When Peter Cooper and Eric Brace began singing together about six years ago, it was, Brace says, “a fun and friendship thing” with no plans for a formal duo. But Cooper was ratcheting up his songwriting after years of writing about said same craft for The Tennessean (something he still does), and after he toured overseas with Brace’s band Last Train Home, a partnership gelled. They cut an album that became part of the launch of Brace’s Red Beet Records called You Don’t Have To Like Them Both.
Five years later, the Brace/Cooper duo and Red Beet Records are firmly established as vital East Nashville musical things. They’ve earned the loyalty of taste-making BBC DJ Bob Harris and the affection of music writers around the US and Europe. They’re frequent guest DJs at WSM here in Nashville. The guys collaborated as producers and musicians on a beloved remake of Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow that snared a Grammy nomination. And they’ve become good friends of Music City Roots, where they play regularly and where Peter is on standby to host on those occasions when Jim Lauderdale is mysteriously abducted.
So you’ll be seeing Brace and Cooper helping us ring in our new Summer 2013 Season on Wednesday night at our quarterly benefit show for The Nature Conservancy. The performance will be part of the ongoing celebration of the release of their third album as a duo, a brainy blend of the serious and the cheeky called The Comeback Album. Once again, they called on the talents of Music City mavens like pedal steel guitarist Lloyd Green, and guitarist Richard Bennett. For the first time they pulled in multi-instrumental savant Rory Hoffman (Gypsy Hombres) and recording engineer/studio owner/musician Thomm Jutz. And yes, it all went very well. “She Can’t Be Herself” is a gorgeous and melancholy lament for a lost cause relationship. “Ancient History” name-checks notorious name-changers at a rapid and clever clip. And “Johnson City” surges with harmonies that a whole lot prettier than its story – the plight of Eric’s night in jail. We’ll be asking if because of that he has more country cred than Peter and what Peter plans to do about it.
And all around, this is a scintillating lineup. I’m over the moon about New Country Rehab, the absorbing and surprising mod folk/pop band from Toronto. I first heard about them from new music oracle Mike Grimes of Grimey’s record store, and that was about the time they played the AMA conference here in Nashville to much acclaim. They’re smooth with edges, rootsy with dashes of pop color that really elevate already sturdy songs. Frontman John Showman displays film noir cool whether fiddling or singing, often both at the same time. They make smart use of Ben Whitley’s double bass. Their very new release Ghosts Of Your Charms ought to stack up very well among 2013 releases. This is one form of rehab you should be excited to attend.
We’ll open our night with some sawdust and neon honky tonk from Amber Digby, a return visitor and a steadily rising favorite among the traditional country set. I like the part of her story where she tentatively approaches Vince Gill backstage at the Opry in order to meet one of her heroes. And when she introduces herself he says “Oh my gosh. I love your stuff!” That’s how it ought to work. And he loved her stuff so much that he’s on her new stuff, and that would be in duet form on an album from January called The World You’re Living In. It’s represents a stellar collaboration with some legendary Nashville A-Teamers (including aforementioned steel master Lloyd Green) and producer Justin Trevino. Eleven five star reviews on Amazon (at last count) do not lie.
And in the fast-onrushing-new-talent department, we’ll hear a set from Knoxville duo Cereus Bright. Tyler Anthony and Even Ford haven’t left a huge trail of work yet, but last Fall’s 3-song Goldmine EP hints at a career to come full of rapturous harmonies and smart songs. They have some firm ideas about folk music and it’s clear they don’t approach their work lightly. This should be an exciting jolt of discovery.
So as always with Roots, you don’t have to like them all but we have a feeling you will. Shake off the mid-summer torpor. Tell your friends to meet you at the Loveless Barn. Doors at 6. Show at 7.