar and vocals, Bob Denoncourt (Joe Val) on bass and vocals, Dick Brown (Lost Highway) on banjo and vocals, Doug Bartlett (Quicksilver, James King), fiddle and vocals and Jim Govern playing mandolin. The musicianship on this CD is very good and Porter proves to be an excellent songwriter. I’m usually skeptical of a CD with all the songs written by the performer but there are no throwaway songs here.
Blame it on my love for classic country for my favorite song is “No More Room.” This could easily have made the country charts for any of the balladeers of the past. Porter can write an instrumental, too. “Chester Frost” has an interesting melody and he shows he can pick a guitar, including some well-placed chimes.
“Poor Sister Cry” is a chilling song about a man that harms two children and is killed by the son. What’s a good bluegrass album without retribution and death? “Echoes Of Your Name” is an easy flowing song about lost love while “Tool And Die” is a hard driving song about a working man.
Porter’s songs cover a variety of topics using a variety of styles: ballads to hard driving, banjo-laced music. This is a young man and a band that should be heard, a good, fresh voice in bluegrass.