The Comeback Album
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
Red Beet Records
A comeback album? Only these guys would slap such an ironic title on a record. 2011’s I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow was a remake of Hall’s classic children’s record, nominated for a Grammy, one of my favorite albums that year, and Eric Brace and Peter Cooper were all over it, organizing, producing, coordinating, singing. Their 2010 duo record, Master Sessions, featured pedal steel king Lloyd Green and dobro wiz Mike Auldridge (The Seldom Scene). On this, their third record together, Brace and Cooper complete each other’s lines like a married couple finishes each other sentences. This familiarity breeds not contempt but better performances. Brace is the more emotional songwriter, while Cooper is adept at wry lyrics. Brace is literal, where Cooper is literate. But instead of each song being a Brace song or a Cooper song, this time out they’re Brace and Cooper songs. On Johnson City, Brace takes the more direct route, singing about being locked up in the Tennessee town’s pokey (“I know the way to Johnson City/ now I just gotta find my way out”) while Cooper comes in on the bridge detailing a surreal jailhouse conversation with God.
The opener Ancient History is one of their tradmark clever, up-tempo tracks, a meditation on the impermanence of existence using stage names and nicknames as a metaphor for change in life. (“Richard Nixon was Tricky Dick/Dick trickle was a race car driver, no really he was a race car driver, a talented popular race car driver”). Baseball references are scattered throughout (also from Ancient History: “Sid Bream was safe at home…the eighth world wonder was the Astrodome”), although I wish they had included Cooper’s fine song Opening Day on this release. Nine of the twelve tracks were written by Brace and/or Cooper, with one of the covers coming from the aforementioned Tom T. Hall, Mad, which features guests Duane Eddy, Mac Wiseman and Marty Stuart (“When she’s mad, that’s a dangerous game/in the obituary column, they’ve already printed my name.”). Recorded in Nashville (of course) by Thomm Jutz, the album features a core of stellar musicians, including Paul Griffith on drums, Dave Jacques on bass, Green on pedal steel, and Jen Gunderman on keys.
The overall theme here seems to be one of uncertainty, whether the protagonists in the songs are in jail looking for bail, a perennial loser buying lottery tickets or a sailor adrift in the darkness. But that doesn’t mean the album is dark or completely introspective. Eric Brace and Peter Cooper see to that through their solid songwriting, singing and impeccable harmonies. The Comeback Album may not be an over-the-fence, Ruthian home run, but it’s a solid rap into the gap, a triple and with a combination of determination and talent, Brace and Cooper score. Just like Sid Bream.