Peter Cooper - Depot Light: The Songs Of Eric Taylor

Red Beet Records RBRCD020


I’ve long respected Peter Cooper as one of the most perceptive music journalists I’ve ever come across. For several years he worked at the Tennessean in Nashville, then a couple of years ago he joined the staff at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Alongside his full-time work, Peter has been pursuing his musical interests, both solo and in partnership with fellow singer-songwriter Eric Brace. He has continually impressed me as a skilled songwriter and an excellent, sensitive vocalist. Like me, he is first and foremost a music fan, and for this latest album, he has turned the spotlight away from his own intuitive songwriting to record a collection of songs penned by Eric Taylor. I should immediately add that this is not a tribute record; it’s a fellow singer-songwriter lovingly performing songs by a writer that he rates very highly.

Eric Taylor is a Texas treasure along the lines of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia and moved to Houston, Texas in 1971 and soon became part of the burgeoning Texas singer-songwriter movement. To many music fans he is often referred to as the ex-husband of Nanci Griffith, but Eric Taylor is much, much more than that. His songs take you back to the days when songwriting mattered. They are literate story songs about the disaffected and outlying strata of society with lyrics that revolve around the moments of musical camaraderie that exist between broken hearts, introspective loners and dark nights that illuminate the soul. His portraits aren’t rendered in misty, pastel-hued watercolours; they’re rougher, grittier. Peter Cooper lets the brush strokes show; his plainspoken-ness, almost matter-of-fact delivery is complemented by warm, textural soundscapes provided by Andrea Zonn (violin, viola), Joey Miskulin (accordion), Justin Moses (Dobro, mandolin, banjo, fiddle), Pat McInerney (percussion), Mark Fain (bass) and co-producer Thomm Jutz (various guitars, piano).

The dozen songs reel you in after the first note, and then there’s the immediately alluring sound of Cooper’s voice—smooth, sensitive and warm. Hauntingly gorgeous tracks like Deadwood and Charlie Ray McWhite are snapshots of gritty Americana, both weaving together narratives of the internal struggle of life. Two Fires is propelled by a steady and assured rhythm section, layered guitars and striking interplay between fiddle and accordion and captivating vocal harmonies. A desolate fiddle sets the tone for Depot Light, a heartbreaker about waiting patiently for a wayward lover who seems unlikely ever to return. The dark theme continues with the seemingly upbeat Prison Movie and Dollar Bill Hines, two more tunes that Peter Cooper handles with an easy vocal confidence.

A sparsely presented and strikingly intimate album that combines deft storytelling with a warmth of tone and gentleness of pace DEPOT LIGHT is an example of the tradition of an artist delivering songs that are damn near perfectly crafted, and filled with the wisdom of the ages. Some of the finest musicians have been brought together in a sparing, delicate, and often beautiful way, creating one mellow, melodic, and beautifully melancholy song after another. A clean, gentle, and ultimately relaxed disc, this album sets a very high standard and is unlikely to be bettered this year as my most played and favourite record of 2016 ... and it’s only January as I’m writing this.

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